Situated in the picturesque forests and foothills between Tennessee and North Carolina’s borders, the Pigeon River has what every outdoor adventurer and angler wants — sweeping vistas, solitude, and bountiful fishing opportunities! Flowing northward from North Carolina to Tennessee, the Pigeon River itself skirts along the eastern side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is a particularly generous river when it comes to fishing for Tennessee’s state sport fish — the smallmouth bass (Micropterus dolomieu). In fact, the state holds “the recognized world record [for smallmouth bass] at 11 pounds, 15 ounces.” So, if you’re looking for your next fishing adventure, come on over to East Tennessee’s Pigeon River!
While East Tennessee rivers offer many fishing opportunities, inlets and forks along the Pigeon River are ideal for those who wish to escape the crowds that often surround rivers near the cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. Additionally, the Pigeon’s waters are ideal fishing grounds for smallmouth bass, a member of the Black Bass family, who prefer exactly what the Pigeon offers: clear, cooler portions of reservoirs, as well as rocky, swift streams with riffles and pools. Once in the Pigeon’s swift waters, anglers will enjoy beautiful vistas, quiet surroundings, and prime opportunities to catch smallmouth bass, among other species of fish, almost any time of the year. However, summer months like those in July have proven to be some of the most outstanding times to fish for smallmouths in the Pigeon River.
“The river is becoming well known for producing the vast majority of stream smallmouths over 20 inches for the Tennessee Angler Recognition Program,” said Frank Fiss, TWRA fisheries biologist. “Some of the smaller rivers get runs of smallmouths at certain times of the year, but smallmouths are in the Pigeon River proper at any time of the year. The river fishes very well all the way through October until it gets too cold.”
Fishing Restrictions and Regulations
While anglers can catch smallmouth bass on the Pigeon all year long, fishing rules and regulations do exist and may be updated annually. Along with fishing boundaries, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) guidelines will specify minimum length limits for smallmouth bass, creel limits (the number of a particular sport fish you may keep in one day’s fishing), and more. Be sure to obey any smallmouth bass size limit restrictions (often the most restrictive), and familiarize yourself with smallmouth bass varieties, including hybrid or “mean-mouth” bass. You can find information pertaining to limits and restrictions (and more) on the TWRA website above, as well as within the current year’s fishing guide (also found on TWRA’s site).
Pigeon River Water Flow and Access
Water flow on the Pigeon River can vary drastically, as it depends on releases from North Carolina’s Walter’s Hydro-Electric Plant. These changes in water flow are great for the summer season’s whitewater rafting trips (producing up to class IV rapids), but for anglers, these rapids can create dangerous futile fishing scenarios. While water is too high for fishing when this water is released from the dam, the Pigeon’s low-water conditions between dam releases create outstanding opportunities for wading.
Historically, scheduled water releases are generally Memorial Day (end of May) through Labor Day (beginning of September) on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 12:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. “Projected” water releases (meaning there may be enough water released for recreational activities, but there is no guarantee) may also occur on Mondays, Fridays, Sundays from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m and will depend on weather conditions, rainfall, and power system requirements. Four weeks prior to Memorial Day, the dam may also release water three days of the week, at random, from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. For more information on the dam and water release schedules, check the Walters Hydroelectric Plant. However, for the Pigeon River’s most up-to-date dam release schedule, you will want to call 1-800-899-4435. The recorded message, which is supposed to be updated every Friday year-round, will announce the anticipated release dates for the coming week. After Labor Day, however, these recordings may not be updated as frequently, and during drought years it is recommended to call and confirm every water release. Keep in mind that these posted schedules are always subject to change, so you must confirm water releases for your specific trip. Also, there are few public access points, and fishing on private property requires consent from the owner, so plan accordingly!
Before you can fish on the Pigeon River, or anywhere in Tennessee, be sure to purchase a fishing license from a TWRA regional office, online, or with a licensed agent. Fishing license sales, along with hunting licenses and federal excise taxes, form almost 100% of the TWRA’s operating funds, all of which help ensure that future recreational fishing opportunities, like fishery management programs, continue to exist. If you plan to go fishing, participate in a fishing adventure, or will be assisting someone with fishing, be sure to review Tennessee and the TWRA’s fishing license requirements, exclusions, and fees.
Fishing Adventures With River Rat!
Amidst the backdrop of the beautiful Smoky Mountains and Cherokee National Forest, the Pigeon River offers some of the country’s most scenic and rewarding fishing opportunities. East Tennesseans, Western North Carolinians, and travelers from all over will enjoy all that the Pigeon River — and the region — has to offer. To help you or your loved ones enjoy their experience to the fullest, River Rat hosts and guides professional fishing adventures. No matter your skill level, our knowledgeable and professional guides lead you in an intensive instructional course that covers gear selection, casting techniques, reading the river, and more. Then you’ll hit the water in pursuit of the perfect catch, all while your guide leads you to the many riffles, runs, pools, undercuts, and overhanging brush within the Pigeon River. Guiding services, transportation, gear, and tackle is provided, but you will need to obtain a valid fishing license before your adventure begins (purchase a single or multiple day pass here). So, whether you come to the Pigeon River to catch trophy-sized smallmouth bass, simply learn how to catch them, or to indulge in the surrounding beauty, we hope you stay a while or come back often.
Please remember to help keep our waters clean. Do not leave trash along or within the waterways, and always pack out what you bring in. Fish and humans alike depend on clean water for survival, and a clean river guarantees that our waterways can be enjoyed for generations to come. Littering violations can be reported here.