Tag Archives: Fly Fish Tennessee

A few winter fishing tips

The weather here in East Tennessee has been less than accommodating for those of us who prefer to stand mid stream and ply our craft.  With temperatures that can be bone jarring cold and generation schedules on the tailwaters that offer very limited windows of opportunity, most times we are left holding a warm cup of coffee and staring out the window.

A lot of folks forgo fishing in the winter months, but it has been my experience, that if you are willing to be patient and use a few tricks, you can still have a productive day on the water. 

Here are a few…

If the generation schedule on your local tailwater will allow it, try fishing mid day.  Giving the sun an opportunity to do its thing and warm the water even a few degrees can make a huge difference in success or failure.

Along with this, it is important to realize that fish are more reluctant to move a lot in pursuit of food so an understanding of basic river hydrology in respect to prime fish locations is vital.  Areas that are stacked with trout in the spring, summer, and fall might not be as active in colder months.

Know what they are eating on a consistant basis.  For the most part, trout here on Tennessee tailwaters have a diet of midges that is year round.  This food source becomes even more important as the mayfly activity dies down.  You might find a Blue Wing Olive hatch, but if you want to step in the river with a tried and true producer in the winter, you cannot beat a midge.  Having midges tied in the smaller sizes (24-20), and various colors, will no doubt have you ready.

I also feel that it is important to cover as much of the water column as possible so I will tie a tandem rig with a bead head zebra midge tailed with an unweighted midge with some flash for a wing casing.  I can’t honestly say if the flash is the ticket, but every little bit helps.

Personal safety is always important on the water, but in winter it can be a matter of life or death.  The obvious plan is to lair up before putting on waders, but keep in mind that your layers also impede your mobility which means that moves you can make with ease in September may be risky when you cannot bend or move as easily.  I learned this lesson the hard way.  Trust me, layers can get you in trouble.

Another thing that ties in with that is the use of fleece.  If you have a well fitting fleece pullover, get it wet and see what happens.  It will magically grow three sizes, become heavy, and hold every ounce of water it comes in contact with.  When practical, use wool.  It stays warm when wet and doesn’t expand like fleece.

One day several years ago, I took a full plunge in the Hiwassee the day after Christmas.  Thirty degrees is cold, but when you are soaked to the bone, wearing fleece, and a mile from your vehicle, it is a level of misery best avoided.

Carry extra clothes, some of those hand/ foot warmers, move carefully, fish midges, and have fun.  Even when its cold, fish gotta eat.

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Its all about location…

We are blessed here in Tennessee to have several great spots for trout.  Tailwaters and wild streams abound here in the Volunteer state, and no matter where you live, you are close to great opportunities to fly fish for Rainbows, Browns and Brooks.  This brought a thought to mind.  What spot in our state is the best place to live if you fly fish for trout?

The primary criteria I used in my assessment was drive time to various locations.  It might be that you live five minutes from Tims Ford, but if you want to fish the South Holston you better be ready to drive.  I was in search of the single spot where, with a reasonable drive time you could reach more than one trout fishery within the state.  It was very tempting to expand the search so that I could include the wonderful opportunity found in North Georgia, Southern Kentucky, and North Carolina; but Tennessee is the criteria. 

There are several bodies of water that I did not include.  Not because they are bad locations, but I just thought it would be easier to use the high producing locations that can easily accommodate a lot of anglers.  The rivers/ locations I used are: Caney Fork, Clinch, Holston, South Holston, Watauga, Hiwassi and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

I also tried to avoid an “as the crow flies” philosophy when determining distance.  Anyone who is familiar with Tennessee and East Tennessee in particular knows that you might be just over the mountain from a location, but getting there is a little more involved than just hopping over the ridge.  It had to be from point A to point B drive time.

After consulting several mapping services and calculating the quickest drive time to each location, here is what I found. 

If you are an avid fly fisherman in Tennessee and your primary target is trout, the best place to live which gives you the most opportunities to fish multiple rivers in pretty much the same amount of drive time is….

Masterson Road in South Knox County Tennessee.

If you are a fly angler for trout and are lucky enough to live on Masterson Road, here are your relative drive distances to fish each of the subject waters.

129 miles to the Caney Fork (2 1/2 hours)

129 miles to the South Holston. (21/2 hours)

104 Miles to the Watauga. (1 hour 45 min.)

65 miles to the Hiwassi. (1hour 15 min)

39 miles to the Holston (45 min)

38 miles to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (45 min)

31 miles to the Clinch River (30 min)

Keep in mind that this is drive time based upon legal driving speeds.  Depending on how badly you want to be in the water, your drive times may vary.

If you live within a good rock throw of any of these waters, consider yourself lucky.  Those who live in Clinton, Bristol, New Market, or Townsend have immediate access to trout and if you are one of those people my hat is off to you for your selection in location.

But if you are like the majority of us and have to drive more than ten minutes to get to the river, then you might want to consider Masterson Road in South Knox County.  I mean its always good to have options isn’t it?

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Ok, so that didn’t work

Last friday Kris, Sean, and I decided to try a rumored spot behind the John Sevier power plant in Rogersville. Kris had heard that there were all sorts of stripers and carp that stacked up in the warm water discharge from the plant. The parking lot is located a good distance from where we were fishing and it was cold as balls, so we decided to walk down before wadering up.

It was only slightly disconcerning to see a sign by a holding pond which read “If contact with pond-water is possible or anticipated, contact plant saftey coordinator”. After the expected jokes, we pushed on to the river.

We startled a nice deer along the way, and what we could see as we approached looked promising. We returned to the car, suited up, rigged, and walked back.

I know I mentioned in my last post that it isn’t always about the catching fish, but in hindsight it would take some pretty solid info that the fish were in fact there (in all fairness, it was considerably warmer than the mainstream of the river, and it did look fishy as hell) to get me to go back again. Something like pictures of 20 stripers in one day…maybe.

My wading boots still smell Kris 🙂

I can’t say that we didn’t have fun, and this is the cabin-fever time of year. Any excuse to put-off the “Honey-do” list and go fishing with your buddies is all it takes. In 6 weeks or less we will be fishing pretty back in the park, or drifting the tailwaters. We have a steelhead trip coming up (more on that later), and I am sure that we will find another excuse to “stand in a river, waving a stick” before then.

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It is not always about the fishing…

Sometimes getting out to the river is not about the fishing. Yesterday, Sean “Fish Pimp of the Year” McKay and I had a couple of errands to run down towards Seveirville and Gatlinburg.

I am not sure about Sean, but I know that I haven’t been on the water since before I left town at the holidays. After we finished our errands, we grabbed a couple of beers and went off in search of some “River Chicken”, stocked fish on the Gatlinburg Public water.

The scenery isn’t great, when compared to fishing in the National Park, but the doughbellies are more prone to eating when the water is 38 degrees. We tried a couple of spots where we had seen fish in years past. We spooked 2 or 3 fish in the time we were out, looked at the fish in the children’s section of the stream as we walked back to the car, and rolled on home. Who knows if Gatlinburg stocked as many fish this year for the catch-and-release period, or if locals are keeping them anyway, or we were not looking in the right places.

The bottome line is that a day on the river with a buddy is always a good thing, regardless of what the fish are doing.

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