Surprisingly Good Fishing in Cold Water

Today I took Sean Smith out for a half day trip in the Smokies. When he called to check about a trip I warned him it would probably be a tough, TOUGH day since the combination of cold weather, melting snow, and rain meant we would have relatively high flows with very cold temperatures. He was good with it so we made a plan and went.

The river was on the high side but still fishable. I probably should have checked the water temperature, but Sean made the call to hit the water and I didn’t want to have any more confirmation of how tough the task of catching fish might be. Besides, the water was so cold it hurt if you put your hand in it. I’m sure it was in the 30’s since I frequently fish when water is in the 40’s and it was certainly colder than that.

I rigged him with a pair of nymphs and a split shot under a foam “football” style strike indicator. While I wasn’t necessarily surprised that he hooked and landed some trout, I was a bit taken aback by just how many he hooked. After a few hours we had lost count of the ones he landed, hooked but didn’t land, and just flat missed. I’m sure he had to have caught somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 fish. There were a number of runs where he hooked 3 or more from the same slot. All were typical wild Smoky mountain trout in the 4″-9″ range, and Sean was thrilled to get out on the stream and find success.

With only a few exceptions Sean caught all of his fish on the bottom fly regardless of what it was. Over the course of the afternoon he landed fish on a Pat’s Nymph, Prince Nymph, and George Nymph. Almost all of the fish came from slow deep slots in the middle of swift water.

We’re hoping to see flows on the Clinch and Holston subside in the near future since Norris and Cherokee reservoirs are very close to their winter levels.


  1. Ian, Thanks for agreeing to go out that day. It was the most successful outing I ever had in the Smokies, which I attribute entirely to your guiding experience. After fishing the Smokies on and off since ’95 I now understand HOW to fish it. I am sending a friend of mine to you when he vacations in Gatlinburg this spring.
    Merry Christmas!

    • Thanks, Sean. I’d also like to thank you for the cool fly and the work you do with Project Healing Waters. I plan on doing a short post that features the fly. That’s really a great thing you do.