Tennessee Fly Fishing

Tennessee provides some of the very best public fly fishing for trout in the Southeast. Many fly fishers consider the Tennessee tailwaters to be some of the finest trout fishing in the lower 48 states. Among the tailwaters are four outstanding rivers: the Clinch (north of Knoxville), the South Holston and Watagua (east of Johnson City near the Tennessee/Virginia border), and the Hiwassee (west of Cleveland, Tennessee and about 1.5 hours northwest of Unicoi Outfitters).

All four tailwaters provide the opportunity to catch trophy trout and 30 to 50 fish days are not uncommon. Included in Tennessee are freestone rivers such as the Tellico and Little River, as well as several quality streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

In the southeastern and central part of Tennessee, there are a number of very high quality trout streams that produce fish year round, and are easily accessible to the major metropolitan areas of the southeast.

Within a couple of hours driving time from Knoxville, Nashville, and Chattanooga Tennessee, and an easy days drive from Atlanta Georgia, Birmingham and Huntsville Alabama, there are four high quality tailwater fisheries that produce a surprising number of quality fish. The major rivers that fit into this category are the Hiwassee and Tellico, in southeastern Tennessee; the Elk, west of Chattanooga and south of Nashville; and the Caney Fork, located between Nashville and Knoxville.

The Hiwassee

The stretch of the Hiwassee that most fly fishers in this part of the world frequent is the trophy section of the river upstream of Reliance, Tennessee. This four mile stretch starts in a section called the “Big Bend,” and extends downstream to the railroad bridge, near the Reliance access and picnic area. This is the main take out, if you choose to float the river.

The Hiwassee drops approximately 15 feet per mile, and when both generators are going the river will flow in the neighborhood of 2700 cubic feet per second. When this is going on, the river definitely needs to be fished from some sort of floating platform. A raft or McKenzie style driftboat is ideal. In between its class II (average) rapids, the Hiwassee has some deep, wide, and relatively smooth-water pools that can be fished from the inflatable pontoon boats that are gaining popularity. A float tube is a last resort, and can be effective-if used with caution and common sense-to access the areas that can’t be reached by wading during generation.

When the Appalachian Power Station is running only one generator (or none), there are places that can be fished quite effectively by wading. The river is 50 to 75 yards wide in places, and the edges are where you will want to focus your fishing activities. This river is also very popular with whitewater rafters, kayakers, and canoeists, but most of the quality whitewater tends to be on the left hand side of the river (looking downstream), and you can avoid most of the flotilla by fishing the right bank. This being said, the majority of the whitewater folks respect people who are fishing and give them a wide berth whenever possible.

The bugs that predominant on the Hiwassee in May and June are Isonychia (sizes 10 to 14, blue-winged olives (sizes 16 and 18), and sulphurs (sizes 16 and 18). The ever-present caddis is best imitated by olive, tan, and brown elk hair caddis is sizes 12 through 16. As the days get warmer and longer the terrestrials become more active, and beetles, ants, and crickets become an important food source for the Hiwassee’s rainbows and browns. Another bug that can be very productive is a yellow jacket imitation, fished dry near the banks of the river.

The Tellico

Yes, this is the river that the Tellico nymph is named for. A major difference between this river and the Hiwassee is the number of tributaries-wonderful places to get away from the crowds. The other significant difference is the regulations.

The Hiwassee (above) drops approximately 15 feet per mile, and when both generators are going the river will flow in the neighborhood of 2,700 cubic feet per second.

All four of the tailwaters support healthy trout populations-some stocked and some wild. This Tellico brown trout (below) is typical of what you will find here.

While the Tellico is one of the most beautiful rivers in the southeast, the Tennessee DNR has a stocking program that runs from March through October. This affects the fishing in several ways. During summer weekends it is definitely BYOR fishing (“bring your own rock”). There are no regulations, or special regulation sections, so there will be people using all sorts of “other methods” of fishing. There is no fishing on Thursday and Friday during the stocking season. And, finally, in addition to having a Tennessee fishing license with a trout stamp, you’ll need to purchase a daily fishing permit to fish the Tellico.

The Tellico has some holdover trout populations, and the crowds are much smaller from October through the first of March, when the stocking program starts.

Flies for the Tellico in May and June are the same as those on the Hiwassee, with a few additions in the form of subsurface patterns. The most productive subsurface flies are black and yellow stonefly nymphs in sizes 6, 8, and 10. The fly that will tend to produce the bigger fish, however, is a crayfish imitation-fished right on the bottom. Lighter colored crayfish patterns tend to work a bit better than darker. Fish them slowly, twitching them periodically.

If you want to fish the Tellico watershed, the focus of your activity should be the tributaries that are not nearly as crowded. A number of the Tellico tributaries produce fish throughout the summer. The advantage in fishing these streams is that they do not attract the crowds found on the larger rivers. In addition to being “off the beaten track” they have artificials-only regulations, which definitely limits the number of people fishing.

On any of the Tellico tributaries, the further upstream you hike, the more pristine the country becomes. And, if you go high enough, you’ll find some healthy brook trout populations. One of the tributaries that is definitely worth the hike is the Bald River. The area to focus on is one to five miles above the falls, but be careful when stepping over rocks and logs-there’s no shortage of snakes along the Bald!

Other productive Tellico tributaries are Turkey Creek, North River, Sycamore Creek, and Kirkland Creek. There’s no need to purchase a daily fishing permit on any of the Tellico tributaries. The same flies prevail here, but a box or two of terrestrials is essential on these rivers.

The Elk

West of Chattanooga, about half way to Nashville, is the Elk River. This is another TVA tailwater, and a good fish producer. This river, along with the Caney Fork east of Nashville, are the two main trout streams in central Tennessee. This winter and early spring, due to the TVA’s need for power and/or water downstream, the Elk is only river that has been fishable. The Caney Fork has generated water full bore all but a few days, and has been unfishable. When it gets back to a regular schedule of generations it will fish well, but no one really knows when that will be.

The Elk, which is the tailwater flowing out of Tim’s Ford Dam, has fished very well during the time the Caney Fork has been out of business. The river is very wadable, and also can be floated, but anglers fishing the Elk don’t use float tubes as they do on the Hiwassee.

During the months of May and June the top producing flies on the Elk are olive and black midges (sizes 18 to 24) and soft hackle flies (sizes 14 to 18). The colors that seem to work best are tan, olive, and copper. There is a tremendous snail population in the river and, as aquatic insect activity begins to slow towards the latter part of June, many people have success fishing snail imitations. This may be why Montana nymphs, fished right on the bottom, will result in some very large fish. Another “big fish” fly is a large black wooly bugger, palmered with a grizzly hackle instead black.

Other central Tennessee rivers worth exploring are the Duck River, below Normandy Dam, and the Obey, downstream from Dale Hollow. Stocking programs keep these fisheries up and running through the summer. There are a number of quality fly shops in this area that can help you with pattern selection, generation schedules, and directions to and from the river.

Finally, please remember that these rivers are all tailwaters, and they will begin generating whenever the TVA’s computer say they need more power. If you are unsure about wading, and don’t want to get caught in an unsafe situation, use the $100.00 rule. Take a $100.00 bill and put it on a rock, the top of which is six inches above the water. When there’s only three inches of rock showing, go and collect your money-it’s time to find a safer place to wade. Never use a $20.00 dollar bill-it’s not enough of a loss to get you to stop fishing.

The Clinch and Its Tributaries

The Clinch

Many experienced anglers who have fished the premier trout waters of the United States consider the Clinch River tailwater to be one of the finest trout fisheries in the country. It is a challenging river to flyfish. The clear, shallow, slow moving Clinch demands a stealthy approach, delicate presentation, small flies, and drag-free drifts. It is very much like fishing a spring creek, but this “spring creek” is over 75-yards wide! To consistently catch its wild, wary rainbow and brown trout requires concentration, careful execution, and patience.
The Clinch tailwater is 13 miles in length and flows from Norris Dam, at River Mile 80, to the Highway 61 Bridge near Clinton, TN, at River Mile 67. The upper reaches of Melton Hill Reservoir extend to the Highway 61 Bridge where the Clinch changes from riverine character to slack water.

Clear Creek

Clear Creek is a small (two yards in width) coldwater tributary that flows into the Clinch about one mile below Norris dam. Clear Creek drains the City of Norris Watershed and is the water supply for the city. While the stream is small and summer flows sometimes are nothing more than a trickle, it does have decent winter and spring flows and has historically been used by spawning rainbow trout. Adult fish typically enter the stream in early December and spawning can continue on into February. While a number of fish successfully spawn in this stream, its small size does not support significant numbers of spawning fish.

Coal Creek

Coal Creek flows into the Clinch about three miles below Norris Dam. It is a warm water stream; but in winter and spring, trout enter the stream and move into its upper reaches. It is believed that some of these fish spawn in the creek, but spawning has not been documented. Coal Creek drains a watershed of about 35 square miles. This watershed has been impacted by coal mining and is a source of silt and metal runoff into the Clinch.

Cane Creek

Cane Creek is the next major tributary that flows into the Clinch downstream from Coal Creek. It drains a smaller watershed than Coal Creek, and mining has not impacted the Cane Creek watershed. It drains farmland (pasture) and rural residential properties. Cane Creek is a warm water stream, but trout have been found in the stream in winter and spring; and trout may spawn in the stream.

Hinds Creek

Hines Creek flows into Melton Hill Lake about one mile below the Highway 61 bridge (about 14 miles below Norris Dam). It drains a large watershed which is primarily farmland (pasture) and rural residential in land use. It is a warmwater stream, but trout are caught in the creek in winter. Spawning activity has not been documented.

Mountain Streams

All streams are gradient freestone streams, which can offer a pleasant days’ hike along with a remarkable day of fishing. These waters include Whitetop Laurel, Tennessee Laurel, and Beaver Dam.

Whitetop Laurel Creek

Whitetop Laurel Creek is considered to be the largest wild trout fishery in Virginia. Its runs parallel with the scenic Virginia Creeper Trail. John Ross, author of “Trout Unlimited’s Top 100 Trout Streams,” lists this stream in the top 100 greatest trout streams. It is noted for its prolific early season Green Drake hatch which can range in size from a #8-#12 fly.
Tennessee Laurel is a winding creek that runs parallel with route 91. This stream is a very productive stream filled with large browns and feisty rainbows. Nymph fishing is very popular for this creek, due to its deep holes and swift water. Anglers have a tendency to use large #12-#14 bead head nymphs for extra weight with the indicator running at least three foot above the fly.

Beaver Dam

Beaver Dam is well renowned for its beautiful rock tunnel, Backbone Rock. This is a very beautiful stream that is flawlessly decorated with vast boulders. This creek has various types of runs. While the lower section of Beaver Dam is slightly larger than the other streams, the upper section has a spring creek atmosphere, with a very similar fishing style. Of the three streams, Beaver Dam is known for holding the larger trout.
With streams such as; Whitetop Laurel, Tennessee Laurel, and Beaver Dam, as well as tailwaters fishing, it is obvious why some consider Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee to be the finest fishing on the east coast. Each stream offers its own array of landscape, wildlife, and gorgeous trout.

Hatch Chart for Southern Appalachians

INSECT          EMERGENCE                  PATTERNS
Blue Winged Olive, BaetisEarly Afternoons – Warm Days18 Blue Winged Olive, 18 Adams
Early Black StoneFeb.-March18 Black Stone Fly Nymph, 18 Black Adult Stone Fly
Blue Quill, Paraleptophlebia AdoptivaLate March – Morning to Early Afternoon18 Blue Quill Wet & Dry, 18 Adams
Quill Gordon, Epeorus PleuralisLate March – Early Afternoon12-14 Quill Gordon, Wet or Dry
Blue Quill, Paraleptophlebia AdoptivaLate March – Morning to Early Afternoon18 Blue Quill Wet & Dry, 18 Adams
Quill Gordon, Epeorus PleuralisLate March – Early Afternoon12-14 Quill Gordon, Wet or Dry
Dark Dun, Black CaddisMid-April – Mid-Mornings14-16 Black Soft Hackle, 14-16 Dark Elk Hair Caddis
Mottled Brown, Gray CaddisMid-April – All Day16 Brown or Gray Soft Hackle, 16 Brown Elk Hair Caddis
Hendrickson, Ephemerella SubvariaAll Day – Female Spinner Has Yellow Egg Sac14 Hendrickson, 14 Red Quill, 14 Female Adams
March Brown, Stenonema VicariumMid-April – Sporadic All Day12 March Brown Wet, 12 March Brown
Mottled Brown, Gray CaddisAll Day16 Brown or Gray Soft Hackle, 16 Brown Elk Hair Caddis
Hendrickson, Ephemerella SubvariaAll Day; Female Spinner Has Yellow Edd Sac14 Hendrickson, 14 Red Quill, 14 Female Adams
March Brown, Stenonema VicariumMid-May – Sporadic All Day12 March Brown Wet, 12 March Brown
Light Cahill, Stenonema IthacaAfternoon – Evenings16-18 Light Cahill
Yellow Midge, DipteraEarly May20 Yellow Midge
Gray Fox, Stenonema FuscumSparse Hatch14 Gray Fox, Ginger Quill, Gray Fox Variant
Sulphurs, Ephemerella DorotheaEarly May – Late Afternoon & Evening16-18 Sulphurs, Light Cahills
Black CaddisEarly May18 Black Soft Hackle, 18 Black Fluttering Caddis
Cream MidgeMid-May20-22 Cream Midge
Blue Winged Olive, BaetisMid-May – Early Afternoon20-22 Blue Winged Olive, 20-22 Adams
Green Drake, Ephemera GuttulataLate May – Evenings10 Paradrake, 8-10 White Wulff
Giant Stone FlyEarly May4-8 Stone Fly Nymph
Mottled Brown, Gray CaddisEarly June – All Day Sporadically16 Brown or Gray Soft Hackle, 16 Brown Elk Hair Caddis
Light Cahills, Stenonema IthacaSporadically – Late Afternoon & Evening16-18 Light Cahill
Sulphurs, Ephemerella DorotheaLate Afternoon & Evening16-18 Sulphurs, Light Cahills
Isonychia BicolorSporadically – All Day12 Adams
Green & Yellow Stone FlyJune – Late Afternoons16 Light Green & Yellow Fluttering Stone
Giant Stone FlyEarly Mornings4-6 Stone Fly Nymph
TerrestrialsAll SummerInchworms, Black Ants, Beetles, Crickets
Isonychia BicolorSporadically – All Day12 Adams
Green & Yellow Stone FlyJuly – Late Afternoons16 Light Green & Yellow Fluttering Stone
Golden Stone FlyEarly Morning and at Dusk6-8 Stone Fly Nymph
Light Cahill, Stenonema IthacaSporadically – Late Afternoon & Evening16-18 Light Cahill
TerrestrialsAll SummerInchworms, Black Ants, Beetles, Crickets
Isonychia BicolorSporadically – All Day12 Adams
Golden Stone FlyEarly Morning and at Dusk6-8 Stone Fly Nymph
Light Cahill, Stenonema IthacaSporadically – Late Afternoon & Evening16-18 Light Cahill
Flying AntsAll Day20-24 Spentwing Ant
TerrestrialsAll SummerInchworms, Black Ants, Beetles, Crickets
Light Cahill, Stenonema IthacaUsually at Dusk16-18 Light Cahill
Isonychia BicolorSporadically – All Day12 Adams
Flying AntsAll Day20-24 Spentwing Ant
TerrestrialsAll SummerInchworms, Black Ants, Beetles, Crickets
Diptera MidgeAfternoon18-24 Gray Midge
Blue Winged OliveAfternoon18-24 Blue Winged Olive, 18-24 Adams

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Tennessee Fly Fishing Articles

Tennessee Gatlinburg Smoky Mtns
Fly fishing guide and fly fisherman outfitter in Gatlinburg Tennessee – trout fishing guide for the Great Smoky Mountains rainbow, brook and brown trout.
The Clinch’s Magnificent Trout
The same stretch of the Clinch River that produced the state-record trout remains one of the finest trout streams in Tennessee — and it may be getting better!
Call ‘Tails’ For Stripers
When winter days are cold, the swift tailwater section below several Tennessee dams provide hot action for heavyweight striped bass.
Clinch River description from local Trout Unlimited
East Tennessee Lakes info
Flyfishing at Callaway Gardens
from www.chattanoogan.com
Mid-South Fly Fishers
a member club of the Federation of Fly Fishers
Pickwick Dam: A good place to rock ‘n’ reel
Tennessee tips for catching summer and fall’s tailrace striped bass
Tennessee Trout Fishing Lakes
Mountain streams and big tailwaters often overshadow the excellent lake fishing our state has to offer trout anglers.
Tennessee Winter Striper Madness
give eastern Tennessee stripers and Cherokee bass a try
Tennessee’s Day & Night Bass Fishing
Tennessee’s Smallmouth Forecast
Whether you’re up for chasing smallmouth bass in subfreezing temperatures, during the spring spawn, all night long in the heat of the summer, or on rivers in the fall, it’s always brown bass season.
Tennessee’s Top Bass Spots
Wherever you live in Tennessee, prime-time largemouth waters are not far away.
Tennessee’s Two Best Striper Fisheries
The Clinch and Cumberland river systems have perhaps the best freshwater trophy-striper fisheries in the world. A world record could come from these waters any time.
The Clinch and Its Tributaries
Three Top Lakes for Middle Tennessee Bass
Spring largemouth fishing in Middle Tennessee is in full swing. Don’t miss the fishing at these three hotspots!
TNT Outdoors TN/VA/NC Regional Fishing Calender
from TNT Outdoors
Trolling for Big Stripers
Jim Duckworth firmly believes in the “big bait, big fish” theory when he’s trolling for trophy striped bass on the Cumberland River.
Trout 2004: Our Best Fishing
From mountain streams to tailwaters to lakes, Tennessee offers a little bit of everything for trout anglers.
Two Topnotch Tennessee Smallmouth Lakes
Although there are uncounted numbers of good places to catch smallmouths in Tennessee, these two lakes take top billing in the winter.
When and Where to Fish in Tennessee
from Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency
Hatch Chart for the NC, VA & TN Mountains

Tennessee Fly Fishing Reports
Fishing Reports & Moon Phases
from www.chattanoogan.com
Smokie Mountains reports
from Little River Outfitters (www.littleriveroutfitters.com)
TWRA Tennessee Fishing Resources

Tennessee Stream Flows / Water Levels

Tennessee Valley Authority
Up-to-Date Information on the Tennessee River System

Tennessee Fly Fishing Clubs

Tennessee Fly Fishing Shops

Little River Outfitters
P.O. Box 505, Townsend, Tennessee 37882 865-448-9459
Smoky Mountain Angler
466 Brookside Village Way, Suite 8, Gatlinburg, Tennessee 37738, (865) 436-8746
Cumberland Transit
2807 West End Avenue, Nashville, TN 37203, 615-321-4069

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