Fishing in the Smoky Mountains
Great Smoky Mountains National Park has about 2,115 miles of fishing streams within its boundaries, and protects one of the last wild trout habitats in the eastern United States. The park offers a wide variety of angling experiences from remote, headwater trout streams to large, coolwater smallmouth bass streams. Most streams remain at or near their carrying capacity of fish and offer a great opportunity to catch these species throughout the year.
Fishing is permitted year-round in the park, from 30 minutes before official sunrise to 30 minutes after official sunset. The park allows fishing in all streams EXCEPT the following streams and their tributaries upstream from the points described:
Bear Creek at its junction with Forney Creek.
Lynn Camp Prong upstream of its confluence with Thunderhead Prong.
These streams are closed to fishing to allow fish to repopulate following restoration work. For the exact location, consult the appropriate USGS 1:24,000 Quadrangle Map available at park visitor centers. Detailed information, including a complete list of regulations and a map of fishable park waters, is also available at any visitor center or ranger station.
You must possess a valid fishing license or permit from either Tennessee or North Carolina. Either state license is valid throughout the park and no trout stamp is required. Fishing licenses and permits are not available in the park, but may be purchased in nearby towns or online (links provided by state below). Special permits are required for fishing in Gatlinburg and Cherokee.
Tennessee License Requirements
Residents and nonresidents age 13 and older must have a valid license. Residents age 65 and older may obtain a special license from the state.
North Carolina License Requirements
Residents and nonresidents age 16 and older need a license. Residents age 70 and older may obtain a special license from the state.
Persons under 16 in North Carolina and under 13 in Tennessee are entitled to the adult daily bag and possession limits and are subject to all other regulations.
Fishing is permitted year-round in open waters.
Fishing is allowed from a half hour before official sunrise to a half hour 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.
Twenty (20) rock bass may be kept in addition to the above limit.
A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.
Brook, rainbow, and brown trout: 7 inch minimum
Smallmouth bass: 7 inch minimum
Rockbass: no minimum
Trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken.
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. Dropper flies may be used. Up to two flies on a leader.
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. Prohibited baits include, but are not limited to, minnows (live or preserved), worms, corn, cheese, bread, salmon eggs, pork rinds, liquid scents and natural baits found along streams.
Use or possession of double, treble, or gang hooks is prohibited.
Fishing tackle and equipment, including creels and fish in possession, are subject to inspection by authorized personnel.
Standing and wading in streams can drain body heat and lead to hypothermia. Rising water levels resulting from sudden mountain storms occur quite frequently, so monitor water level. Water currents are swifter than they appear and footing is treacherous on wet and moss covered rocks.
Be A Clean Fisherman
If there's a tangle of line, or an empty can at your feet, clean up after your fellow angler. It is unlawful to dispose of fish remains on land or water within 200 feet of a campsite. The National Park Service recommends disposing of fish entrails in a deep pool downstream from the campsite.
Brook Trout Fishing
Because of the results of recent fisheries research and the success of the park's brook trout restoration effort, in 2006 park management opened brook trout fishing and harvest park-wide for the first time since 1976. The results of a recent three-year brook trout fishing study indicate there was no decline in adult brook trout density or reproductive potential in any of the eight streams opened to fishing during the experimental period compared to eight streams closed to fishing during the same time period
Disturbing and moving rocks to form channels and rock dams is illegal in the park!
Moving rocks is harmful to both fish and aquatic insects that live in the streams. Many fish species that live in the park spawn between April and August. Some of these fish build their nests in small cavities under rocks and even guard the nest. When people move the rock, the nest is destroyed and the eggs and/or young fish die.
Aquatic insects need rocks for cover as well. Some aquatic insects can drift off or move when disturbed, but many species attach themselves to the rock and cannot move. When a rock is moved, aquatic insects fall, are crushed by the movement, or dry out and die when the rock is placed out of water.
One of the fundamental policies of the National Park Service is to preserve natural resources in an unaltered state. Consequently, it is against the law to move rocks in the stream. Please abide by these rules so that future generations may enjoy the park as well.