Advice from the Guides


What’s size leader and tippet should I use?

This varies depending on which rivers and streams you’re fishing. For most water in the Smokies we use a 7 1/2′ leader tapered to 5X. This is probably the best overall leader for the Smokies. We’ll sometimes use longer 9′ leaders on larger streams like Little River. Ultra short leaders of 6′ and sometimes smaller are best for the tightest, brush choked brook trout streams.

We don’t use anything shorter than 9′ long when fishing nymphs or dry flies on the tailwaters. 6X is pretty standard on the tailwaters, but most anglers are surprised to see that 5X will work most of the time.

Any time we’re fishing with streamers we use a short and stout leader. We consider 3X to be light tippet and only use it on patterns smaller than #8. If we’re using a floating fly line we generally fish a 7 1/2′ leader that’s tapered to 1X or 2X. When we fish big streamers with a sink tip fly line we’re more likely to use a 4′-6′ leader. Those are usually hand tied with two segments: a butt of 20 lb mono tied to a 12 lb piece of mono.

Fly Fishing for Brook Trout in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

When should I consider using a streamer?

Very few of the anglers we take fishing use streamers very often. Most are unfamiliar with the techniques and tend to steer clear of the method.

Streamers are most effective on the mountain streams when water conditions are high and/or stained. Not only is this the best time to fish with streamers in the creeks, it is sometimes the best way to fish under those conditions.

Spring and early summer are among the most critical times to consider using a streamer. Spring rains and summer thunderstorms create high are dirty water conditions. Most anglers reel up and leave when this happens, but we’ll often toss the tackle bag in the car and head for the stream. This is the best time to have a chance to catch a big brown trout in the Smokies.

While bigger pools and long runs are prime targets for large brown trout, don’t ignore the same pocket water that you typically fish with dry flies or nymphs. Brown trout and rainbows will both take streamers in these spots.

Keep your streamers relatively small to catch more trout, but fish large flies to attract bigger fish. A #10 Black Woolly Bugger is the most basic pattern that attracts the most fish. Bulkier patterns like Zuddlers and Double Bunnies attract few strikes, but the fish that do tackle these large flies are generally pretty big.

Fly Fishing With Streamers

I’m not catching any trout in a pool. Should I change flies or move to a new spot?

This depends on the situation. If there is nothing going on and you’ve fished the pool thoroughly then we suggest you move on. Unfortunately the situation is rarely this clear cut.

Most anglers asking this question are wondering about fish they can see but can’t catch. If the fish are actively feeding you should keep changing flies until something works. Sometimes the same fly won’t catch all the fish in a pool. Some trout may eat a bushy fly pattern while others are only fooled by sparsely dressed imitations. We usually keep several imitations on hand for a hatch.

In the spring we use parachutes, Haystacks, and standard Catskill style dry flies for a variety of patterns to imitate the same insects. This way when a fish refuses one fly we still have other patterns to fall back on. If a really nice fish rises to a fly but doesn’t eat it, we never cast that fly right back to him. The fish made peace with the idea that the fly would drift away and never come back; just like anything else in the stream. If you cast the same fly back multiple times you stand a good chance of arousing the trout’s suspicion. Change the fly immediately to something similar yet different. The chances are very good that the fish will eat the new fly.

It’s not uncommon to fish over actively feeding trout and get a few dragging drifts. The more bad drifts you put over a fish, the less likely he is to eat that particular fly. The fish has seen the fly acting unnaturally multiple times so he is less likely to believe it’s real once it does drift properly.

Trout rarely resume feeding after you nicked them with a missed strike. However, if a hatch is particularly strong a fish may start to rise again, but expect the fish to be more discriminating in the future.

The more you fish a pool the more difficult the fish will become. There ia a point that even though fish are rising, you may do better to move to a new location with fish you haven’t already educated.