For many Smoky Mountain vacationers, the trip is not complete without a day of fishing. In fact, for the true angler, it is the only reason to visit the Smokies.
Year-round fly fishing is permitted in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. You can start fishing thirty minutes before official sunrise but must finish up no later than thirty minutes after official sunset. Here are a few other fishing facts worth knowing:
1. Know what you can catch.
The Park’s main fishing attraction the Appalachian brook trout, the only native species of trout in the Southeastern United States. But you’ll also find wild stream-bred rainbow and brown trout and small mouth bass.
In a single day, you can keep up to five trout or small mouth bass in any combination and these fish must each be at least seven inches in length. You can also catch up to twenty rock bass (there is no minimum size). However, you must stop fishing once this limit has been reached. To measure a fish, lay it on a level surface with the nose against a flat block, then measure from the block to the furthest point of the tail.
You should be aware that there are four federally protected fish species in the park, all of which live in lower Abrams Creek. These include the spotfin chub, duskytail darter, smoky madtom, and yellowfin madtom. Be sure you know how to release a fish back into the water before you begin your fishing expedition.
2. Learn where to fish.
You’ll find a variety of great fishing locations in the Park. There are large, coolwater smallmouth bass streams to remote headwater trout streams. Maps and other details can be obtained at any Park visitor center or ranger station or online. The best place depends on the type of experience you desire.
Fishing is allowed in all streams in the Tennessee section of the Park, except for Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong. Detailed information, including a complete list of regulations and a map of fishable park waters, is also available at any visitor center or ranger station.
3. Use the right equipment and lures.
It’s important to know what fishing equipment is and is not allowed in the Park. Only hand-held rods and single-hook, artificial flies or lures may be used. Dropper flies are allowed, with up to two flies per leader.
Bait fishing is not allowed at any time, as it could accidentally introduce non-native organisms into the water which could harm the fish. Restricted bait includes, but is not limited to, minnows, worms, corn, cheese, bread, salmon eggs, pork rinds or natural baits found along streams. Liquid scent is also prohibited.
You are not allowed to use double, treble, or gang hooks. Be aware that all fishing tackle and equipment is subject to inspection at any time.
4. Make sure to get a license.
You will need a valid fishing license or permit from either Tennessee or North Carolina to fish in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. No trout stamp is required. While licenses and permits are not available for purchase in the Park, they can be obtained in many nearby towns or online. Special permits are required for fishing in Gatlinburg and Cherokee.
Tennessee requires anglers (both residents and nonresidents) to be at least 13 years old to get a license. If you are 65 and older you can obtain a special license from the state.
5. Serve it up the old fashioned way.
There are a number of great ways to cook the trout you catch, but one of the most popular mountain methods is to simply pan fry it. First cut off the head and gut the fish, but avoid removing the skin and scales. Roll the trout in flour and your favorite herbs and spices. Fry the trout at medium to medium-high heat until the skin is golden brown and the flesh is firm and flaky. The backbone should come out easily once the fish is thoroughly cooked. Be sure not to overcook – and enjoy!
A day of fishing makes for a memorable Smoky Mountain adventure. But before you start angling, become familiar with the Park’s rules and regulations, including guidelines for water safety.