Gatlinburg, Tennessee is the perfect place to begin your exploration of the Smoky Mountains. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cherokee National Forest and Nantahala National Forest are all within minutes from the heart of town. All of these areas are filled with phenomenal fly fishing. Wild and native trout populations fill the miles and miles of streams and rivers. Anglers have great access to water and will have their skills put to the test.
Streams and rivers are right around every corner in this region of the country, but the following four bodies of water are where you should focus your time.
Little Pigeon River
The Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River is located right outside of Gatlinburg. Anglers may also know it as Greenbrier Creek. This section of the river provides a true eastern United States fly fishing experience. The smaller pocket water is home to healthy populations of brook, rainbow and brown trout.
There is ample access along the middle fork for both walking and wading. You won’t find many anglers interrupting your fishing experience, so feel free to explore and change spots throughout the day.
It’s a technical section of water, but the fishing is quality. Make sure you have high-quality wading boots. The area can be slippery as you’re traversing along the banks and through the water.
Where to Fly Fish on the Little Pigeon River
Take Greenbrier Road south out of Gatlinburg and begin your fishing. The road is paved for the first mile or so and then it becomes gravel. The gravel road has a multitude of pull-off spots in productive areas.
You can easily walk up and down this section of river, so take what you would need for a few hours of fishing and explore and enjoy. This pull-off is a good place to get started.
The Gatlinburg side of the Roaring Fork River is an absolute blast to fish. This section of the river is not heavily pressured and the water flows can vary depending on the time of year, but the rainbow trout are healthy and eager to eat. Similar to the Little Pigeon, you’re going to be doing some pocket fishing. Bring your nymphs and dries and be prepared to test your technical skills.
Access is simple on this section of the river. Roaring Fork Road follows the stream closely and there are numerous pull-off sections for you to begin your day on the water. Rainbow trout and brook trout are the primary fish that you’re going to catch.
Some of the conditions can be tight, so be prepared to get creative with your casts. The fish are in the slack water. Look for pools behind boulders, near logs and under some of the cut banks. A drift of your nymph or dry is plenty to attract the attention of the fish. Also, be ready for that quick strip set.
Where to Fish on the Roaring Fork
Start by accessing the river here!
Since Roaring Fork Road is fairly tight, there isn’t an abundance of places to park, but there are enough to explore a decent amount of the river. As you get further into the mountains, the road will split from the river. You can find a great amount of seclusion if you’re willing to hike.
If you want a larger body of water and are willing to drive a ways outside of town, you’ll find the Little River. The Little River is located near Townsend, a 35-minute drive from Gatlinburg. The fish within this river are all wild, so they’re a bit savvier than some of the stocked fish in other parts of the state.
These fish can be caught with nymphs, dries and streamers. Be ready to make accurate casts and some mends to keep your fly in the right position. The section of the river closest to Gatlinburg is similar to the pocket water found in many of the local streams. However, there are some sections with deep pools and seams. This is where you’re going to want to throw those streamers.
The brook, brown and rainbow trout caught within the Little River are some of the biggest that you’ll find in the area. The larger water provides more food and gives the fish some more room to grow.
Where to Fish on the Little River
It’s not as easy of a river to hike and fish, so you’ll likely find yourself hopping in your car and traveling to several different sections of river throughout your day. The “fishable” water is extremely easy to identify. You’ll have pockets, seams, cut banks and even pools all in an area.
It’ll turn into riffles for a decent while and then get deeper and easier to fish, so be prepared to spend time driving and looking for the ideal place.
Start your day at the Sinks Bridge and Trailhead and work your way downstream.
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Recommended Flies for Gatlinburg Area
The insect life in the Great Smoky Mountains is plentiful. Large hatches are able to occur all year round, but the most productive time of year is going to be between March and October. The hatches are occurring throughout the day and the fish are eager to eat. Get ready to use a light leader and tippet and present these flies as delicately as possible.
Pheasant Tail Nymph– Size 18
The BWO hatches are always some of the first large hatches of the spring. Once that warmer weather hits, the nymphs are going to begin moving towards the adult stage and becoming far more active than they were in the cold. You can fish the Pheasant Tail below a dry or on its own below an indicator.
Little Black Caddis– Size 18
Throughout June and July, caddis hatches are occurring regularly. In the mornings and evenings, you’ll notice the small black flies surrounding the surface of the water and buzzing near your head. Cast these flies right before you think a hatch is going to happen. If you’re one of the first flies on the water, you have a good chance at landing fish.
Yellow Sally– Size 14
Stoneflies are always fun to fish, especially if you are able to throw a large dry pattern. The Yellow Sally is a simple pattern, but it’s very effective. Some of the larger trout prefer these big attractor patterns. These make for a great top of a dry-dropper rig. Fish a pheasant tail or zebra midge below the Yellow Sally.
Recommended Gear for Fly Fishing in Gatlinburg Area
When you’re fly fishing in Gatlinburg, you’re not going to be landing 20+ inch trout in wide rivers. Most of the water is skinny and you’ll need to have full control of your setup in order to land your fish.
For your rod, a 4-weight 8’ or 8’6” is perfect. It has plenty of strength to fight the fish and make some of those longer casts that you may have to make. Find a reel that matches the weight of your rod.
Sage Foundation Fly Rod and Reel Combo
Are you ready to up your casting game? Looking for a rod that casts a little farther with more accuracy? The Foundation Setup will to step up and deliver. Plus when your buddies see the Sage name you’ll get those jealousy looks.
Check out the link below for more reviews and current pricing.
For your leader, a 3x or 4x leader will do the job. A tapered leader will work for nymphs, streamers and some dries. However, if you are consistently fishing dry flies, make sure you do so with 4x or 5x tippet. The trout can be spooky.
Resources for Fly Fishing in Gatlinburg
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency is the best place to visit for fishing information in Tennessee.
Tennessee Fly Fishers is a popular fly fishing club that has chapters in the Gatlinburg area.
Fly Fishing Guides and Fly Shops in Gatlinburg
- Visit the Smoky Mountain Angler for all of your questions about fly fishing in the Gatlinburg area. They’re a full-service guide shop.
- Fly Fishing the Smokies is a guide service in Gatlinburg. They’re extremely well-respected in the area.
Gatlinburg, Tennessee is a hotbed for all different types of outdoor adventures. Fly anglers will find small mountain streams as well as decent-sized rivers to wet their line. The Gatlinburg area is an ideal area for anglers to hit the backcountry and find some peace and solitude while pursuing native brook trout. It has everything that’s great about fly fishing in Tennessee! Be sure to pay it a visit on your next fishing trip out East.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels