by Rocky Cox of Rocky Top Anglers
- Species: Rainbow, Brown Trout
- Angler Type: Wade or Boat
- Access Type: Public or Private
- Rocky Top Anglers
- Fightmaster Fly Fishing
- Trout Zone Anglers
- Frontier Anglers TN
- Mike Bone
- R and R Fly Fishing
- Smoky Mountain Gillies
- Orvis Sevierville
- Little River Outfitters
- Three Rivers Angler
- Smoky Mountain Angler
- Norris Dam State Park
- Clinch River House
- Holiday Inn Express
- Hampton Inn
- KOA of Clinton
- Harrison’s Steak House
- Golden Girls Restaurant
- Waffle House
- Git’n Go market
The Clinch River originates in southwestern Virginia. It flows southwesterly into Tennessee where it gains water from the Powell River as well as several smaller tributaries. The river meanders over 300 miles from its source, through the rolling hillsides of east Tennessee until it reaches Kingston TN and it’s confluence with the Tennessee River.
The Clinch River was once one of the most lucrative mussel producing rivers in the country. The pearl industry was well established in the Clinch River and its tributaries as well. These industries died out early in the 20th century due to environmental issues associated with coal mining and the damming of the Tennessee River system.
Norris Dam was completed in 1936 and was the first dam completed in the Tennessee River system by the newly formed Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The dam created Norris Lake, a large, deep lake that collects run off from almost 3000sq miles. Coldwater discharge from the dam changed the environment downstream of the dam. The new tailwater became a perfect place to stock coldwater species, such as rainbow trout. Over the years, many other improvements have been implemented for the improved habitat and health of the river. These improvements include a weir dam (located appx 2 miles downstream of Norris Dam), oxygen injection units in the lake and mandated minimum flows.
These days, The Clinch River is most well known for the trophy trout fishery below Norris Dam. Each year many anglers visit to chase after rainbow, brown and sometimes brook trout. The river is home to the Tennessee record Brown Trout, weighing in over 28lbs. The tailwater is stocked with rainbow and brown trout, with some added natural reproduction. The river produces many trophy fish each year and the average fish is 12” to 14” inches. Progressive regulations on the Clinch tailwater call for the safe release of all trout between 14 and 20 inches, and only one trout per day over 20 inches.
The tailwater flows about 14 miles from the dam to the town of Clinton Tennessee and into the backwaters of Melton Hill Lake. Water levels in the river are dictated by activity at Norris Dam. Norris has the ability to push close to 10,000 Cubic Feet per Second (CFS) when both turbines are in operation. Long periods of zero generation will make many parts of the river wadable while any sustained flows from the powerhouse will likely raise the river to unsafe levels for wading. Boaters will need some water flowing from the powerhouse for safe navigation and should be alert while under power for submerged rocks and trees.
- Always be aware of the water conditions and changing levels.
- Know the predicted flow from TVA via phone or internet app.
- These schedules are 99% but could and sometimes do change without notice.
- Boaters should wear a typeIII USCG floatation device, must possess by law enough for all occupants.
- Pack extra dry clothes and rain gear. Cold water temperatures can cause very cold fog, even in the heat of summer.
The river can be broken up into three sections; the top, the middle and the bottom. The top section, from Norris Dam to the Miller Island boat ramp offers the best public access. Canoes and light watercraft can be launched near the dam at the Songbird Trail Canoe Launch (no actual boat ramp, requires portage to the river). The weir dam access offers portage across the weir dam and wading access. Much of the area downstream of the weir dam is wadable on low water conditions. Miller Island Boat Ramp offers access to larger vessels as well as the most wading areas on the tailwater.
The middle section begins at Miller Island and runs 3.5 miles downstream to the Peach Orchard Boat Ramp. The immediate area around Miller Island offers the best access for wade fishermen on the river during low water. Anglers can wade from Miller Island downstream for one mile to Massengill Bridge. Most all of the adjacent land is private so you must remain in the river bed below the high water mark. There are several road side pull-offs along River Rd where anglers can enter and exit the river. The next few miles has no river access for wading anglers or much wadable water for that matter and is better fished by boat. The river flows deep, even on low flows as it picks up its largest tributary near the I-75 Bridge. Coal Creek is a large tributary that will often muddy the entire downstream tailwater after heavy rain events. Peach Orchard Boat Ramp offers boat access only as all of the water around the ramp is much too deep to wade.
The lower river runs from Peach Orchard to the Hwy 61 Boat Ramp in Clinton, just a little over 7 miles. All of the land adjacent to the river is private and should be respected as such. The land owners are friendly but they don’t want to find you on their land without permission. This stretch of river offers some wadable shoals and plenty of long pools. Again, wading is only possible with low water. Public access can be found at the bottom of the lower section via the Second Baptist Church of Clinton. Anglers can park and access from their property. Much of this area is very wadable under low water to slightly higher water levels. It’s also a very popular destination due to its 4.5 hour lead time on dam generation. The final access on the tailwater is just downstream of the highway 61 bridge on the east bank. The Highway 61 Boat Ramp has a nice ramp and trash cans.
Angling tactics can vary greatly depending on the water flows. Low water flows will allow light nymph fishing, dry fly fishing, wet fly applications as well as light to heavy streamer fishing. Rod choices will run the entire spectrum but long rods between 9’ and 10’ feet work best as they will allow you the best line control during drifts. Four to six weight rods will cover most situations on low water, but a six weight would probably cover the most tactics in one rod. High to medium water flows are usually best covered with streamers and deep nymphs. Although, insects often hatch well on high water and fish can be found sipping them. Again, rod choice is dictated by what you want to do and what you observe. Six to eight weight rods are best when it comes to streamers and sinking lines but a five weight may cover the rising fish best. Long, fine leaders ranging in length from 9 to 15’ and in strength from 4 to 7x are required for most Nymphing and Dry fly fishing setups. The use of fluorocarbon tippets and tungsten weights are recommended for all Nymphing applications. Streamer leaders can be much shorter and beefier. I usually use 4 to 6 foot lengths of fluorocarbon ranging from 8 to 20 lbs for streamer fishing applications.
The Clinch River is a very rich tailwater and has a very healthy biomass. Midges are abundant and available year round. Trout will gorge on midges in all stages of life from pupa to adult. Sow bugs and scuds are also present in great numbers in many sections of the river. These small crustaceans (#12-#22) offer high protein meals and are also a favorite of trout year round. The largest and most sought after hatch of the year are the sulphurs which historically begin late April to early May and continue into early June. Some years the hatch can come early or even extend well into October. Several species of caddis flies emerge in the fall with the small black and green (#18-#20) being a favorite.
- 4 to 6 weight rods, 9 to 10’ in length for dry fly, Nymphing or light streamer fishing.
- 9 to 16 foot leaders, tippets from 5x to 7x. Fluorocarbon for Nymphing and streamer fishing.
- 6 to 8 weight rods for streamer fishing.
- Short 4 to 6 leaders in heavy fluorocarbon weights 8 to 20lbs.
- Tungsten bead nymphs; Pheasant tails, midge pupa & larvae, sow bugs. Sizes from #12 – #20
- Sulphur dries, emergers and nymphs (#14-#18), Midge emergers (#18 – #22), Black Caddis (#18-#22)
- Terrestrials, Ants, Beetles and Hoppers.
Public Access Points
- Songbird Canoe Access
- Clear Creek Access
- Wier Dam Access
- Miller’s Island Ramp
- Peach Orchard Ramp
- Second Baptist Church of Clinton
- Highway 61 Bridge Ramp
The Clinch River tailwater is located just Northwest of Knoxville TN off of Interstate 75. All public access points can be reached in 5 to minutes from exit 122 (Clinton/Norris). The upper river and Miller Island accesses can be reached travelling east on hwy 61 to hwy 441. Turn left onto 441 and travel 2 miles. Turn left onto River Rd to reach Miller Island Boat Ramp and various right of way access closer to Massengill Bridge. Continue on 441 to TVA access at the Weir Dam and along the river via the Songbird Trail. The Peach Orchard access can be reach off of hwy 61 onto Hillvale Rd. Peach Orchard Road is on the left with signage to the boat ramp. Highway 61 Boat Ramp and the Second Baptist Church of Clinton are along the river and just off of highway 61 in Clinton TN, 3 miles west of I-75.