The 5 best flies for fishing Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a huge expanse of land that is literally flowing with trout streams. There are lots of waters in the park and the vast majority of them hold trout. These are wild trout, and they are wary. So you won’t likely see many as you peer into the crystal clear waters. But they are there, and if you are able to sneak up on them and drift a fly naturally, you have a good chance of catching some.

I have been fishing the smokies regularly for a while. I’ve caught more fish than I can count there. I rarely leave skunked. I find that the keys are blending in with the surroundings and drifting your fly naturally. If you do both of those things you have a great chance at hooking up.

Of course it does help to use flies that the fish want too. I think presentation and approach are the most important aspects of trout fishing in the park. Though you do want to have appropriate patterns in the right sizes.

All of the classic trout flies will work in the GSMNP. There are also some local or non-traditional patterns that seem to work extra well there. Here’s a list of the best flies for fishing in the Great Smokies.

Pheasant Tail Nymph

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The pheasant tail nymph is a classic subsurface fly that works very well in the Great Smokies. This is a go-to fly that you can feel confident using in any stream and any time of the year. Just match the fly to the situation.

pheasant tail nymph

Carrying pheasant tail nymphs in sizes 10, 12 and 14 will cover most aspects of Great Smoky trout fishing. You might want to go a little larger in very high water or off color conditions.

During a hatch you can fish the pheasant tail as a dropper below a dry fly. The same goes in the summer when you can fish the pheasant tail off of a foam hopper fly in a “hopper dropper” combo.

In colder water or when you don’t see any surface activity fish this fly deep. That means using weighted or beadhead pheasant tails. You can also fish these off of larger anchor flies in a two-nymph setup.

Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail Jig

The soft hackle is a traditional wet fly, and the pheasant tail is a long lived classic. The soft hackle pheasant tail jig combines the two with a tungsten bead and jig hook. This modern touch adds up to more strikes.

soft hackle pheasant tail jig

This fly is one of the best all around searching patterns you can throw in the smokies. I wouldn’t hesitate to fish this in any of the stream in the park at any time of the year. It works great dead drifted under an indicator or as the anchor on a Euro nymphing setup.

What does this fly look like? A little bit of everything. Mountain fish in relatively infertile streams don’t have a ton of opportunity to eat. If it looks buggy and drifts along naturally they will eat it. That is why this generally buggy looking fly works so well.

Tellico Nymph

The Tellico nymph is a local fly developed on and named after the Tellico River. Yellow is a good color in general for trout, but it seems to work particularly well in the Great Smokies.

tellico nymph

This is a versatile fly that looks like nothing in particular. You can fish it on a dead drift. Or you can can strip it back or even swing the fly like a traditional wet. I’ve caught fish in the Smokies doing all of that and more. There’s a reason locals continue to fish this pattern.

You can use the Tellico nymph year round in the smokies. Use smaller and heavier flies in colder water. When the water is in the 45-60 degree range you can go up to much larger sizes. Don’t be afraid to fish large Tellicos in the fall either. That’s a great time to hook up with the park’s elusive yet sizeable brown trout.

Green Weenie

This simple fly was created in Pennsylvania. It consists of nothing more than a piece of green chenille wound around a hook. Yet it catches fish all over the world.

green weenie fly

The green weenie might look like an inch worm or it might look like an uncased caddis larva or “stick worm.” Smokey Mountain trout love both, so it doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that this fly works.

I tend to use the green weenie in spring and summer. While you can catch fish on the pattern all year, it seems to have more appeal when the water is a bit warmer.

There is a variation of the green weenie called the “pink weenie” that also works well. That goes for the smokies too, though local fly shops sometimes label it a “pink barbie” for whatever reason.

Neversink Caddis

The neversink caddis is a dry fly made with yellow foam. It floats all day long and, well, never sinks. It rides right in the surface and the foam keeps it there as long as you want to fish.

neversink caddis

Originally, I only saw this fly tied in yellow. Now there are other colors commercially available. I stick with yellow. I think that the use of the yellow foam has a lot to do with why this fly works so well. As I wrote before, yellow is a good color in the smokies.

Otherwise this fly fishes like any other dry fly. Because it floats so well, it is a great fly for a dry and dropper rig. Tie a pheasant tail 6-8 inches behind neversink caddis and you have a great rig for many situations.

The neversink caddis works especially well in the spring and summer when the trout are more likely to be looking up for a meal. I catch more brook trout on the neversink than any other species of fish. That doesn’t mean other trout won’t take them though. I also catch plenty of rainbows and even the occasional brown trout on these flies.

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