Tennessee’s Little Pigeon River Loaded With Stockers

By Chris Shaffer | 05/21/2014

Throughout spring and summer the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area is one of the largest tourist traps in the country. Visitors from the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast suffocate the roads, restaurants, shops and family fun zones. For those who want to avoid the crowds, great stocked trout fishing is available steps from the mini golf courses, fudge shops, $5 t-shirt stores and ice cream cones.

While known for Dollyworld, Great Smokey Mountains National Park and nightly themed shows, the greater Gatlinburg area is also popular to trout fishermen. From May through Labor Day the region’s trout streams are planted weekly with rainbow trout. Yes, weekly. And, while many of the fish stocked are yanked out within a few days there’s always more available for those willing to meander a few steps from the highway.


Trout are provided by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, but are raised in town by the city of Gatlinburg and stocked every Thursday. (The rivers in town are closed to fishing on Thursday to allow for stocking.) We were surprised to find that the average stocker here was much larger than we found in other Southeast states. Most average 10-12 inches and fish to 14 were very common, whereas in Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina and West Virginia we noticed many running eight and nine inches.


For first timers I’d recommend heading to the Little Pigeon River. We fished the West Prong of the Little Pigeon, which flows through Gatlinburg and into the Pigeon Forge area. I’d fish from where Highway 321 and 441 meet in Gatlinburg on downstream to Gnatty Branch Bridge. This is where the majority of the trout are stocked. To narrow it down further, focus on areas immediately downstream of bridges, particularly because they provide access for stocking. Or, stay in the city of Gatlinburg where ample access is available and heavy plants are made to accommodate tourists.


Unlike many Southeast trout streams, the Little Pigeon stays cold enough to support trout all year, which means you’ll have fresh planters and holdovers. Most everything caught will be rainbows, nonetheless. And, for those anglers who are adventurous don’t be afraid to start at one of the bridges and migrate downstream. Oftentimes, the better fishing is found away from where the masses cast.

An array of techniques is effective. Any spinner or spoon will catch fish. However, it’s important to use light line in this clear water. Anything greater than four-pound test is too heavy. Two-pound test is perfect. There’s no need to worry about getting broken off by a big fish. Most likely a 14-inch trout is the max you’ll catch.


We used bait, specifically Pautzke Gold Label salmon eggs and three colors of FireBait: Rainbow, Garlic Salmon Egg and Chartreuse Garlic and you’ll see in our next episode of Pautzke Outdoors (coming out Memorial Weekend) that doing so generates easy limits. We caught and released limits in under two hours.


Focus on casting into runs, pocket water, pools, holes and behind big boulders, which are common. You’ll want to avoid slow moving water, which there isn’t much of anyway. Because this section of the river moves fairly quickly trout can be found almost anywhere. The only place you’ll find trout in slow moving water is near the hatchery in the kids fishing area.


Editor’s Note: Anglers (ages 13 and up) can purchase daily Gatlinburg trout fishing permits for $11.50, but these only allow for fishing local Gatlinburg area streams. Pautzke FireBait and Gold Label salmon eggs are available at Walmart in nearby Sevierville, TN.