Trout Fishing in Tail Waters of Upper East Tennessee’s South Holston River

trout fishing

Tail waters can change the complexity of a river, from a lazy winding tributary with many species of aquatic life to an unsuitable habitat with only sparse reminders of thriving schools and colonies of native life. The varying water temperature that once supported reproduction cycles, dramatically change to a more constant flow of cold clear water. Leaving in its wake a no man’s land for many, but supplying a prime habitat for the graceful, energetic trout fishing.

Upper East Tennessee’s South Holston River is no exception to this man made change of natural events. From the discharge at South Holston Dam to the headwaters of Boon Lake, this twelve-mile stretch of forty-eight degree water is considered one of the prime trout fishing rivers in the Southeast. Fishermen pursue the Browns and Rainbows year round, weather permitting. Access is fairly easy from the county roads winding along its banks. Many land owners will allow passage to the river if asked. Boat ramps are available.

From the efforts of Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency South Holston has produced large numbers of trophy trout for many years. The stocking program is excellent and some portions of the river are monitored and protected during spawning season. Signs are clearly posted and dates listed as to when off limits. In addition to the signage, buoy markers are set for the boundaries. The addition of a aerating labyrinth weir has greatly increased the oxygen content for fish and aquatic insects, making for good hatches of Midges, along with Sulfurs and Caddis during spring and early summer.

A large variety of fish catching techniques are used throughout the year. Bank fishing with live bait, corn, and fireballs is frequently seen. Boating during generating times produces large trout. A weighted drag line is sometimes used to slow the forward progression of the boat. Rapala and Rebel stick baits of small to medium size are cast to the bank and retrieved much like bass fishing. Times for generating can be acquired at the TVA website. Wader fishing is by far the most popular technique and my favorite.

Care must be taken when wading! South Holston River has shoals, rapids, and still water when down and can be easily crossed by foot in most places. Typical river format. But the river also has large jagged ledge rock protruding from its eroded bottom causing very irregular water depth. These areas must be approached with caution. Stepping from one of these ledges can put oneself in chest high water instantly.
The crystal clear water makes for easy viewing of the bottom, but can be deceiving. Depth perception becomes distorted . When in doubt run your rod tip down to touch the bottom. I know this is not a popular thing to do, giving the price of some rods these days. But a wise decision considering the consequences.

As in any tail water fishing, keep an eye on your surroundings. The sudden rise in water elevation due to generating can change a gentle flow to a dangerous raging river. Low to high elevation on the Holston River is around three feet and takes but a few minutes to reach a swift full pool.

Always pick an object up-stream a hundred yards or so that is slightly protruding from the water. Frequently observe the object, when no longer visible that’s your clue to start working back to the vehicle side of the river. Many fishermen have been caught on the opposite shore with a long walk back to the transportation.

Early morning fishing with one-eighth ounce little Cleos produce very well. Thrown with a quality spinning reel and four pound test line, lots of water can be covered. Hold the rod tip high, this will greatly lessen hang ups. A live night crawler on a small hook, no sinker, and light line works well also. Distance is no problem with a full grown crawler. Position yourself just below the rapids. Paralleling the rapid, lob the crawler slightly into the rapid and drift into the deeper, calmer water. Watch your line if it speeds up or stops suddenly, take up slack and set the hook. I have caught many trout and never feel the initial pick up. Most of these fish are deep hooked. So if you don’t plan on taking them home, wrapping them in tin foil with butter and lemon, and placing on a grill until the meat leaves the bones, I suggest you use barb less hooks.

After fog burn off and the sun starts to penetrate the water, watch for the breaks. It’s not uncommon to see ten or twelve fish making dimples in the surface in one area. This time belongs to the Fly Rodder.
By far, the Fly Rod takes more fish on the river than any other technique. A knowledgeable fisherman with a knack for reading the aquatic life in a river will have no problem at all having a pleasurable outing.

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