July Fishing Forecast

Smoky Mountain Trail
Highcountry Trail

Smoky Mountains

The Smokies fished great through most of June. As a matter of fact, we had an amazing four or five days with highs in the low 70’s and almost no humidity. It felt like fall! There were some significant rain systems but most only skirted the mountains, keeping water levels full but very manageable. So we’re heading into July with a surplus of water but, as you would expect this time of year, water temperatures are starting to climb.

On lower elevation rivers and streams, you’ll really want to focus on early morning and late evening when things are cooler. The best bet this time of year is getting to mid and high elevation streams where water temps can be significantly lower. In general, smaller backcountry streams will be better because they have more tree canopy and see less sunlight.

We should continue to see sporadic hatches of Little Yellow Sallies, Light Cahills, Sulphurs and tan caddis. Larger golden stones are still hatching at night but fish are sometimes still looking for them in the early morning. Isonychia nymphs are active, making a Prince Nymph or George Nymph a great choice. But terrestrials are the main course from now until fall with trout looking for beetles, ants, inchworms and the like.

Clinch River

It’s been a tough year on the Clinch with water flows. June started out great but those rain systems that skirted the Smokies hit the Norris Lake area pretty hard. They have been constantly releasing water from the dam for the last few weeks.

I’m expecting those water releases to relax pretty soon. We should soon see the standard summer release schedules of low water in the morning and increased generation in the afternoons when power demand is at its highest.

When water releases do relax, you may still see some Sulphurs hatching in the late morning and afternoon, but we’ve mostly missed that hatch this year. Of course, midges are abundant 365 days a year and will be the fly choice most of the time in July. There are many patterns that will work, but it’s tough to beat a standard black Zebra Midge.

Jakes Creek

Location: GSMNP East Tennessee                                                              

Nearest Town: Townsend, TN / Gatlinburg, TN

Species: Rainbow trout (occasional brown)                                                             

Average Size: 6”

Stream Size: Tight                                                              

Pressure: Light

Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain                                                          

Boat Access: None

Best Times: Spring through late fall, after a good rain                                                         

Favorite Flies: Attractor dries

Nearest Fly Shop:    Little River Outfitters – Townsend                           

Camping:       Elkmont Campground

                        Backcountry Campsite #27

Directions:

From Townsend, travel southeast on 73 to GSMNP entrance.  At the “Y” in the road, turn left toward Gatlinburg on Little River Road.  Follow approximately twelve and a half miles and turn right toward Elkmont Campground.  Or, from Townsend, turn on Wears Valley road at the only traffic light in town.  At about six and a half miles, turn right on Lyon Springs Road.  This road will eventually end at Little River Road at Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  Turn left and follow for about four and a half miles and turn right toward Elkmont Campground.  Upon reaching the campground entrance, turn left toward Little River Trailhead and follow past the Little River Trailhead. You’ll enter a short, one lane loop that will take you to the parking area for the Elkmont Historic District. You can access the lower part of the creek here, or walk up the gated gravel road that leads to the Jakes Creek Trailhead. This small piece of road will provide access to another portion of Jakes Creek and the trail will provide access to another three miles of stream, as well as Backcountry Campsite # 27.  Be aware, however, that much of this trail is high above the streambed with only a few locations allowing reasonable access to the stream.  The best bet is to identify these locations and fish from access point to access point.

From Gatlinburg, travel southwest on 73/321 and merge south onto 441/71 toward Cherokee, NC.  Just past the Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn right toward Townsend on Little River Road and follow approximately four and a half miles.  Soon after passing Laurel Falls trailhead, turn left toward Elkmont Campground. Upon reaching the campground entrance, turn left toward Little River Trailhead and follow past the Little River Trailhead. You’ll enter a short, one lane loop that will take you to the parking area for the Elkmont Historic District. You can access the lower part of the creek here, or walk up the gated gravel road that leads to the Jakes Creek Trailhead. This small piece of road will provide access to another portion of Jakes Creek and the trail will provide access to another three miles of stream, as well as Backcountry Campsite # 27.  Be aware, however, that much of this trail is high above the streambed with only a few locations allowing reasonable access to the stream.  The best bet is to identify these locations and fish from access point to access point.

East Prong Little River – Backcountry

Little River Backcountry GSMNP Tennessee
Little River Backcountry

Location: GSMNP East Tennessee                          

Nearest Town: Townsend, TN / Gatlinburg, TN

Species: Rainbow & brown trout                             

Average Size: 8-10”

Stream Size: Open to moderate                              

Pressure: Moderate to light

Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain

Boat Access: None

Best Times: Late spring through late fall

Favorite Flies: Attractor dries, beadhead nymphs, stonefly nymphs

Nearest Fly Shop:    Little River Outfitters – Townsend

Lodging:         Talley Ho

                        Docks                                                 

Camping:       Elkmont Campground

                        Little River Campground

                        Backcountry Campsites #24 & #30

Directions: 

From Townsend, travel southeast on 73 to GSMNP entrance.  At the “Y” in the road, turn left toward Gatlinburg on Little River Road.  Follow approximately twelve and a half miles and turn right toward Elkmont Campground.  Or, from Townsend, turn on Wears Valley road at the only traffic light in town.  At about six and a half miles, turn right on Lyon Springs Road.  This road will eventually end at Little River Road at Metcalf Bottoms picnic area.  Turn left and follow for about four and a half miles and turn right toward Elkmont Campground.  Upon reaching the campground entrance, turn left toward Little River Trailhead and follow to the parking area at the end of the road.

From Gatlinburg, travel southwest on 73/321 and merge south onto 441/71 toward Cherokee, NC.  Just past the Sugarlands Visitor Center, turn right toward Townsend on Little River Road and follow approximately four and a half miles.  Soon after passing Laurel Falls trailhead, turn left toward Elkmont Campground.  Upon reaching the campground entrance, turn left toward Little River Trailhead and follow to the parking area at the end of the road.

The trail follows Little River for about six miles providing frequent river access along the way.  The further up the trail you go, the smaller the stream will become and the fewer people you will see.  Backcountry Campsite #24 is about four miles up the trail, and Backcountry Campsite #30 is located near the trail’s end at six miles.  A visit to Backcountry Campsite will also put you in close proximity to Rough Creek and Fish Camp Prong.

June Fishing Forecast

Little River GSMNP Tennessee
Little River

Smoky Mountains

The Smokies have been fishing great and that should continue into June. The biggest concern right now is water levels. After a wet and wild spring, we haven’t seen rain in the mountains for over two weeks and the streams are starting to show it. However, the weather forecast for the first week of June shows a little better chance for precipitation so hopefully we can get back on track.

Lower elevations will likely fish pretty well through the first half of the month, but as water temperatures continue to warm, expect the best fishing conditions in the mid to higher elevations, particularly by the latter part of the month.

We should continue to see sporadic hatches of Little Yellow Sallies, Light Cahills, Sulphurs and tan caddis. Larger golden stones are still hatching at night but fish are sometimes still looking for them in the early morning. Also start looking for Isonychia nymphs to start moving around toward the end of the month. But terrestrials will be the main course from now until fall with trout looking for beetles, ants, inchworms and the like.

Clinch River

May is often my favorite month on the Clinch but heavy water releases left it largely unfishable for most of the month. Water releases have started to relax now and it’s looking like June could be a good month.

We’ll hopefully still see some Sulphurs hatching in the late morning and afternoon through most of the month. Of course, midges are abundant 365 days a year and will be the fly choice most of the time in June. There are many patterns that will work, but it’s tough to beat a standard black Zebra Midge.

Neversink Caddis

Neversink Caddis
Yellow Neversink Caddis

If you’ve done much fishing in the Smoky Mountains, you have likely fished with this fly at one time or another. It is definitely a staple in my fly collection. The main reason is that it provides the three quantities that you want in a Smoky Mountain dry fly: It floats well, it’s easy to see, and it catches fish!

Many like to point out that this fly will sink. Of course it will! I don’t know of a dry fly that won’t! But it does float extremely well, and the name “Neversink” doesn’t refer to its buoyancy anyway. Instead, it refers to the Neversink River in New York. Beyond that, the origin and history of this fly are cloudy at best.

Original Neversink Caddis?
Yeager's Neversink Caddis
Yeager’s Neversink Caddis

The segmented pattern to the far left, captioned (perhaps inaccurately) “Original Neversink,” is claimed to be the original version of this fly, though I didn’t find much evidence to back that up. Additionally, I couldn’t find any information on who originated that pattern. The one next to it is a Neversink Caddis pattern originated by fly tyer, Jason Yeager. However, I couldn’t find anything that led me to believe it is the original. If there are any fly historians reading this, please let me know.

In any case, the pattern pictured at the top of the page is the version that I tie and fish, and it’s the one you’re likely to find in most fly shops. While I tie them in a variety of colors, yellow, tan, orange and chartreuse are among my favorites. I especially like the yellow version as it does a great job passing for the prolific Little Yellow Stonefly in the Smokies. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of yellow bugs that hatch in the Smokies from mid April through early October. Fishing with a yellow dry fly pattern of any kind is a pretty good bet during that timeframe.

While it is an effective representation for a caddis and some stoneflies, I tend to think of it as just a good, generic attractor pattern. And because of its better than average buoyancy and visibility, it makes a great top fly in a dry/dropper rig.

Neversink Caddis

Hook: TMC 100 or equivalent, #16-#12
Thread: 8/0 yellow (or to match foam color)
Body: 2mm yellow foam (or other color of your choice)
Wing: Natural or bleached elk hair (bleached offers a little better visibility)
Hackle: One brown and one grizzly rooster

Middle Prong Little River

Middle Prong Little River Smoky Mountains

Location: GSMNP East Tennessee                          

Nearest Town: Townsend, TN

Species: Rainbow & brown trout                             

Average Size: 6-10” (Some browns exceeding 20”)

Stream Size: Moderate                                           

Pressure: Moderate to Heavy

Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain                      

Boat Access: None

Best Times: Spring and fall                                      

Favorite Flies: Attractor dries, beadhead nymphs, stonefly nymphs

Nearest Fly Shop:    Little River Outfitters – Townsend                                                   

Lodging:         Docks

                        Talley-Ho                                                                  

Camping:       Little River Campground

                        Cades Cove Campground

Directions:

From Townsend, travel southeast on 73 to GSMNP entrance.  At the “Y” in the road, turn right on Laurel Creek Road (toward Cades Cove).  Take your first left (toward Tremont Institute).  This road will follow Middle Prong for approximately five miles.  The first two miles (to Tremont) are paved and the three miles above Tremont are gravel.  The river above Tremont Institute typically offers the most consistent fishing, particularly in the warmer months, but don’t disregard the lower stretch as many fine brown trout are seen and caught here.  There are numerous pull-offs along this five mile stretch that ends at a fairly large parking area.  Just above the parking area Lynn Camp Prong and Thunderhead Prong converge to form the Middle Prong.  Both are accessible via trail from this point.     

May Fishing Forecast

Clinch River Rainbow
Big ‘Ol Sulphur Eating Rainbow on the Clinch

Smoky Mountains

May is traditionally a great month to fish in the Smokies and this year should be no different. With the mild temperatures seen in May, you have pretty much every option on the table, from low elevation roadside rivers to high elevation backcountry streams.

Hatches are usually at their best this time of year, too. During the day, you should see mayflies like March Browns and Light Cahills, a number of different caddis species, and the most prolific hatch in the Smokies, the Little Yellow Sally shtonefly. Toward the end of the month, you should also see some of the larger golden stones hatching. They are often seen in sizes #8-#6 but mostly hatch at night. However, trout are often still looking for them after sunrise, so a big dry fly like a Madame X can be a good bet in the mornings.

Speaking of nighttime hatches. The month of May often showcases some of the most consistent hatches of the year right before dark. From about 7pm until dark, look for hatches of sulphur mayflies coinciding with egg-laying Little Yellow Sallies.

Clinch River

As usual, the Clinch River is anyone’s guess as far as water releases. We had some very favorable generation schedules through much of April and the fish was great. In recent days, they’ve been pushing quite a bit more water, leaving a much smaller window for the wade fisherman.

Typically, May is the month when the sulphur hatch really gets underway on the Clinch. We’ve seen a few popping off in recent weeks. When this hatch is in full swing, it’s really something to see. Hopefully the water releases will cooperate!

Otherwise, it’s the usual suspects on the Clinch. Beadhead Pheasant Tails and a variety of colors of Zebra Midges should do the trick.

April Fishing Forecast

Spring on Little River, TN
Spring Dry Fly Fishing

Smoky Mountains

Spring is slowly easing its way into the Smokies. March was pretty much what we expected. Cold overnights kept water temperatures below 50-degrees for most of the month and fishing was pretty tough. Though, there were some intermittent moments of good fishing mixed in. And things improved a little more during the last week of March with slightly warmer water temperatures stimulating hatches and getting the fish moving.

It looks like that trend will continue into early April. Expect slower mornings but fairly productive afternoons. There will likely be a potpourri of hatches. Hendricksons should be the main event for the early part of the month. Red Quills and March Browns will likely start making appearances later in April. Interspersed will be a periodic BWO’s and a variety of caddis and stoneflies.

A #14 Parachute Adams will be my default dry fly choice this month. If fish are rising and won’t take the Adams, start looking around and try to better match the color and size of bugs on the water.

All and all, things look good for April. There will most certainly be a few dips in temperature that turn the fish off, but the long range forecast suggests a mostly mild and dry month.

Clinch River

The Clinch didn’t fish at all in March. Nearly every day saw discharges of more than 25,000 cfs all day. I don’t know for sure when it will be back in shape. Flows have reduced to an average of 8000 cfs. That’s still too much but it’s a step in the right direction! If dry conditions persist, we may see fishable water by the end of the month – hopefully in time for a sulphur hatch! I’ll be keeping an eye on it.

Hendrickson Hatch

Hendrickson Dun
Adult Hendrickson Mayfly

Hendricksons have long been a favorite springtime hatch for Eastern fly fishermen. In the Smokies, they typically follow the Quill Gordon and Blue Quill hatches by two or three weeks. Most years, that means we don’t see Hendricksons until mid to late April. Because a warm stretch of weather in February triggered an early Quill Gordon hatch, things are a little out of whack and we are beginning to see Hendricksons now. I expect them to be around until about mid April.

Like many hatches in the Smokies, Hendricksons rarely come off in enormous, widespread numbers. But in the right place at the right time, you can find enough of these bugs to inspire some steady rises from trout. And while generic, attractor fly patterns will get you through most situations, having a fly that more closely matches what the fish are seeing never hurts!

Hendricksons hatch sporadically throughout the day in the Smokies but tend to be most active in sunny areas during the warmest part of the day. Most days this time of year, that means in the 2pm – 5pm range. They inhabit all types of water but I tend to see emergence occurring most in slow to medium currents.

Hendrickson Nymph
Hendrickson Nymph

The nymphs are not particularly good swimmers and they have an unusually robust profile. This combination of traits makes them very popular with the trout. Their color varies from reddish tan to dark, reddish brown. Tan and olive Hare’s Ear Nymphs work well for imitations. Whitlock’s Red Fox Squirrel Nymph is another great pattern during this hatch. Pheasant Tail Nymphs provide a nice color match but are pretty slender compared to the beefy naturals. In any case, they range in hook size from #14-12.

The adults also vary a bit in color. Much of that depends on the gender of the bug. The males tend to be darker, varying from grayish olive to grayish brown. However, the females are often a little lighter, sometimes taking on a tan or even pinkish hue.

Parachute Hendrickson
Parachute Hendrickson

While there are certainly numerous fly patterns specifically designed to imitate all of the variations of a Hendrickson, you can do pretty well with generic patterns as well. A Parachute Hare’s Ear works well, particularly when you’re seeing more of the lighter colored adults. And there’s always the Parachute Adams, especially when you’re seeing the darker variations. Like the nymphs, you’ll best match the naturals in sizes #14 – 12.

Early Wet Fly
Early Season Wet Fly

Finally, trout love taking the emerging insects during this hatch, so a wet fly can be an excellent choice. One of my favorites is the Early Season Wet Fly. I often fish it in tandem with another fly. Try it as the top fly of a nymphing rig with a Hare’s Ear or Red Fox Squirrel nymph down below. Or tie it as a dropper off the back of your dry fly of choice.

East Prong Little River – Roadside

Little River GSMNP
Little River

Location: GSMNP East Tennessee                          

Nearest Town: Townsend, TN

Species: Rainbow & brown trout, smallmouth bass

Average Size: 8-12” (Some browns exceeding 20”)

Stream Size: Open                          

Pressure: Moderate to heavy

Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain

Boat Access: None

Best Times: Spring and fall                                      

Favorite Flies: Attractor dries, beadhead nymphs, stonefly nymphs

Nearest Fly Shop:    Little River Outfitters – Townsend                                                   

Lodging:                     Docks

                                    Talley-Ho                                                                  

Camping:                   Little River Campground

                                    Elkmont Campground

Directions: 

From Townsend, travel southeast on 73 to GSMNP entrance.  At the “Y” in the road, turn left toward Gatlinburg on Little River Road.  This road will follow Little River for approximately twelve and a half miles and provide numerous pull-offs throughout.  The lower stretch has fewer trout but offers opportunities for smallmouth.  The trout you find in this stretch will be a mix of wild fish and the occasional stocker from Townsend.  The trout fishing gets much more consistent above “The Sinks,” which is about five and a half miles up the road.  Near the twelve and a half mile point, you can turn right toward Elkmont Campground and continue to access the river by road up to the campground entrance.  The river winds through the campground and can be accessed by foot. 

Alternate Route:

To skip approximately the bottom eight miles of river, you can come in from Wears Valley Road which runs from Townsend to Pigeon Forge.  From Townsend, turn on Wears Valley road at the only traffic light in town.  At about six and a half miles, turn right on Lyon Springs Road.  This road will eventually end at Little River Road at Metcalf Bottoms picnic area, approximately two and a half miles above “The Sinks.”