The primary destination for my guided fly fishing trips is Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is the place that I know better than any other, that I’m most passionate about, and that I’m most eager to share with others. With nearly 800 miles of fishable trout water within the park boundaries, there are endless options for destinations, from remote backcountry locations to roadside pools. All trout in the Smokies were born here – they haven’t stocked a trout here since the early 70’s. That is something special.
The average fish in the park is not a particularly big one. While brown trout reaching 30” are present in some streams, they are not typical. Rainbows are the predominant species and are rarely bigger than 14”. Brook trout are the natives and rarely exceed 10”. There are usually decent fishing options in the park from March through December with peak fishing from mid-April through mid-June, and again from mid-September through mid-November.
The majority of the streams that I guide in the park are on the Tennessee side but I do also venture to the North Carolina side from time to time, mostly within the Oconaluftee system. There are very few streams in the park that I don’t guide, so if you have a particular stream you would like to fish, please let me know and we’ll make it happen if it is logistically reasonable. Otherwise, I’ll consider the season, where you’re staying, and your experience level, and select the best destination to match those needs.
The Smokies is also bordered by a few towns, some that are very busy and touristy, and others that are quiet and serve more as a base camp for the mountains. Most folks I guide stay in Townsend or Gatlinburg and we always meet up at a place most convenient to you and the destination.
But the park may not be for everyone. Or perhaps you’re wanting to fish multiple days and diversify your destinations. If you’re looking for more casting freedom in larger water or just larger average trout to test the drag on your reel, the Clinch River is an excellent option. Located about 20 minutes north of Knoxville, there are typical city and interstate lodging options nearby. Or it is about an hour from Townsend and Gatlinburg if you prefer to stay near the mountains.
The Clinch is stocked, and many of those fish hold over year to year, growing quickly in this fertile tailwater. Scheduling trips around the unpredictable dam releases is often the challenge here. Most years you will find fairly good flows from mid-April through mid-July. The rest of the year is a bit of a crap shoot. We recommend being flexible if you book a Clinch River trip and hope you’ll consider a trip in the mountains if water releases are not cooperative. Water temperature is steady here regardless of air temperature, so good fishing can be found any time of year as long as they’re not releasing too much water, making the Clinch a potential winter fishing destination.
The most consistent late fall and winter fishing destinations I guide are the Delayed Harvest streams in Cherokee National Forest. These are stocked mountain streams that are catch-and-release, artificial only, from mid-October through March – that is the only time I guide them. They fish best in November and December but will fish pretty well all winter as long as the roads (or the streams) aren’t frozen over!
These streams are simply not close to anything and are about an hour and a half drive from Gatlinburg and Townsend. I can recommend hotels closer to the destinations if you prefer but restaurants and other attractions will be minimal. Otherwise, plan on a bit of a drive but the result can be worth it!