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Fly Fishing Tennessee

The Best Fly Fishing in Tennessee 

From its many tailwaters to the high elevation freestone streams of the Southern Appalachians, Tennessee possesses a myriad of fly fishing opportunities for adventurous anglers looking to spend time outdoors. Our  articles on fly fishing the Hiwassee River and South Holston River Fly Fishing discuss the larger tailwaters that attract anglers from around the country. We dive into the smaller tailwater streams as well as the small creeks flowing through the Great Smokey Mountain National Parks, offering anglers the opportunity to explore the best wild trout fishing in the state. This is also the best opportunity at landing the Appalachian trout slam as the many creeks through the park are full of brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout. The Little River runs through the national park, and is an anglers better shot at a rainbow and brown trout. Abrams is the other major drainage in the park containing all three trout species.

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Caney Fork River Fly Fishing

The Caney Fork River is one of the most productive tailwaters in

Tennessee. Originating below the Center Hill Dam, just about an

hour east of Nashville, there is no wonder why it is one of the most

visited fisheries in the state. Brown, Brook, and Rainbow trout are

stocked throughout the year. For fly anglers, midge patterns are

once again the ticket for catching numbers of trout. In the upper

reaches of the river, below the dam, scuds and sow bugs offer a

bonus protein source for the trout hanging close to the grass beds

and wood cover. The low gradient gravel bottom makes for a wade

friendly fishery in the upper sections. Further downstream, floating the

river is  more productive due to the limited wading opportunities. This is also where anglers can find larger hatches of varieties of mayflies and caddis in the spring. Streamers can target larger holdover browns along with the migrating striped bass that move upstream from mid spring and into the summer. Catch limits are maxed 5 trout for rainbow and  brook with 1 fish over 20". Only 1 brown trout may be harvested on the Caney Fork with a minimum length of 24".

Elk River Fly Fishing


The Elk River is a tailwater trout fishery beginning just below the Tims Ford Dam just east of Lynchburg, TN. The river contains stocked populations of brook, rainbow, and brown trout. The Elk River attracts many trout enthusiasts north from Alabama, as it is the closest year round trout fishery. Access can be found at the Farris Creek bridge and just below the dam. Unlike many of the other Tennessee tailwaters, the Elk River can be waded easily as it is much smaller and shallower. Like many tailwaters, midges are quite prominent, but the scuds found in the river are what enable the trout to reach trophy sizes. Don't overlook streamers in the Elk River as the local brown trout can grow quickly after making the transition to feeding on stockers and other small fish found in the river.

Obey River Fly Fishing


The Obey River tailwaters flow from Dale Hollow Lake at the Kentucky border west to Celina. The seven mile stretch of the Obey River is stocked year round with rainbow and brown trout. The river's steep banks and narrow stream bed make it deeper than many of the other tailwaters in the state and wading can be limited to stretches just below the dam and around Donaldson park. Midges are the ticket on this tailwater trout fishery, but don't overlook small streamers when targeting larger or more aggressive trout. 

Little River Fly Fishing


The Little River is the largest trout stream running through Great Smokey Mountain National Park offering fly anglers another opportunity at the Appalachian trout slam. Rainbow and brown trout show up most commonly, while the brook trout can be more difficult to find. The East, Middle, and West Forks all hold healthy populations of trout. The East Fork is the largest piece of water, and the best location to run into trophy class trout. The Middle Fork contains slower water in its lower stretches then transitions to more pocket water fishing as you gain elevation. The pocket water of the upper section is where anglers can find more brook trout and better dry fly fishing. The west fork of the Little River is the most overlooked by visiting anglers. Though its not common to find any brag-worthy trout in this stretch, the smaller amount of pressure the stream receives leaves plenty of hungry trout for anglers looking to see plenty of bites in a days time. 

Abrams Creek Fly Fishing


Abrams Creek is one of the most productive trout streams within Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Abrams Creek and its tributaries of Panther Creek, Mill Creek, Forge Creek, and Rabbit Creek contain healthy populations of rainbow, brown, and brook trout. Cades Cove and the Abrams Falls trail can provide access to fly fishermen looking to explore  the sections with the best trout populations. The better than average water quality in Abrams Creeks promotes excellent insect growth and forage source for it's wild trout populations. The largest trout can be found in the lower sections of the creek above Chilhowee Lake where the current slows. These trout will often be much more spooky in the slower waters so caution is recommended when wading.

Watauga River Fly Fishing


Just outside of Elizabethton, TN the Watauga River Tailwater offers one of the best fly fishing destinations in all of Tennessee. The brown trout and rainbow trout that inhabit the river get big on scuds and sowbugs, with periodic diets of midges, sulfurs, caddis, and blue wing olives. The generation schedule is critical in timing the activity level of the trout. This holds especially true when targeting trophy class trout on streamers and other baitfish imitations. Wading can be difficult throughout much of the river. Several shoals are available for anglers looking to get out on the water with the areas just below Hunter Bridge and the Wilbur Dam being the most conducive. 

Watauga River Trophy Trout Section

From Blevins Rd to the Persinger Bridge, the Watauga River is managed under trophy regulations. Limits are set at two trout with a 14"minimum length. This section is certainly the most popular for anglers, especially those practicing catch and release. Wade access here is limited to the area around Blevins road and the Persinger Bridge. 

Citico Creek Fly Fishing


For anglers looking to target brown and rainbow trout, Citico Creek offers excellent small stream fly fishing for visitors. In the lower sections, look for stocked trout during the prime stocking season. Later in the year as the weather warms, anglers willing to explore further upstream will run into more wild trout. While junk flies work best in the lower sections of Citico Creek, dry flies will yield the most success in the upper reaches during the spring and summer. Fly anglers can find both rainbow and brown trout in Citico Creek. Access to the creek can be found along the Warden Fields Trailhead and Pine Ridge Trail.

Clinch River Fly Fishing


The Clinch River Tailwater begins below the Norris Dam just north of Knoxville, TN. The Clinch is home to brook, rainbow, and state record brown trout. As the oldest tailwater in Tennessee, it is no surprise you can find some of the largest trout on average in its waters. Midges, blue wing olives, sulfurs, and caddis appear at times of the year with midges again being the most consistent. Grass beds and wood below the dam provide cover for sow bugs and scuds. The deeper and slow waters can be very difficult to fish but very productive at times. For more aggressive trout, target the faster riffles and ledges.  Much like the Caney Fork, streamers can be productive in lower stretches, especially when the water dirties. Striper will also migrate up the river as the water warms in the lower sections along with the bonus Muskie. Millers Island and just below the Norris Dam are the most popular locations for wading anglers. All trout between 14 and 20 inches must be released by all anglers on the Clinch River, and only one trout over 20 inches may be kept.

Fly Fishing Tennessee's Delayed Harvest Trout Streams


Paint Creek, Piney River, and portions of the Tellico River and Hiwassee River comprise the four Delayed Harvest streams in Tennessee. These trout streams open on October 1st for catch and release anglers, and the season lasts until the last day of February with exception of the Tellico River which extends through March 14th. Single hooked artificial lures and flies are required for all anglers during the season.

Paint Creek Delayed Harvest Trout Fishing

The Delayed Harvest section of Paint Creek runs from the Paint Creek Campground, which is also the easiest access point, to its confluence with the French Broad River. Junk flies are best early in the stocking season with midge patterns becoming more productive into the winter. 

Piney River Delayed Harvest Trout Fishing

The Delayed Harvest section of the Piney River runs from Cumberland Trail State Park to the Hwy 27 Bridge. Fly fishing in the Piney River is similar to that of Paint Creek. Junk flies, midges, and other small fly patterns will land more trout. Brook trout, rainbow trout, and brown trout are all stocked during the season. 

Hiwassee River Delayed Harvest Trout Fishing

From the Appalachian Powerhouse to the L&N Railroad Bridge, the Hiwassee River is designated as a Delayed Harvest Stream. Regulations after the end of the season are different from the other DH streams as only two brown trout may be kept in anglers daily limits. This section of stream does have some wadable stretches, but access is much better while floating as several deep runs impede anglers progress. 

Tellico River Delayed Harvest Trout Fishing

From the North Carolina/Tennessee Border to the mouth of the North River, the Tellico River falls under Delayed Harvest Regulations. This section of DH water receives the least amount of pressure compared to its counterparts. The fishing here is the most consistent throughout the colder months and into spring with the elongated season. Mop jigs, eggs, squirmy worms, girdle bugs, and flashy flies are great patterns to attract curious stockers. 

The Best Flies for Fly Fishing Tennessee

Whether you are traveling to Tennessee or a local trying to spend a morning on the water, make sure you don't leave these flies at home.

Junk Flies- Mops, Eggs, Worms will always produce on streams with stocked trout around, particularly within several days after being stocked. 

Midges- no matter where you are fishing in Tennessee, a zebra midge, griffiths gnat, or matts midge will always be on the menu. You cant go wrong with anything smaller than size 20 in these imitations. The key is to find a size range that balances takes with the best hook up ratio.

Sulfurs- adams, or sparkle dun patterns in the size 16-20 range are the best imitations during spring hatches. Colors anywhere on the white, to manila, to yellow spectrum are best.

Caddis- Spring and fall bring the major caddis hatches to the southeast. These are best found on the high elevation free stone streams, but also show up on occasion in the tailwaters. Elk hair caddis or x-caddis in the 14-20 size range are best.

BWOs- Blue Wing Olives will hatch in early and late winter on the headwater streams and a few of the tailwaters. Adams or other small mayfly patterns in the size 18-24 range work best.  

Scuds and Sowbugs- These can be your bread and butter on the tailwaters. Patterns in the size 14-18 range are best. Weighting these patterns down can be key to getting more bites throughout the day.

Various Dry Flies- larger dry fly patterns such as a stimulator or oversized caddis are great patterns on the headwater streams in GSMNP and the eastern part of the state. These allow anglers to best see their flies and stay on top of the water longer. Trout here are less picky about what they eat and far more opportunistic when it comes to their meals.

Various Nymphs- The tried and true nymph patterns such as a hares ear, pheasant tail, perdigon, and caddis pupa will always be useful for anglers looking to pick off fish feeding lower in the water column. Sizes 14-18 are best but don't be afraid to get creative, especially around stockers.

Terrestrials- Beetles, ants, and hopper patterns have their place in the box, but really only in the warmer months of the year. 

Tennessee Trout Fishing Rules and Regulations

A 7 trout limit with no minimum length is used for the majority of Tennessee's trout streams unless regulated otherwise. Be Sure to check the TWRA regulations for individual streams before harvesting any trout.

Be sure to check out the TVA water release schedules before fishing any of the tailwaters in the state. Fishing Licenses can be purchased from the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency.

Below is a trout stocking chart for the Tennessee Tailwater Fisheries.

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For more information about America's best trout streams and others in the area, check out out articles on fly fishing North Carolina and fly fishing North Georgia.

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