Townsend, Tennessee - Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina

Welcome to the Fishing Report from the Great Smoky Mountains.  It is 5:50 am.  I stepped out on our front porch with my small flashlight to check the temperature.  It is zero degrees, exactly zero.  I can tell you from recent experience, when the temperature is zero, it is cold. 

I checked on Frank’s town of Richmond, Kentucky, where I grew up.  It is 13 below there.  OK Mark, I checked Michigan City.  It is only 8 below there.  Jim in Tallahassee, you won’t be using that new kayak today.  It is 29 degrees.  Wow Milt, it is 74 degrees in Honolulu.  You can go fishing.

Little River is flowing (if it is flowing) at 280 cubic feet per second (cfs) or 1.92 feet on the flow gauge.  Median flow for this date is 335 cfs.

The USGS gauge station below the Townsend “Y” is reporting the water temperature at 32 degrees.  The equipment there does not calculate water temperature below 32 degrees.  Yes, water can be colder than 32 degrees and still not be frozen.  Look it up. 

There are two roads in Great Smoky Mountains National Park that I can find open.  They are the Gatlinburg Bypass and Laurel Creek Road to Cades Cove.  The Cades Cove Loop Road is closed.

They don’t use chemicals to melt ice and snow in the Park.  They do plow snow and use sand or gravel to make travel possible.  You don’t have to worry about salt, calcium or any other chemicals entering our streams.  They don’t use them.

Yesterday or the day before, the low temperature at Mount LeConte was 23 below zero.

Fishing in the Great Smokies is slow.  We don’t have to go to find out.  The trout are hunkered down and inactive.  Don’t go.  What if you fell in?  You would probably freeze to death and not have one fish picture to show for it.

We are in for a heat wave.  Tomorrow’s high will be near or above 46 to 49 degrees.  Expect the same on Sunday. We may get some rain or freezing rain. 

I don’t know what to tell you about Walter Babb’s Free Fly Tying Demonstration at the shop tomorrow.  If the roads are not slick, he will be there.  Weather allowing, Walter will be at the shop between 10 am and 2 pm.  This event is free.  Just come by the shop and pull up a chair.  Watch Walter tie flies and talk about fly fishing.  Ask questions.

Walter is one of the most knowledgeable fly fishermen I know.  We have been friends for over 20 years.  We’ve fished together, in many places, over the years.  He is an expert who remembers anything to do with fly fishing.  If he can make it, and you can make it, be at our shop tomorrow.


Every day, I get e-mail from fly fishermen or people who may become fly fishermen.  I answer every one that I see.  Yesterday, I got one from Mike in Alabama.  Somehow, he found this report and me on the internet.  He is a little younger than I am and retired.  He is thinking about taking up the sport of fly fishing.  He mentioned trout and spotted bass.

I encourage him, of course.  If that is what he wants to do, he should.  Many people in their 50’s are getting into fly fishing.  It is a life changing experience. I can’t think of a better thing for him to do.  He will be learning, every day, for the rest of his life if he becomes a fly fisherman. Fly fishing is a method that dates back to the 1200’s.  It is a well known fact, that there is more written about fly fishing than any other sport.  This is a “thinking person’s sport”.  It is fishing with a lot going on in your brain.  Do it!

I had to tell him my story.  I started fly fishing in 1962, first for bass and bluegill.  I was 11 years old.  It was not until the late 70’s, someone showed me how to fish with dry flies and nymphs in moving water for trout.  I switched to trout, exclusively.  I moved to Townsend, because of the fly fishing opportunities here.  Paula and I became interested in saltwater fly fishing. We did that and fished for freshwater trout.  We got into backpacking and fishing in the backcountry mountain streams.

Life for me changed.  I woke one morning dizzy.  I could not walk without holding on to something.  Paula rushed me to the hospital.  They gave me an MRI and ran all kinds of tests.  I thought I was having a stroke.  It turned out to be vertigo.  I have medications I can take if another event like the first one happens again.  It hasn’t. The doctors have told me, it’s something I will just have to live with. At almost 64 years old, I can live with it.

But, when wading in streams, I sometimes feel like I’m going to fall.  Fishing in small streams, with huge boulders and a footing that is not stable scares me.  If I fell and broke an arm, I could not do what I enjoy for a while.  I could not fly fish with my arm in a cast.  I know, some people do, even if they have only one arm.  I don’t think I could do that.  I could not work effectively.  Everything I do, at work, requires using a keyboard and a mouse. I don’t think I could tie flies. Losing the ability, to do those three things, would be devastating to me.  So, I’m careful not to fall and break an arm.  If given a choice, I’ll take the broken leg any day without a second thought.

Fly fishing for me changed, like it has for over 50 years.  Now, when I wade, it is in the larger rivers.  I love wade fishing in Little River, below Townsend.  More often, I fly fish from a boat.  Floating down a tailwater for trout and smallmouth bass is something I can easily do.  I feel safe in a boat, either a drift boat, our fishing boat or our kayaks.  I like boats, all kinds of boats.  I always have.  Now, I fly fish on lakes, mostly for smallmouth bass.  Smallmouth bass was a natural progression for me because of my new limitations, but also because it is a lot of fun.  It is challenging too. 

In my reply to Mike, I told him not to limit his fly fishing activities to trout exclusively.  Maybe he didn’t realize you can fly fish from a boat.  Alabama is a wonderful place to fly fish.  The streams have species we don’t have here, like Coosa Bass.  I think Alabama has Shoal Bass too.  I’ve always wanted to catch one of those of a fly.  He has a trout tailwater nearby.  Go there too.  His lakes have huge largemouth bass.  He can fly fish for spotted bass and stripers. What about those enormous bluegill?  Some of the most avid fly fishermen and fly tyers I know, live in Alabama.

Sure, most fly fishermen fish for trout.  But, if you can’t readily do that, fly fish for something else. 

There is nothing quite like catching a trout on a fly.  We know that.  Watching a brown trout rise to an Adams is like a dream to me and many other anglers.  It is hard to describe the experience in words.  Hard is not he right word.  Impossible is the right word.  Fly fishing for trout in Yellowstone, the Catskills or the Great Smoky Mountains, is something everyone should do, if they can or have the passion.  But, if you can’t, fly fish for something else. 

By the way, when Lynn Camp Prong opens, I’ll be there.  If I fall and break an arm, it will be worth it.

Have a great day and thank you for being here with us.

Byron Begley
February 20, 2015

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