Fly Fishing Abrams Creek


Remembering the first time I encountered a big hatch of caddis flies on a trout stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is easy. From a young age I spent as much time with my dad as possible, splashing about in the trout streams of these mountains. How I managed to ignore so much of what occurred around me in those days is still a mystery. That changed some thirty years ago during a Memorial Day weekend. Rising well in advance of dawn, as was our custom, we made the eighty-mile trek to the south end of Cades Cove.

This is where Abrams Creek emerges from the ground after traveling almost three miles through a limestone depression. Whereas all of the other 600 miles of trout streams in the national park have a pH of 5.6 to 6.5, the short subterranean trip through limestone jolts Abrams Creek's pH to 7.8 to 8.5. Coupled with the fecal bacteria and other nutrients contributed by the many cattle grazing in the open fields of the cove, this particular stream is blessed with a rich aquatic culture unique to the freestone streams of the Appalachian Mountains.

All of this was unknown to us at the time, and had we known, it really would have made little impression on us. What we did know by the end of that Sunday afternoon was that we had stumbled upon something that was nothing short of marvelous. Sometime around eight o'clock that morning the behavior of the trout changed. Trout that were otherwise spooky and reticent became bold, if not hell-bent on gorging themselves. Even in our uneducated state, we knew something we had never seen before was unfolding before us. It was a caddis fly hatch of the highest order.

We had read about air-filling flights of emerging mayflies, and were aware of caddis flies. We knew the trout were darting about under the water snatching morsels. However, the two telltale signs of a grand hatch — duns riding on the surface to take flight, and trout methodically dimpling the surface while feeding on the emerging flies — were missing. What was not missing was torrid feeding by the rainbow trout crowding this medium-size trout stream.

On an average, we hooked and landed a trout every four or five casts, and missed strikes at least two out of three casts. Using tandem rigged nymphs; a Tellico Nymph and a Yallarhammar, on at least a dozen occasions I caught two trout at a time. On numerous other instances, I would be working a trout to my net only to see one and sometimes two other trout charge up to attempt taking the fly hooked in the jaw of the first trout. During the course of that day I had over a dozen flies shredded to the point they had to be retired — a fitting end for any feather-shrouded offering. I do not remember how many rainbows dad and I landed and released, but I recall losing count around noon at more than one hundred fish. This madness went on unabated until dark, when I finally stumbled out of the creek.

Looking back, that day changed my perception of trout fishing on the streams of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Only on a few other occasions have I encountered trout fishing of that caliber, even on virgin waters in the Arctic, or at north woods beaver ponds where brook trout are packed in and nearly starving. A creek in the park that normally gave up forty to fifty trout on a typical day, rewarded our efforts with several times its usual limit. Frankly, had someone told me so many trout were crowded into the pocket water of Abrams Creek that day, I would not have believed them.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »