Trout Fishing

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.

TN / NC Trout Fishing License Information

 TN residentTN non-residentNC residentNC non-resident
One-Day Fishing - All Species$11.50
Annual All Species$22.00$20.00$36.00
3-day fishing all species$40.50
3-day fishing no trout$20.50
10-day fishing all species$61.50$7.00$18.00
10-day fishing no trout$30.50


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

  1. Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod.
  2. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used.
  3. 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

Rainbow Trout

When people talk about trout fishing (particularly the novice), visions of the rainbow are evoked. The rainbow has been described as the "true American trout" because of it's origins in the Pacific Northwest. This brings argument from scientific types who study such stuff, but most of us don't care about things like that. Most of us think excitement when we think rainbow. The rainbow has spunk. They don't stay with the stream bottom like brown trout, or hide in quiet backwaters like the brook. Rainbows are to be found in the open, faster waters, where they tend to feed at the surface more often than other trout. They are open, up front and honest, and for that reason we think more respectfully of them, and they are usually the most fun. While the North American rainbow trout is native to westward flowing Pacific Coast rivers, they have been introduced to many streams worldwide. Rainbows are the most easily cultured and adaptive of all trout and are thus included in most stocking programs. Rainbows had been introduced in forty-one states by 1900. Rainbow Trout Markings and Coloration Stream-living rainbows are easy to identify. Their upper bodies are heavily covered with black ...
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Brook Trout

Markings and Coloration The brook trout can be recognized by the wavy lines, or vermiculations, on its dark, olive-green back--the same pattern created when the sun shines through rippled water to cast shadows on the bottom. The result is a camouflage enabling the brook trout to avoid predators from above such as kingfishers and herons. The brook trout also typically has many pale yellow spots and a few small red spots surrounded by blue halos on their sides. They've also been described as the only trout with light spots against a dark background, as the brown and rainbow trout have the opposite spotting pattern (dark spots on a paler background). The brook trout's pectoral, ventral, and anal fins are starkly edged in white, which again is unique among other common trout. The white is the main giveaway. Even when the brook is motionless, the white-edged fins will call your attention to the fish. The highly visible, white-edged fins are a definite disadvantage when it comes to the brook's predators. Another characteristic is a relatively large head and mouth, and the head may amount to one quarter of the body length on adult fish. During their fall spawning period, the lower ...
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Brown Trout

Markings and Coloration Brown trout are the true trout. They are native to Europe, western Asia, and the extreme northeastern edge of Africa and have been introduced to many waters suited to them around the globe. Fishing for sport--including fly-fishing--evolved within the native range of brown trout. The word "trout" itself apparently evolved with specific reference to these fish and was later applied to such fish as rainbow, cutthroat, and brook trout simply because of their resemblance to brown trout. Although all brown trout are categorized as a single species, the fish themselves may show wide variation in color and spotting patterns, habitual foods, and behavior. Any angler who fishes a variety of rivers may eventually encounter brown trout that somehow look different from those he's used to catching and may even encounter two different-looking brown trout in the same stream. Color along the dorsal surface (back) varies from olive-brown through yellowish brown, becoming lighter toward the whitish belly area. There are usually greater amounts of an overall yellow tint along the flanks. Black spots are present on the back and in diminishing numbers down the sides. Bright red spots are found in lesser numbers along the sides. There are ...
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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