Fly Fishing in the Smokies; Just not for Trout


We spent the weekend out on the water, but not where most people might think. We live within spitting distance of the largest wilderness area and selection of wild trout streams in the eastern United States and only an hour or so from a few quality tailwaters so it only makes sense we’d be fishing for trout. The thing is that there’s more to the local fishing scene than just trout.

The Smokies were cool and overcast this weekend; perfect fishing conditions for fishing. We went another direction.

The Smokies were cool and overcast this weekend; perfect fishing conditions for fishing. We went another direction.

We’re as guilty as anyone about forgetting that there are fish in Little River downstream of the national park boundary. We spent an afternoon re-discovering our home river, and ironically, water that’s closer to our home than the stretches we frequent. Little River is one of the most biodiverse rivers in the East. It drains directly into the Tennessee River near Knoxville so it’s inhabitants range from catfish and largemouth bass in that neighborhood to native brook trout high along the headwaters that drain the slopes of Clingmans Dome.

Smallmouth bass and several panfish species dominate the river from Townsend on downstream of Walland. They rise to poppers and even better, a drift boat makes for easy fishing.

We used to float this section of the river a few times every year, but the drought of 2007-08 made it to low for a boat. After a couple of years we almost forgot about it. I’m so happy we remembered!

A highly underestimated quarry for the fly rod, the red eye or rock bass

A highly underestimated quarry for the fly rod, the red eye or rock bass

This section of Little River is infested with redeyes, also called rock bass, just not here in Blount or Sevier counties. I don’t know just how many we caught, but I do know we caught them all on poppers. If you’ve never experienced the redeye, imagine a fish with the gullible nature of a bluegill, but the power of a bass. They don’t get much larger than the one in the photo, but let’s be honest, if you can’t be happy catching a mess of these you’re just not much fun to be with.

Oh yeah, the smallmouth were fun too!

Oh yeah, the smallmouth were fun too!

In the big picture we caught a good number of smallmouth bass, but far few than redeyes and bream. Again, all ate the same popper. I might have traded a few bream for a few more bronze backs, but I don’t want to be caught complaining about catching fish!

Smokies Report

Fall is off to a great start, an early one at that. We’re at least a few weeks ahead of schedule when it comes to the cool weather we’re experiencing. The trout have all started moving to smaller bugs, but there are enough greedy ones that will come to your basic Orange Palmer or Royal Wulff.

Water levels are superb. Make sure you get to the stream by mid-November because this is the fall season you’ve been waiting for. We’re revved up about the possibilities for brown trout on Little River, Hazel Creek, and the Oconaluftee.


Water levels were pretty good on the Clinch over Labor Day weekend, but they’re actually better now! It’s hard to say how long this will last, so get out if you get the chance. Same goes for the South Holston and Watauga. TVA is still in the process of drawing down the reservoirs, but it looks like the rate is slowing down a bit. September and October are traditionally the driest months of the year, so we might see plenty of fishable water through the fall. Even at the reduced rate of generation there is still more water moving out of the lakes than coming in.

Fly Fishing With Streamers


  1. Rick Robnett says:

    In my area of Middle Tn.,we have the redeye in most all of the fishable creeks,they’re a fighter.The locals here call them “black perch” so if you ever hear that name,you’ll know what they are.Nice pic of,like you say,and underestimated quarry.