Fly Fishing Update for the Smoky Mountains & Tailwaters

Weather conditions remain hot and dry here in Tennessee, but there are some opportunities for fly fishing. Fishing on larger streams in the Smokies is best described as poor. The guage on Little River is not only recording low water levels, but high water temperatures as well. I would stress, however, that the guage is NOT in a location that we consider to be true trout water. We’re always fishing in locations far upstream where temperatures have flirted with 70, but nothing as high as 80, which the guage has recorded.

The guage is near the park line and trout are only a small segment of the fish population here. Most of the fish in the river here are non-game suckers, minnows, smallmouth bass, and redeyes. In fact, most trout turned up by previous national park biological surveys were stockers dropped in the river a short way downstream in Townsend.

Isonychia mayfly husks on rocks. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee.

On the positive side of things, Isonychia mayflies are hatching profusely. You can see their husks littering rocks all along the streams. Watch for them and you can choose nymph patterns to match.

Isonychia nymph
As you can see a Pheasant Tail, Prince Nymph, and Zug Bug all match quite well.

Tim Doyle and I took a day to explore some wild and woolly brook trout water. While the stream wasn’t that far out of the way, there weren’t many convenient spots to access the water.

Rhododendron Hell, North Carolina
The stream was so far back that they have to pipe in the sunshine.

While the brookies were exceptionally eager to eat a fly, the main challenge came from just trying to get the fly on the water. This was one of those streams where just having a fly rod is an inconvenience. Even when you did get the fly on target and a fish ate, setting the hook proved to be difficult.

Brook Trout, Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina

Moving right along, the tailwaters continue to fish well. I took Peter Petruzzi and Jason Carter on a float on the Clinch River this weekend. We generally discourage floats when the weather is this hot. The fish are perfectly happy in the cold water, but casting in 90+ degree heat with no shade can be taxing. Peter is a diehard, though, and we’ve taken him in extreme cold and heat.

Peter Petruzzi with Clinch River rainbow trout.
Peter caught this nice rainbow on a Pheasant Tail Nymph.

We started the day fishing small Pheasant Tail nymphs. We saw several extremely large browns cruising and even saw a few big stripers. The guys came for some streamer fishing but decided to go with the reliable nymphs in the morning. We made the switch to heavier rods with sinking lines after lunch. Peter is a fan of extremely large flies that only pull up the largest fish in the river. This equates to slow fishing in general, but Peter always sees some monsters.

Jason was new to streamer fishing, but wanted to try it. Streamer fishing is requires more physical exertion because an angler is constantly casting and stripping a fly. I tied on a smaller, more reasonable fly for Jason so he would get more action. Most of the fish that responded were in the average to better than average category. He did have one exceptionally large rainbow, perhaps 20″ or better, charge his fly and run circles around it, but no hook up.

Jason Carter with Clinch River rainbow trout.
One of several nice fish Jason caught on a streamer.