Smokies Fishing Report

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 253cfs / 2.17 feet
Pigeon: 645cfs / 2.35 feet
Oconaluftee: 727cfs / 2.18 feet
Cataloochee: 164cfs / 2.81

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 55 – 59 degrees
Mid elevations: 52 – 56 degrees
High elevations: 50 – 53 degrees

Current Conditions

We’ve gotten a nice, long break from the heavy rains and sharp cold fronts and conditions are actually begining to stabilize. What has not been going our way is an unprecedented number of tourists… and when you’re talking about what is already the most visited national park in the country, that says a lot! It seems to be the perfect storm of spring breakers and Covid shut-in refugees and I’m hoping it slows soon. Right now our national park is being loved to death. With so many people out and about, it may be a good time to brush up on your Stream Etiquette.

But if you can manage to find a quiet place away from the masses, fishing is getting pretty good. Mornings are still a little chilly and it still needs to warm up in the high country. But most everything is fishing well with low elevations and afternoons being the real highlight right now.

Projected Conditions

We have a slight cold front and a little bit of rain in the forecast toward the end of the week but all and all, it looks like a good week ahead. I don’t expect drastic changes in water temperatures or levels. As we get a little farther into April, hopefully spring breaks will wind down and a little of the tourist traffic will decrease.

Tips

Fish are beginning to spread in the stream more and activity is picking up in riffles and pockets. Without full tree bloom, fish may be spooky in the bright sunlight. Seek out locations near shade lines. Fishing is starting to get productive even in the mornings in the lower elevations. For mid and high elevation streams, I’d try to focus on the afternoon.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

Hatches are fairly diverse right now with very few heavy hatches of one insect coming off. There are still a few Quill Gordons (#14) hanging around but Blue Quills (#18) and Light Hendricksons (#14) are accounting for most of the mayfly activity. Red Quills (#14-12) should begin showing up in better numbers and you may even see a few March Browns (#14-10) showing up early to the party.

There are a lot of small dark stoneflies but the adults don’t spend much time in front of the trout. A #18 Pheasant Tail is a respectable imitation for the nymph. A lot of #16 dun caddis are out and about and starting to see some larger tan caddis in a #14. And I saw my first Yellow Sally Stonefly of the year. Expect more of them toward the end of the month.

You can certainly carry exact imitations of any of the flies mentioned above. But with so many different bugs and no large numbers of any, keeping your fly pattern fairly generic is not a bad idea. A Parachute Adams and Parachute Hares Ear are really good all-purpose spring dry flies. Thunderheads, Adams Wulffs and Royal Wulffs also do pretty well.

For nymphs, try Hares Ears, Pheasant Tails, Copper Johns and Tellico Nymphs. My most consistent producer has been a creation of my own that I call an Early Spring Nymph. I’ll include the pattern in my next newsletter. Until then, an olive Hares Ear is pretty similar. Check out my Hatch Guide for complete hatch information.

For the featured fly, I’m going to suggest a Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail. It’s a great generic pattern that does a great job imitating a number of emerging insects. I frequently fish it in tandem as the top fly in a double nymph rig or as a dropper behind a dry fly. Two Fly Rigs.

Featured Fly

Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail

Smokies Fishing Report

Early Spring Fishing in the Smoky Mountains

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 579cfs / 2.77 feet
Pigeon: 1160cfs / 2.97 feet
Oconaluftee: 1130cfs / 2.67 feet
Cataloochee: 273cfs / 3.16

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 48 – 52 degrees
Mid elevations: 46 – 50 degrees
High elevations: 42 – 47 degrees

Current Conditions

We are currently in what I would call a recovery stage. It may not be great but it’s definitely heading in the right direction. Water levels have been slowly dropping from last week’s big rains but streams are still a little on the high side. Water temperatures took a big dive too from a significant cold front, but they are slowly climbing back into the 50’s.

Projected Conditions

The week ahead is looking really good. By mid week, temperatures and levels should be pretty close to normal for this time of year. More rain is in the forecast near the weekend but right now, it doesn’t look like the significant systems we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks. Hopefully it won’t play too much havoc on water levels. As always, keep an eye on those stream gauges – reading stream gauges.

Tips

We’re easing back into “typical” early spring conditions. You want to seek out slower water and you want to fish the warmest water possible right now. Try to concentrate your efforts on the middle of the day, stick to the lower elevations and look for areas that get a little more sunlight. Finding Feeding Trout in Early Spring.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

I had to cancel most trips last week due to high water so I haven’t really had a chance to see if we have any new hatches starting up. I’ll learn a lot more in the coming days. For that reason, I’m keeping the hatch info below the same as last week. However, based on experience and pure speculation, we’re getting to the time when Quill Gordons may be winding down and you may see more Blue Quills and Light Hendricksons. Carry Parachute Adams in sizes 18-14 and you should be in pretty good shape.

Quill Gordons are still popping off here and there. Again, it just depends where you are. I’ve been on pools where I only see two or three, and two pools up they’re coming off everywhere you look. They could show up at any time but mostly, we’re seeing the better hatches mid to late afternoon.

Standard Quill Gordon patterns should work well for topwater, so will a Parachute Adams – sizes #14 – #12. Everyone seems to have their favorite Quill Gordon nymph imitation. Mine is an olive Hares Ear. When the hatch is coming off pretty good, I always do best with an emerger, and my favorite is a Mr. Rapidan Emerger.

Blue Quills are coming off in better numbers in sizes #18 – #16. You’ll probably still run into some Blue Wing Olives, and there is always an assortment of dark caddis and stoneflies this time of year. A size #16 grey Elk Caddis will do the job for most of them. Otherwise, a lot of your favorite attractors should do fine. For early spring, I always like flies with peacock herl, Zug Bugs and Prince Nymphs in particular.

For the featured fly, I’m going to suggest the Red Fox Squirrel nymph for no other reason than it always seems to be a good early spring pattern for me. Clicking the link will give you a lot more info on this fly.

Featured Fly

Red Fox Squirrel Nymph

Brood X Cicada

The last time it happened, George W. Bush was not far into his second term and LeBron James was nearing the end of his rookie season. Netflix wasn’t streaming, Twitter and Instagram didn’t exist and Facebook was only available on the campus of Harvard University. The first iPhone was still three years away and I was still five months away from meeting the woman I would eventually marry.

Brood X cicadas have missed a lot in the 17 years they’ve been underground, but this is the year they come to the surface to see what’s been going on. And there will be a lot of them coming. Tens of billions of Brood X cicadas are expected to emerge across 18 states, including Tennessee. But we see cicadas every year. What’s so special about these?

There are, in fact, 13-year cicadas and even annual cicadas that can emerge in pretty significant numbers. But the 17-year cicadas emerge in mind boggling swarms, and the Brood X is supposed to be one of the biggest yet.

They typically begin to emerge when the ground temperature reaches 64-degrees. In Tennessee, that’s expected to be around Mother’s Day. Once they begin emerging, expect them to hang around for about 4-6 weeks. While they’re here, in addition to catching up on all of the latest tech and social trends, they will damage a few young trees and plants, make a hell of a lot of noise and end up in the bellies of a lot of fish!

Unfortunately, we don’t typically see many of them in the mountains… but I’m hopeful. And there doesn’t tend to be a lot of them near tailwaters. Where they are going to be of most significance to fly fishers is on warmwater lakes and rivers. I hope to get out at least a few times on the mud flats to cast to rising carp!

I spent part of the winter tying a bunch of these in preparation. I tied most of them on bass hooks but tied several trout versions, too… just in case…

Get ready. The cicadas are coming!

Brood X Cicada Fly Pattern

Rob’s Cicada (Trout Version)

  • Hook: TMC 5212 #10
  • Thread: Black 6/0
  • Eyes: Red glass beads burnt onto 15lb. red Amnesia
  • Underbody: Golden brown Ice Dub
  • Body 1: 2mm black foam, folded over to layer Body 2
  • Body 2: 2mm orange foam
  • Underwing: Pearl yellow Krystal Flash
  • Wing: Mix of orange and white antron yarn
  • Legs: Orange and black Sili Legs

Traveling with Your Fly Fishing Gear

Note: This is a “guest column” generously provided by the good folks at Riversmith!

The solution to any problem — work, love, money, whatever — is to go fishing, and the worse the problem, the longer the trip should be. – John Gierach

While there is palpable satisfaction in catching an actual fish, fly fishing is a sport taken up by ladies and gents that need some space to breathe and some time to think. It certainly doesn’t hurt their chances of having a good time if the place he or she is wetting their line is beautiful and chock full of fish.

Riversmith

For the best chances of having yourself an ideal trip, it requires a little thought up front. Whether you are traveling by plane or car, the more preparation and consideration you put into how you will get there, what gear will accompany you, and how you should pack that gear, the more time you can spend in the moment, with the fish.

Plane Travel- Don’t Forget to Smile at TSA

Good manners, common sense, and doing a little homework goes a long way, and they go even further in the presence of a TSA agent. Above all else, humble yourself and remember that you are not above a TSA agent and they can make or break your trip before it even starts. While it may say on their website what fly fishing gear they will allow and what they will not, it will do you absolutely no good to debate or argue. Ultimately, every agent’s discernment varies from their comrades. Know that going into your experience at the airport and pack accordingly.

What exactly does that look like? Let’s take it item by item.

Item No. 1- Fly Rod(s)

According to the TSA website (which might not be a bad idea to visit before you pack for your trip), you may pack your fly rods as your carry-on or in your checked bag. That said, it’s best to take an extra minute or two and look up your specific airline carrier to ensure your rod fits within the size limitations they state.

They design most fly rod tubes to fall within the airline’s parameters, but double checking will make boarding your flight all the easier. If you don’t have a fly rod tube and don’t have time to purchase one, your safest bet is to pack your fly rod in your large checked bag with plenty of padding. When it gets tossed about like it inevitably will, the shock and rough treatment should make no difference to your fly rod if it’s properly padded in your checked bag.

Riversmith
Item No. 2- Fly Reel(s)

Fly reels are fairly easy to get past TSA with no gripe, since none of their components are dangerous. But there are a couple points with reels worth keeping in mind.

Save yourself a potential headache with TSA and remove the fishing line from reels. Pack a not even opened cord of fishing line in your checked bag. Then pack the fly reel itself in your carry-on if it fits; even better, in its original packaging or in a travel reel case. This should easily fit in your carry-on bag, but again, proper padding is always a safe bet.

Remaining Items- Flies and Other Equipment

This may sound like Captain Obvious speaking, but pack any equipment that could be used as a weapon in your checked bag. This includes your flies, knives, forceps, etc. A good rule of thumb is if it could hurt someone or raise a TSA eyebrow, it does not belong in your carry-on period.

To save yourself some prime real estate, only pack what you need; in fact, there are items you need that can most likely be purchased at your destination such as sunscreen, insect repellent, personal hygiene items, etc. that are not critical in your pack.

But if you pack smart and have the room in your luggage, you may be able to bring everything you need. Start off with what is absolutely necessary in order to fish (weather appropriate clothing, your fly rod, reel, line, lures, and net). After that has all made its way into your pack, consider waders, wading boots, sunglasses, a hat, medical supplies, and so on. If it can’t catch you a fish and doesn’t fit, consider going without.

And finally, look for luggage that makes it easy to separate your fishing gear that will get wet from the rest of your pack. Luggage made from strong, high-denier nylon material, with durable wheels, and big enough to carry all your equipment but small enough to fit within airline parameters will make traversing the airport a breeze.

Car Travel- Drive Like A Veteran Fishing Guide

There has to be a fair collection of snack wrappers and crushed plastic bottles. The odor should be a mix of salami and skunk. — Mike Schmidt

Alright, so maybe you don’t want your vehicle to smell like a fly fishing guide’s, but it should definitely function like one. Although you may not be in the financial or logistical position to purchase a vehicle tailored to your fly fishing addiction, you’ll want to pick fishing destinations your vehicle can easily get to.

If you are in a position where you can consider a vehicle that suits your fishing needs, bar none, it has to be off-road with a high clearance. You wouldn’t bring a knife to a gunfight, so don’t take a Kia Soul to a switchback-filled, rocky as rocky roads get fishing spot.

Riversmith

Now once you’ve got a vehicle that can get you there (and back) there’s a few accessories definitely worth considering to keep your gear organized and protected. A tailgater organizer is so handy and can prevent hooks from being caught on your vehicle interior or carpet, and keep all your tiny equipment from getting lost or thrown around the vehicle. A plastic bin that fits in the trunk or hatchback of your vehicle for waders and wade boots is also super handy to have.

Speaking of items that will inevitably get wet, an accessory often overlooked until you’re covered in mud and water and trying to get back into your vehicle are some weather tech floor mats. Although you won’t be driving or riding in your wading boots or waders, that mud-soaked gear needs somewhere to go. If you don’t have room for the plastic bin previously mentioned, some weather tech floor mats lining the entire vehicle floor will keep things in easy-to-clean up condition.

And finally, you can keep it greatly old-school and pop your fly rod in the bed of your truck fully assembled, or you can protect your precious rod and look into a fly rod roof rack like the Riversmith River Quiver. Not only can a River Quiver accommodate several fly rods, all varying in weights and lengths, but it’s highly shock absorbent frame and horizontal case cover and locking mechanism protect your fully assembled rod, saving you room in the cabin and providing peace of mind.

Don’t Be Such a Greenhorn… or at Least Don’t Travel Like One

You can overthink your fly fishing trip and potentially rob some fun from the experience, but you can definitely under think your trip and ruin it. For traveling with your gear, whether it’s by plane or car, pay a little attention and protect your gear. Put a little money from your wallet into accessories that will protect the investment you put into the hobby so you can pursue it more frequently.

Don’t be such a greenhorn… or at least don’t travel like one. Safe travels and happy casting!

Smokies Fishing Report

Location

Smoky Mountains

Smokies Stream Conditions

Water Levels

Little River: 1630cfs / 4.14 feet
Pigeon: 4130cfs / 5.14 feet
Oconaluftee: 2080cfs / 3.58 feet
Cataloochee: 552cfs / 3.82

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 48 – 52 degrees
Mid elevations: 46 – 50 degrees
High elevations: 42 – 47 degrees

Current Conditions

Well, we appear to be in a pattern… and not a very good one I’m afraid. As predicted in last week’s report, just as everything was getting back to normal, we got whopped by a major rain event on Thursday. That was followed by a cold front and another two day bout with heavy rain and storms over the weekend. The result is falling water temperatures and blown out streams.

Actual rainfall totals vary around the region. Middle Tennessee received approximately 7″ in a couple of days. Most of the areas around the mountains received 3-5″. Most streams came up 3-4′ and are still flowing 2-4′ above normal but falling. Not only are these conditions not very productive for most folks, they are just not safe.

In the summertime, water like this usually drops back down to normal in just a couple of days. But in the spring, when we usually get a lot more frequent, sustained rainfall, banks are already heavily saturated and there’s just nowhere for the water to go. So, stream levels tend to drop at a much slower rate. In short, I’d try to find something else to do for at least the next few days.

Projected Conditions

If we didn’t get any more rain, it would likely take about 4 or 5 days for streams to get back down to a “fishable” level – probably a full week to get down to normal. That puts us on track to see reasonable water by Thursday or Friday this week. The problem is we are expecting another 1 1/2″ of rain from late Tuesday night through Wednesday evening, which would easily spike those already high water levels back up 1 or 2′.

To add salt to the wound, Wednesday’s rain will be followed by a significant cold front. Thursday’s high temperature is only going to be in the 40’s. No matter how you slice it, the week ahead doesn’t look too promising. If you’re planning a trip, definitely keep an eye on those stream gauges – reading stream gauges.

Tips

In general, you want to seek out slower water and you want to fish the warmest water possible right now. Try to concentrate your efforts on the middle of the day, stick to the lower elevations and look for areas that get a little more sunlight. Finding Feeding Trout in Early Spring.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

Quill Gordons are still popping off here and there. Again, it just depends where you are. I’ve been on pools where I only see two or three, and two pools up they’re coming off everywhere you look. They could show up at any time but mostly, we’re seeing the better hatches mid to late afternoon.

Standard Quill Gordon patterns should work well for topwater, so will a Parachute Adams – sizes #14 – #12. Everyone seems to have their favorite Quill Gordon nymph imitation. Mine is an olive Hares Ear. When the hatch is coming off pretty good, I always do best with an emerger, and my favorite is a Mr. Rapidan Emerger.

Blue Quills are coming off in better numbers in sizes #18 – #16. You’ll probably still run into some Blue Wing Olives, and there is always an assortment of dark caddis and stoneflies this time of year. A size #16 grey Elk Caddis will do the job for most of them. Otherwise, a lot of your favorite attractors should do fine. For early spring, I always like flies with peacock herl, Zug Bugs and Prince Nymphs in particular.

This week’s featured fly reflects the water conditions more than it does the seasonal hatches. If you can get on the water at all, it will be high and you’re going to want to fish larger, heavier flies that can get down quickly. Here are a few tips for fishing high water.

Featured Fly

Pats Rubber Legs
Pat’s Rubber Legs

Smokies Fishing Report

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 531cfs / 2.69 feet
Pigeon: 979cfs / 2.78 feet
Oconaluftee: 819cfs / 2.30 feet
Cataloochee: 178cfs / 2.86

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 49 – 53 degrees
Mid elevations: 46 – 51 degrees
High elevations: 42 – 47 degrees

Current Conditions

Last week turned out to be great until Thursday, which is exactly what we expected. Heavy rain hit Wednesday night and Thursday and brought stream levels up substantially. Additionally we had some cooler overnights over the weekend and water temperatures took a little dip.

We are just now beginning to rebound from those two events. Water levels are still a little high but manageable, especially on smaller streams. And water didn’t come up as much on the North Carolina side, so they are running only slightly above normal.

The best fishing is on lower elevation streams right now. Fish will be most active in the afternoon when it’s a little warmer. Many anglers are talking about catching a lot of very small rainbows. This is pretty common for right now as the larger rainbows are spawning. We’ll hopefully see them get a little more active in the coming weeks.

Projected Conditions

This is looking like a potential replay of last week. Just as things are bouncing back to normal, we have what may be a big rainmaker system moving through on Thursday. Projections are for more than an inch of rain, which would most certainly blow streams out. And you guessed it, that’s followed by a cold front this weekend. Keep an eye on those stream gauges if you go – reading stream gauges.

Tips

In general, you want to seek out slower water and you want to fish the warmest water possible right now. Try to concentrate your efforts on the middle of the day, stick to the lower elevations and look for areas that get a little more sunlight. Finding Feeding Trout in Early Spring.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

Quill Gordons are still popping off here and there. Again, it just depends where you are. I’ve been on pools where I only see two or three, and two pools up they’re coming off everywhere you look. They could show up at any time but mostly, we’re seeing the better hatches mid to late afternoon.

Standard Quill Gordon patterns should work well for topwater, so will a Parachute Adams – sizes #14 – #12. Everyone seems to have their favorite Quill Gordon nymph imitation. Mine is an olive Hares Ear. When the hatch is coming off pretty good, I always do best with an emerger, and my favorite is a Mr. Rapidan Emerger.

Blue Quills are coming off in better numbers in sizes #18 – #16. You’ll probably still run into some Blue Wing Olives, and there is always an assortment of dark caddis and stoneflies this time of year. A size #16 grey Elk Caddis will do the job for most of them. Otherwise, a lot of your favorite attractors should do fine. For early spring, I always like flies with peacock herl, Zug Bugs and Prince Nymphs in particular.

Featured Fly

Parachute Adams
Parachute Adams

Smokies Fishing Report

Quill Gordon

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 249cfs / 2.09 feet
Pigeon: 542cfs / 2.19 feet
Oconaluftee: 1090cfs / 2.64 feet
Cataloochee: 218cfs / 2.99

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 49 – 54 degrees
Mid elevations: 46 – 52 degrees
High elevations: 42 – 48 degrees

Current Conditions

Things are starting to get pretty good around here. Water temperatures are remaining in the low 50’s in the lower elevations. We’re beginning to see more consistent feeding activity and hatches are picking up, too. In general, water levels and temperatures are a little better on the Tennessee side of the park right now.

The best fishing is on lower elevation streams right now. Fish will be most active in the afternoon when it’s a little warmer. Many anglers are talking about catching a lot of very small rainbows. This is pretty common for right now as the larger rainbows are spawning. We’ll hopefully see them get a little more active in the coming weeks.

Projected Conditions

It looks like temperatures should remain mild for the most part in the coming week. We’re expecting some colder overnights this weekend which will drop out water temperature a little. My biggest concern is the rain expected for tomorrow into Thursday. Streams are pretty full now and the ground is still very saturated. It won’t take much to spike those water levels. Projected rainfall is an inch or more in some areas. Keep an eye on the gauges – reading stream gauges.

Tips

In general, you want to seek out slower water and you want to fish the warmest water possible right now. Try to concentrate your efforts on the middle of the day, stick to the lower elevations and look for areas that get a little more sunlight. Finding Feeding Trout in Early Spring.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

Quill Gordons are beginning to show up in pretty good numbers… some places. This is kind of luck of the draw. I’ve been on pools where I only see two or three, and two pools up they’re coming off everywhere you look. They could show up at any time but mostly, we’re seeing the better hatches mid to late afternoon.

Standard Quill Gordon patterns should work well for topwater, so will a Parachute Adams – sizes #14 – #12. Everyone seems to have their favorite Quill Gordon nymph imitation. Mine is an olive Hares Ear. When the hatch is coming off pretty good, I always do best with an emerger, and my favorite is a Mr. Rapidan Emerger.

Blue Quills are also starting to show up in sizes #18 – #16. You’ll probably still run into some Blue Wing Olives, and there is always an assortment of dark caddis and stoneflies this time of year. A size #16 grey Elk Caddis will do the job for most of them. Otherwise, a lot of your favorite attractors should do fine. For early spring, I always like flies with peacock herl, Zug Bugs and Prince Nymphs in particular.

Featured Fly
Mr. Rapidan Emerger

Smokies Fishing Report

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 336cfs / 2.31 feet
Pigeon: 687cfs / 2.41 feet
Oconaluftee: 750cfs / 2.23 feet
Cataloochee: 190cfs / 2.90

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 44 – 47 degrees
Mid elevations: 41 – 44 degrees
High elevations: 38 – 41 degrees

Current Conditions

This can be one of the most maddening scenarios when you’re just so ready to fish! We’ve had some beautiful, dry weather the last several days with fairly mild temperatures. It just looks like the fishing would be great! The problem is that our overnight lows are still near freezing so water temperatures are still well below optimum feeding conditions. This doesn’t mean you can’t catch fish but you’re going to have to work at it. Strikes will likely not come frequently and will be subtle. Water levels are slightly above average but very fishable.

Projected Conditions

Here’s the good news. Looking at the forecast, those overnight lows are getting warmer every day. By Wednesday and Thursday they will be in the 50’s. THAT is when your water temperature will start warming up! I think fishing should start getting pretty good on Thursday and hopefully continue for at least a few days.

Rain moves in on Friday but should only cool down a bit. As long as we don’t get huge amounts, we should be in pretty good shape on through the weekend. Just remember, streams are pretty full now and the ground is still very saturated. It won’t take much to spike those water levels. Keep an eye on the gauges – reading stream gauges.

Tips

In general, you want to seek out slower water and you want to fish the warmest water possible right now. Try to concentrate your efforts on the middle of the day, stick to the lower elevations and look for areas that get a little more sunlight. Fishing high water can be tough and it can be dangerous. Keep an eye on those water levels. It’s not an exact science but typically, I consider around 2.5′ on the gauge to be the high side of good. Ideally, you want it more around 2′. Between 2.5′ and 3′ might give you a little bit of manageable water in very select locations, but you better know what you’re doing. Above 3′ will leave you very little fishable water and is really just unsafe.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

We are still early in the year and most of what you’ll see hatching is dark and small. You may run into the occasional Blue Wing Olive. Small dark stoneflies and caddis may also make an appearance. I would primarily fish dark colored nymphs deep and slow. A black or olive Zebra Midge would be a good bet. I do well with “peacock flies” in the #14 – 16 range this time of year, like Zug Bugs, Prince Nymphs, etc. In the right water, a larger stonefly nymph may entice a nice brown trout.

We’re getting closer and closer to Quill Gordon time. I’ve seen a couple here and there already. As soon as the water temperature gets in the 50’s for the better of the day, for a few days in a row, we should begin seeing bigger numbers. Quill Gordon nymphs should be pretty active in preparation for emergence. A #12 olive Hares Ear does a pretty good job imitating them.

Featured Fly
Olive Hares Ear

Smokies Fishing Report

Location

Smoky Mountains

Water Levels

Little River: 1730cfs / 4.25 feet
Pigeon: 5140cfs / 5.74 feet
Oconaluftee: 2410cfs / 3.85 feet
Cataloochee: 562cfs / 3.84

Water Temperatures (approximate)

Low elevations: 48 – 51 degrees
Mid elevations: 44 – 47 degrees
High elevations: 40 – 43 degrees

Current Conditions

Streams in the mountains are very high and at the time of this report, still rising. Most streams should crest soon as the majority of the rain has moved on. Expect them to take AT LEAST a few days to get back to a wadeable/fishable level. Water temperatures are getting a lot better which is why I’m keeping the fishing meter in the “slow” category. Temperatures should stay relatively stable over the next few days and fishing could be good later in the week IF the water drops enough. Keep an eye on those gauges and if you don’t understand them, this article on reading stream gauges may help.

Projected Conditions

Much of this was covered above, but things are looking much better with water temperatures and should remain that way in the coming days. Everything hinges on how quickly the water drops. Right now, the water is way too high for fishing to be safe, much less productive.

We had a lot of rain on already saturated ground, so it may take a little while to get back to a reasonable level. Expect the North Carolina side of the park to rebound before the Tennessee side.

Tips

In general, you want to seek out slower water and you want to fish the warmest water possible right now. Try to concentrate your efforts on the middle of the day, stick to the lower elevations and look for areas that get a little more sunlight. Fishing high water can be tough and it can be dangerous. Keep an eye on those water levels. It’s not an exact science but typically, I consider around 2.5′ on the gauge to be the high side of good. Ideally, you want it more around 2′. Between 2.5′ and 3′ might give you a little bit of manageable water in very select locations, but you better know what you’re doing. Above 3′ will leave you very little fishable water and is really just unsafe.

Hatches/Fly Suggestions

There is very little in the way of hatches this time of year but you may run into the occasional Blue Wing Olive. Small dark stoneflies and caddis may also make an appearance. Most everything coming off the water will be small, in the #18 – 20 range. I would primarily fish dark colored nymphs deep and slow. A black or olive Zebra Midge would be a good bet. I do well with “peacock flies” in the #14 – 16 range this time of year, like Zug Bugs, Prince Nymphs, etc. In the right water, a larger stonefly nymph may entice a nice brown trout. Quill Gordon nymphs should be pretty active in preparation for emergence. A #12 olive Hares Ear does a pretty good job imitating them.

Featured Fly
Olive Hares Ear

Understanding Stream Gauges

Little River Tennessee water level

Guides and fly shops routinely spit out numbers from stream gauges, often expecting you to react with pure delight or sheer terror when you hear them. The fact is, unless you spend a lot of time on the water as an angler, paddler or other related water bum, those numbers won’t make a lot of sense to you. Most folks would probably just like to know whether or not they can go fishing. But the better you understand these numbers, the better decision you’ll be able to make on if to go, where to go and what to expect when you get there.

Stream Gauge Basics

There are a lot of things about reading these gauges that are extremely simple while other aspects can get a bit complex. Many things regarding how water flow is going to impact a stream, you just have to see for yourself to truly understand. Then you can relate that to a gauge number and get a pretty good idea of what that water will look like before you leave the house.

Before these gauge readings were posted on the internet, you had to just make your best guess and/or drive to the river to see if it was going to be too high to fish. Even now, with these numbers so easily accessible, there will sometimes be some guesswork, but at least it’s a much more educated guess!

Accessing Stream Gauge Info

Water Flow Data for smartphone
River Data App

The USGS has stations all over the country and there are a number of different search features to locate the gauge on or nearest the fishery in which you’re interested. Many larger rivers will have multiple stations spread out on different parts of the river. You can, of course, use a search engine to locate a specific place. Or go to usgs.gov and begin your search there. There are also a number of apps that can be downloaded. They make searching for a particular location much simpler and keep that information right in your pocket. I use an app called RiverData that gives you access to any river gauge in the country.

Stream Gauge Locations

It’s important to note that not every stream has a gauge. So, you sometimes have to rely on the closest gauge to your fishery and assume that both water systems received similar weather. For example, if I’m going to fish Deep Creek in the Smokies, the nearest gauge is on the Oconaluftee. Most of the time, Deep Creek is going to get the same or similar rain events as the Oconaluftee… but not always.

And even when you have a gauge on the stream you’re specifically interested in, isolated weather systems will sometimes skew the data. For instance, Little River has a gauge located in Townsend, below the confluence of the three prongs. So, if the water rises on any of those prongs, it will ultimately impact the numbers on the gauge downstream in Townsend. Usually if the gauge numbers are reading high in Townsend, the water will be up on all three prongs as they are close enough together that they typically receive similar weather. However, there have been occasions when there was an isolated heavy rain on East Prong that only raised water levels on that branch. Of course, the downstream gauge in Townsend reflected that spike but the West Prong didn’t come up at all.

Unless you’re closely tracking every weather system, there’s just no way to account for something like that. Stream gauges are wonderful tools for determining water levels before you make the trip to the river. But without multiple stream gauges spread out on different sections of every stream in a watershed, you will often, to some extent, be making decisions based on probability rather than 100% certainty.

Understanding Stream Gauge Tools

stream gauge options smoky mountains

Not every gauge provides the same information. Some will provide a cubic feet per second (cfs) reading, some will provide a height reading (usually measured in feet), some will include a temperature reading and many have all three. A handful will get even more in the weeds and provide things like dissolved oxygen readings. For real water flow nerds, most will also allow you view charts in weekly, monthly and annual views. As long as a gauge has been in a location for forty years, I can probably look up what the flow was in that location forty years ago!

It’s also worth mentioning that different gauges may update at different intervals. Most will update at least once an hour while some may provide updates every 15 minutes. But none (that I know of) are providing data feedback in real time. Just above the selected chart will usually indicate the last time the data was updated.

CFS Reading
Smoky Mountains water flow
Stream gauge in CFS

This reading tells you what the flow of the stream is. If the reading is 125cfs, it means that the flow is 125 cubic feet per second. A lot of anglers that really know a stream rely heavily on this number. However, the more casual angler may be easily deceived by this number as the “ideal flow” can vary significantly from stream to stream. The broader and sometimes flatter a streambed is, the more water flow it can comfortably accommodate.

So, 800cfs on a steep, narrow mountain stream may be a total blowout and not fishable at all. On a wider, flatter, low elevation mountain stream, 800cfs might be perfect. On a flat, 75-yard wide tailwater like the Clinch, 800cfs might be considered as a low flow. On a side note, I use generation schedules and data provided by TVA for local tailwater information.

Gauge Height Feet
Little River stream gauge
Stream Gauge in Feet

This reading tells you how high the water is on the gauge and gives you, I think, a little more “universal” reading. At least when it comes to mountain streams, about 2’ on that gauge is nearly always going to be close to “normal flow,” regardless of how wide or steep the stream is. For instance, the Oconaluftee is at a normal, near perfect level when it is at 2’ but may be flowing at around 550cfs. Little River is also normal and near perfect at 2’ but may be flowing at around 200cfs.

Again, there are a lot of variables like stream size and gradient but typically, in most Smoky Mountain streams, 2.5’ is the high side of good. In other words it is still wadeable in most of the usual spots but more difficult. When you reach 3’ on the gauge, you might still find some wadeable spots in isolated areas of small streams but pickings will be really slim. If you don’t know the water really well, don’t mess around with this. Beyond 3’, you’re likely just looking at a blown out river!

Water Temperature
Stream Gauge Water Temperature

You won’t find this feature on every gauge, but some will have it. It’s a nice feature but you have to keep in mind that it’s reading temperature where the gauge is and water temperature will change significantly as you gain elevation on a stream. For example, the Little River gauge is located in Townsend at about 1100’ in elevation. If you’re going to fish Little River around Elkmont Campground, your elevation will be around 2300’. That coupled with more stream canopy, means your water temperature at Elkmont should be considerably cooler than the gauge reading at Townsend.

It’s not an exact science but as a general rule, you drop about 4-degrees water temperature for every 1000’ you gain in elevation. So, if the stream gauge for Little River reads 62-degrees, the water temperature at Elmont should be closer to 58-degrees. This can make an enormous difference when you’re trying to find feeding trout.