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Fishing in the Smoky Mountains

Smoky Mountain Area Lake Stages
Lake Upper Lower Discharge
Fontana ' ' cfs
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Fishing in the Smokies

Trout fishing in the Smokies is a popular sport among anglers. Photo by Jennifer Dunnaway.

Guide Services

There are several fly-fishing guides in the Smokies as well as guides for Fontana Lake.

Fishing Overview

Fishing can often be a forgotten option of the Smoky Mountain experience.  The mountainous areas of Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina provide some of the best quality fishing in the United States. 

Popular fishing sites in the Smoky Mountain area include Fontana Lake, Pigeon River, and the numerous creeks located in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park itself.  Information regarding fishing in the park, as well as in outside communities such as Gatlinburg and Cherokee that require special permits, is displayed below.  Smoky Mountain fishing guides are also available for hire as well.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Fishing is permitted year-round within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There are over 2,100 miles of streams within the park with approximately 800 of those miles that are fishable.  The park offers a variety of angling experiences including remote headwater trout streams and smallmouth bass streams.

For best results, try fishing in deeper creeks below elevations of 3,000 feet.  The time to fish is from 30 minutes before sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.  Fishing is allowed in all streams except the following:

  • Lynn Camp Prong, upstream of Thunderhead Prong, on the Tennessee side.

These streams are closed to fishing in order to repopulate and restore the environment.  Fishing regulations and closure of certain streams are subject to change according to maintenance of the park.

A fishing permit or license from the state of Tennessee or North Carolina is required to fish within the park.  Permits and licenses are available for purchase in any local town or at the state's Web site.  The Great Smoky Mountains National Park does not sell permits or licenses.  Tennessee requires everyone 13 years of age or older to purchase a permit or license, while in North Carolina the minimum age is 16.

Over 60 different species of fish call the Great Smoky Mountains National Park home.  The brook trout was actually brought back from being threatened in the 1970s.  The most common catches in the park are various types of trout and small mouth bass.

Daily possession limits are five fish total.  If you keep more than that, you're breaking the law.  The only exception is the rock bass - you may catch up to 20 of them.  The fish must be at least seven inches in length to keep; anything smaller must be thrown back.

Artificial lures are the only kind of bait allowed to be used within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Worms, crickets, minnows, corn, cheese, bread, salmon eggs, pork rinds, liquid scents, and any natural/living bait found along the stream banks are illegal to use when fishing.  Artificial lures are the only kind that are acceptable to use. 

These must have only a single hook - no double- or triple-hooks.  The reason for this policy is so that no new species get introduced to the current environment or disrupt the natural balance or carrying capacity of the stream(s).  Flipping over rocks or moving them to make dams is also illegal; this is to protect the environment, because some fish lay eggs under rocks and some rare bugs thrive under moist rocks. 

Remember, this is a national park, and their duty is to preserve the environment the way it is.  Any fishing equipment, from lures to rods - even the fish kept - are searchable at any time by a government official.

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

Fishing is allowed within the town of Gatlinburg.  To fish in Gatlinburg, you must possess a Tennessee fishing license, as well as a Gatlinburg fishing permit that can be purchased at the community center or the chamber of commerce.  These city licenses include one-day use or multiple days.  One-day use is only $5.50.  Herbert Holt Park offers an accessible fishing pier for those who have disabilities. 

Cherokee Indian Reservation (North Carolina)

Fishing is also allowed in the Cherokee Indian Reservation, located in North Carolina, on the park's boundary.  The main waterways, such as Ravens Fork, Oconaluftee River, and Soco Watersheds are open to fishing.  All other waterways are off-limits to the public; only tribal locals can fish these.  No state license is required, but a tribal permit is required for single-day use.  Tribal permits are sold at most shops in the area. 

See Also:

Smoky Mountain Area / Fontana Lake Fishing Guides

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Be sure to visit our sister site, Explore Kentucky Lake, for awesome fishing and water recreation in western Kentucky and northwest Tennessee.