Warm Weather But Cold Water in the Smoky Mountains

A warm wave of weather swept across the region this weekend with temperatures extending into the low 60’s. Blue skies, bright sun, and rushing water are irresistible after weeks of cold and snow. We would have liked to have gotten on the Clinch or Holston tailwaters but schedules were just hinky enough that it took more planning than we could muster.

Brown Trout with Tellico Nymph

The Smokies are literally our backyard and we can be almost anywhere in the Little River watershed within 30 minutes. Saturday we hiked up the Middle Prong from the Smoky Mountain Institute. The upper end of the road is still closed since constant process of freeze and thaw with traffic tends to accelerate wear and tear. It makes for an easy hike and the walk tends to discourage many fishermen.

Today it was up the main fork of Little River towards Elkmont. As expected the weather was much better than the fishing. There is still substantial snow on the highest ridges of the Smokies and this warm weather is sending that cold, melted snow right into the rivers and streams.

There were a few bugs around, but nothing to exactly label a hatch of any sort. We’re forecast to get to some rain in a few days and that will likely wash out most of the remaining snow. Even though temperatures will be lower after this system passes I predict that the fishing will be better once the snow is gone.


  1. Ian, you didn’t happen to get a water temp did you? My thermometer needs to be replaced and in the meantime have been relying on sticking my hand in the water to decide if its cold, colder, or freezing…

    • Dave,
      I’ve grown pretty lax about taking water temps lately. If they’re hitting I’ll check. If they’re not I don’t want to know it’s futile before I start unless I’m guiding. In my experience the biggest difference is between 39 and 41 degrees. Cross that 40 degree threshold and they’re much more active. I didn’t check over the weekend but would guess it was about 38 judging by the action.

      Got three fish in hand over about four hours plus a few more misses. All fish came deep and from “sure thing” spots. The most telling thing was that most of the “sure thing” spots were blanks. I wondered a few times if I was fishing behind someone, but since you were only one of two other fishermen on the river I doubt that was the case.

      We fished deep and heavy and then deeper and heavier. One last thing, Little River along the road always seems to fish tougher than Tremont, West Prong, and other spots like that. Fished a much shorter time frame on Saturday at Tremont and did almost as well and I’m sure the water was the same temperature if not colder.


  2. Ian, What is the fly in the pic above? B. Creek or variation?

    • Hi Sean,
      That’s a Tellico Nymph with a nymph head bead. The Tellico is a regional pattern that is sometimes found outside of the Southeast, but has the strongest following in East Tennessee. It’s essentially a golden stonefly nymph imitation, but could also pass for a March Brown or other light colored insect.

      Nymph Head beads are very cool. They’re tungsten and have eyes. Pretty new but we’re starting to see them around more.