December Fishing Forecast

delayed harvest rainbow tennessee
Delayed Harvest Rainbow

December is kind of the beginning of “fishing for the sake of going fishing” season. That’s not to say that fish can’t be caught, but we begin to see a lot more bad days than good ones, at least as far as activity goes. Spending the day on a quiet, snowy stream catching nothing is still a pretty good way to spend a day!


Right now we’re seeing water temps in the mid 40’s in low elevation mountain streams. As a broad rule, trout don’t feed very actively much below 50. You can still catch them but don’t expect a 40 fish day. You’ll need to nymph slow and deep and focus on the slower pools. Sleep in, eat a good breakfast and head to the stream a little later in the day. Your best fishing will be through the middle part of the day when water temps are at their warmest.

As suggested above, nymphs will be the ticket most of the time in December and throughout the winter. Darker patterns like Pheasant Tails, olive or black Hares Ears, and Prince Nymphs are good bets. Bigger stoneflies like Girdle Bug might produce but don’t disregard the small, dark Zebra Midges. I would use a tandem rig pairing a large stone with a smaller nymph.

On warmer, sunnier days, you may see isolated surface activity. If so, they’re likely eating BWO’s, black caddis, or small black stoneflies. So, you may want to keep a few of those in your box. Actually, some small Parachute Adams and Griffith’s Gnats should take care of most of your small fly needs.

Delayed Harvest:

The DH waters should be a little more productive through the colder months. Stocked trout just aren’t as impacted by the cold water temperatures. Unfortunately, the later into DH season we get, the fewer fish you will find. Poaching is always a problem on these streams. Any of the nymphs mentioned above should do okay along with any shiny or colorful nymphs you may have.

Clinch River:

This report always sounds like a broken record, but the Clinch should fish well anytime during the winter as long as you get favorable water releases. We’ve seen some good release schedules sporadically throughout the late fall. But at the time of this writing, they are running 2+ generators around the clock. You just have to keep checking. Oh yeah… midges.

Deep Creek

brown trout deep creek north carolina
Deep Creek Brown

Location: GSMNP Western North Carolina                                                             Nearest Town: Bryson City, NC
Species: Rainbow, brown, and brook trout                                                              
Average Size: 8-10” (brook trout average smaller, some browns exceeding 20”)
Stream Size: Open (lower stretches) to tight (headwaters)                                                           
Pressure: Heavy (around campground), light (headwaters), moderate (in between)
Type of Water: Freestone, Mountain                                                          
Boat Access: None
Best Times: Spring and fall                                                              
Favorite Flies: Attractor dries, beadhead nymphs, stonefly nymph


Numerous hotels in Bryson City, NC and Cherokee, NC                                                          

Front Country Camping: Deep Creek Campground
Smokemont Campground

Backcountry Campsites #53, #54, #55, #56, #57, #58, #59, & #60


From Bryson City, turn from Main Street (Hwy 19) onto Everett Street.  Turn right onto Depot Street.  Depot Street bends hard to the left and becomes West Deep Creek Road.  Continue on West Deep Creek Road until you reach the campground entrance.  There are also numerous signs in Bryson City directing you toward the campground. 

Once at the campground, you will have immediate access to the stream.  To gain further upstream access, follow the Deep Creek Trail from the campground.  The trail follows the stream for approximately ten miles, providing ample stream access as well as access to numerous backcountry campsites along the way.  The first half mile of stream above the campground is designated tubing water which you’ll want to skip during season, but no tubing is permitted beyond that half mile point. 

Alternate access is also available to the top, headwater portion of Deep Creek from Newfound Gap Road (Hwy 441).  Just south of Newfound Gap, there is a pull-off at the other end of the Deep Creek Trail.  Expect to hike at least four miles to Backcountry Campsite #53 before reaching access to some of the better water.  Beware that while it is a rather simple hike in, it is a grueling uphill hike back out, particularly after a day of fishing.  Allow plenty of time to get back out and be certain you’re in good physical condition before attempting. 

Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

Gold Ribbed Hares Ear
Gold Ribbed Hares Ear

The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear, commonly just referred to as a Hare’s Ear, is one of the oldest nymph patterns known. However, the history on the fly is shaky at best. If I’m being honest, the history of this fly is so vague and cumbersome that I just got tired of looking! But there are numerous references in many of the old English fishing journals to a similar fly that, at the time, was more of a wet fly. The more current nymph version of the fly appears to have been around since at least the 1880’s. There are two unrelated tyers, James Ogden and Frederick Halford, who both frequently receive credit for its origin.

When I write my comprehensive history on American trout flies, I’ll dig a little deeper. But for purposes of this newsletter article, let’s just say that it has been catching trout for a LONG time!

The Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear gets its name from the materials that are used to tie it. It seems they weren’t quite as creative with fly names back in the day. Should we call it the Sex Dungeon?!?! No. It’s tied with materials from a hare’s mask and a piece of gold tinsel for a rib. Let’s call it a Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear.

What the fly lacks in name creativity, it more than makes up for in productivity. It is easily one of the most popular and effective nymph patterns of all time. Most agree that it is intended to imitate a mayfly nymph, but it is also an excellent representation of a caddis nymph and many crustaceans. And while the original natural rabbit color is still quite productive, there are countless color variations. Personally, in addition to the natural color, I love a black Hare’s Ear in the winter and an olive in the early spring to imitate Quill Gordon nymphs.

in addition to color variations, there are countless other variations. Many will have some kind of sparkle rib or sparkly back. Some might have a wingcase made of peacock herl. Of course, there are beadhead versions and micro jig versions. Like many great flies, its versatility is a big part of its effectiveness.

If you’ve been trout fishing for a while, you undoubtedly already know this fly. If you’re new to trout fishing, you need to know it. Since this is originally appearing in a winter newsletter, included one of my favorite winter variations of a Hare’s Ear below.

black beadhead flashback hares ear
Beadhead Flashback Hares Ear – Black

Hook: #18 – 12 2x long nymph hook
Thread: 8/0 Black
Bead: Gold tungsten to match hook size
Rib: Gold wire
Tail: Guard hairs from hares mask. Dyed black.
Wing Case: Pearlescent Flashabou
Abdomen: Black hares ear dubbing
Thorax: Black hares ear dubbing (picked out)