gz, Here is a report on my first trip to the 'shoe last Fall. You said you had done some searching on the forum, so if you had already seen this, I apologize. http://littleriveroutfitters.com/for...ead.php?t=9350
As for your questions:
Cades Cove Loop Road
Open all year from sunrise until sunset
This road will be closed to motor vehicles on Wednesday and Saturday mornings
until 10:00 a.m. from May 7 through September 24, 2008 to allow bicyclists and pedestrians to enjoy the cove.
It is best to familiarize yourself with the exit point for the Big 'shoe, but its easier said than done. The exit point of the 'shoe is just before you cross over a ridge (Arbutus Ridge) and it will be the second "climb" of the trail at just over a mile into the hike. You'll probably be half way up the ridge before you realize it so it'll be hard to walk back down and find you exit point. It should take at least 6-8 hours
to fish it if you hurry and don't spend too much time at any one pool. I think the middle 1/3 had better fishing, but the first 1/3 seemed to have more fish.
Depending on how late you get to the exit point you should see the ridge from the stream and people walking on the trail (especially on weekends). Don't even look for the trail until you have fished for 6 hours. Just keep fishing (and moving). At any point after crossing the ridge you can jump down to the stream and start fishing. you'll probably have to go about 200 yards (or more) to get to a point that "jumping" down to the stream is an option.
Like Craig said, the trail follows the stream for all but the 'shoe sections, so keep fishing and every once in awhile look up and to your left for the ridge. If you think you are near the trail, don't go more than 20 yds from the stream to look for it, and immediately return to the stream if you don't see it. I say that more to keep you from getting lost, than anything else. When you are actually near the trail, you will find it easily. If it takes any effort, then you are not there yet.
Remember...look for the ridge...look for the ridge...look for the ridge...
don't get out beforehand...
Most importantly, be safe (the rocks are covered with silt and are very, very slippery), have fun and take pictures!