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South Holston River Fly Fishing

Fly Fishing the South Holston River

The South Fork and Middle Fork of the Holston River begin in the high elevation streams in North Carolina and Virginia. The two forks flow to the southwest where they join in South Holston Lake. The best know fly fishing destination is just below the reservoir in the South Holston River Tailwater. This 14 mile stretch leading to Boone Lake is loaded with healthy trout, and fly fishermen eager to land a new personal best. Seasonal hatches offer the opportunity for anglers in the southeast to target trout that may be more picky than the norm for the area. A slot limit of 16-22 inches protects the brown and rainbow trout here as well as a protected spawning area which is closed to fishing in fall and early winter. The upper section also sees some special regulations which help trout reach larger sizes and promote better reproduction.

Fly Fishing the Upper South Holston River

Beginning in the small town of Sugar Grove in Southwest Virginia, the South Fork of the Holston River is fed by several small spring fed tributaries. Rainbow and Brown trout can be found in this section of river and are managed by special regulations in two sections. The larger of the two section is about four miles long and has a 2 fish limit with a 16 inch minimum and artificial lures only. The second area runs the length of the Buller Fish Hatchery and is managed under catch and release only regulations. Both of these section are extremely popular with local and traveling anglers. Below the hatchery the trout fishing is still productive. Trout are stocked regularly along the St Clair Bottom and Thomas Bridge from October through May. Junk flies are more than capable of landing the many stocked trout. When moving further upstream dry flies and conventional nymphs will be more appealing to the trout. 

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Fly Fishing the South Holston River Tailwater

South Holston Tailwater Fishing Map-min.jpg

Known for some of the largest insect hatches in the southeast and yielding trophy class brown trout each year, the tailwater section of the South Holston River provides excellent angling opportunities for wading and drift boat anglers alike. The broad and shallow river provides plenty of food for its resident trout which successfully reproduce each year and add to the already heavy trout stocking schedule. The brown and rainbow trout mix in the river early in life but larger browns tend to wander the river finding new haunts for themselves. These trophy size trout switch from their insect diets to that of other trout, shad, and sculpin that find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Timing can also be important to anglers when fishing the Holston as the generation schedules can dictate the insect and trout activity level during any given outing. Rising water levels will trigger many insect hatches throughout the year, especially midge hatches that can quickly gather attention from the trout. The lower flow with no generation usually sits around 200cfs and brings on a more lethargic bite and wary trout. During generation the 1500-2000cfs flows bring new opportunities for hungry trout to take advantage of; insects hatching and those washed by the current. Trophy sized brown trout will also use these opportunities to stalk freshly stocked rainbows that are not quite accustomed to the generation flows. The TVA posts all the their scheduled release times here so be sure to check in before heading out to the river. 

Best Flies For the South Holston River

Sulphurs, Caddis, Midges, BWOs, and Terrestrials are the bread and butter on the South Holston when it comes to dry fly fishing. Many nymph patterns will work throughout the year, so we recommend any confidence flies you may have. A good drift at the right depth will always land more trout than any secret fly pattern. 

Sulphurs- From mid April through the early weeks of summer, these patterns are a must have for any visiting angler. Adams, sparkle duns, and mayfly emerger imitations in the 14-18 range will do best. Lighter colors on the white to yellow spectrum will produce trout. When the water is low, skinny emergers will be the ticket.

Midges- Similar to the other tailwater streams in the southeast, there is no replacement for the midge. Week in and week out zebra midge, griffiths gnats, matts midge, and various midge emergers in the size 20-24 range or smaller will always produce trout at some point during the day. 

BWOs- The Blue Wing Olives hatch in late November into December and once again in late January through early March. Stay small and thin with these patterns in the 18-24 range. Emergers tend to produce more trout during hatches.

Caddis-Less productive than other patterns on the South Holston, caddis patterns will still produce trout in May and mid to late October. This bite is less consistent, but you don't want to be on the river without these flies when the opportunity comes along.

Terrestrials- Hoppers, beetles, and other bugs cannot be overlooked during the summer and early fall on the South Holston. Running the shoreline with terrestrial patterns during high water is a great way to see some big trout rise to the surface.

Streamers- No better time to go big than on the Holston. Deceivers, D&Ds, and other large articulated flies can find their way into the mouths of monster brown trout and striper at any time. 

For more information about America's best trout streams and others in the area, check out our pages on fly fishing Tennessee, Fly Fishing the Hiwassee River, Fly Fishing the Tuckasegee River, and Fly Fishing the Nantahala River.


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