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Tennessee Trout Fishing: An Anglers Guide

Tennessee’s trout fishing is a hidden gem that offers anglers some of the best opportunities in the Southeast. Imagine casting your line into the cool, clear waters of the Great Smoky Mountains, surrounded by breathtaking scenery and the promise of landing a beautiful brown or rainbow trout. This state’s diverse waterways, from bustling rivers to tranquil mountain streams, provide the perfect setting for an unforgettable fishing adventure.

Despite the allure of Tennessee’s trout waters, success on these streams requires more than just luck. To truly enjoy and excel at trout fishing here, anglers need the right gear and honed skills. Whether you’re a seasoned fly fisher or a beginner eager to learn, understanding the specific equipment and techniques necessary for these waters can make all the difference in your fishing experience.

tennessee trout fishing

In this article, we will dive into the essential gear and skills you need to become a successful trout fisherman in Tennessee. From selecting the perfect rod and reel to mastering the art of reading the water, we’ll cover everything you need to know to prepare for a rewarding day on the water. Get ready to elevate your fishing game and make the most of your time in Tennessee’s pristine trout habitats.

Understanding Tennessee’s Trout Fishing Environment

Tennessee is home to a diverse range of trout fishing environments, each offering unique opportunities for anglers. The state boasts a variety of waters, including pristine rivers, serene streams, and picturesque lakes, all teeming with trout. The Great Smoky Mountains, in particular, are renowned for their clear, cold streams that create ideal habitats for trout. Rivers such as the Clinch, Holston, and Watauga provide excellent trout fishing conditions, while lakes like Watauga and South Holston are popular for their trout populations and scenic beauty.

In these waters, anglers can find three main species of trout: brown, rainbow, and brook trout. Brown trout, known for their elusive nature and impressive size, are a prized catch for many fishermen. They thrive in both rivers and lakes, often requiring skill and patience to catch. Rainbow trout, recognizable by their vibrant coloring, are abundant in Tennessee’s waters and offer a thrilling fishing experience due to their energetic fights. Brook trout, the only native trout species in the eastern United States, are typically found in smaller, high-elevation streams. These fish are cherished for their striking appearance and are often considered a testament to the health of the waterways they inhabit.

Each species presents its own challenges and rewards, making trout fishing in Tennessee a dynamic and engaging pursuit. Whether you’re navigating the swift currents of a river or exploring the tranquil depths of a mountain stream, the variety of environments and trout species in Tennessee ensures that every fishing trip is a new adventure. Understanding these waters and the trout that inhabit them is the first step towards a successful and enjoyable fishing experience in this beautiful state.

tennessee trout fishing

Essential Gear for Tennessee Trout Fishing

Fly Rods and Reels

Selecting the right fly rod is crucial for success in Tennessee’s diverse trout waters. For small streams, a shorter rod in the range of 7 to 8 feet, with a 3 or 4 weight, provides the finesse needed for precise casting in tight spaces. In contrast, larger rivers call for a longer rod, around 9 feet, with a 5 or 6 weight, to handle bigger fish and longer casts. The reel should match the rod weight and offer a smooth drag system to manage the energetic runs of trout. High-quality reels like the Orvis Hydros or the Redington Rise are excellent choices, providing reliability and performance.

Lines, Leaders, and Tippets

The choice of line depends on the fishing conditions. Floating lines are versatile and ideal for most trout fishing scenarios in Tennessee, especially dry fly and nymph fishing. Sinking lines or sink tips are beneficial in deeper waters or when targeting fish holding near the bottom. Leaders should taper from thick to thin to ensure smooth turnover of the fly, with lengths ranging from 7.5 to 12 feet based on water clarity and fishing method. Tippets of 4X to 6X are commonly used, with 7X reserved for particularly clear or slow-moving waters.

Flies and Fly Boxes

An effective fly selection includes a variety of patterns to match the diverse hatches in Tennessee. Must-have flies include Adams, Elk Hair Caddis, Pheasant Tail Nymphs, and Woolly Buggers. Having a mix of sizes and colors ensures you can adapt to the conditions and trout preferences. Organize your fly boxes by type and size to quickly find what you need, using waterproof and durable boxes to keep your flies in top condition.

Waders and Boots

Comfortable and reliable waders are essential for a full day on the water. Breathable waders made from Gore-Tex or similar materials keep you dry without overheating. Pair them with wading boots that offer good ankle support and grip. Felt-soled boots provide excellent traction on slippery rocks, while rubber soles with studs are a great alternative in areas where felt is restricted to prevent the spread of invasive species.

Fishing Vest or Pack

A well-organized fishing vest or pack keeps your gear accessible and manageable. Choose a vest with multiple pockets for tools, tippet spools, and floatant, or a pack with compartments for larger items like fly boxes and extra clothing. The Simms Freestone Vest and Orvis Safe Passage Sling Pack are popular choices among anglers for their practicality and durability.

Polarized Sunglasses

Polarized sunglasses are essential for reducing glare and enhancing underwater visibility, making it easier to spot fish and navigate the water safely. They also protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. Brands like Costa and Smith offer high-quality polarized sunglasses designed specifically for anglers.

Other Essential Accessories

Additional tools like nets, hemostats, and nippers are crucial for handling fish and maintaining your gear. A good net with a rubberized mesh protects the fish’s slime coating during catch and release. Hemostats help remove hooks safely, while nippers are necessary for cutting line and tippet. Don’t forget a good hat to shield you from the sun and sunscreen to protect your skin during long hours on the water.

With the right gear, you’ll be well-prepared to tackle Tennessee’s trout waters and enjoy a successful fishing adventure.

Key Skills for Successful Trout Fishing in Tennessee

Reading the Water

To be successful at trout fishing in Tennessee, it’s crucial to develop the skill of reading the water. Start by identifying likely trout locations: look for areas with structure such as rocks, logs, and undercut banks, as trout often use these as hiding spots. Additionally, focus on seams where fast and slow water meet, as trout wait here for food to drift by. Understanding water flow is key; trout prefer areas with moderate flow that provide enough oxygen without expending too much energy. During warmer months, trout often seek out deeper, cooler sections of the river.

tennessee trout fishing

Casting Techniques

Mastering various casting techniques is essential for effective fly fishing. The basic overhead cast is the foundation, providing accuracy and distance. To execute it, smoothly accelerate the rod on the back cast and forward cast, pausing to let the line straighten out behind and in front. The roll cast is useful in tight quarters where overhead casting isn’t possible; it involves forming a loop with the line and using a forward flick to propel the fly. For more challenging conditions, advanced techniques like the double haul, which increases line speed and distance, or the reach cast, which helps manage drift, are invaluable.

Presentation and Drift

A natural presentation is critical to fooling wary trout. Your fly should drift at the same speed as the current to mimic natural prey. Achieving a perfect drift often requires mending the line—lifting and repositioning it upstream—to eliminate drag. When nymphing, ensure your fly is near the bottom where trout feed most often. For dry flies, focus on a delicate landing and minimal surface disturbance.

Hook Setting and Playing the Fish

Setting the hook properly ensures you don’t lose your catch. When you see a trout take the fly, quickly but gently raise the rod tip to set the hook. Avoid jerking the rod too hard, which can break the tippet or pull the hook out. Once hooked, playing the fish requires patience and control. Keep steady pressure on the fish and use the rod to absorb sudden runs. Let the reel’s drag system tire the trout, guiding it to calmer water for landing.

Fly Selection and Matching the Hatch

Matching the hatch is a skill that significantly increases your chances of success. Observe the insects around you and on the water surface to determine what trout are feeding on. Local hatch charts can provide valuable information on seasonal insect activity. Adjust your fly choice based on these observations, selecting patterns that imitate the size, color, and behavior of the prevalent insects. Carry a variety of fly patterns and be prepared to switch if you notice trout ignoring your current selection.

By honing these skills, you’ll enhance your ability to catch trout in Tennessee’s diverse and challenging waters, making each fishing trip more rewarding and enjoyable.

tennessee trout fishing

Preparing for Your Tennessee Trout Fishing Trip

Research and Planning

Thorough research and planning are essential for a successful trout fishing trip in Tennessee. Start by researching the best fishing spots, such as the South Holston River, Clinch River, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park streams. Each location offers unique challenges and rewards. Familiarize yourself with local fishing regulations, including catch limits, season dates, and special rules for different areas. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) website is a valuable resource for current regulations and licensing requirements.

Consider the season and weather conditions when planning your trip. Spring and fall are typically the best times for trout fishing, with cooler temperatures and active fish. Check weather forecasts and river conditions ahead of time to ensure optimal fishing conditions and safety. Being flexible with your schedule can help you take advantage of favorable conditions and avoid disappointing trips.

Local Resources and Guides

Utilizing local resources and guides can significantly enhance your fishing experience. Local fly shops and fishing clubs are excellent sources of up-to-date information on fishing conditions, hatches, and hotspots. They can also recommend the best flies and gear for the area.

Hiring a local guide service can be particularly beneficial, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the waters. A knowledgeable guide can provide valuable insights, teach you new techniques, and increase your chances of success. Here at High Flying Flies, we pride ourselves on our knowledge of the local water ways in East Tennessee. If you’re fishing elsewhere in Tennessee, check with your local fly shops or a quick Google search can prove effective. We’re happy to suggest other guides outside our area if you want some guidance.

Safety Tips

Safety should always be a priority when trout fishing in Tennessee’s diverse and often remote locations. Wear a life jacket when fishing from a boat or in swift currents. Always inform someone of your plans and expected return time, especially if you’re fishing alone. Carry a first aid kit and know basic first aid procedures.

Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Tennessee’s weather can be unpredictable, and conditions can change rapidly, especially in mountainous areas. Dress in layers and bring rain gear to stay dry and comfortable. Keep an eye on the sky and be ready to seek shelter if severe weather approaches.

By investing time in research and planning, utilizing local resources and guides, and prioritizing safety, you can ensure a productive and enjoyable trout fishing trip in Tennessee. These preparations will help you make the most of your time on the water and create lasting memories of your fishing adventures.

Suggested Tennessee Trout Streams

Selecting the right trout stream is crucial for a successful and enjoyable fishing trip. The ideal stream offers a balance of abundant trout populations, easy accessibility, and scenic beauty that enhances the overall experience. In Tennessee, anglers are fortunate to have a variety of trout streams that meet these criteria, each offering unique opportunities and challenges.

Caney Fork River

Description: Located below Center Hill Dam, the Caney Fork River is renowned for its clear waters and plentiful rainbow and brown trout. The river’s tailwater section provides excellent fishing conditions due to consistent water temperatures and flow.

Fishing Tips: The Caney Fork is best fished by boat due to its fluctuating water levels. Popular fly patterns include midges and streamers, which are effective in the deeper sections where trout often reside. Pay attention to the dam release schedule to plan your trip during optimal fishing conditions.

South Holston River

Description: The South Holston River is famous for its prolific brown trout population and consistent year-round fishing conditions. The river’s cold, clear waters and abundant aquatic life make South Holston River trout fishing a must for anglers.

Fishing Tips: The South Holston is ideal for both wading and floating. Hatch matching is crucial here, with sulphurs being a key hatch to target. Bring a variety of sulphur imitations in different stages (nymph, emerger, dun, and spinner) to increase your chances of success.

tennessee trout fishing

Watauga River

Description: Fly fishing the Watauga River offers diverse opportunities with both wild and stocked trout in its tailwater and freestone sections. The river’s varied habitat supports healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout.

Fishing Tips: Nymphing techniques and dry flies during hatches are effective on the Watauga. Boat access enhances your reach and allows you to cover more productive water. Be prepared to adapt your tactics based on the river’s flow and insect activity.

Tellico River

Description: Nestled in the Cherokee National Forest, the Tellico River is known for its scenic beauty and healthy brook trout population. The river’s pristine waters and lush surroundings offer a serene fishing experience.

Fishing Tips: The Tellico River is best for wading and small stream tactics. Terrestrial patterns, such as ants and beetles, work well during the summer months. Use stealth and light tackle to avoid spooking fish in these clear, shallow waters.

Citico Creek

Description: A tributary of the Tellico River, Citico Creek is noted for its wild brook trout population and tranquil setting. The creek’s remote location offers a peaceful escape for anglers.

Fishing Tips: Small stream techniques are effective on Citico Creek. Use stealthy approaches and light tackle to avoid spooking the fish. Dry flies and small nymphs are productive, especially during the early morning and late afternoon.

Little Stony Creek

Description: Little Stony Creek is a pristine stream with excellent brook and rainbow trout fishing opportunities. Its clear, cold waters and scenic surroundings make it a favorite among hikers and anglers.

Fishing Tips: Perfect for hikers willing to explore, Little Stony Creek rewards those who venture into its remote areas. Dry flies and small nymphs are productive, particularly in the pocket water and plunge pools.

tennessee trout fishing

Doe River

Description: Flowing through Roan Mountain State Park, the Doe River is home to rainbow and brown trout. The river’s varied habitat supports a healthy trout population and provides diverse fishing opportunities.

Fishing Tips: The Doe River is accessible for wading and offers excellent fishing throughout the year. Midges and small mayflies are effective, particularly during the cooler months when other insects are less active.

Cumberland River

Description: Below the Wolf Creek Dam, the Cumberland River is known for its large brown trout and clear waters. The river’s tailwater section provides consistent fishing conditions year-round.

Fishing Tips: The Cumberland River is best fished from a boat due to its size. Streamers and nymphs work well in the deeper sections where the largest trout often reside. Pay attention to the dam release schedule to plan your trip during optimal fishing conditions.

Hiwassee River

Description: The Hiwassee River offers year-round fishing with healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout. Its diverse habitat and scenic surroundings make it a popular destination for anglers.

Fishing Tips: Ideal for both wading and floating, the Hiwassee River provides excellent dry fly action during caddis and mayfly hatches. Bring a variety of patterns to match the hatch and increase your chances of success.

Elk River

Description: The Elk River, a tailwater fishery below Tims Ford Dam, is popular for its consistent trout fishing. The river’s cold, clear waters support healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout.

Fishing Tips: Effective with a variety of fly techniques, the Elk River offers excellent opportunities for both nymphing and dry fly fishing. Midge patterns and streamers are commonly used, especially during the cooler months.

Conservation and Ethical Fishing Practices

Catch and Release Techniques

Practicing proper catch and release techniques is essential for preserving trout populations and ensuring sustainable fishing. When handling trout, always wet your hands to protect their delicate slime coating, which helps prevent infections. Use a landing net with a rubberized mesh to minimize harm. Remove the hook gently using hemostats or pliers, and if the fish is deeply hooked, it’s often better to cut the line close to the hook to avoid further injury. Hold the trout in the water facing upstream to allow it to regain strength, releasing it only when it can swim away on its own.

Respecting the Environment

Respecting the environment is a fundamental part of ethical fishing. Always adhere to the principle of “leave no trace.” Pack out all trash, including fishing line and any other debris. Avoid trampling vegetation and be mindful of where you walk to minimize your impact on the natural habitat. Use designated trails and be cautious when entering and exiting the water to prevent bank erosion.

Supporting Local Conservation Efforts

Supporting local conservation efforts helps maintain healthy ecosystems and robust trout populations. Participate in local conservation programs and initiatives, such as stream clean-ups and habitat restoration projects. Purchasing fishing licenses and following local regulations not only ensures you are fishing legally but also funds conservation efforts. Consider joining or supporting local fishing and conservation organizations like Trout Unlimited that advocate for the protection and sustainable management of waterways. 

By practicing catch and release techniques, respecting the environment, and supporting local conservation efforts, anglers can play a crucial role in preserving Tennessee’s trout fisheries for future generations. These practices not only ensure the health of trout populations but also enhance the overall fishing experience, fostering a sustainable and ethical approach to trout fishing.

That’s A Wrap

In summary, successful trout fishing in Tennessee requires a combination of essential gear and honed skills. Equip yourself with high-quality fly rods, reels, lines, leaders, tippets, and a variety of effective fly patterns. Ensure you have comfortable and reliable waders and boots, and carry essential accessories like a fishing vest, polarized sunglasses, and a well-organized fly box. Master key skills such as reading the water, perfecting casting techniques, achieving natural fly presentations, and setting hooks properly to increase your chances of success.

I encourage you to invest in the best gear you can afford and practice the skills outlined in this guide. By doing so, you’ll enhance your fishing experience and make the most of your time on Tennessee’s beautiful trout streams. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, these preparations will help you enjoy the thrill and challenge of trout fishing to the fullest.

As you embark on your fishing adventures, remember the words of Izaak Walton: “Rivers and the inhabitants of the watery elements are made for wise men to contemplate and for fools to pass by without consideration.” Embrace the serenity and excitement of trout fishing in Tennessee, and cherish the moments spent in mother nature’s playground.

tennessee trout fishing