Stream in Winter

Man, Woman and Rainbow Trout

View of Smoky Mountains

Angler on Smokies Streamream

Snow in the Mountains




It’s December.  Winter is upon us and it shows in the mountains.  Winter is a beautiful time of year in the Smokies.  When we get snow it’s all the better.  If we don’t have snow the mountains have that dark brown hue, a look that we are all familiar with.  That usually means we have the streams to ourselves.

The brown trout can still be spawning early in the month but often it is over.  Post spawn trout are hungry and many are caught in December.  The water may be too cold for non-spawners.  Most of the trout are hunkered down waiting for some warmer water.  When the water warms to near 50 degrees they start eating again.  In the upper 50’s to low 60’s the feed bag is on.  If the temperature is in the low 40’s or lower the trout’s metabolism slows to a crawl.  They don’t need much food, if any to survive.  It is a built in survival mechanism, a genetic trait that evolved over thousands of years.

Most likely, the water will be cold in the freestone streams all month.  You can find warmer water in streams where springs dump warmer water into the mainstream.  One example of that is Abrams Creek near the Abrams Falls Trailhead.  If you are dying to fish in the Smokies and the rivers are cold you might try Abrams Creek.

Most anglers fish the tailwaters during the winter.  The water is warmer and the trout are more eager to take your fly.  In fact, 25 years ago I was fishing the Caney Fork River below Center Hill Lake almost every week.  December was one of my favorite months.  The crowds were gone and I caught more larger brown trout during that month.

During the winter months we do get some warm spells.  In pools where the sun is warming the water you might see a blue wing olive hatch.  There might be some active caddis too.  And occasionally the trout react to the hatch so be prepared with small BWO’s if you are fishing in the Park at this time of year.  But most anglers spend the day dredging a large nymph through the deep runs hoping a trout will go for the fly.  The most important thing about fishing in the Smokies in the Winter is "just getting out".

Winter is a good time to do some looking.  The water is crystal clear.  Cold water can’t hold dissolved solids well and the colder it is, the clearer it is.  You might see some good holding lies that you had not noticed before, something to remember in the Spring.  I like hiking in the Winter months especially on the Middle Prong.  I can walk for a few miles and never see anyone. 

Rainbow trout move into the streams from lakes to spawn during the winter and early Spring.  Get prepared for that.  They may not be in streams now but they will.  There are a lot of impoundments in East Tennessee and North Carolina that have populations of large rainbows.  When the time is right, you can find them in small streams that feed the lakes.  They also enter small streams from the tailwaters to spawn.  You would be surprised how many streams that are usually warm will have rainbows spawning or at least trying to in late Winter and very early Spring.  Many of those small streams are spring fed.  They are there.  You just have to find them.  Learn to tie some egg patterns.

If you tie flies now is a good time to do just that.  If you don’t tie flies now is a good time to start.  Fly tying extends the sport through the worst months for fishing.  It is a lot of fun and very rewarding.  It is not as hard as you might think.  Our computers tell us that only one third of our customers buy fly tying materials.  So, we guess only one third of the anglers tie flies.  Maybe you have to be really interested in doing tasks with your hands.  I don’t know.  I enjoy tying very much.  It is part of the planning process for me.  Planning for fishing trips is a lot of the fun.  Right now my trout and saltwater fly inventory should last for years.  So this winter I am going to be tying bass and panfish flies. 

Though I have not done it yet, everyone is telling me I should go over to Chilhowee Lake and look around.  The lake has been lowered for dam repairs.  You can see old roads, building foundations and a bridge.  And I hear there is a website that someone has built that has a hundred photos of the old lake bed.  I’ll get around to that this winter.

I hope you are enjoying our new newsletter, the Little River Journal.  Please send comments or ideas to me via e-mail to the address below or post on the Message Board.  I would really appreciate it.

Happy Holidays and thanks for being here.  Enjoy your December.

Byron Begley
December 1, 2008


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