Little T Smallmouths

Swain County, North Carolina

On The Fly Freshwater

Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs

July 2021

In the dog days of summer, many of our southern trout waters become too warm to deliver great trout fishing. Though the fish may make it through these months, they are often sluggish and easily stressed if hooked. Does that mean we need to quit fishing?

Rather, it is a good time to shift our attention to the cool water action of chasing smallmouth bass. These fighters often inhabit the same streams as the trout, but a little bit downstream. As summer weather heats up, they even move up into trout water.

A good example is the Little Tennessee River in North Carolina. Many anglers rate this river as one of the best for smallies in the Old North State. Rising in northeast Georgia, the river crosses into North Carolina, passing through the town of Franklin and into Lake Emory. Once below the dam at the Franklin Hydro Station, the river offers 20 miles of smallmouth water, down to the Tellico Bridge at the headwaters of Fontana Lake.

Along this course the Little T is a fairly wide stream, but many areas are rather shallow and rocky. It is possible to do float trips on the flow using kayaks, pontoons, canoes or drift boats. To accommodate such ventures the Kayak Fishing River Access at the mouth of Long Branch off Neeedmore Road on the river’s west bank offers access. Also, on that same road and shore of the river upstream at the Tellico Creek Access, a launch site is positioned at the mouth of that stream.

As you drift the river, you’ll pass signs of the days when this was part of the Cherokee Nation. At least five old Native American fish weirs still are visible, formed by rocks laid in a “V” shape facing down river. At the end of these, baskets were held to catch fish driven downstream by people wading from above. Back in the 1880s, the Smithsonian Institute pointed to this valley as “the most interesting archaeological section in the entire Appalachian district.”

If you prefer to wade fish for smallmouths, the Little T offers ample opportunities. The flow is broken by many riffles and shoals, some of which can be reached from the shore access areas. One particularly easy to reach one is located off Needmore Road on the east side of the river. This site is just downstream of the Needmore Suspension Bridge, a span for foot travel across the river. Also, just upstream is the Kayak Fishing River Access that offers more wading areas.

Fishing downstream of the Needmore Suspension Bridge.

During trips to the river, we’ve found this section to offer some easy wading, not requiring a lot of climbing up and over rocks. While holding water is scarce in some shallow stretches, any indention in the bottom downstream of boulders or other structure generally held a smallmouth or two.

The Little T is not known for producing big smallmouths. It is more a “numbers’ stream, giving up lots of smaller fish. That said, some lunkers of 4 or more pounds show up on occasion.

Be aware that the river runs through a mixture of Forest Service property and private lands. Make sure you don’t trespass when parking and entering any of the shoals.

The best time to fish this stretch is from late April to the end of October. Besides the resident fish, more smallies move up out of Fontana into the river. These bass are susceptible to Wooly Bugger, Wiggle Minnow, Zonker or crayfish patterns in sizes 4 to 10. Personally, I’ve found white Boogle Bug Poppers to be hard to beat on these waters.

A smallie on a white Boogle Bug Popper.

A 6- to 7-weight outfit works well here, with a floating line. There are some deeper runs that may require a sink-tip for the best success.

Nearby Bryson City offers a good place to headquarter a trip to the Little T in Swain County. It offers a variety of lodging options and campgrounds, as well as eateries. For more details and suggestions, visit the Bryson City website.

The bottom line is, don’t let the summer doldrums discourage you from hitting the waters right now. You should find the smallmouth bass ready to accommodate you with vicious strikes and a rugged, never-say-die fight on the Little T.