French Broad

by Josh Pfeiffer of

Species:  Smallmouth, Largemouth, Spotted Bass, Panfish and Carp
Angler Type:  Limited wading, mostly boating
Access Type:  Limited public, mostly private


Fly Shops


Good Eats

  • Frank Allen’s Market

The River

The French Broad River starts in Transylvania County, North Carolina flowing northeast then north as it passes through Asheville, North Carolina. The river gains strength as it receives the Swannanoa River and turns northwest making a big hook into the great state of Tennessee. This is where the Pigeon River joins up with the French Broad River in Cocke County and with the help of the Nolichucky River, all three form Douglas Lake. The upper river is undammed and though very scenic without the worry of checking generation schedules is seceptable to high/muddy water and even flooding after a good soaking rain. So check flow gauges on USGS sites for your targeted area.

The French Broad flows out of Douglas Dam in Sevier County making it a tailwater which TVA operates with up to 4 electric turbines. CFS (cubic feet per second) can be anywhere from around 300 to somewhere in the realm of 20,000 give or take, so please check the TVA website( for generation schedules. Just below the dam, the Little Pigeon River merges with the French Broad for its last stretch to the confluence with the Holston River to form the Tennessee River in Knoxville. The lower river being controlled by Douglas Dam has more reliable flows for the most part but TVA can and will release water if the need calls for it. Heavy rains don’t affect this stretch as much as the upper but can color up from nearby tributaries. Being a tailwater, water temps are affected by the dam, more so than the weather and takes longer to warm up during the season.

TVA – Lake Levels

Lake Info Mobile App. Download TVA’s Lake Info app for an easy-to-use resource for operating on and around TVA’s reservoirs and dams. Available for iPhone and Android.


The French Broad Is known for it’s Smallmouth Bass population and for good reason. Both the upper and lower river produce good numbers of fish with the occasional trophy.  Ft. Loudon sportfish regulations are to be followed all the way up river to Douglas Dam with a minimum length of 18 inches for smallmouth. The abundance of food consisting of crayfish, rough fish, baitfish, and aquatic invertebrates is plentiful. In addition to Smallmouth Bass the French Broad also flourishes with many other sportfish including Panfish, Black Bass, Striped Bass, and Carp and even Musky in the upper section of river above Douglas Dam. Smallmouth Bass are native to East TN and are found in almost every body of water. They don’t need to be stocked in our part of the country because natural spawning occurs regularly and is very successful.

The river consists of bed rock, cobblestone and peagravel bottoms with several varieties of aquatic grasses. River depth can be anywhere from a few inches to over 20+ feet in some spots with an average of 2-8 ft, but depth will change when TVA decides to run water. Islands are found all throughout the river and though they all end up at the same place some can be harder to navigate than others so use caution through unfamiliar areas. There are quite a few stretches with moderate flow and riffles followed by slow stretches with almost still water. There are also a few tricky parts in the river to watch out for at low water stage where sharp rock formations create some rapids. Wading can be tough being as both sides of the river are mostly owned by private parties and permission will have to be obtained.

Most common types of watercraft are canoes, kayaks, drift boats, and jon boats but over the years I’ve seen every type imaginable. Spinning tackle has always been associated with warm water fishing but fly fishing is definitely the most fun and given our unique scenario of having fairly shallow rivers is just as successful.

Suggested Rods/Reels/Lines

7’11”-10 ‘ rods with a medium to fast action is best for turning over bigger heavier flies. 6,7 and 8 wts work best for playing fish quickly. Match reels to rod for the right balance. Lines with aggressive tapers are better for loading these rods and in some cases sinking tips are nice to have for streamers.

Suggested Flies

  • Closures
  • Zonkers
  • Slumpbusters
  • Meat whistles
  • Deceivers
  • Poppers
  • Sliders
  • Sneaky Pete
  • Wiggle minnows
  • Wooly buggers

Fishing Regulations:

Please be sure to check current regulations if you are unfamiliar, many of our tailwaters have unique regulations.

Tennessee Fishing Regulations

Purchase a Tennessee Fishing License

Public Access Points

  • Douglas Dam
  • 66 bridge
  • Seven Islands Birding Park (Knox County)
  • Seven Islands (Sevier County)
  • Huffaker Ferry

Getting There

From Knoxville, head east on Interstate 40 to exit 407.  Then south on Hwy 66 to Kodak, TN.

Local Weather Forecast

Tennessee Fly Fishing