100 Best: Little River
Location: Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, Spin
Species: Brown, Rainbow, Brook
Supporting Services: Townsend
Short take: Followed by highway for much of its length, this is still one fine trout stream
Handicapped Access: Townsend
Closest TU Chapters: Little River, Great Smoky
Of the 2,115 miles of streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the three prongs of the Little River are without a doubt the most popular and heavily fished. The Townsend entrance to the Great Smokies puts you in the heart of the Little River watershed. Turning left onto the Little River Road takes you up along the East Prong with its long clear pools, stretches of pocket water, and the big plunge pools called “The Sinks.” The run through the picnic area at Metcalf Bottoms is extremely popular. Rainbows of seven to ten inches are normal fare here, but in October and November when browns begin to spawn, you may bring an 18-incher to your net.
Leaving the Little River Road at the entrance to Elkmont picnic/campground, the creek points at the Smokies’ main ridge. A junior version of the water you’ve been seeing since you entered the park. It teems with small rainbows. But keep walking. Four miles upstream, Fish Camp Prong comes in on the right. You’ve just entered the home waters of the southern Appalachian brook trout. Legendary work by park fisheries biologist Steve Moore and his colleagues with an outstanding assist in volunteers and funds from the Little River and Great Smoky Mountain chapters of Trout Unlimited have led to the re-establishment of the best native brook trout fishing in the Southeast.
While the East Prong gets most of the action, not to be overlooked are the Middle Prong and the West Prong. Instead of turning left at the Townsend entrance, turn right towards Cades Cove. In a mile or so, you’ll see the sign for the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont. Turning left takes you up along the Middle Prong while the West Prong continues to the south. Both prongs are worthy of attention. When pressed for time and with only an hour or two to fish, I make tracks for the upper end of the West Prong. No matter what season, I’m never disappointed.