Cades Cove
Great Smoky Mountains National Park


In Great Smoky Mountains National Park

NOTICE: This information is subject to change... if you are concerned or have questions pertaining to the information below or suspect outdated information please go to the GSMNP Fishing Website


Information contained herein is a summary of the fishing regulations for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The official publication for all Park regulations is Title 36 of the Code of Federal Regulations. A copy of the Code of Federal Regulations may be found at most ranger stations and visitor centers.


Fishing has been a part of the historic use of Great Smoky Mountains National Park since its creation. The native brook trout was originally present in most streams above 2000 feet elevation. Extensive logging operations in the early 1900s caused contamination of over 160 miles of clear mountain streams eliminating the brook trout from about 50% of its original range.

During the same period, rainbow trout were stocked in every major stream for recreational fishing. Non-native browns, though stocked only once in the Smokies, migrated from downstream waters in Tennessee and North Carolina. These exotic game fishes obtained larger sizes in Park waters and displaced the native brook trout.

The Park's primary purpose is to perpetuate native species and natural environments so that visitors can see and enjoy native plant and animal life as it occurred in primitive America. Although the recreational aspects of fishing are important to us, our main concern must be the preservation of native species like the brook trout. This is the reason for the closure of brook trout streams.

The Park has no plans to eradicate rainbows and browns, and many streams continue to be managed for self-perpetuating populations of these game fish. Even so, restrictive regulations like the use of artificial flies and lures are enforced to prevent the introduction of additional non-native fish and reduce the mortality of fish released back into the water.



Persons possessing a valid Tennessee or North Carolina state fishing license may fish all open Park waters. Licenses must be displayed on demand by authorized personnel. State trout stamps are not required.

Tennessee License Requirements

Residents and nonresidents age 13 and older need a license. The exception is residents who were 65 prior to March 1, 1990. These persons require only proof of age and Tennessee residence.


Today's Fishery

Park resource managers and scientists are expanding their understanding of the natural and human processes affecting fish and their environment so as to wisely manage the aquatic world of the Smokies. Concerns include habitat protection and pollution controls. The only stocking practiced today seeks to restore endangered and threatened native species like the Smoky Mountain Madtom and the Spotfin Chub to waters where they once thrived.

Current efforts are underway to study and convert a number of lost stream miles back to brook trout waters. Some native brook trout populations are protected from invasion of exotic trout species by barriers like waterfalls. So far, Park biologists know that 40 miles of the 120 miles of pure brook trout streams are protected by functional barriers. Other waterfalls are being studied to determine how high a falls must be to prevent rainbows and browns from migrating upstream over them.

Once streams with adequate barriers have been identified, resource managers will be electroshocking upstream from the falls and moving the exotic trout downstream so they no longer compete with the brook trout.

Research is now underway to determine if there is a distinct Southern Appalachian genetic strain of brook trout. Our restoration efforts will be even more intensive if we find a distinct strain exists here.


North Carolina License Requirements

Residents and nonresidents age 16 and older need a license. Residents age 70 and older may obtain a special license from the state.

Persons under 16 in North Carolina and under 13 in Tennessee are entitled to the adult daily bag and possession limits and are subject to all other regulations.

The Park does not sell state fishing licenses. They may be purchased in nearby towns.


Brook Trout Restoration

The Park has been pursuing a brook trout restoration program for several years. The objective of the brook trout program is to expand the range of the native brook trout to produce a self-sustaining natural population which will eventually support angling pressure. Many people including the American Fisheries Society, Trout Unlimited, Land Between the Lakes, and Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association have joined the National Park Service to raise money for the restoration effort. Artist Lee Roberson created the limited edition brook trout print "Fragile Treasure" with proceeds going directly into the restoration funds. The public can now contribute directly to the restoration of a threatened native Park species. For more information, contact Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association, Gatlinburg, TN 37738.


Fishing is permitted year-round in open waters.


Fishing is allowed from a half hour before official sunrise to a half hour after official sunset.

Daily Possession Limits

The possession of brook trout is prohibited..

Five (5) rainbow or brown trout, small mouth bass, or a combination of these, each day or in possession, regardless of whether they are fresh, stored in an ice chest, or otherwise preserved. The combined total must not exceed five fish.

Twenty (20) rockbass may be kept in addition to the above limit.

A person must stop fishing immediately after obtaining the limit.

Size Limits

Rainbow and Brown Trout: 7" minimum
Smallmouth Bass: 7" minimum
Rockbass (redeye): No size limit

All trout or smallmouth bass caught less than the legal length shall be immediately returned to the water from which it was taken. Any brook trout caught must be immediately returned unharmed to the water.

Lures, Bait and Equipment

1. Fishing is permitted only by the use of one hand-held rod.

2. Only artificial flies or lures with a single hook may be used.

3. The use or possession of any form of fish bait or liquid scent other than artificial flies or lures on or along any Park stream while in possession of fishing tackle is prohibited.

4. Prohibited baits include, but are not limited to, minnows (live or preserved), worms, corn, cheese, bread, salmon eggs, pork rinds, liquid scents and natural baits found along stream.

5. The use or possession of double, treble or gang hooks is prohibited while on a stream.

6. Fishing tackle and equipment including creels and fish in possession are subject to inspection by authorized personnel.


Poaching Hotline

Tennessee: 1-800-332-0900 or 1-800-255-8972
North Carolina: 1-800-662-7137

Poaching robs fishermen of fish and all citizens of a valuable natural heritage. You can help by reporting incidents when you see them. Remember, you will remain anonymous. Record vehicle description and license plate number if possible.

Releasing Fish

1. Play a fish as rapidly as possible, do not play to total exhaustion.

2. Keep fish in water as much as possible when handling.

3. Handle fish with a wet hand, even when using a mesh landing net.

4. Remove hook gently; do not squeeze fish or put fingers in gills. Use long-nosed pliers to back the hook out gently. The use of barbless hooks is encouraged.

5. If deeply hooked, cut the line, do not pull the hook out. Most fish survive with hooks left in them.

6. Gently hold fish upright facing upstream and move slowly back and forth in the water.

7. Release fish in quiet water.



First time anglers to the Smokies should stop by a ranger station or visitor center to ask advice. Sporting goods stores in surrounding communities often house some of the Park's most avid fishermen.

BEWARE: Standing and wading in streams can drain vital body heat and lead to hypothermia. Rising water levels resulting from sudden mountain storms occur quite frequently, so keep tabs on the water level. Water currents are swifter than they appear and footing is treacherous on wet and moss-covered rocks.

Be a clean fisherman. If there's a wad of used line, or an empty can at your feet, clean up after your fellow angler.


All of the waters of Mingus Creek and Lands Creek are public water supplies and closed to fishing.

The following streams and their tributaries upstream from the points described are closed to fishing, in order that native brook trout can be protected. For exact location, consult the appropriate USGS 1:24,000 Quadrangle Map available at all Park visitor centers.


  • Sams Cr. at the confluence with Thunderhead Prong.
  • Marks Creek at the falls at 2600'
  • Lynn Camp Prong at campsite #28 (Mark's Cove).
  • Indian Flats Prong at the Middle Prong trail crossing.
  • Meigs Cr. at its confluence with Little R.
  • Fish Camp Prong and Goshen Cr. at their common junction.
  • Little R. and Grouse Cr. at their common junction.
  • Road Prong at its confluence with West Prong of Little Pigeon R.
  • Buck Fork and Middle Prong of the Little Pigeon R. at their common junction.
  • Dunn Cr. at Park boundary.
  • Indian Camp Cr. at Park boundary.
  • Greenbrier Cr. (Little Cr.) at Park boundary.
  • Toms Cr. at its junction with Cosby Cr.
  • Cosby Cr. where Low Gap Trail crosses the stream.
  • Rock Cr. at its junction with Cosby Cr.
  • Spruce Flats Cr. at its confluence with Middle Prong of Little R.
  • Meigs Post Prong at its confluence with Little R.
  Call Steve Speer at: 865-233-0508
or Email: [email protected]