Great Smoky Mountains in Winter Around Gatlinburg or Townsend, Options?

jonbo

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Okay, I'm planning to fish out of Gatlinburg or Townsend on the 29th of December. It's my one opportunity, so I'm taking it. I really like the idea of fishing for wild trout, whether they be rainbows, browns or "specks", inside of the Park. I'm a tailwater trout fisherman, mainly, so I'm eager for the chance to fish for stream-bred "wild" (whether or not actually native)trout. ~~First of all, I understand that ALL of this depends on what the weather allows.~~ As the time drew closer I had been drawing up my plans to fish #### Creek behind #### #### as it supposedly tends to stay slightly warmer than most of the Park's streams. The fish there might be in a somewhat less dormant state than in other streams. Another contributor here, though, has tried gently to warn me away from going that far up and far back in the middle of winter, alone. I trust his knowledge and judgement, so I'm a little spooked. What I'm wondering is, when one gets to the lower elevations, and most easy to access by car areas of the Park, are the water temperatures a little warmer than higher up? In other words, can I fish around like, Metcalf Bottoms, and have a better chance of finding at least slightly agreeable, active fish than if I tried to fish say, a little above Elkmont (where I've had success in late November). Will elevation differences like that make any difference in the fishing, like fishing near Sugarlands rather than further up the West Prong of the Little Pigeon? I'm really more and more liking the idea of staying fairly close to the car. I'll only be fishing for 3-4 hours in any case and probably won't feel the need to travel very far on any particular stream.

Finally, say it really is too cold or conditions too poor to fish effectively in the Park, but I still have my fishing "jones" on, I suppose I can fish in town, say in Townsend? If that's what ends up happening, can someone clue me in on a halfway decent place to park and go fish a little section of river? Thanks a lot in advance.
jonbo
 

JDR

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I do not nkow much about Townsend and the Tennessee side of the Smokies. But the Cherokee Reservation is at the south end of the GSMNP. They have a very aggressive year-round stocking program with some big fish. (I think it is quite expensive to fish there) One of the best shops in the area, Little River Outfitters. (https://littleriveroutfitters.com), is located in Townsend so they can be of help.
 

jonbo

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Thanks, JDR. I might look into that. I'm really interested in going after wild fish, but I'm starting to think it might not be too practical.
 

jayr

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The way the Smokies work, the higher in elevation, the lower the temps both air and water. You will not find brookie water that is even remotely warm, at least on the TN side.

As for Cherokee, they are subject to the cold weather as well due to being freestones too. They are at a different elevation though but how much lower or higher than Townsend or Gatlinburg, I couldn't tell. The Oconaluftee does have a USGS gauge with temps which can give you a rough idea on the tribal streams, not exact but close. Generally speaking, the water temps on the Oco tend to run a little colder than Little River in Townsend.

That being said, driving over 441 from the TN side to Cherokee is a gamble with the weather. The NPS will close that road at a moments notice. You could find yourself on the wrong side needing to get back and it is a loooooong way back around when 441 is closed.

If you meant fishing in Gatlinburg when you said "staying in town", be aware that is a whole separate license and regulations from the GSMNP. There are days in Gatlinburg that fishing is closed. You also have to buy not only a fishing license, but city of Gatlinburg permit and probably a TN state trout license as well, but not positive on that one so check the regs. Within the GSMNP only a regular fishing license from either TN or NC is required no matter which side of the park you fish. NC is cheaper for a non resident so go that way. No state of TN state trout permit is required within the GSMNP as they do not stock within the park and they have no jurisdiction there either. Within the Cherokee tribal waters they have their own daily permit and license fees, don't recall the costs but check with them. Some of the tribal waters are off limits to non members of the Cherokee nation as well.

ETA: Make sure you pay attention to the USGS gauges for the streams in the park before you head out to fish if it has been raining. Little River, Oconaluftee and Cataloochee all have gauges. If any of them are blown out, do NOT try to wade. You can easily drown when the streams are blown out. December is a wet month in the park along with the fact the streams receded at a much slower rate during the winter. In other words even if it rained a few days before the streams can still be blown out. I lost a friend back in high school on Little river years ago because of this. Getting wet in the winter can also kill, be careful.





TN fishing guide:

 
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jonbo

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Thanks, jayr! Yeah, I won't begin to try to wade if the flows are high. Before I go out at all I'll ask at one of the fly shops. I definitely will not be going "over the mountain" to Cherokee. I am tempted to try Abrams. Really, I think I'm going to end up fishing around Sugarlands(?), and if I can't make anything happen there, fall back to Gatlinburg, go to the fly-shop and get a day permit for Gatlinburg. The other option is to head to Townsend and go up the Little River a little bit. Conditions permitting, I'm pretty determined to fish in the Park. Thanks, guys!
 

NCAndy

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Fishing in the Park this time of year is hit or miss, as jayr said flows can be all over the place. Generally flows in the area have been running higher than average due to three years of above normal rainfall, so the base levels are still high. But that doesn't mean unfishable, just be aware when wading. On the NC side the floods have changed many of the streams, filling in holes with cobble in some places. Some of my better known sections have changed quite a bit. Anyway, the good news is this time of year you don't need to start fishing at the crack of dawn, it's usually better to let the air warm a bit or the sun get on the water. I'm still catching fish on dry flies in the early afternoons, especially in the sunny sections. Beaded nymphs fished under a dry work well. I caught a nice brown on an ant pattern the other day, go figure. So head out for a day of fishing in the Park, slow down, enjoy being in a pretty place, and it will be great whether you catch fish or not.
 

jayr

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Fishing in the Park this time of year is hit or miss, as jayr said flows can be all over the place. Generally flows in the area have been running higher than average due to three years of above normal rainfall, so the base levels are still high. But that doesn't mean unfishable, just be aware when wading. On the NC side the floods have changed many of the streams, filling in holes with cobble in some places. Some of my better known sections have changed quite a bit. Anyway, the good news is this time of year you don't need to start fishing at the crack of dawn, it's usually better to let the air warm a bit or the sun get on the water. I'm still catching fish on dry flies in the early afternoons, especially in the sunny sections. Beaded nymphs fished under a dry work well. I caught a nice brown on an ant pattern the other day, go figure. So head out for a day of fishing in the Park, slow down, enjoy being in a pretty place, and it will be great whether you catch fish or not.
Funny your mention stream changes on the NC side, I have seen the same on some on the TN side that I fish regularly. Most notably the higher elevation streams. Not only due to higher rainfall totals, but the debris now in the stream from dead and dying trees. It doesn't take much to change when a large tree falls and the rocks stack up behind it and then basically forms a dam.

And that's another issue to be aware of in the Park, the dead and dying trees. On windy days some streams are outright dangerous to be in. The trails as well. What was it, about 1-2 years ago the lady got killed over in the Greenbriar area from a falling limb/tree. Hit her and her child and she covered him only to die herself. Sad situation. I know the NPS is also a lot more active on road closures as well when high winds hit along with snow and ice.
 

jonbo

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One more question, fellas. I hope I'm not being too obsessive, but I will never have time to learn how to fish in the Park. I'll have a half a day, then that's it. I need to be fairly on the right track from the start if I can. So, I understand and it makes sense, that I will want to put nymphs to the bottom of the deepest, slowest holes wherever I'm fishing, basically right in front of their noses. I had been thinking dry-dropper, partly because a stimulator fly is somewhat less likely to spook spooky fish than an indicator. Then I was thinking that might be hard to make sure I was deep enough with the nymph. So then I figured well, I do need to bobber-fish so I can adjust the bobber to get my fly deep. If I fish these ways I'll fish my 7'6" finesse Sage rod. This seems really suited to the Park, and I love the rod.

But then, in winter in the chilly waters in the Park, trying to get to the deepest parts over a short distance of whatever stream I'm fishing, the way I can probably do that most effectively is euro-nymphing. For that I would carry my 10' Recon 3wt. I would also be standing quite close to where I'm fishing while waving a 10' rod around. This works great in tailwaters, usually. Will it work with the wild fish In the Park, I guess is my main question here. When I fished before, earlier in a different year, my guide had us practically in camo gear and face paint. I had to make sure I never waved the rod over the pool. We stayed as far back from the target as possible. The first cast was the "money cast". If I messed that up, we moved on. It was tremendous fun and we caught fish. But now I will be targeting fish that are probably deeper and somewhat more lethargic. My question is, then, is euro-style nymphing possibly a good approach, or is it too likely to spook the wild rainbows? Thanks, guys. Sorry if I'm being a pest.
 

jayr

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Euro is the way to go in my opinion and experience. Spooking the wild fish in the Smokies happens just as easily with a dry/dropper rig as a Euro nymph rig IMHO. Casting in the park is very limited due to the vegetation above and on the sides. My biggest fish I caught in the Smokies was when I was Euro nymphing. Throwing streamers is an option but the casting distances make it pretty tough, but it is certainly doable.

Constantly adjusting your indicator is a PITA in the park due to depth changes from hole to hole.

As for camo and stealth, absolutely. Even more so in the winter with less leaves and very clear water. The colder water is clearer than in the summer. Make sure you have weights to get the flies down.
 
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jonbo

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Thanks, jayr! Euro it is, then. I'll put on my insulated beret and sport my cigarette holder. Oi! Oi! (pronounced "we")
 

NCAndy

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I fished today in the Park with my euro rod, I almost never do that style in the varied pocket water, runs, holes, even this time of year with the somewhat higher flow. Now if I fished down on one of the mainstem streams, the wider, somewhat less chaotic Little or Oconaluftee, the euro rod might be my first choice. But for me, in the forks of those larger streams this time of year, I almost always fish a dark stimulator fly of various size, with a flouro dropper to a beaded nymph. Yes, the dropper will not always be at perfect depth, I do tend to a longer length dropper tag from the start and vary the weight and size of the nymph to compensate for depth. It works, whereas getting the long euro rod to put the fly and drift where I want just doesn't work for me in the smaller to medium streams. YMMV, of course. No one method will effectively cover all water. Pick the one you're comfortable with and go with it.
 

jonbo

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Thanks, NCAndy! I really like getting different perspectives. I am kind of eager to break out the finesse rod. I hardly use it on the tailwaters I mostly fish. My original idea for fishing up in the Park was to go dry-dropper. What I'm going to end up doing, I have almost no doubt, is bring both setups with me. That is, if the Park isn't blown out, of course. In which case I might take my 6 weight with the sinking line and look in Townsend for an open bank where I can stand and swing streamers, hoping for a strike as it swings against the bank.
 

NCAndy

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Thanks, NCAndy! I really like getting different perspectives. I am kind of eager to break out the finesse rod. I hardly use it on the tailwaters I mostly fish. My original idea for fishing up in the Park was to go dry-dropper. What I'm going to end up doing, I have almost no doubt, is bring both setups with me. That is, if the Park isn't blown out, of course. In which case I might take my 6 weight with the sinking line and look in Townsend for an open bank where I can stand and swing streamers, hoping for a strike as it swings against the bank.
If the flow has been steady, no recent rainfall on the day you fish, and the sun is out, I bet you raise some interest on the dry. Most takes will be on the dropper, but you will get some come take a look on top. Don't be afraid to try a micro bugger cast upstream and bounced down back to you, especially along the banks. I often tie a short dropper to the bugger with a beaded nymph. I had one day the rainbows all took the bugger and the browns all took the nymph. Go light on your tippets. Good luck!
 

NCAndy

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A quick update in case you want to reevaluate your trip. We had about 2" of rain Christmas Eve which flooded the streams and will be slow to runoff. Then we added 2-6" of snow on top of that with temps down to single digits as of this morning (Christmas Day). The roads are all closed in the Park at this time and area roads are difficult to drive. The good news is the cold snap will be brief but the high water will remain for days. Certainly check the GSMNP website for travel info before you go.
 

jayr

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In addition to what Andy has said the temps in the streams have taken a nose dive. They will rise but with the snow melt off it will be slow.

ETA: Rain is forecast for Monday the 28th, not a lot but some. As the ground is saturated and frozen, the streams will come down very slowly. It’s staying cold at night too. Today they won’t even get above freezing. The water temps are heading now to below 40 And it will stay cold.

If you do decide to fish, keep your car and a change of dry clothes close by in the event you fall in.
 
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NCAndy

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Got out for an hour plus yesterday. If you can find a sunny slow run mid-day you can find fish. Landed five to 11" and missed a few more on the euro rod. Here's a photo of the smallest beauty.IMG_2418.jpg
 

JGO

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Interesting thread. Question: Which side of the Appalachian mountains has the best trout fishing/opportunities, Tennessee or North Carolina?
 

JGO

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Access is easier on the NC side, from what I know. How do you define better?
Undefined it is an impossible question, isn‘t it?

Opportunities = number of managed or wild streams.
I suppose best is defined by quality of management.

The whole deal with fishing opportunities/management is very different where I am living now than anything I have experienced in the United States. However, as regards Stateside fishing: I am coming from the perspective of a person who, in the 1980s and 90s, was regularly fishing the trout parks, trophy, and wild trout streams in southern Missouri. At that time my perspective was that our MO Conservation Department did a good job of managing the resources we had for both put-and-take fishing (the parks) and trophy or wild trout waters.

I have been living outside of the United States since 1995 (work) and hope to get back in the next few years...retire in Tennessee or North Carolina? However, I don‘t think my wife wants the decision to be completely based on the number and quality of trout fishing opportunities. 😂

Once the COVID travel and business limitations are rescinded I need to make the trip and check things out....
 

jayr

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Interesting thread. Question: Which side of the Appalachian mountains has the best trout fishing/opportunities, Tennessee or North Carolina?
As has been asked/stated, what is "better"? I don't think there is a true answer unless the question is better qualified, but since you ask, I'll give you my .02 worth.

I have fished both sides of the GSMNP, NC and TN for close to 42 years or so. I started on the TN side as my family had a cabin in the park. My back yard was right there and no reason to travel to NC or very far for that matter when I started years ago.

I will say this having spent years fishing both sides, I prefer the NC side for several reasons. First and foremost, I believe the state of NC manages their trout fishery far better than TN. More DH streams and better enforcement too. Licenses are cheaper in NC too. I can fish for trout in NC as a non resident cheaper than TN as a resident.

Both states have a lot of public waters, both inside the National Park and the National Forests as well. NC seems to me to pay more attention to its wild streams, stocked streams, DH and other more specific trout fishing regs far better than TN.
 
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