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Hiwassee River Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing the Hiwassee River

The Hiwassee River watershed provides trout fishing in North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. The river and its tributaries see significant changes throughout its length from the small free stone streams in the Appalachians to its confluence with Tennessee River. The river's popularity mainly stems from its Tailwater sections in North Carolina and Tennessee. These stretches offer access for wading anglers, but floating these tailwaters is the best way to get the true feel of the Hiwassee River.

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In Georgia, the Toccoa River, Nottely River, and a small piece of the Hiawasee River's (spelled differently in Georgia) main stem wind their way through the mountains. The stretches holding trout are found in the headwater above Lake Nottely, Lake Blue Ridge, and Chatuge Lake, as well as their tailwaters. You can find out more about these headwater streams in our article on Fly Fishing North Georgia, and our article on Fly Fishing the Toccoa River.

The Hiwassee River in North Carolina spends much of its time flowing through the Chatuge Lake, Apalachia Lake, and Hiwassee Lake Reservoirs. The Hiwassee and Nottely River Tailwaters possess healthy trout fisheries in North Carolina. The Nottely River Tailwater offers some trout along with other cool and warm water species of fish but lacks access from the Lake Nottely Dam to Hiwassee Lake. What stretches are open to the public offer little in terms of wading opportunities and infrastructure for launching small watercraft. Finding convenient places to hop out of your watercraft can also be difficult. The same can not be said about the Hiwassee River tailwater from Lake Chatuge.

Fly Fishing the Hiwassee River Tailwater in North Carolina

The stretch of the Hiwassee River begins at the Lake Chatuge tailwater near Hayesville, NC and runs westward through the small town of Murphy, NC. Anglers can find plenty of places to launch small watercraft along the roadside at bridge crossings. This section of the Hiwassee is not stocked by the state and contains only wild trout and privately stocked fish. Don't let this deter you from this section of river as it will many other anglers. There may not be the numbers of trout you might find in other tailwater streams in the area,  but there is plenty of size and aggressive trout to be caught. The best sections are located just below the Chatuge dam and off of State Route 64 and Fires Creek Road. Keep an eye on the water levels while fishing this section as they can be swift. If wading becomes difficult, you are a short drive away from Fires Creek which you can learn all about on our Fly Fishing North Carolina page.

Fly Fishing The Hiwassee River Tailwater in Tennessee

The Hiwassee River enters the state of Tennessee from North Carolina through the dam on Apalachia Lake and the Apalachia Powerhouse. Here anglers can find 21 miles of excellent trout habitat and fly fishing opportunity. From the dam to the town of Reliance, TN, fly anglers can find plentiful access along River Road, Hwy 68, and the John Muir trail that extends for about 3 miles along the river. Brook trout, Brown Trout, and Rainbow Trout, are all stocked at these locations throughout the year. This section is also designated as Delayed Harvest from October through March where catch and release practices are mandatory. During this time of year the insect hatches may be in decline with the exception of midges, but like many other highland lake tailwaters, winter shad kills can turn the river into an all out feeding frenzy. If your timing is right, anglers can find the largest trout in the river moving upstream to load up on the high protein meals tantalizingly floating downstream. This is a great time of year to land a new personal best. Spring brings the larger insect hatches to the river. Unlike the other Tennessee tailwaters, the Hiwassee River sees good numbers of caddis most years, with numbers increasing the further downstream you are from the dam. The only food item missing from much of the river that is present in many of Tennessee's other tailwaters is the presence of scuds and sow bugs which act as a major food source and allow trout to grow much faster. This is not a problem for dry fly enthusiast as the trout of the Hiwassee are much more willing to look toward the surface than any other tailwater stream in the state. 

The Best Flies for the Hiwassee River

BWOs, Sulphurs, Caddis, Isonychia, Midges, and the occasional stonefly can all be found on the river. 

Junk Flies- Mops, Eggs, Worms will always produce on streams with stocked trout around, particularly within several days after being stocked. Look to these to produce best just after the start of the Delayed Harvest season. Mop jigs will also shine in the presence of caddis. 

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/Cahills- 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. Do not head to the river without these patterns in April and October. 

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.  

Various Nymphs- The tried and true nymph patterns such as a hares ear, pheasant tail, perdigon, walts worm, 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 fresh stockers.

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

Streamers- Bunny leeches, clousers, and white woolly buggers do an excellent job imitating the shad kill during winter. Bigger patterns such as a D&D, Zoo Cougar, Circus Peanut, or Hollow Point can also be great for anglers looking for trophy class trout or the transient walleye or striper that find their way upstream each year. 

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For more information about America's best trout streams and others in North Carolina, our Fly Fishing Georgia, Fly Fishing Tennessee, Fly Fishing South CarolinaFly Fishing The Davidson River, Fly Fishing the Tuckasegee River, Fly Fishing the Nantahala River, and Fly Fishing the Chattooga River articles will give you other ideas for places to visit in the area.

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