The South Holston River – Bluff City, TN
The South Holston River is hailed by many as one of the best trout streams in the eastern United States and is quickly gaining a reputation for being among the nation’s best tailwaters. With 6,000 trout per river mile, a thriving population of wild brown trout and a sulfur hatch that rivals any hatch in the East, it’s not hard to see why the South Holston River has garnered such high praise.
The South Holston River flows 14 miles through eastern Tennessee farmland from the dam on South Holston Lake to the town of Bluff City, TN. When the Tennessee Valley Authority operates zero hydroelectric generators at South Holston Dam, much of the river is accessible on foot. This gentle flow and the plentiful access points make the South Holston a favorite among wading anglers. On “low water,” as this period of no generation is called, long, fine leaders and small flies will prove most productive. The long, slow pools and wary trout make for a technical fishery that demands stealth and poise.
With a generator running, the river takes on several thousand more CFS of water and a completely new appearance. With the water “on,” the South Holston is only accessible by boat and wading anglers should take caution to not get caught in the rising water. High water brings about the heaviest bug activity, so dry fly fishing is a staple and can be phenomenal, although nymph rigs and streamers will also produce.
Perhaps the greatest draw to the South Holston River is the chance at a wild trophy brown trout. With a protected slot limit of 16 – 22 inches, fish of this size and much larger are abundant in the river. Every year, a few fish of 30 inches or larger are landed and rumors circulate of truly enormous fish residing here.
The variability of conditions on the South Holston, the size and numbers of fish, the relative ease of access, all set against the backdrop of a beautiful stream and landscape, make the South Holston a river that should be on every angler’s bucket list.
The Watauga River – Elizabethton, TN
Just a short drive from the South Holston River is its sister river, the Watauga. Like the South Holston, the Watauga is also regarded as one of the best trout fisheries in the East. With roughly 2,000 fish per river mile and a 2.5 mile long trophy section, the Watauga has something for anglers of all varieties. The river is home to enormous fish that inhabit the deep pools, large pods of trout feeding heavily in the riffles and a caddis hatch that brings nearly every fish in the river to gorge on the surface.
Also like the South Holston, the Watauga is a tailrace fed with year-round cool water that is perfect for trout fishing at any point in the year. The Watauga River initially spills forth Watauga Dam on Watauga Lake. This upper stretch of the Watauga tailwater runs for a short distance before emptying into Wilbur Lake, a smaller reservoir used for further flood control and hydroelectric generation. Wilbur Dam controls the main Watauga River downstream some 16 miles to the town of Watauga, TN. Anglers can wade the Watauga with no generators running at Wilbur Dam and can float on low flow, or with one or two generators on.
Western North Carolina is home to hundreds of miles of backcountry trout streams, most of which are in secluded parts of National Forest land. What these small streams lack in trophy trout, they make up for in quantity of wild trout and the beauty of the surroundings. From riffle water to plunge pools and everything in between, wild brown, rainbow and brook trout in these streams are eager to take a well-presented dry fly or nymph throughout most of the year. Mayflies and caddis hatch well from early spring through summer when the bite transitions to a terrestrial game. Through the fall and early winter, nymphing can produce quality fish. The solitude and the picturesque backdrop of these streams makes for one of the purest fly fishing experiences around.