Great Smoky Mountains National Park 4 min read

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

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

February 16, 2021

Oconaluftee River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

For those who are looking for a great fly fishing getaway, planning your own excursion can be a great option. There are so many great destinations and a guide might just get in your way. Not only that, but it’s cheaper to plan your own trip, and then you’ll have more to spend on new fly gear!

Whether you are a seasoned angler or you’re just starting in the fly fishing hobby, this guide has you covered, We’ll discuss everything that you need to know about fly fishing the Oconaluftee River and how to plan the perfect fly fishing trip.

About Oconaluftee River

Fly fishing the Oconaluftee River in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Oconaluftee River is probably one of the more overlooked streams that are available for fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is also one of the better streams available, offering a good gradient with the standard riffle, run, pool type of freestone stream that makes for ideal trout fishing. 

This small-to-mid-size trout stream is located in the park itself, making it accessible from the public areas where you will find plenty of parking. This is another stream that doesn’t get a lot of pressure but does offer a lot of potential for browns and rainbow trout. The fish are of average size, but you’ll find the occasional gem here and there. 

Despite not being fished regularly, this river produces some nice sized fish.  There are several tributaries off this river that make for good fishing, as well.  Up in the headwaters, Kephart Prong and Beech Flats Prong merge to form the Oconaluftee.

The Bradley Fork enters down near the Smokemount Campground increasing the size of the Oconaluftee considerably.  Further downstream the Raven Fork joins the Luftee along the Cherokee Indian Qualia Boundary.  Lastly, Soco Creek enters just before the Oconaluftee enters the Tuckasegee River.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is home to some of the best fishing opportunities that many people don’t even know about. However, with rivers like this one waiting to be explored, you’re sure to have a great trip when you choose to fly fish in the Smokies.

Oconaluftee River Map and Fishing Access Sites

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

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

Best Places to Fish the Oconaluftee River

The upper reaches of the Oconaluftee River is a tightly-enclosed river that can make casting difficult, but it is wider below Bradley Fork for those who want a little more open room to move. There are some open grass fields along the river, and those offer the best places to fish for easy access.

If you decide to fish the Bradley Fork, you will have to work harder to get to the good spots, but the perfect gradient offers good water flow and plenty of deep pockets and runs that are filled with brown trout. 

The river has some great hatches, and if you fish in the Spring, you’ll find that where you go doesn’t matter as much because the fish are less fickle and hungry! 

The Bradley Fork has plenty of browns and rainbow trout and could almost be its own stream system. This entire confluence is easily one of the best streams in the park, offering fishing up and down the entire length of the river and its tributaries.

Best Time to Fish the Oconaluftee River

You can find prime fishing during the spring, as discussed in regard to the excellent hatches that come off this time of year.

In the summer, the park waters can get a bit too warm on hot days. However, you can still find a lot of cool pools in this stream, thanks to its cover from the elements and plenty of shade. The fall and winter are good for trout fishing here, too, but make sure that you check North Carolina regulations. 

Some creeks and rivers in the park are open for year-round fishing access. Others may have limited access or close for hatchery activities in the month of March. This is about the only thing that impacts when you come since the fishing is great year-round in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Stream Flow and Current Conditions

Be sure to check the stream conditions before heading out to fish the Oconaluftee River. The USGS stream gauge at Birdtown, NC provide a good indication of current conditions.

The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.


  • Temperature: 49.46 ° F
  • Streamflow: 950 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 2.55 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph

Best Flies for Oconaluftee River

Here is list of general fly pattern recommendations for the Oconaluftee River:

Dry Flies

  • Yellow Sally (#12 – 16)
  • Yellow Humpy (#10 – 18)
  • Parachute Sulphur (#14 – 18)
  • Parachute Adams (#12 – 22)
  • Light Cahill (#10 – 18)
  • Elk Hair Caddis (#8 – 16)
  • Yellows Stimulator (#8 – 14)
  • Chernobyl Ant (#8 – 12)
  • Griffith’s Gnat (#16 – 24)


  • Pheasant Tail (#12 – 20)
  • BH Hare’s Ear (#12 – 20)
  • Rainbow Warrior (#14 – 22)
  • Pat’s Rubber Legs (#4 – 12)
  • Golden Stonefly (#6 – 10)
  • Tellico Nymph (#12 – 18)
  • Zebra Midge (#16 – 22)
  • WD40 (#16-20)
  • Y2K Egg (#12 – 16)


  • BH Wooly Bugger (#2 – 6)
  • Sculpzilla (#4)

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 4-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Oconaluftee River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Oconaluftee River Fishing Report

Area fly shops, guides and websites that can provide an Oconaluftee River fly fishing report and update on current conditions are listed below:

Fishing Regulations

The state of North Carolina requires that all people who are 16 years of age and older have a valid fishing license. There are resident and non-resident sport fishing licenses available.

You can purchase a North Carolina state fishing license and learn about the most current regulations through the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission

Trip Planning Tips

Located right off the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park offers easy access for almost all of its trout fishing streams and creeks. There is also access outside of the park, and signs are plentiful for anglers coming to the area. Nearby towns like Gatlinburg and others provide access to dining and accommodations.

 You can also camp in the park or around the area to save even more money. If you’re flying into the region, McGhee-Tyson airport in Knoxville will provide service and you’ll need to rent a car to drive in. Fortunately, planning a trip to a National Park is fairly easy in terms of travel plans.

Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in North Carolina

Feature image by Timothy Wildey