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A Fishing Trip in the Smokey Mountains

Updated: May 28, 2023

By John Self

In late March 2022, my friend Eddie and I won a guided trip in Chattanooga on Lake Nickajack. While looking for lodging I noticed how close the Great Smoky Mountains were. Continue reading for the story of our two night stay on a foggy mountain.

I pitched the idea of heading there to the guide one day while fishing one of our local ponds. He agreed and so the planning began. We spent a few weeks determining what trail to take, camp to stay at and gear we would need. We invited a third friend, Cody, to come along. We decided to hike 7 miles along the Little River just south of Gatlinburg, TN. We picked backcountry camp #30 because it was secluded and at the upper end of the river there were smaller yet more challenging trout to catch. The trout were our real quarry, not the hike. During the last ice age as glaciers melted they deposited fish along the southern Appalachian Mountains, leaving what are now the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout.

It was a 7 mile hike with a steady rise the entire way. We started early on a Friday morning. The trail stayed along the river for the most part, occasionally taking us away and across a tributary stream before meandering back and joining the river. The water in this area is crystal clear and usually clean, we could fill our filtered bottles directly from the river which kept our packs lighter. These woods this time of year were a strange sight for me, I’d never seen a forest appear to be dormant for winter while the undergrowth was green and growing up already.

We got to camp mid afternoon and met the people we would be sharing the campsite with. The backcountry camps sleep 12 so if your permit is for less than the occupancy, they give out the difference to other groups. We asked which spots had been taken and found us a nice corner in some rhododendron to set up camp.

Eddie was too excited to sit still and headed off to use the last bit of light to try and catch the first fish. Cody and I stayed behind to get camp ready and worked on dinner for the first night. We brought walkie talkies and within an hour we heard Eddie’s voice crackling over our radios that he had hooked up his first Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. He got back to camp and told us all about it. The fish was so small it swam through the holes of his net before he could get a picture. We ate some rehydrated chili while we talked about what fly he used and which hole he fished.

Sleep was slow to come but the three of us eventually passed out around 1am, we didn’t bring anything to tell time. The next day was spent packless, rods in hand, running up and down the mountainside along the river chasing after those wild trout. Cody had never fly fished until this trip and the pocket water proved to be quite a challenge for Eddie and I. However he learned to bow and arrow cast like a champ and though didn’t ever hook up on a fish, it wasn’t for lack of being able to get a fly in front of one. There were no fish caught this day, none of us had ever fished for wild trout and they let us know it! That night camp was quite a bit quieter yet we were not in bad moods. Just processing the day and preparing to break down camp in the morning.

The camp got packed up fairly easy, the hike down was very enjoyable yet even though we weren’t very successful fishing it was melancholy. None of us have said it but I think I’m right when I say we all felt like it just wasn’t enough time on that mountain. Running around that mountain with my friends felt like something from a Louis L’Amour book and will forever be a core memory for me as an outdoorsman.


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