Back Country Trout in the Tennessee Smokies
On The Fly Freshwater
Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs.
Meigs Creek is a small to medium tributary of the Little River on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It also is and always has been home to wild, native Southern Appalachian brook trout.
Thanks to the book Fly Fishing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park by the Sage of the Smokies Jim Casada, I learned that the creek was named after a 19th-century surveyor that marked a treaty boundary line with the Cherokee Nation. His name was Return Jonathan Meigs. I’d suggest you pick up a copy of Casada’s fine tome to find out how the man got such a strange first name.
While many anglers are incline to never name a brookie stream for fear it will be over run and over fished, that is less of a concern in the park. There are literally hundreds of miles of back country flows with wild fish here, and those requiring a hike to reach get little pressure.
My first introduction to Meigs Creek came back in 2006. That was the year the National Park Service lifted a 30-year ban on all fishing in this stream and a number of others in the park. After a three-year study on some select brook trout waters, they had realized that not allowing angling was not improving either the size or number of fish in such streams. Thus, virtually all the flows in the park were opened to angling.
Soon after that action I ventured into the park to see what the stream offered. To begin with, on a map it appears to be no problem to reach Meigs. It’s mouth on the Little River is just across that stream from Little River Road. Once there, however, you’ll realize the river is rather big at this point and deep. Additionally, you’ll see just up the feeder creek a large waterfall, which has no trail running past it from this direction.
Eventually, I figured out that you have to drive upstream on the Little River to the waterfall called The Sinks, and follow the Meigs Creek Trail over a ridge from that parking lot. To reach the creek requires almost a mile and half trek.
Once the trail reaches the creek, Meigs is pretty heavily foliaged by the ever-present rhododendron, but does offer some room for casting in openings. Over the years, I’ve also found that it is a good flow for finding brookies of up to 10 inches. As with most wild brookies, they look like they have been wallowing on an artist’s palette.
Moving farther upstream takes you between the twin peaks of Curry He and Curry She mountains. Along this route the creek continues to offer some fishing water for a couple of miles, but constantly getting smaller and offering less room for casting. It is this small size, the remote location and previous years of not allowing fishing that has kept Meigs Creek a lesser-known stream.
It is creeks like Meigs that provide a back drop for the debate of what size and weight rod is best suited for this action. On the one hand there are anglers who prefer rods as short as 6 feet and lines as light at 2 weights. While those are good matches for the size and fight of the fish, they have their disadvantage too. With no room for back casts, trying to make short roll casts with that gear can be tough and frustrating.
The opposing school of thought is that a longer rod provides the option of poking it through the vegetation to dap the fly on the surface of pools. Those rods also can provide better leverage for rolling the line.
Either way is a matter of personal preference.
Drifting virtually any buoyant attractor fly, such as a Royal Wulff, Adams Parachute or Thunderhead, should entice these fish in warmer months. Similarly, swinging Hare’s Ear, Prince or Pheasant Tail nymphs through holding water works when it is cooler.
If you like the challenge of fishing in what Jim Casada calls the “back of beyond,” then Meigs Creek just might be your ticket. The fish may be small, but they are wild, colorful and feisty. Just remember that in such places we are all better served if we limit our kill, rather than killing a limit. Or, catch-admire-and-release is an even better option.