Great Smoky Mountains National Park 4 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Little River in Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

January 4, 2010

Planning a Little River fishing trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park? So am I! I’ve been planning a family vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains for the past few months that will include some Little River trout fishing.

To make the best use of our time I’ve done some research on fishing the Little River (fly fishing in particular) and other streams in the Great Smoky Mountains. Here’s what I found out.

Little River Named One of America’s Best

Featured in Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s 100 Best Trout Streams the Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park presents the opportunity to fly fish for wild rainbow trout and surprisingly large brown trout all in spectacular mountain scenery. For the first time in 30 years anglers are also now able to fish for the native Southern Appalachian Brook Trout that inhabit park streams thanks to a successful brook trout restoration program performed by Trout Unlimited and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is a rare opportunity indeed. 

Inside the park, the Little River is more like three rivers with an East, Middle and West prong (branch) that offers something for everyone. Below is an interactive map of the Little River system showing access points to each of the three branches of the river.  Also shown are tributaries to each branch of the Little River that are worth exploring.  Click on the map icons for more information about each location.

Little River Trout Fishing Map

map of fishing access spots on the Little River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

East Prong of Little River

little river metcalf bottoms

East Prong Little River at Metcalf Bottoms

The East Prong Little River is one of the largest streams in the park and is populated by native brook trout and wild rainbows in the upper reaches and the largest brown trout in the park, some exceeding 20 inches, in the lower reaches.

East Prong Little River Map & Access

The East Prong of the Little River starts inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) on the north slope of Clingmans Dome. The East Prong is very small until it reaches the confluence of the Fish Camp Prong, Rough Creek and Rich Branch in an area near GSMNP Campsite #24. Little river continues to flow another 4 miles to the Elkmont Campgrounds and the confluence with Jakes Creek. Below Elkmont, the East Prong becomes a mature trout stream with wide deep pools. 

The lower reaches of the East Prong are easily accessible from the main east-west highway that runs through the park. The upper reaches are accessible from the Little River Trail, an easy 4-mile hike of a few hours from Elkmont to the junction of Fish Camp Prong.

Middle Prong of Little River

middle prong little river

Middle Prong Little River

The Middle Prong of the Little River in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is formed by the confluence of Lynn Camp Prong and Thunderhead Prong in the area of a former logging town named Tremont.

From here, the river continues northward, through a relatively flat area known as Walker Valley. The Middle Prong is nearly 9 miles long and is joined by the West Prong about a mile before it joins the East Prong of the Little River at the Townsend “Y”.

The Middle Prong Little River is a scenic stream with long pools, in the lower reaches, punctuated with many runs and riffles and is suitable for all anglers, including kids (this is where I’ll be heading with my 3 boys). The Middle Prong is known for excellent dry fly fishing for wild rainbows in the lower reaches and native brook trout in the upper reaches.

The stream is easy to fish since the lower portion is quite flat and it is mostly open with some overhanging trees. The upper portion is a little steeper but also relatively easy to fish.

Middle Prong Little River Map & Access

The upper reaches of the Middle Prong can be accessed by foot trails while the lower almost 4 miles can be reached by road. Access is somewhat easy due to the old roadbed of the Little River Railroad which follows the stream for most of the nine miles.

West Prong of Little River

The West Prong Little River offers the opportunity to test your mountain stream fishing skills on wild rainbows and native brook trout. From the confluence of Laurel Creek it runs for about 2 miles along Laurel Creek Road until it merges with the Middle Prong of the Little River and then the East Prong of the Little River at the Townsend “Y”.

The West Prong of the Little River has some small tributaries such as the Bee Cove Creek but Laurel Creek is the main tributary. 

West Prong Little River Map & Access

The West Prong Little River is easily accessible from Laurel Creek Road, the only access road to the ever popular Cades Cove. In a rush to see Cades Cove, visiting anglers often over look the West Prong and the eager to please rainbows that live in the stream.

If you want solitude, head for the backcountry section of the West Prong accessible where the river veers sharply to the south from Laurel Creek Road.

Little River Stream Flow Conditions

There is a USGS stream gauge on the Little River located in Townsend, TN just  upstream of the GSMNP boundary. You can use this graph to get an indication of stream flow conditions on all prongs of the Little River.  R&R Fly Fishing provides recommendations on fishable flows:

  • 120 – 400 cfs – Very fishable, upper range typical of spring flow.
  • 400 – 700 cfs – Fishable, but be careful where you wade. You may prefer smaller streams.
  • > 700 cfs – Fish somewhere else.


  • Temperature: 60.44 ° F
  • Streamflow: 2460 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 4.99 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph

Little River Fishing Regulations

Either a Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license is required to fish inside the Great Smoky Mountains National park. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used. Dropper flies may be used with up to two flies on a leader. Additional information regarding fishing regulations inside the park is available from the National Park Service.

Looking for more places to fish? Visit our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.