Planning a Backcountry Fly Fishing Trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park – Part 3

Taking a look at the fishing gear I chose to carry into the mountains in pursuit of Brook Trout and Rainbow Trout.

By Jake Pugh, Catoma Director of Sales and Marketing

As an avid fisherman in general, but a novice fly-fisherman in particular, I am in the steep part of the learning curve when it comes to the gear and techniques necessary for success. Luckily for me, my dad has been a dedicated fly fisherman for about a decade. He ties basically all of his own flies, has fished most of the accessible water in GSMNP, and has brought me up to speed on the techniques he uses for fly fishing in the Smokies.

We will be using a Euro-nymphing setup consisting of a relatively long leader followed by an indicator line attached to a length of tippet with 2 nymph style flies, one 18” or so below the other. This style of fishing has proven to be a very successful method for catching finicky fish in clear water. It is said that as much as 90% of trout feeding is subsurface, therefore fishing the classic dry fly on the water’s surface is not always the best choice. The nymphs we will be using have a small tungsten head to help them sink at a natural pace.

Since the rivers and creeks we will be fishing are so narrow, fly casting is not really a necessary skill. The technique called “high-sticking” is the technique of choice for keeping the fly in the strike zone in these small creeks. A long rod is used to flip the fly into a section of fishable water and then used to just barely keep the line taut as the fly floats naturally with the current. There is an entire encyclopedia of knowledge out there about what makes a “hole” more or less likely to hold a fish, a body of knowledge I am only beginning to access.

To fish using the high-sticking technique, we are using 10-foot 3-4 weight rods. (My dad’s rod of choice is from the Moonshine Rod Company out of Virginia. If you don’t know about them, look them up. Cool company.) This long, limber rod gives us the ability to reach tricky holes and keep the fly in position longer. You can spend as much as you care to on a fly rod, but don’t overthink it. Get what you can afford and just get on the water.

A high-end reel is not really a necessity with this quarry, since most fights only last a few seconds, and drag is rarely needed. Keep it small and light and make sure it balances well with your rod. We both have reels from a relatively new brand called Piscifun whose mission is to make affordable fishing gear to make the sport more accessible. If I needed a high-performance fly fishing reel for chasing a larger quarry, this might not be my first choice, but in this scenario, their affordable and good-looking little reels will do the trick just fine.

When it comes to boots and waders, there are a lot of options out there that will really come down to personal preference. First and foremost, for this type of trip, you need something as durable and lightweight as possible. I went with a simple wader design from FroggToggs and a well-reviewed Redington boot. Keep an eye on the weight, as these items can be heavy and bulky, making the backpacking portion of this kind of trip more challenging. I find it useful to weigh all my gear as I’m packing so I know full well what I’m adding to my kit. I’m pretty happy with the total weight of my waders and boots at 4lb 12oz dry weight. They might be a little heavier on the way out…

When hiking into the backcountry, it will be important to pare down your tackle a little bit to save yourself some weight. Choose a bag or vest that is lightweight and offers just enough capability to get the job done and nothing more. Take a couple spares of your favorites and leave the “maybe one day I’ll use this” items at home. I have fallen in love with this clever sling bag from Umpqua. It will hold my rain jacket, tools, and only a few essential tackle items so that I am unencumbered on the trail and on the water.

Fly fishing is a challenging, gear-centric sport, but don’t let that discourage you. You really can get started on a shoestring budget, and the joy of landing a great fish on the gear you chose is rewarding! Then, as you become more knowledgeable about the sport and how you want to approach it, you can take it as far as you want when it comes to premium quality gear. Having the perfect tool for the job or catching a fish on a fly you tied are the things that draw many fly fisherman to the backcountry again and again. Start where you can with what you can afford and get on the water!

Here are some links to some of the gear and resources that have helped me:

Flies, tackle, tips: https://livelylegz.com/
Rods: https://www.moonshinerods.com/
Reels: https://www.piscifun.com/collections/fly-fishing-reels
Affordable fly fishing gear: https://www.sierra.com/fishing~d~14/
Tips on Nymph fishing from WildFly Productions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SWWrLk6WiPw

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