Great Smoky Mountains National Park 6 min read

DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

March 30, 2024

GSMNP fly fishing

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park isn’t just known in the United States, it’s known all around the world, thanks to its historic mountain range. This range is home to a huge amount of wildlife, beautiful foliage, and of course, scenery that just can’t be beaten.

The Great Smoky Mountains contain more than 300 trout streams totaling over 700 miles, home to the native Southern Appalachian strain of brook trout. Encompassing over 500,000 acres, the Park provides some of the best small-stream wild trout fishing in the Southeastern United States. The park actually sits in two different states: Tennessee and North Carolina. No matter which state you visit from, you’re in for a fabulous experience.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country, and for good reason—it is a beautiful place! This park has four distinct seasons, from warm, sunny days in the middle of summer to heavy snowfalls blanketing the streams, rivers, and mountains in the winter.

Fly Fishing in the Smokies

Among all the other outdoor activities and adventures, fly fishing is one of the top sports in the park. There are remote headwater streams that require a hike to reach and those that are a bit “easier” to fish with ample roadside access. The opportunities are as diverse as the landscape itself.

Great Smoky Mountains Trout Streams

Most Smoky Mountains trout streams are 10 to 30 feet wide and clear and swift. In the higher elevations, the streams are steep and strewn with boulders. Downslope, as the gradient lessens, they are characterized by large pools and deep runs. 

Probably the hardest part about visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is narrowing it down to just a few top places for fly fishing. The sheer number of trout streams is a bit overwhelming. Remember that you’ve got some streams on the Tennessee side and some on the North Carolina side.

Great Smoky Mountains Trout Stream Map

map of fishing spots in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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

Here’s a look at some of the best trout streams on both sides of the park, so no matter which side you happen to be visiting, you’ll be off to a great start with some suggestions.

Best Places to Fish in the Smokies

Let’s examine some of the top places for fly fishing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Great Smoky Mountains – Tennessee Trout Streams

Great Smoky Mountains – North Carolina Trout Streams

Hazel Creek Watershed, North Carolina

This is a very popular creek on the North Carolina side of the park despite its’ remote location. It is located near Fontana Lake, and the creek offers brown and rainbow trout. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and find smallmouth bass, but these tend to be near the lower end. It’s not unusual to find brook trout in the headwaters, either. What anglers like about this location is that, as far as skill level goes, this creek is relatively easy to fish. Not only that, but the creek tends to produce fish of above average size.

Twentymile Creek Watershed, North Carolina

This particular creek isn’t as popular, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great spot for fly fishing. This creek is extremely easy to access, making it great for a day trip. Typically, you’ll find rainbow trout in the creek, but occasionally, you can catch brown trout since they are stocked. What anglers like about this location is how quiet it is and that you won’t be dealing with crowds, even during peak fishing season. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, some areas of the creek will require advanced angling skills and techniques.

Abrams Creek Watershed, Tennessee

If you ask anglers what their favorite spot in the park is, the name Abrams Creek will repeatedly come up. Not only is the water excellent for fishing, but the quality of the fish is also extremely high.

Another feature to note is that this stream is much larger than some of the others in the park. The waters are typically challenging but in all the right ways. And when you do catch a fish, which tends to be rainbow trout, the size is quite impressive.

Middle Prong of the Little River, Tennessee

If you like the idea of a smaller stream that still offers challenges and beautiful scenery, Middle Prong of the Little River may be exactly what you want. It consists of two tributary streams and is usually pretty accessible.

The fish you’ll find are mainly rainbow trout, but you can also find the occasional brook and/or brown trout. The fish’s size is usually above average, which makes anglers quite happy.

Overall, this stream is quite easy to fish, and because of that, it gets pretty busy during peak season. For some anglers, the crowds are too heavy. The river is also sometimes used by tubers during the summer months, which can certainly interfere with your fishing.

Best Time for Fly Fishing in the Smoky Mountains

Fly fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park occurs year-round, so you can’t pick the wrong time to visit. Granted, there are times of the year when the fishing is a bit better and easier. Also, keep in mind that you will need to adjust your technique, strategy, and possibly equipment based on the time of year.

The weather in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will change throughout the year, so depending on the conditions you like best, it may help to determine when you want to fish. Some find the winter months too damp and chilly, while others find the summer months too muggy and hot. It’s really about personal preference.

The Smokies are known for a rather large number of aquatic insects and the fact that hatches occur year-round. This helps to keep the fishing so great no matter what time of year you visit.

Best Gear for Fly Fishing in the Smokies

Each person has their preference when it comes to fly fishing equipment, but here are some tips that the experts recommend to make your visit more successful.

Best Fly Rod for Small Streams

In the Smokies, 7′-8.5′ rods are usually the best option, with a weight anywhere from three to six. You’ll be casting short distances here, which makes a big impact on the rod you select.

Waders Versus Wet Wading

Fishing from shore and wading are typically the most popular fly fishing methods in the Smokies. A good pair of waist-high waders can be useful in the spring and fall, but they will be too hot to wear in the summer.

Neutral Color Clothing and Good Sunglasses

It’s also said that the fish here spook very easily, so you don’t want to be seen. Choose clothing that blends with the surroundings and doesn’t really stand out. The water is not always crystal clear, either, which means polarized sunglasses can help you cut through the glare and murkiness of the water.

Best Flies for Great Smoky Mountains National Park

As mentioned, seasoned anglers will attest that picking the best flies depends on the bug hatches at that time of year. Trying to mimic what the fish is eating at that time can prove to be extremely successful. If you’re unsure of the hatches, you can always visit a local fly shop that will offer flies that work for that region and the season.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Fishing Regulations

If you plan on fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you must have a valid fishing permit or a valid fishing license from either the state of Tennessee or North Carolina. This applies to all people who are 16 years of age and older. You can purchase either a resident or a non-resident license for a period of 10 days or one year. It’s also important to know there are limits and restrictions on how much you can catch, the size of the fish, and even the lures that you use. It’s wise to do a little research before visiting.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a wonderful location for your next fly fishing adventure. You can check out streams, rivers, creeks, ponds, and lakes on both sides of the park (North Carolina and Tennessee), giving you the opportunity to compare and really find that favorite fishing spot. Just be sure you familiarize yourself with the park’s restrictions and regulations before you head out on your adventure.

Visiting Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Begin your exploration of the park at a visitor center. Here, you can pick up a park map or newspaper, have a ranger answer your questions, and purchase books and guides.

The park has two main visitor centers: Sugarlands Visitor Center near the Gatlinburg, Tennessee, entrance, and Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee, North Carolina, at the eastern entrance. The map above shows these and other visitor centers.

U.S. Highway 441 (known in the park as Newfound Gap Road) bisects the park, providing automobile access to many trailheads and overlooks, most notably Newfound Gap. At an elevation of 5,048 feet, it is the lowest gap in the mountains. The gap is situated near the center of the park, on the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, halfway between the border towns of Gatlinburg and Cherokee.

Looking for more places to fish?  Check our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing Destinations in the U.S.