Clinch River Fly Fishing
Clinch River Tactics
High water levels are most prevalent on the Clinch from July through September when energy demands are at their peak. For bait- and spin-fishers, the lures and the natural baits that work on other tailwaters will score here as well.
Streamers in High Water
For fly-casters who challenge the heavy currents, weighted streamers and sinking lines are needed. Black Woolly Buggers are a favorite with local anglers.
Low Water Dry Flies
When the river is running at minimum water levels it becomes a fly-fisher’s dream. Although both caddis and mayfly hatches occur on the Clinch, one bug of particular interest is the light Hendrickson.
Due to the constant temperature in the tailwater, these mayflies, in sizes 14 to 16, are likely to appear at any time of the year. Midge hatches are fairly common during the summer months as well. A Griffith’s Gnat in sizes 20 to 22, fished on a 7X tippet, is often needed to fool the fish during this action.
If no surface feeding is evident, attractor flies such as the Royal Wulff and the Adams are good options. Elk-Hair Caddis will also work, along with Tellico, Hare’s Ear, and George’s Nymphs. By far the most popular fly for fishing wet, however, is a scud imitation suspended beneath a strike indicator. This should be in the size 18 to 20 range; black, brown, gold, and green are dependable colors.
Clinch River Hatch Chart
|Year- Round||Year- Round||Year- Round||May
Clinch River Wiggler
Black Foam Ant
Black Foam Beetle
Bead Head Pheasant Tail
Elk Hair Caddis
Dirty Yellow Wet Fly
Grizzly Wet Fly
Brown Wet Fly
Olive Wet Fly
Turkey & Peacock Wet Fly
Red Tail Brassie
Attractor Flies: Metal beads, glass beads, copper wire, tinsel, and other flashy materials are incorporated into many fly patterns because they catch the trout’s attention. And once the trout see the fly, the chances are pretty good that they will take it. Trout are opportunistic feeders – if something comes along that looks edible, they eat it.
The Clinch River is located in northeastern Tennessee’s Anderson County, just over 20 miles to the northwest of Knoxville. This tailwater has some distinctive history and geographic features that set it apart from similar waters in the Volunteer State.
The 1933 Norris Dam, from which the tailwater originates, was the first Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) project. And in the early 1940s, the Clinch became the first tailwater in the South to be stocked with trout. The success of those plantings prompted the introduction of trout in other promising TVA and Corps of Engineers projects.
The Clinch is a big river. For the entire 14 miles of its trout-bearing tailwater, from 24,000-acre Norris Lake down to the town of Clinton, the river is up to 100 yards wide. It is pretty easy to find supporters for the position that it is also the best big-fish trout destination in Tennessee
Backing up this view is the feat accomplished by Greg Ensor on August 30, 1988. While fishing about 2 miles below Norris Dam, the angler hooked and landed a 28-pound, 12-ounce brown trout, which remains the Tennessee record.
Many anglers believe that the river holds browns of over 30 pounds as well. In the spring of 1993, TWRA biologists performing an electroshock survey raised a brown that was longer than the record fish and pulled their 25-pound scale all the way to its limit! Browns of 8 to 15 pounds turn up in the Clinch every year, and rainbows in excess of 10 pounds have been caught as well.
Trouble and Recovery
Despite these glowing tales of big fish, however, up until the last decade or so, the Clinch wasn’t highly regarded for its trout fishing. During the early years, the brown and rainbow trout stocked by the TWRA and federal agencies did fairly well in the river, but a trio of problems dogged the tailwater.
Wildly fluctuating water levels scoured the river bottom year-round. In summer, water coming through the powerhouse turbines contained low levels of dissolved oxygen. Finally, minimum releases in June and July raised water temperatures in the tailwater to marginal or lethal levels for trout.
The Clinch’s turnaround began in 1984, when a weir dam was built some 2 miles downstream of the reservoir to even out the flow of water during power-generation releases. Another benefit of the weir is the waterfall effect created when water plunges over it during low levels. This helps add oxygen to the tailwater downstream.
More recently, hub baffles have been added to the turbines in the dam’s powerhouse. These are designed to suck air into the flow when electricity is being generated. Along with this innovation, release schedules have been altered to ensure that a minimum flow is maintained downstream.
Improving Upon Mother Nature
Biological tinkering has also improved the Clinch. The sand-and-gravel bottom is among the most nutrient-rich of any trout water in Tennessee, but was made barren by scouring. In response, insects common to the highland streams of southern Appalachia were transplanted to the tailwater.
And as conditions improved in the Clinch, the TWRA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service increased the stocking of rainbow and brown trout by 40 percent in the mid-1980s. It seems these efforts have borne fruit. Recent tagging studies revealed that the Clinch’s rainbows grow at a rate of 1 inch per month, and there are indications that brown trout may be spawning in the river.
Despite all of this activity, most of the trout taken from the Clinch tailwater are still stocked rainbows of 10 to 12 inches. These stockers are vulnerable to anglers at all water levels and during all seasons. The same, however, cannot be said of the larger trout.
During periods of low water, lunker-sized browns and rainbows will hug the bottom in deeper water, usually around any structure available. Much of the Clinch runs shallow and calm on minimum flows, and all of the trout become quite spooky.
Angling for large trout pick up during medium to maximum water releases. Although the whole river becomes virtually unwadable, it is possible to float the stream in a float ring, canoe, or johnboat, allowing anglers to reach big trout that feed more recklessly in the stronger currents.
Although access points are not abundant on the Clinch as the Caney Fork, the TWRA has improved the situation in recent years by adding several public areas. The first access points below Norris Dam, however, are provided by the TVA.
On the western side of the river the TVA Historical Area provides a paved drive down to a picnic area at the foot of the dam. This shore is fairly steep, but the River Bluff Trail runs down the river and is a better way to approach to the water at about a mile from the trailhead. The drive to the picnic area and trailhead is off the Norris Freeway (US 441, which crosses the dam) at the western end of Norris Dam.
On the eastern side of the river, the Songbird Canoe Access and Songbird Trail provide almost a mile of shoreline access. Through here the river is like a very shallow lake when no turbines are in operation at the powerhouse. Although there is no boat ramp here, it is possible to launch canoes and johnboats.
This access point along with the next two–one downstream at the weir dam, the other at Miller Island–are all reached by following the Norris Freeway south along the Clinch.
At the weir dam, which is roughly 2 miles downstream from Norris Dam, the river is split by an island. There are weir dams on both channels of the river, along with a canoe portage to make it easy for floaters to get around these drops.
On low water, the area just below the dams breaks into multiple small channels coursing through the rocky riverbed. just below the island are State Record Shoals, where Greg Ensor took his mammoth brown trout.
From the Dam Below
One mile below the weir dam is the Miller Island Access, also on the river’s eastern shore. Access here is excellent and includes a paved boat ramp. During low water, a long stretch of the river in front of the ramp and down both sides of Miller Island downstream is easily waded. In fact, around the island the river is almost too shallow for fishing in many spots.
From this point down to Massengill Bridge, the eastern shore is paralleled by River Road. There are several spots with turnouts and trails to the water along the 1-1/4-mile stretch, but there is also much private land. A lot of bait-anglers fish from Massengill Bridge during higher water levels.
The next access point encountered heading downriver is the newest one established by the TWRA. The Peach Orchard Access provides only limited shore or wading access. When you are traveling north from Knoxville, you can reach it by turning southwest off 1-75 onto TN 6 1. Go to the intersection of TN 61 and Peach Orchard Road, then turn northwest to drive 3 miles to the access point.
Access to the section of the river around Llewellyn Island is possible just upstream of the town of Clinton. Park at the new county jail on the southwestern side of the river at the TN 61 bridge. There is a park with soccer fields adjacent to the jail at this point as well. A streamside anglers’ trail leads from the jail parking lot up to the island. This area of the river is noted as a good place for fly-fishers to try scud imitations.
On the northeastern side of the river and at the other end of the TN 61 bridge is the 61 Bridge Access point. This TWRA access provides a boat ramp, but the river is too deep to wade here. The same conditions exist about a mile downstream at the last public access point at Eagle Bend Access, off Dismal Road.