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Scouting Tenkara Water: Dennis Cove Trailhead

I spent most of April in the Appalachians this year, exploring new water, fishing one of my favorite streams, and linking up with friends at the GSMNP TenkaraCamp. The first portion of the trip was focused on scouting the area around Dennis Cove Trailhead (Mile 420 travelling NB on the Appalachian Trail) in NE Tennessee near Elizabethton. Jump in the van come along!

Easter was my first day on the ground. I’d no intention of fishing this day, choosing instead to shake off the long drive and relax. I spent the morning chatting with AT hikers over coffee at camp, then headed out to hike from the nearby trailhead to Laurel Fork Falls. While the trail wound close to Laurel Fork at times, the water was high and the banks were tight – not a lot of access in or out of the tight slot canyon until you reach the falls themselves. Im sure there is plenty of fishable water through this area under normal flows; the trail is well maintained and scenic… if you don’t mind the occasional slog up or down a long flight of rock stairs!

The next day, I linked up with my buddy Steve who lives local. Our goal was to push upstream on Laurel Fork to fish the headwaters, but the creek was still running fairly fast. We were able to traverse 2 fords, slowly picking our way across the pushy water. Unfortunately we were stopped cold when the 3rd ford we encountered ran waist high – we could find no safe line across.

Not to be deterred, we hiked back downstream and fished some calmer water. The bright sunny conditions were tough but we managed to move fish. Wet flies on the over and across swing on the DRAGONtail Kaida were the ticket.

The next day, we hit an area called “Frog Level” – which gets its nickname from being the lowest, floodiest area of the local terrain. The creek was interesting mix of mountain stream structure and low gradient flow, like a Driftless stream with more rocks. We struggled off the bat to overcome the bright sun and sluggish fish, but once we hit a certain warming point in the day the fish turned right on. Pass Lake wets drifted along banks and structure in shadow produced aggressive takes!

I stayed at the nearby Black Bear Resort during this portion of the trip. It was an excellent basecamp, situated on Laurel Fork, with just about everything you could need. Showers, wifi, cabins, a general store, laundry, even an event space! There was a daily flow of AT hikers and the campground had a very friendly vibe. Cabins are available, but spots in the upper tent area go about $18 a night – very reasonable! It’s about 20 minutes drive from the Watauga and Doe rivers – so the entire area is full of close by fishing opportunities. Elizabethton is only about 20 minutes away. There is also a National Forest campground just upstream from the resort, so lots of camping options on hand.

Even though the first leg of my trip was cut short due to weather, this was an awesome visit! I was only able to scratch the surface of the area’s fishing potential, and I’m plotting a trip back next year. This would be a great location for a tenkara campout. I look forward to visiting the Dennis Cove area again!

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  1. Great article Matt. I remember reading about he Pass Lake fly in your article ‘Top to Bottom Fly Box’. Is that still one of your main flies? I also see that I am not the only one using a net has a wading staff sometimes.

    1. The Pass Lake is my #1 go-to, Torrey! Wading staff/net combo has been a lifesaver, one less item to carry and keeps my clumsy self from too much trouble.

  2. Wish I had known you were in my area! You were very close to several native brookie streams that I fish on a regular basis. You gave me advice on some brookie streams to fish in NE Iowa a couple of summers ago. Need to pay you back!

    1. Happy to take you up on the offer of good intel anytime, ha! Maybe next time Im through we’ll be able to link up.

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