Fly Fishing The Smokies and East Tennessee in 2016

So far we’ve had an unusual winter season here in East Tennessee. Right around Christmas we saw weather that would have been considered as unusually warm for Easter, let alone the shortest days of the year. Along with that warm weather we saw exceptionally heavy rains. Streams in the Smokies were at flood levels but the effects on our tailwaters will continue for some time.

An unusually warm winter day in the Smokies

An unusually warm winter day in the Smokies

Streams returned to normal levels in a few days but all that water had to go somewhere and it ended up in our local reservoirs. TVA manages these lakes for flood control as well as power generation so they were already drawn to their seasonal low point for just such an event. Norris and Cherokee Lakes both came up about 7′, Douglas came up about 22′, and Fontana rose an incredible 28′. To really put an exclamation point on this consider that this all happened in a 2 to 3 day stretch.

All that water was held in these lakes by TVA to prevent flooding further down the Tennessee Valley and is now being released to make ready for spring rains. This means that you can pretty well count out any fishing on our tailwaters, although we seem to be in a bit of a dry spell right now so we may see negotiable conditions on one or two rivers before the end of the month.

So it looks like winter fishing will be dominated by mountain streams out of necessity. Many streams have been fishing well when the weather has been average to mild. Right now our home water, Little River, is running at 39 degrees so you won’t expect much to happen there. On the bright side we have a bit of a warm up on the way with some light rain predicted over the weekend so that just boost water temperatures into the mid 40’s and get the fish moving well.

Abrams Creek is always one of our top picks in the winter as the nymph fishing can be spectacular and the scenery is almost impossible to beat considering you’ll have Cades Cove almost entirely to yourself. You’ll have to share this extraordinary place with stifling crowds in spring, summer, and fall so it’s always a good idea to take advantage of the off season when possible.

We are in the absolute center of winter fly fishing, but don’t despair. Our spring hatches should arrive in about two months or less depending on how the winter goes. We’re also looking at some above average winter temperatures so that should make it a little easier to negotiate.