By Steve Claxton
Hazel Creek, located on the North Shore of Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, is a stream that should be on every fly fisherman’s bucket list. Hazel Creek has the reputation of being the finest freestone stream in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is unique because its remote location requires just a bit more effort to access than most streams in the park. Yes, you can hike to this fabled stream from various trailheads, the shortest of which takes you on a 22 mile round trip hike. But the easiest way to access the stream is by boat, which takes you to the mouth of the stream and a trailhead, which follows its banks for 15 long miles.
Brown, rainbow and brook trout inhabit these waters and smallmouth as well as steelhead migrating from the lake have been caught in the lower segments. The trail is relatively flat for Smoky Mountain standards, making it extremely easy to hike and access the creek along the trail, which follows the old railroad bed. I have fished this storied stream for the better part of fifty-one years and have guided fishermen along its varied stretches for the past twenty-three years. I spend approximately 180 days a year guiding on this stream with the exception of this past spring and summer, when I took off to through-hike the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine for a cause, which has been on my bucket list since I was a kid exploring this historic trail with my father.
Spring and fall are my favorite times on this stream, as hatches can be abundant during the spring and the run of spawning brown trout draw special attention to some monsters during the fall months.
History abounds along the banks of Hazel Creek as remnants of an era gone by catch your attention, dating as far back as 1832 when Patience and Moses Procter first moved to Hazel Creek from Cades Cove to get away from the hustle bustle of the Cove. Taylor and Crate Logging Co. was the first to explore the logging industry in this area, but at the turn of the century, a much more established and modernized Ritter Lumber Co. would construct a railway along the banks of Hazel Creek, all the way to the Cascades, and proceed to produce more lumber, two hundred million board feet, than came from any other watershed in the Smokies. The mining of copper here dated as far back as the 1880’s.
Fishing camps existed along the tributaries of Hazel Creek and very early on, became known for the abundance of trout that called Hazel Creek home. Over the past 51 years, I have enjoyed favorite stretches of the creek that continue to produce stories of memorable fish. The solitude of this mystical stream full of memories continues to feed my soul, and hopes of sharing its riches and beauty with others now serves as my passion. I hope to provide memories of this special place for others that will last a lifetime!
Steve Claxton is the Owner of Smoky Mountain Adventures, Inc. in Bryson City, NC. You can contact Steve by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (828) 736-7501.