View Full Version : Slickrock Creek 5/15 & 16

05-16-2010, 10:33 PM
My Friend Dj and I had been planning to go to Slickrock Creek for some time now but with the way things work in my life, you plan something too far in advance and its gonna fall through. We decided on Tuesday that we would make another attempt at the trip. Friday night we sat down with our wives for an Italian meal at Savellis Restaurant here in Knoxville. Anticipation of the trip pretty much dominated the conversation between Dj and I. Our wives however, were not overly impressed that we were going to leave them at home to go backpacking and fishing in the mountains.
I had already packed my backpack, so when we arrived home at 10:00pm, I was ready to go to bed to be wide awake at 5:00am for our departure. About 10:15 Dj text messaged me….”Hwy 129 is still closed…looks like slickrock will have to wait for another trip”. I called him to discuss this unfortunate turn of events. We discussed going over the skyway to Robbinsville, then cutting up, or across Newfound gap and then down, but figured in the end it would take almost twice the amount of time our normal route would take. New destinations changed between the Bald, North, even a brook trout trip in the Citico headwaters. Nothing impressed us though, so we decided to meet in the morning and decide on the road.
At 4:00am I suddenly woke up, and asked myself what had woken me up, a few seconds later it hit me. Farr Gap! Part of the BMT leaves the Fodderstack trail at Farr Gap to enter the slickrock creek valley. Farr Gap wasn’t too far and the trail looked do-able in an hour or two. When I arrived to meet Dj, I told him, showed him on the map, and he pointed the car in the direction of Doublcamp road in the Cherokee NF.
On the way there I prepared him for what me might encounter. Several people had said that Slickrock Creek was now a “dead stream”, a “figment of what it used to be”, some even called it a flat out disappointment. We were well prepared for what was about to happen.
We arrived at Farr Gap around 8:00am and quickly hit the stiffknee trail, which crosses the border between the Citico Creek Wilderness and the Joyce-Kilmer Slickrock Wilderness, and quickly descends into the Slickrock Creek valley via the Little Slickrock drainage.


The hike is very steep off the side of Little Stiffknee top and quickly drops down into a huge grove of hemlocks and pine. It’s a very pretty valley. Very open with limited undergrowth and a large canopy, much like Sycamore Creek. We set up camp where Little Slickrock comes into Slickrock Creek.


We set up our tents, had an early lunch, and rigged up our rods. We hiked downstream toward Yellowhammer gap and got in the water around noon.


There wasn’t anything of significance hatching and I only saw one stonefly crawling around. I turned over several rocks and could only find very small nymphs (16-18. We fished for 4 hours and never even saw a fish, no rises, no spooks, nothing. I tried everything from Green Drakes and Stimulators to Pheasant Tails and Prince Nymphs. At about 4:30 we started hearing thunder in the distance and decided to go back to camp to rest and wait out a possible thunder shower. At 5:00 the skies opened up. For a good 90 minutes our tents were pounded with rain. I stayed dry in my BA seedhouse, but Dj’s MSR Hubba Hubba had a compromised seam. I sat there in my tent, a little dejected about our results, and read Harry Middleton talk about how trout are the most finicky creatures ever and how they demand certain things out of us to be caught and just plain live.
The rain stopped at 6:30, so I got out of my tent and went to survey the creek. The water level wasn’t much different, but the water had a lot of color. You couldn’t see the bottom of the pool next to our campsite that was so visible earlier in the day. I wondered what this change meant for the trout. With nothing better to do, I rigged up a double nymph rig and a yarn strike indicator and hit the trail. We went upstream from the campsite and crossed the creek at the first crossing. While waiting on the other side of the creek for Dj to cross, I eyed a nice deep hole at the tailing of a quick run. I made a good cast toward the bottom of the run, and my strike indicator went under. I let out a woo-hoo! like a small child opening a gift on chirstmas day.


It now started to thunder in the distance and sprinkle a little bit. I was worried that our luck was running short. At just about every good run, a good cast was producing at least a strike. You can tell it was starting to rain harder in these pictures since I had to put my rain jacket on.


I wish I had a better picture of this fish, because he was the biggest one I brought to hand and was colored up very nicely. All these fish hit a #12 Tellico Nymph that was hung about 30 inches below my indicator. Thanks to Hugh Hartstell for the recipie on his website, this one worked out well.



05-16-2010, 10:37 PM
The thunder got louder and closer, the rain was coming down harder, and we saw the flash of a lightning strike over the ridge, so we thought it best to give it a rest and get back to camp before we got ourselves into trouble.
Sunday morning came with clear skies, but the computerized voice on the weather band radio was calling for a change of scenery. Another storm, this one much bigger was set to roll through the area around noon. We rigged up our rods one last time for 30-45 minutes of fishing before we packed up and headed out. We got out on the river, barely downstream of camp and Dj immediately picked up a nice fish. After he released it, I moved up ahead of him to take my turn at a nice deep run. I peered over a boulder into the run and casted in. It drifted along for a few seconds and the indicator went down. I pulled but nothing was on the other end, so I thought it must have gotten hung for a second. I casted back in and it went under again. This time I had a big one on. I saw it turn and roll in the run like and alligator on a leash. I got up next to the rock I was crotched behind to see how I could get it to my hand. It was coming right for me and it was moving fast. It took off down a quick chute of water right beside my feet and I got a good glimpse of it. Easily the biggest wild fish I had ever hooked up with. It took off downstream with a fury like I had never seen. Meanwhile my drag was singing and I was doing my best impression of Brad Pitt chasing the fish downstream. Then I remembered why they call it slickrock creek. My foot went out from under me. I caught my balance, but when I did, I accidentally put tension on the line. The fish snapped my 6x tippet like it was 40 year old dental floss. I yelled expletives and Dj joined me in the profanity. Then I just laughed. My heart was beating so fast & hard you would think I just stabbed myself with my epinephrine injection. What the heck…I didn’t even have my camera with me. I wandered up the creek and caught one more small fish and decided to call it a day. We went back to camp and crammed all our wet gear in our backpacks and hit the stiffknee trail for the most humbling part of the trip.
The hike out wasn’t terrible. It gets pretty vicious around the saddle at little stiffknee top, but its no worse than the hike out of Deep Creek up to Newfound Gap Road.
I don’t thing Slickrock Creek is anything like it used to be, but I’m glad to see it is at least trying to make a recovery. The one thing that did bother me was the amount of trash we found in the backcountry. We packed out as much as we could handle, including a thermarest that looked like a bear had had its way with it. I think “disposable” water bottles are going to ruin this country. Maybe Aquafina or Dasani will have their own landfill one day.

Thanks for reading.

05-17-2010, 09:31 AM
Great report about a stream I haven't fished in probably 10 years. I'm glad to hear that their are still fish swimming in it's waters but am upset about the trash found.

05-17-2010, 10:01 AM
Great report. Looks like there are some healthy fish in there even if the numbers are down. Thanks for posting.

05-17-2010, 01:46 PM
Heres a picture of all the trash we carried out.
And yes, that is a thermarest.


05-17-2010, 02:09 PM
Nice report Cody. Wish you could have came to Troutfest with us Saturday, but I'm glad you all had a good trip. I've never been up into that area, but it looks beautiful from your pictures. Thanks for sharing.

05-17-2010, 03:37 PM
Congrats on picking up the trash. I try to do that myself. I teach Hunter Education in Tennessee, Ethics and Responsibility. I tell the class to carry a couple of the plastic bags from the grocery. They don't weigh anything and can be wadded up and put in a pocket to be used later. BTW, great story! So much water, so little time.

05-17-2010, 04:27 PM
[QUOTE=Grannyknot;80597]The hike out wasn’t terrible. It gets pretty vicious around the saddle at little stiffknee top, but its no worse than the hike out of Deep Creek up to Newfound Gap Road.

Sounds like death march potential...

Glad you had a good trip... I'm jealous of those nice browns you caught!

05-17-2010, 09:46 PM
Those are some nice looking native browns there. I have always wanted to make that trek to Slickrock.

05-17-2010, 10:32 PM
Your pictures take me back right away to that campsite and exact same tent set up. I made that trip for three spring breaks while in school and absolutely loved each time. Not that the fishing was overly spectacular or even good but something about that place still has me wanting to go back. The tree next to the fire pit has those two roots exposed and I would lay my therma rest between the two roots and against the tree and have a back woods lazy-boy. The Hike in is a cinch, bombing down hill all the way. The hike back up stiff knee, however, is a much different story.

Even a few years ago I found fishing to be much the same. Only a few fish caught each time but I did break off on a true giant as well, on a dry fly (Tennessee Wulf), on my last trip. My first trip I had great success on the last day on dries about a mile down stream from the camp. I also sat and watch a solid 18" fish in the tail of the large pool in front of the campsite one afternoon for at least 20 minutes, only to spook him on my first attempt.

Your pictures and story made my mind up. I am going back.

05-18-2010, 09:59 AM
I haven't been back there in probably 25 years. Thanks for bringing back the memories. Hopefully, the stream is starting to make a recovery with the good amount of water we've received last year and this year.

Jim Casada
05-18-2010, 03:33 PM
Grannyknot--Thanks for an interesting report. I've never been into Slickrock the way you traveled. Where does the trail come out in relation to Wildcat Falls? I've always gone in from Big Fat Gap--easy going, terribly tough haul coming out.
There was a time, say 15-20 years ago, when Slickrock was truly something. There was a fairly predictable green drake hatch every spring, and if you could be there when it came off the action was the kind you seldom see in this part of the world.
Then things gradually began to go downhill, and I'm mystified as to exactly what happened. It's pretty darn difficult, if not flat-out imposssible, to "fish out" a brown trout stream, and even if poachers were in action (and some were) I don't think that was the problem.
One interesting Slickrock tidbit some might find interesting is how the stream's browns got there. They were carried in as fingerlings in specially made backpacks toted by members of the CCCs. So you were catching direct lineal descendants of trout which have been there since the 1930s.
I've never caught a rainbow in Slickrock and don't think there are any. There are mountain trout up high.
Your report gives me heart and hopes that maybe the stream has come back a bit, and reckon I'll have to stir this overweight and aging body to wander down from Big Fat Gap and once more cast at the base of Wildcat Falls (and elsewhere).
Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

05-18-2010, 04:06 PM
Jim, Little Slickrock Creek and the Stiffknee trail come in downstream of wildcat about a mile. We tried to go up to wildcat falls saturday afternoon, but the storm moved in and pushed us back to camp. The trail is not long, but the gradient in the last 3/4 mile is comparable, in my opinion, to some of the toughest trails in the park or National Forests. As my friend Dj said "they don't believe in switch-backs do they?".

I have seen some pictures of the special backpacks and read a short story about the stocking process. Pretty amazing what the CCC would go through to accomplish such feats.

05-19-2010, 06:54 PM
I can tell you live in NC, Jim. For us on the TN side, the Little Slickrock trail is the easiest way to get in. Drive up Citigo Creek, then Doublecamp Creek, and you're there at Farr Gap.

Even 25 years ago, fishing for those wild browns was tough. I always thought the water clarity of Slickrock was very high, higher than most GSMNP streams, and the browns tended to like the slower eddies. It was best to backpack in, that way you could be on the water in the low light of morning and evenings, and that greatly improved your chances.

I've caught rainbows there, but below the lower falls, and that was 20-25 years ago.


Jim Casada
05-19-2010, 07:29 PM
Rich--Thanks, and I certainly agree on the fact that browns are most active at dawn and dusk. I must say, however, that the thought of hiking out on the Tennessee side sounds daunting. For all that it is a backbreaker, at least the Big Fat Gap Trail has some switchbacks.
As for the rainbows, I'm guessing they came up from the lake. I don't know that I've ever fished below the lower falls, having always found that a good starting point (and the best fishing around and above Wildcat Falls).
Thanks for the info.
Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

05-19-2010, 08:40 PM
I've been down Big Fat Gap too. If I'm remembering correctly, and this is true of most trails in these parts, it's the section closest to the ridge that's the steepest. The Little Slickrock trail is no exception, and once it picks up the creek, it's easy going. I've have to say there's practically no difference in difficulty coming out with either of the trails; the last 1/2 mile will kill you on both, but it's short.

Jim: With regard to the Green Drake hatch you mention that was present at least 20 years ago -- was it duns or spinners you fished to?


Jim Casada
05-20-2010, 11:49 AM
Rich--Yep, the last part of the climb out to Big at Gap is where it is a booger. I saw the Green Drakes several times over the years in both forms. One thing which was totally predictable was that browns, including big ones, became voracious when the Green Drakes appeared.
Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

05-22-2010, 01:32 PM
Granted there are a few bursts to humble anyone, as any trail in the system. And the trail on the Tennesse side isn't too bad for Joyce Kilmer/ Citico trails. Compared to Deep Creek (Joyce Kilmer), Jenkins Meadow, or South Hangover Lead (even after thr trail rerouted making it much easier) both of these trails are moderately difficult at best with back packing gear. That said, if you only hike in the Smokies where most trails are perfectly manicured, you could easily go into shock after hiking over blow down after blow down, and up steep grades where you soon realize the trails were not designed by world renowned designers as in the Smokies.

As for the decline in the stream, I know there where some rockslides exposing alot of rock about a decade back. Could that have exposed the stream to some acid leaching along with the drought and it being lower elevation and all?

Nice trip report and nice info onthe 30's stocking.


Jim Casada
05-22-2010, 03:30 PM
duckypaddler--I don't think the Anakeesta Formation is found in the Slickrock drainage, but I could well be wrong. I've just never heard it mentioned in the area. If it does exist, a lot of exposed "hot" rock and leaching could certianly be part of the problem. I'll have to ask one of the NCWRC folks the next time I talk to them.
Jim Casada
www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com (http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com)

05-24-2010, 11:58 PM
Hate to see trash like that.. Thanks for the report and nice fish!

05-25-2010, 12:13 AM
I haven't been up Slickrock (or down) in 12 years I bet. The first time we backpacked in Big Fat Gap, in the dark, pitched our tents just off the trail, split a pint of Maker's and went to sleep! On my first cast that next day to "show my buddies how it was done" I landed a beautiful 5 or 6" brown..... the only fish I saw that trip! We exited downstream (with many stream crossings!) and a death march over yellow hammer gap, nearly threw my pack in the ditch that day :(, absolutely whipped me.
Another buddy and I went back later that year, having trained for the route, we humped it pretty quickly over Yellow hammer. Saturday morning the fishing was pretty good with golden stones (dries and nymphs). After 10:00 am it pretty well shut down. The next morning we woke too late, to see a couple of boneheads splashing up the creek. Once those browns are spooked they are done for the day! Sounds like the rain, and color turned down their fear a bit, (that and the skill you two obviously possess!). Glad to see you all caught some of those browns, and some nice ones! We saw way too much trash as well, people (apparently squatters) had left tarps tied in the trees and trash in the fire pits..... pretty sad. WNC and E TN are terrible for that sort of thing. I wish people would learn to take it with them, and not throw it out the window while driving. Glad you all had a good trip, and thanks for the report.

05-27-2010, 10:03 PM
My brother and I fished Slickrock Creek two years ago and didn't catch anything. Nice report and glad to see that you all caught some fish!