To fish in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you need a valid Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license. Licenses can be obtained from the Tennessee Government Website or the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
Know your fish before you go–the possession of brook trout (brookie) is prohibited. A combination of five rainbow and brown trout per day (minimum 7 inches) is the limit. Only artificial lures and flies may be used, and only one hand-held rod is permitted. Some streams are closed to fishing to protect and study the threatened brook trout. Stop by a ranger station to obtain maps and get answers to questions. For more detailed information, read on.
The following information is taken from an official Park publication. The official publication for all Park regulations is Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations. A copy of the Code can be obtained at most ranger stations and visitor centers.
You must have a valid Tennessee or North Carolina state fishing license to fish all open Park waters. Licenses must be presented on demand by a Park Ranger.
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Fishing is permitted year-round in open waters.
Fishing is allowed from a half hour before sunrise to a half hour after sunset.
Daily Possession Limits
The possession of brook trout is prohibited because the Park is pursuing an aggressive program to protect and restore the brook trout to a self sustaining level. Logging operations in the early 1900s eliminated the brook trout from its natural range.
Five (5) rainbow or brown trout, small mouth bass, or a combination of these (7 inch minimum), each day or in possession. Any brook trout caught must be immediately returned unharmed to the water.
Lures, Bait, and Equipment
- Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod.
- Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used.
- Fishing tackle and equipment including creels and fish in possession are subject to inspection by authorized personnel.
Park Fish Restoration Efforts – The Brookie
The native brook trout (brookie) was originally present in most streams above 2000 feet elevation. Extensive logging operations in the early 1900s caused contamination of over 160 miles of clear mountain streams eliminating the brook trout from about 50% of its original range.
During the same period, rainbow trout were stocked in every major stream for recreational fishing. Non-native browns, though stocked only once in the Smokies, migrated from downstream waters in Tennessee and North Carolina. These exotic game fishes obtained larger sizes in Park waters and displaced the native brook trout.
Although the recreational aspects of fishing are important, the Park’s primary purpose is to protect and perpetuate native species and natural environments so that visitors can see and enjoy native plant and animal life. Hence, the focus on preservation of native species like the brook trout, and the closure of brook trout streams.
The Park has no plans to eliminate rainbows and browns, and many streams are managed for self-perpetuating populations of these game fish. However, restrictive regulations like the use of artificial flies and lures are enforced to prevent the introduction of additional non-native fish.
Research is underway to determine if there is a distinct Southern Appalachian genetic strain of brook trout. If so, restoration efforts will be even more intensive.
Efforts are underway to study and convert a number of lost streams back to brook trout waters. Some native brook trout populations are protected from invasion of exotic trout species by barriers like waterfalls. So far, Park biologists know that 40 miles of the 120 miles of pure brook trout streams are protected by functional barriers. Other waterfalls are being studied to determine how high a falls must be to prevent rainbows and browns from migrating upstream over them.
The Park has been pursuing a brook trout restoration program for several years. The objective of the brook trout program is to expand the range of the native brook trout to produce a self-sustaining natural population which will eventually support angling pressure. People and organizations, including the American Fisheries Society, Trout Unlimited, Land Between the Lakes, and Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association have joined the National Park Service to raise money for the restoration effort. Artist Lee Roberson created the limited-edition brook trout print “Fragile Treasure” with proceeds going directly into the restoration fund. The public can now contribute directly to the restoration of a threatened native Park species. For more information, contact Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.
In the slightly acidic waters of the Smokies, mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies are a part of the life and food chain in the Smokies. Take the time to learn such things before fishing in the Smokies improve your success as an angler here.
Trout of the Smokies
Sporting goods stores and outfitters in adjacent towns are some of the Park’s most avid fishermen and can offer advice and equipment helpful in catching the Park’s game fish. The Smoky Mountain Angler in Gatlinburg, Tennessee is an excellent source for information, supplies, and guided trips.
Closed and Excluded Waters for Trout Fishing
All of the waters of Mingus Creek and Lands Creek are public water supplies and closed to fishing.
In addition, the following streams and their tributaries upstream from the points described are closed to fishing, so that the native brook trout (brookie) can be protected. For exact location, consult the appropriate USGS 1:24,000 Quadrangle Map available at all Park visitor centers.
Excluded Waters in North Carolina
- Gunter Creek at the first trail crossing on Gunter at 3240′ elevation
- Big Creek and Yellow Creek at their junction
- McGinty Creek at its confluence with Swallow Fork
- Correll Branch at the junction with Little Cataloochee Creek
- Lost Bottom Creek at its confluence with Palmer Creek at 3280′ elevation
- Bunches Creek at the Park boundary
- Stillwell Creek at the Park boundary
- Straight Fork and Balsam Corner Creek at their common junction
- Raven Fork at Big Pool which is the confluence of Left Fork, Middle Fork and Right Fork (also known as Three Forks)
- Enloe Creek at the junction with Raven Fork
- Taywa Creek at its confluence with Bradley Fork
- Chasm Prong and Gulf Prong at their common junction on Bradley Fork
- Sahlee Creek at its confluence with Deep Creek
- Noland Creek and Salola Branch at their confluence
- Huggins Creek (tributary of Forney Creek) at the cascade at 3700′ elevation
- Hazel Creek at the cascades
- Walkers Creek at the falls at 3400′ elevation
- Defeat Branch at its junction with Bone Valley Creek
- Gunna Creek (tributary to Eagle Creek) at trail crossing at 3080′ elevation
Excluded Waters in Tennessee
- Sams Creek at the confluence with Thunderhead Prong
- Marks Creek at the falls at 2600′
- Lynn Camp Prong at campsite #28 (Mark’s Cove)
- Indian Flats Prong at the Middle Prong trail crossing
- Meigs Creek at its confluence with Little River
- Fish Camp Prong and Goshen Creek at their common junction
- Little River and Grouse Creek at their common junction
- Road Pr on at its confluence with West Prong of Little Pigeon River
- Buck Fork and Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon River at their common junction
- Dunn Creek at Park boundary
- Indian Cam Creek at Park boundary
- Greenbrier River (Little Creek) at Park boundary
- Toms Creek at its junction with Cosby Creek
- Cosby Creek where Low Gap Trail crosses the stream
- Rock Creek at its junction with Cosby Creek
- Spruce Flats Creek at its confluence with Middle Prong of Little River
- Meigs Post Prong at its confluence with Little River