We had a better than usual August in the Smokies. Fairly regular rainfall kept water levels respectable and other than a few spells, it was relatively mild. Streams are beginning to get low again though and September is typically a very dry month here unless we pick up some hurricane remnants. The current beast, Dorian, is not showing signs of tracking this direction, so prepare yourself for low water and spooky fish.
I would expect to see mostly warm, summer type conditions for the first half of the month with a gradual cooling toward the middle of the month. There aren’t many hatches to speak of in September. Caddis are always a good possibility and Isonychias are active, but that’s more important as a nymph. Terrestrials are still probably the main course for the next month or so.
The Clinch has been a tough one this year. Flows have not been very friendly to the wade fisherman, at least with any predictability. If you live nearby and have a flexible work schedule, you’ve probably found some mornings to fish. Hopefully, we’ll see some more consistency in September.
If so, you’ll likely see better water in the morning and early
afternoon. Don’t expect to see much in the way of hatches except for
midges. I’d tie on a dark Zebra Midge as small as you dare to go!
Abrams Creek is one of the best known trout streams in the national park if not the southeast. While its reputation is probably based more on how well it used to fish, it is still a top quality fishery and a very worthy destination.
Once a prolific brown trout fishery, Abrams consists
primarily of rainbows these days. Though
nobody seems too certain of the reason for the decline in brown trout, comfort
is taken in the quality of rainbows that make this stream home. Abundant food and a slower flow of water
likely account for these larger than average rainbows. However, with rainbows up to 18” in length a
possibility, an 8” to 10” fish is more the norm.
There is really no road access to this stream but a trail follows it through the majority of the best trout water, which is located between Cades Cove and the Abrams Creek Campground. The stream actually originates above the cove from Anthony Creek. However, it is difficult to distinguish where Anthony Creek ends and where Abrams Creek begins. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to follow Abrams Creek at all as it flows through the pastures of Cades Cove due its temporary disappearance underground and reappearance in the form of springs.
In Cades Cove
It maintains this smaller spring creek characteristic throughout its journey through the cove and is difficult to reach with no road access. Furthermore, there is no trail through this stretch, and the terrain through Cades Cove is much rougher than you’d think! Cades Cove consists of an eleven mile, one lane driving loop that encircles the cove and grants tourists access to historic structures and viewable wildlife, all from the comfort of their automobile. During peak seasons, it can take up to three hours to drive around the loop with the always possible “bear jam” capable of shutting down traffic completely.
While there is no road that follows the stream through the cove, there are two roads that cut across the loop, Sparks Lane and Hyatt Lane. Both of these roads cross Abrams Creek. Sparks Lane is the first one you will encounter and will allow the quickest access. To reach it, enter the loop and drive .09 miles and it will be on your left. It will cross Abrams approximately .08 miles back. After fishing, you can exit by continuing on Sparks Lane to the other end and turning left, back onto the loop.
From this point you will only have about a mile and a half of the loop to travel before exiting. The second option is Hyatt Lane. To reach it, enter the loop and it will be 2.8 miles back on your left. Hyatt Lane crosses the stream about a mile back. As with Sparks Lane, you can exit by continuing back Hyatt to its end and turning left on the loop. From there you will have an approximate 3 mile drive before exiting the loop.
All of the water in the cove is relatively small and relatively slow moving. As a result, the fish can be extremely spooky. The best time to fish this stretch is typically after a decent rain when the water is a little high and slightly off color. I also tend to focus on early season to fish this stretch when water temps are lower and traffic in the cove is at a minimum. Winter fishing in the park is generally not fantastic but if you do decide to try your luck in January or February, this would probably be one of your better bets.
Above the Falls
After flowing out of the cove, the stream passes by a large
parking area, also accessible via the loop road, and begins its approximate 15
mile tumble to Chilhowee Lake, with about half of that distance paralleled by
trail. There are two practical ways to
access this section of trail. The first
is via the loop road.
Upon entering the loop, drive 4.8 miles and turn right at
the sign indicating the Abrams Falls Trail.
After turning, drive another half mile and there will be a large parking
area. At this point you can actually
fish upstream a pretty good ways, accessing the last of the “meadow
water.” There is not trail access but you’ll
see many well-beaten fisherman’s paths.
You can also access Abram’s Falls Trail here, which will lead you
Although this trail parallels the stream for most of the
way, there are several stretches where it is high above the water or there is
enough thick growth to prevent access.
So you may have to do a little scouting to plan your way in and out of
the stream. When doing so, beware of the
The Infamous Horseshoe
One of the most notorious stretches of Abrams Creek is the horseshoe. When hiking the trail, you lose site of the stream for a short time, crest a ridge, and soon see the stream again. To the casual observer it might appear that you could hop in at one point and easily fish your way to the other, when in fact, the stream flows a considerable distance away from the trail, forming a horseshoe shape. This horseshoe of water is about a mile and a half long and requires a full day to fish. Furthermore, you have to fish pretty quickly. Failure to recognize this could result, as it has for many, in a feeble attempt to bushwhack back to the trail and ultimately spending the night there.
The horseshoe can be a great, remote stretch of water to fish. Just go in there properly prepared and plan to spend the day – a LONG day. Get an early start, pack a lunch, and take a buddy. If something happens, you’ll be very hard to find! I also recommend taking a handheld GPS if you have one. This allows you to track your progress through the stretch and can let you know if you need to pick up the pace.
Continuing down the trail, there is another similar stretch
of water just above Abrams Falls referred to as the “little shoe” or “baby
shoe.” It provides the same scenario as
the horseshoe, only it is shorter in length.
At least a half day should be dedicated to this stretch and the same
precautions should be taken.
Below the Falls
The trail continues past Abrams Falls and then requires a
short detour on Hatcher Mountain Trail and another change to Little Bottoms
Trail to stay with the stream. Little
Bottoms Trail, like Abrams Falls Trail, will parallel Abrams Creek but offers
only select locations to get in and out.
Ultimately, Little Bottoms Trail joins Cane Creek Trail and delivers you
to the Abrams Creek Campground. Since
you can reach this campground by automobile, driving to it and hiking up the
trail make the most sense to access the stretch of Abrams below the falls.
To reach Abrams Creek Campground, travel south on 129 and
turn left just past Foothills Parkway onto Happy Valley Road. Drive 5.8 miles back and turn right at the
sign for Abrams Creek Campground. About
a mile back, you will find a place to park just before entering the
campground. The campground will allow
you access to a little more of Abrams Creek before you get on the trail.
Below the campground, Abrams Creek is very difficult to access and much of it is too deep to wade. Because of this,the best way to fish this portion of the creek is to take a canoe up from the mouth of Abrams Creek – where it enters Chilhowee Lake. I’ve also seen fishermen in float tubes on this stretch.
While this lower stretch does get runs of trout from
Chilhowee, particularly in the early part of the year, it is primarily home to
smallmouth bass. The smallies grow to
better than average sizes here and while they will take the occasional top
water bug, they’ll much more likely fall victim to streamers and large
From the campground to the falls, you’ll find a mix of
rainbows and smallmouth with the percentage of rainbows steadily increasing the
further up you go. From the falls up, it
is almost entirely rainbows and it is this stretch, from the falls to the cove
that I would deem the most consistently productive trout water on Abrams Creek.
Recommendations and Tips
When fishing this stretch, felt soles are a must if you want to stay upright. And even with felt there are no guarantees. With its long sloped rocks and silty bottom, this is without a doubt the slickest stream I’ve ever waded.
You’ll do much better here in spring and fall. Furthermore, all of the standard Smoky Mountain fly patterns should serve you well here. Just make sure your fly box includes a selection of caddis in #18 – #14 range as hatches can be prolific.
Nearest Fly Shop: Little River Outfitters – Townsend
Lodging: Talley Ho
Camping: Elkmont Campground
Campsites #24 & #30
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Fishing will likely be hit and miss in the Smokies this month. Of course, we’re starting the month off with very high water. Additional large amounts of rainfall in March could really shut things down. Hopefully, we can “regroup” with a stretch of dry weather.
Water temperatures are the other issue this month. They tend to rise and fall significantly in March, creating wild swings in fish activity. We’re looking for water temps to get in the 50’s for the better part of the day, for at least a few days in a row. More than likely, that will begin to happen at the mid to late part of the month.
When that does occur, not only will you find more active fish, you’ll begin to encounter some of the better hatches of the year. Small black caddis and stoneflies will hatch sporadically through the month and you should begin seeing better hatches of Quill Gordon and Blue Quill mayflies toward the end of the month.
I honestly just can’t imagine much happening on the Clinch or other Tennessee tailwaters this month. After all of the flooding, most dams are currently spilling. That will likely be followed by weeks of heavy generation. Let’s look at the Clinch again next month!