North Citico Sojourn

On The Fly Freshwater

Article and featured photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Citing an old Southern colloquialism, Citco Creek might be considered the trout-fishing “ red-headed stepchild” of the Tellico-Citico Permit Area in southeastern Tennessee, While its cousin the Tellico River gets all the accolades, Citico gets overlooked. That is even more true when you consider the headwaters of the creek up in its North and South Forks.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

In the permit area, the main branch of the Citico requires a special permit from March to August and is heavily stocked on a weekly basis. The upstream boundary of that area ends where North and South Citico creeks join to form the main branch. Farther up, both stems of the creek are home to wild brown and rainbow trout. Still farther up, native Southern Appalachian strain brookies also turn up. Relatively speaking, however, few anglers ever disturb any those fish.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Recently the Appalachian Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Tennessee Aquarium announced plans to release hatchery-reared native brookies in North Citico. That news piqued our interest at On The Fly South, so we ventured up that creek to check it out.

It has been almost two decades since I last fished the creek, which was in the spring season. I’d found the trout to be most accommodating then, regularly rising to attractor dry flies. On this trip the scenario was different. It was winter, the water temperature was in the mid-40s and the stream was running crystal clear. Though the creek and surrounding forest of second-growth hemlock and hardwoods were unchanged, the fishing proved far more difficult.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

That result was not that surprising. With cold water temperatures in the winter months, finding active trout on small southern streams is a rarity. Any you catch are hugging the bottom and reluctant to move to feed. Bumping them in the nose with as weighed nymph or a Wooly Bugger is the best bet.

North Citico Creek rises in the highlands of the Unicoi Mountains near Bob Bald in the Citico Creek Wilderness Area of the Cherokee National Forest and Monroe County. Along its course, the creek is of small to medium size for a southern mountain stream. Due to its position in the wilderness area, the only way to reach it is to walk in. However, the trek to its junction with South Citico is only a 3/4-mile hike.

The author casting just downstream of the lowhead dam. Photo by Polly Dean.

Once on North Citico, the first 5 miles are paralleled by an old logging railroad bed, offering easy travel up and down the stream. Above that the trail and creek rise sharply through a gorge to reach Goat Falls at roughly 6 miles. Above the 30-foot waterfall there is less than 1/2 mile of tough-to-fish water holding a sparse population of brookies.

The lower portion of North Citico has a fairly mild gradient and is loaded with stream-bred, colorful rainbows. The very lowest area also may yield some brown trout

Photos by Jimmy Jacobs.

There are two ways to access the lower end of North Citico Creek. The more formal one is by hiking the South Citico Creek Trail (Forest Trail 105), which has a trailhead on Indian Boundary Road, just west of Citico Creek Campsite No. 14. Taking this route entails climbing over a couple of small bluffs on a rough, narrow trail.

Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

The other option is to follow a fisherman’s trail on the old railbed out of Campsite 14 up Citico Creek. On that route you have to ford Citico Creek once, before joining FT 105 beyond the bluffs.

The ccncrete building located along the trail. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Along the entry way you pass a sign for the Citico Creek Wilderness Area boundary and, upon reaching the site of an old Babcock Lumber Company camp, the junction with the North Citico Creek Trail (FT 98). There are twin signs at this point, identifying  the two trails. Near this site you pass an old concrete building on the right that dates from the logging days in the early 1920s. It is a survivor of the forest fire in 1926 that destroyed the rest of what remained of the railroad and logging industry.

The footbridge over South Citico Creek. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.

Walking up FT 98 for a couple of hundred yards or so, you reach a foot bridge over South Citico Creek right at the junction with North Citico. Just above this junction on the North branch, an old concrete, lowhead dam spans the creek. Beyond that, North Citico is a succession of riffles and shoals broken by deeper pools. The stream is open enough to allow for some easy casting. Expect most of the trout to run in the 6- to 9-inch range, though bigger ones do turn up.

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