Fishing in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Anglers love to fish in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A wealth of wild fish populates the rivers and streams throughout the park. Although all of the 2,110 miles of streams are open for fishing year round, you will only find fish in about 600 – 800 miles of them.
Brook Trout is the only native fish species in the Smoky Mountains, and you must move to higher elevations, above 3,000 feet, to find them. Today, Brook Trout only live in about 133 miles of the park’s waters.
The best place to find Brook Trout is the Lynn Camp Prong of Little Pigeon River in the Tremont area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Access to Lynn Camp Prong is on Middle Prong Trail.
Although Brook Trout is the only trout species native to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, two others, Rainbow and Brown, were introduced in the mid 1900’s.
Just below the 3,000 feet mark, a mixture of Rainbow and Brook Trout live together. However, they do not cohabit well.
The introduction of Rainbow Trout almost decimated the Brook Trout. Rainbow Trout produce more offspring and grow to adulthood more quickly, putting a lot of pressure on the less aggressive Brook Trout.
In 1987, many organizations, public and private, united in the common cause of saving the Brook Trout. Their efforts to restore Brook Trout populations are working, albeit slowly.
The greatest obstacle for growing large, mature fish in the park is a lack of food. Natural sources of food are inadequate to allow fish to live beyond 4 years, although some do.
Only 4% of Brook Trout and 30% of Rainbow Trout reach the harvest size of 7 inches.
The Brown Trout lives longer and grows larger due to a unique change in its diet. When it reaches about 8 inches in length, it begins eating smaller fish. This difference allows the Brown Trout to reach nearly 30 inches.
In warmer waters downstream, expect to see smallmouth bass, rock bass, suckers, and darters among others.
Rock Bass are prolific and are in abundance in park waters. A generous daily limit of 20 rock bass is in place and there is no minimum size limit.
Studies show that fishing does not impact the populations negatively. However, Park Rangers enforce a strict limit for trout.
Anglers must possess a license to fish anywhere in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A North Carolina Fishing License OR a Tennessee Fishing License is required.
Either of these licenses allows you to fish open waters anywhere in the park. Buy one or the other.
You do not need an additional trout stamp when you purchase a license that includes trout.
IMPORTANT: Keep in mind that the Cherokee Reservation does not recognize either state licenses. Anglers must purchase a separate license in Cherokee.
Local stores in Townsend, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville in Tennessee or Cherokee, Bryson City, and Maggie Valley in North Carolina sell fishing licenses.
The National Park Service does not sell fishing licenses. However, you may purchase a license online at either of the state websites below.
Tennessee Fishing Licenses
Residents and non-residents, age 13 and older, must possess a valid fishing license. For more information, or to purchase a license, please refer to Tennessee Fishing Licensing.
North Carolina Fishing Licenses
Residents and non-residents, age 16 and older must possess a valid fishing license. For more information, or to purchase a license, please refer to North Carolina Fishing Licensing.
You may fish year-round in all open waters located inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Anglers may fish beginning 30 minutes before official sunrise until 30 minutes after official sunset.
Daily Possession Limits
Five (5) brook, rainbow or brown trout, smallmouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish.
Anglers may keep twenty (20) rock bass in addition to the above limit.
You must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.
Brook, Rainbow, and Brown Trout: 7-inch minimum
Smallmouth Bass: 7-inch minimum
Rock Bass: No minimum
Anglers must immediately return to the water from which it came all Trout and Smallmouth Bass less than the legal length.
Lures, Bait, and Equipment
You MAY NOT USE live bait, including minnows (live or preserved) and worms.
Other forbidden items include cheese, bread, salmon eggs, pork rinds, liquid scents, and natural baits found along streams.
Use or possession of any form of fish bait or liquid scent other than artificial flies or lures on or along any park stream, while in possession of fishing tackle is prohibited.
Anglers may use only one hand-held rod per person.
Fishermen (in the generic sense) may use only artificial flies or lures with a single hook.
Anglers may use Dropper Flies, up to two flies on a leader.
Use or possession of double, triple, or gang hooks is prohibited.
Fishing tackle and equipment, including creels and fish in possession, are subject to inspection by authorized personnel.
The water levels in rivers, streams, and creeks in Great Smoky Mountains National Park often change without warning. Rainstorms in other areas of the park may cause water levels to rise where you are fishing.
Monitor water levels closely and exit the water when it is prudent. Standing or wading in cold moving water can lead to hypothermia, which can lead to death.
When standing or walking in moving waters, keep in mind that currents are often swifter than they appear.
In addition, wet, moss-covered rocks are slippery and are treacherous. Extreme caution is required when entering water.
Drowning is one of the leading causes of death in the park. Please be careful.