Guided Trips


Winter fishing is nearly upon us. Snow yesterday has given way to falling water temperatures in the Smokies. In general, fish will be hunkered down, although by tomorrow they should start to get more active again as temperatures warm. For the next three months, expect many more fish in the slower places in the Park. Think nymphs and maybe streamers but don't be surprised to find fish rising to blue-winged olives or midges on some days.

On tailwaters like the Clinch, brown trout and some fall spawn rainbows are doing their thing. This is a good time to review good ethics when it comes to spawning trout. Remember that these are the next generation of trout and the best thing you can do is to leave them alone. Avoid wading through spawning areas and don't fish for obvious spawners. For the foreseeable future, we should have high water thanks to big rains this last weekend. Fishing out of the drift boat will be very good through the winter with both nymphing and streamer fishing a distinct possibility. Want to swing for the fences and go for just one monster? Streamers will just get better and better going into January and February.

The Caney is slowly coming around. A few shad are coming through the dam, but lingering water quality problems are limiting the fishing. Winter streamer floats will produce shots at larger brown trout for anglers willing to work hard. Next spring should bring good fishing again.

Winter is our favorite time to get on the musky streams. In between bouts of high water, those will be fishing well for the next few months.

Photo of the Month: Big Fish Chuck Strikes Again

Photo of the Month: Big Fish Chuck Strikes Again

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

First Fish of 2014

What a great way to start the year! Even though I still have boxes and stuff scattered all around from my move back to TN, I knew that I couldn't wait on visiting the Smokies any longer.  After an early morning, I made it to Townsend and stopped for a while at Little River Outfitters to chat with Byron and Daniel.  As always we had a great time talking about a little of everything.  Eventually the pull of the streams was too strong, and I headed out of town and into the Park.

Driving slowly up Little River, I stopped at several likely pools.  At one stop, I spotted a nice 18" brown sitting right by the bank.  After several casts to judge the drift, I got a good one in there and the fish came over for a look.  Thinking it had taken the fly, I set the hook.  The fish moved back the other direction casually and would not be fooled into a second look.  Oh well!

Several times, fish came charging out to inspect my large offerings, but each time refused at the last second.  I was beginning to think that my day would be done without catching anything, and of course sometimes that does happen this time of year when you are chasing big fish.

I was running low on water by this time with both Nalgene bottles almost empty.  A quick run up to a good spring seemed like the logical solution and would enable me to check out Middle Prong.  The very first hole I hit had a great surprise.  As I was slowly working the pool, a fish came up and ate.  I just barely felt the soft hit but set the hook and was soon staring in surprise at a very nice rainbow of about 14 inches.  Probably it had swam up from the stocked water in Townsend, but it looked healthy and even wild so I'm not entirely certain.

Later, after filling up on water, I was working my way back downstream and stopped at a very nice pool that I know holds good fish on occasion.  The rain was falling by this time and it was getting close to sunset.  The low light conditions were perfect for brown trout to be out hunting.  I worked the top half of the pool thoroughly and then moved down to the back.  Pitching a careful cast out between two trees, I started my retrieve when I saw the golden flash.  Feeling nothing, I continued the retrieve.  On the second pass, the fish made a solid grab.  After a solid battle, I was holding my first Smokies brown trout of 2014, a beautiful 17 inch fish.  Because of the rain, my camera was staying dry in the car, but I still have my memories which sometimes are better.

That fish was another first for me as well: it was the first brown trout I've caught on Middle Prong.  I've seen plenty of them but never actually caught one until this trip.  Not a bad way to start the year and not a bad first brown for me on Middle Prong!


  1. David
    A 17" brown on the Middle Prong is outstanding; what is the largest trout you have landed up in the mountain streams in the park? Glad you made it back to Tennessee. Thanks for sharing

    1. Thanks Bill. The largest I have landed is 22". I wish you could see some of the monsters friends of mine have pulled out. The largest I've seen pictures of were 28".

  2. My dad and I come up there every year around this time. We will be up next weekend. Its usually freezing cold but we have never been up without catching a few. Last year we were up there in during an ice storm. We caught 17 that day. 12 stocked and 5 up in the park. I caught a nice 13" brown, my first and only brown. We are complete novices to trout fishing. We fly fish occasionally but usually use a spinning rod. We are coming up next weekend and I am concerned because it has been so cold. Your blog post gave me a little hope. Can you reccomend any flies that might work out in the park this time of year? Thanks. I enjoy the blog.

    1. Savez, thank you for stopping by. A 13 inch brown is a great fish in the Park so it sounds like you already have some good ideas! The cold weather is definitely a challenge but it is also one of the better times to target the larger browns. The fish still have to eat of course and will take a variety of streamers and nymphs. I would recommend streamers such as Clouser Minnows, Bellyache Minnows, Zonkers, and any type of crawdad or sculpin pattern. Little River Outfitters sells a pattern called a Super Bugger that has big dumbbell eyes that is awesome. The streamer, crawdad, and sculpin patterns should either be fished weighted or with enough split shot to get them down. You can fish a lot of these patterns on spinning rods and I have been known to fish that way on occasion. Whatever you fish them on, don't use too light of line. I stick to a minimum of 8 pound test on a spinning rod and a minimum of 3x tippet on the fly rod (prefer 1x or 2x tippet). When it is extremely cold and the water is high, it is a lot safer than wading around with the fly rod. If you want to use the fly rod, stick to nymphing deep with lots of weight to keep the flies down. Focus on soft water and try some larger stoneflies (#6-#10), Pheasant Tail nymphs (#12-#16), and then some small midge or Blue-winged Olive nymph patterns (#18-#20). I like a tandem rig. Fish the big fly with the little fly dropped off the bend 18" or so. Oh, and when it is cold, slow is generally best with the streamers but vary your retrieve until you figure out what the fish want.

  3. David,
    Thanks for the prompt reply and the great ideas. Many of those I have never had suggested to me before. I look forward to trying those out. I actually caught the brown trout on a piece of a pink trout worm on a very small jighead using a spinning rod ! Thanks again,

    Clint Hathcock

    1. Clint, the browns will eat a variety of flies. Another one that I really never fish but that is quite effective is the San Juan worm. Your comment about the pink trout worm reminded me of it. Really, this time of year, it all comes down to showing them a meal that is worth eating. They won't move much unless the payoff is significant. Obviously a 20 inch brown won't move much for a #20 midge but it would chase a 4 inch sculpin quite a ways...



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