Tellico River Fishing

Tellico River Basin

Tennessee and North Carolina’s historic Tellico River basin, one of the Southeast’s premier trout-fishing destinations, offers year-round fishing for wild and stocked trout in secluded mountain streams. The basin, which includes the Cherokee National Forest and the Citico Creek Wilderness Area, has 138 miles of trout streams, including 19 miles of brook-trout streams. It lies just south of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is within driving distance of Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, and Nashville. Although close to these cities, the Tellico River basin remains relatively uncrowded, perhaps because they are overshadowed by the more hallowed waters of the nearby national park.

The Tellico basin, the birthplace of the famous Tellico Nymph, can be divided into three regions, each of which appeals to a different angling constituency.

  1. The first region, the Tennessee portion of the main Tellico River, is primarily for catch-and-keep fishermen, and contains both stocked and wild trout.
  2. The second region, which includes the larger tributaries to the Tellico, the Bald and North rivers in Tennessee, and the headwaters of the Tellico in North Carolina, has managed wild-trout streams, with mostly rainbow trout.
  3. The third region, the remote headwaters of the Tellico, supports the rare Southern strain of brook trout.

The Main Tellico River

One of the largest natural trout streams in the Southeast, the Tellico is big water by most standards. Although the Tennessee portion of the river is stocked weekly during spring and summer and has a liberal creel limit, large trout are occasionally taken. Brown trout of more than 20 pounds have been caught there, and each year anglers catch trophies of ten pounds or more. Excellent fishing for small wild rainbows can be found upstream from the Tellico Hatchery to the beginning of the brook-trout waters in North Carolina.

To reach the Tellico, go to the Sweetwater exit of I-75 and take Tennessee Highway 68 south. Go to the town of Tellico Plains and turn onto Tennessee Route 360. Then take Tennessee Route 165 to the Tellico River and Tellico River Road, which follows the river to the North Carolina border. The river is easily accessible along Tellico River Road.

The stocked trout waters on the Tellico begin at the Turkey Creek bridge, about 14 miles from the North Carolina line. Trout may also be found below the bridge, but that water is better known for its smallmouth bass fishing. The river from Turkey Creek to the North Carolina line is known as the Tellico-Citico permit area. It costs $3.50 a day to fish there from March 15 to September 15 (permits are available at any fishing license dealer).

While the stocking arrangement may sound like an only slightly more sporting version of a trip to the fish market, many big browns survive the summertime bait fishers, and some grow into the large trout for which the Tellico is famous. The stocking and permit season ends on September 15, and the river is open to regular license holders from September 15 through March 15. Since the weather during that time is often warm, with high temperatures in the 50s possible all winter, the water is ideal for winter fly fishers.

Tellico Wildlife Management Area

The Tellico Wildlife Management Area (TWMA) offers some of Tennessee’s finest freestone trout water. You may choose intensively managed (stocked) streams, wild streams, or brook trout streams. The U.S. Forest Service owns most of the area so access is never a problem and the area is especially beautiful. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) is responsible for the regulations and their enforcement, as well as for the stocking program.

The Tellico River above Turkey Creek and its tributaries, other than North and Bald Rivers, and Citico Creek below the confluence of its North and South Forks are specially managed waters. These streams are stocked with catchable sized (about 9″ or 10″) on a weekly basis throughout the spring and summer months. To cover some of the costs of the stocking program, anglers must purchase a Daily TWMA Fishing Permit ($3.50) in addition to the normal trout license. The permits are available where you buy TWRA licenses. These streams are closed on Thursdays and Fridays (except on state and national holidays) for stocking. The special regulations (closings and special permits) are lifted from October to March.

The limit is 7 fish per day without size restrictions (except 7″ on brook trout). These streams are very popular with the “hook-and-cook” crowd— corn and worms are popular baits. Most of these fishermen stay in a single spot, making working your way up the river difficult. Many other anglers use spinners such as Mepps and Rooster Tails and may or may not move along the stream. Things improve for the fly fisher after the start of deer hunting season in September.

The fresh stockers don’t respond like wild fish to flies, so flash and even dragging the fly are sometimes necessary. A bright yellow nymph hanging in the current can be be very effective at times. There are some wild fish and holdovers, especially in the upper parts of the Tellico above the rearing pools that will respond “correctly” to flies.

About the Streams

The Stocked Streams
The Tellico River above Turkey Creek and its tributaries, other than North and Bald Rivers, and Citico Creek below the confluence of its North and South Forks are specially managed waters. These streams are stocked with catchable sized (about 9″ or 10″) on a weekly basis throughout the spring and summer months. To cover some of the costs of the stocking program, anglers must purchase a Daily TWMA Fishing Permit ($3.50) in addition to the normal trout license. The permits are available where you buy TWRA licenses. These streams are closed on Thursdays and Fridays (except on state and national holidays) for stocking. The special regulations (closings and special permits) are lifted from October to March.

The limit is 7 fish per day without size restrictions (except 7″ on brook trout). These streams are very popular with the “hook-and-cook” crowd— corn and worms are popular baits. Most of these fishermen stay in a single spot, making working your way up the river difficult. Many other anglers use spinners such as Mepps and Rooster Tails and may or may not move along the stream. Things improve for the fly fisher after the start of deer hunting season in September.

The Wild Streams
The North and Bald Rivers and the North and South Forks of Citico Creek and their tributaries are managed as “Wild Trout Streams.” No special permits other than normal trout licenses are required. Angling is limited to single hook artificial lures. There is a creel limit of 3 fish per day and a minimum size limit of 9″ on browns and rainbows and 6″ on brooks. We especially encourage you to practice “catch and release” on these waters.

The Brook Trout Streams
Several streams in the TWMA have been restored to brook trout. These include Meadow Branch, Sugar Cove Branch, Brookshire Creek, and Henderson Branch. The latter two are tributaries of Bald River while the other two form the North River. The brook trout is Tennessee’s only native trout. Restoration projects like these are difficult and expensive but are necessary to see that we don’t lose this most beautiful fish. PLEASE release all brookies with the utmost care. If we are careful then be can all enjoy these “specks.”

Getting There & Getting Around
Nearly all of the Forest Service roads are passable with most passenger cars. Wash boarding of the gravel roads makes for poor traction in curves and on grades and caution is advised. We recommend DeLorme’s Tennessee Atlas and Gazetteer for traveling in the Tellico area.

Tellico And Ocoee Rivers #781
  • TELLICO & OCOEE RIVERS #781

Tackle Tips

Most anglers prefer 7-ft to 8-ft rods with 3 to 6 weight double taper or weight forward floating lines. A 7-1/2′ 5X leader is very useful. A foam strike indicator is great for nymphing. In cool weather, the cold water will make you a believer in waders. Either waist or chest waders are appropriate. Felt soled boots are a must.

What Flies to Use

Spring Patterns

  • March Brown (Dry & Nymph) #12-14
  • Quill Gordon #12-14

Summer Patterns

  • Green Inch Worm #8-12
  • Elk Hair Caddis (Bright Green) #14-16

Fall Patterns

  • Elk Hair Caddis (Yellow) #12-14
  • Stimulator (Yellow) #12-14
  • Stimulator (Orange) #10-12

Winter Patterns

  • Blackburn Tellico #8-12
  • Elk Hair Caddis (Black) #14-16

All-Year Patterns

  • Stonefly Nymph #8-12
  • Prince Nymph (Standard & Bead Head) #14-18
  • Gold-Ribbed Hares Ear (Standard, Bead Head, & Flashback) #12-18
  • Pheasant Tail Nymph (Standard, Bead Head, & Flashback) #12-18
  • Elk Hair Caddis (Olive & Brown) #12-18
  • H&L Variant #12-14
  • Royal Wulff #12-14
  • Parachute Adams #12-18
  • Parachute Olive #12-18
Essential Nymph Box

  • Fly box with 56 nymph flies
  • Tied on quality Mustad hooks
  • Prince Nymph in sizes #10, #12, #14, #16
  • Copper John in sizes #12, #14, #16, #18
  • Bead Head Gold Ribbed Hare’s Ear with Flash Back in sizes #12, #14, #16, #18
  • Bead Head Pheasant Tail with Flash Back in sizes #12, #14, #16, #18
  • San Juan Worm with Tungsten Bead in size #14 (Red, Pink, Brown)

How to Fish It

The Stocked Waters

The fresh stockers don’t respond like wild fish to flies, so flash and even dragging the fly are sometimes necessary. A bright yellow nymph hanging in the current can be be very effective at times. There are some wild fish and holdovers, especially in the upper parts of the Tellico above the rearing pools that will respond “correctly” to flies.

The Wild Streams

Keep casts short and low with the backcast directly downstream. You can approach fish in broken water closely. Stealthy wading and a low profile help you catch fish. Dead drifts are essential. Long flat pools are difficult. Keep moving— these fish generally take on first or second drift. Fish upstream and concentrate on seams and moving water. These are extremely quick fish— good line control and constant attention is required. Be aware of drag-causing currents. Don’t cast from one pool to the next across faster currents as drag is guaranteed. Move to the tail of the pool.

Useful Resources

Tennessee Trout Waters: Blue-Ribbon Fly-Fishing Guide
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Rutter, Ian (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 100 Pages - 05/27/2024 (Publication Date) - Frank Amato Pubns (Publisher)

Camping

Camping is allowed only in developed campgrounds and where specifically designated. Keep a clean campsite and be careful with fire. Consult DeLorme’s Tennessee Atlas and Gazetteer for more detailed locations.

Camping opportunities include:

Tellico River

Spivey Cove (17 sites, open March-December)
Davis Branch (4 sites, open year-round)
Big Oak Cove (4 sites, open March-December)
State Line (7 sites, open year-round)

North River

North River (7 sites, open year-round)

Bald River

Holly Flats (17 sites, open year-round)

Citico Creek

Double Camp (7 sites, open year-round)
Indian Boundary Recreation Area (100 sites, showers, flush toilets, open March-December)
Jake Best (7 sites, open year-round)

Lodging

Tellico Riverside Motel (423.253.7360)

Our favorite. Owners Cathy and Dwayne Cardin are great people who make your stay in these cabins near Tellico Plains a real pleasure.

Arrowhead Land Company (423.253.7670)

Rental cabins and houses near Tellico Plains.

Green Cove Motel (423.253.2069)

A basic motel in the heart of the fishing area.

Getting There

From Chattanooga (the scenic way), take I-75 north to the first Cleveland exit, the Highway 64 bypass. Take 64 East to Highway 411 North. Go through Benton and continue on to Etowah. Turn right onto Mecca Pike (Tennessee Highway 310) and travel for 14 miles. At the stop sign, turn right onto Highway 68. Take the first left off of 68 after Hardy’s.

From Chattanooga, take I-75 north to Sweetwater. Exit on Highway 68 and go east to Tellico Plains. Take the left off 68 after Hardy’s to reach “downtown” Tellico Plains.
From the Hiwassee River, cross the bridge at Reliance going north and continue on that road until it intersects Mecca Pike at a “Y” intersection. (There is a convenience store on the left at the intersection. Turn right onto Mecca Pike. At the stop sign, turn right onto Highway 68. Take the first left off of 68 after Hardy’s.

In Tellico Plains, go straight through “downtown” passing Nation’s Bank and the Co-op store on the left. Take the road to the right just before the bridge over the Tellico River. Take Forest Road 210 to the right at Oosterneck Recreation Area.

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