Brook Trout or Bust

As it just so happens my main fishing buddy and I are also co-workers, which means our other co-workers get to hear us talk fish all throughout the day most everyday. It's during this shared misery we day dream of trips to go on in the future. We ( two guys who have very little trout fishing or fly fishing experience) decided we should drive down to the Smoky Mountains and catch brook trout. We made this decision almost exclusively because they look cool. Matt had never been to this area before and I had been only once almost eight years ago when my wife and I first met (and sadly not to fish). Keep in mind the only trout fishing we had done prior was catching some stockers out of a lake.

These little guys in my sink gave us the wrong impression of trout fishing, as we both limited out withing 30 minutes of arriving our first time fishing for them........after this trip I would understand why more serious fly fisherman prefer wild trout over these.

We formed a plan over the last couple months and coordinated days off choosing Friday the 23rd through Sunday the 25th. We would have only a few hours the first day, the entire second day, and a few hours Sunday morning. We left Friday at around 4am and drove straight to Pigeon Forge where we had booked a hotel. Upon arrival we stopped at an Orvis store to check out a bunch of stuff we couldnt afford and buy some flies. While there, the guy behind the counter asked what we were fishing for and pulled out a map, circled a spot, and told us to go there for brookies. I had already chosen a spot I had a lot of  faith in via internet research, but we decided to give the recommended spot a go. We drove a little higher past the trail head hoping the higher the elevation, the more likely we would find our quarry. Our first stop looked like this.

We stopped here for maybe 30 to 45 minutes to test the waters and I managed the first fish of the trip. This guy was my first wild trout, and the first I had ever caught on a fly.

That spot didnt produce anymore fish so we moved even further up the mountain. The next spot resulted in nothing but missed strikes for the both of us so we traveled back down to the trailhead parking area the Orvis guy told us about. This spot produced two very small rainbows for me, and Matt and I both lost bigger fish wetting our hands to grab them (remember, novice trout anglers......clearly underestimated the value of a net).

We ended day one here after only around four hours of fishing. We had each caught our first wild trout and celebrated by eating barbeque and getting hammered. As we sat in the hotel room passing the Beam back and forth, we decided the Orvis guy had sent us on a wild goose chase where there were only rainbows and schemed on the next days agenda. This time we were headed for the original destination where I knew our target lived. 

The next morning we woke up, hit another tackle shop, and headed back up the mountain. We drove for maybe an hour until the road ended. Here we got our stuff together and began hiking up the trail until we got past a cascade and found a decent place to access the water. The stream was absolutely beautiful here and seemed like where brook trout should live.

The very first pool I cast into I saw a small fish dart out from the bank straight to my nymph but didnt take. We continued very slowly upstream not skipping a single pocket and trying our best not to scare these spooky fish while wading an environment much more extreme than the slow moving creeks we frequent back home.

I forgot to mention that our limited fly fishing experience is exclusively with tenkara and keiryu rods. Im very glad we brought them because there was no way we were going to be able to effectively fish our UL spinning gear in this environment. Matt used his TUSA Rhodo.

And I used my Suntech Kurenai almost the entire trip. The stuff my rods sitting on we called "natures couch", it made a great cushion to sit on when we finally took a break after fishing for probably 1.5-2.5 hours with nothing to show. 

Some of the stream was very tight and some type of plant we assumed must be rhododendron surrounded us on both sides making casting difficult in many places.

By this time we were getting worried about completing our goal, and sat down to take a break and regroup by the edge of a decent pool.  As we sat I kept drifting the pool and all of the sudden there was a fish on my line. To my suprise it wasnt a brook trout, but a well colored blacknose dace. I already had this species but got a much better picture for my lifelist.

We got up after a short break and continued our journey upstream. On the very next pool Matt was flipping a dry fly around a boulder and hooked into something which he quickly brought to hand. I looked up and his face said it all, I dropped my rod and quickly got out my phone for a photo session.

They were real and we found them! Immediately after photographing Matts lifer brookie, I spot jacked him and on the very first cast landed my own beautiful little brook trout.

Matt continued working this pool and lost another bigger trout while wetting his hand again. Up at the next pool I landed a second.

 We fished on for another 30 minutes and I lost what would have been the largest trout of the trip for me (not if I would have had a net). We had completed our goal for the trip and so at this point we decided to hit another spot we had read about. On the way to the next place we got stuck on some kind of tourist trap 10 mile scenic loop that you cannot pass another car on and everyone is driving 4 mph taking photos. We were running out of daylight and this pissed us both off greatly. We abandoned our attempt to get to the next spot when we saw a quick exit road that got us off the loop from behind the caravan.Instead we hit a random spot we happened to drive past on the way back to town, which turned out to be a great call. We waded out at this spot and saw many schools of shiner, and a few pack of some larger fish. Matt landed the first one and got his lifer Largescale stoneroller.

I attempted to  catch my own as I had only caught central stoneroller back home, but when i managed to hookup with a fish it was a stoneroller but a river chub, a new lifer for me still.

The fish in the 4-8'' range disappeared after this so we both switched to targeting shiners,after a short while we had both landed Tennessee shiners.

Day two had been a success with both of us getting 3 lifers, including what we came for. We hadnt eaten all day, and that night we ate a gross amount of mexican food in celebration(I personally ate 3 enchiladas, 1 chile relleno, a shrimp quesdailla with beans, and drank a 24oz michelada).

The next morning we hit the same spot where we finished the previous day. Matt caught another shiner, this time with a red eye, but the TN fisheries program manager identified it as a TN shiner as well........anyone think differently?

After chasing them for at least 30 minutes, i finally got my own lifer largescale stoneroller.

I finally found a few darters which was difficult due to the fast water and how deep they were. When I got what was the biggest darter ive ever seen to bite, it fell off as i lifted him out of the water and felt like i had been kicked in the balls. As I moped over where I lost the darter wishing i had brought a net for 4th time, Matt managed to catch a fish that eluded him all last season back home. It was the smallest one I had ever seen, and comical to me that after all this time he got it here in TN on a microhook. I have watched him sight fish for these for hours to no avail.

This little hogsucker was the last fish of the trip before we had to start heading our way back home and the cherry on top of the trip for Matt. The short trip was a great success in our minds with 4 lifers each and may end up becoming a tradition. Theres an intimidating amount of water in the mountains here that certainly deserves more time than we had this trip.

Species List: 
Chub, River
Dace, Western Blacknose
Shiner, Tennessee
Stoneroller, Largescale
Sucker, Northern Hog
Trout, Brook
Trout, Rainbow


Susquehannock's picture

I've never fished the National Park, but I'd love to someday. I'm a little jealous of this trip, especially the wild rainbows, as I've never caught a genuine stream bred 'bow before.

Little brookies can be pretty hard to catch, particularly so in the winter. Nice job catching some.


philaroman's picture

 & beautiful country

...but Mexican in rural TN & Beam, on a special occasion???

when I cross the Mason-Dixon, my first non-fishing question is, "Where do I get a proper chicken-fried steak & Woodford Reserve, to wash it down?"

P.E.T.A. sucks!!!  Plants are living things, too -- they're just easier to catch!

Susquehannock's picture

You can eat ANYTHING in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It's my favorite thing about those two towns, besides the fact that they're so close to Great Smoky Mountains. 


andy's picture

Grerat photos, thanks for sharing.  That little hogsucker from the end is awesome!

RoughFish's picture

Amia Calva's picture

Brook trout are an amazing addition! you have to explore some pretty scenic locations to get one, and a wild one at that. Thanks for sharing, this seems like a lot of fun. 

Ooh that meican food sounds really good, and it ain't gross if you earned it :)


2018 Goals: Silver Redhorse (x), Big Channel Cat, Fallfish (x), Black Crappie (x), Sauger (X), Muskellunge (X)

2019 Goals: Golden Redhorse, White Bass, Spotted Sucker, Northern Sunfish

BradleyR's picture

Love the way you wrote the story of your adventure, super cool :) Really makes me excited for spring so I can go exploring for specks and arctic char as well!

Matt Miller's picture

Well done. I visited that area a few years ago, and due to family being along, didn't have much time to fish. I caught plenty of wild rainbows but never found the native brook trout. I've caught them elsewhere but I still really want to catch the southern Appalachian strain.

The scenery is beautiful and you caught some other interesting fish as well. Looks like the perfect trip. I have been eyeing that Suntech rod for some time -- looks perfect for the kinds of streams I often fish.


okcaveman's picture

Looks like an awesome trip! I'm heading out that way soon and hope to catch my first native brookie as well.