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Trout Fishing the South Fork Holston & Doe Rivers

Trout Fishing the South Fork Holston & Doe Rivers

Both of these rivers are hatchery supported, both have strong trout populations, and both tempt trout anglers with the possibility of hooking big browns.

by Todd Triplett

East Tennessee trout anglers can make a legitimate case that their home waters provide better chances for catching trophy trout than just about anywhere else east of the Mississippi River.

We're going to look at two fine trout rivers - the Doe and the South Fork Holston - both of which have sufficiently developed age structures in their resident trout populations, and anglers have a good chance of catching lots of fish and, with luck, a trophy there.

The Doe River, a small waterway when compared to some of the larger tailraces in the area, is sometimes overlooked by serious trophy fishermen. Because the Doe is managed under general regulations, many anglers dismiss this river's potential to produce trophy fish, considering it only to be a put-and-take fishery.

General regulations here allow a creel limit of seven fish of any size (except for brook trout, which must be 6 inches to creel, and which are mainly found in the headwaters). Bait is allowed here as well. These general regulations, coupled with easy public access, make this destination tops for those who want to fill a frying pan or enjoy a day with their children.

While it's certainly true that big fish living in a general regulation fishery face certain pressures not faced by trophies in catch-and-release waters, that doesn't mean trout, particularly brown trout, won't grow to trophy size in top general regulation streams. And in the Doe, there are feisty browns that may tip the scales at 5 pounds or more.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

According to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA), the Doe River is stocked every two weeks from February through June. The stockings are publicly listed on the TWRA Internet site. Rainbows in the 8- to 10-inch range and occasionally brown trout are put in at various locations along the river. These pan-sized fish are usually very eager to suck down most natural baits. Night crawlers, corn and Power Bait are among the top "natural" baits used by regular fishermen of the Doe.

But this river isn't just a typical hatchery-supported panfish stream.

"The Doe River has a good population of naturally reproducing browns and rainbows," said Bart Carter. Carter, who is a Region 4 fisheries biologist with the TWRA, has made several trips along the Doe studying its resident fish population. Carter says that the TWRA occasionally does electroshocking surveys on the Doe, and these surveys leave no doubt there are big fish in the stream.

"In the past, we have found brown trout that weighed up to 7 pounds," Carter said. "We also seem to find an abundance of wild brown trout in the 13- to 14-inch range."

Stocked and wild trout have slightly different eating habits. Trout that have survived for a while in the Doe have obviously learned to avoid the standard offering from bait-fishermen and tend to rely on natural insects, crustaceans and small forage fishes. Therefore, when you are after a trophy, Carter suggests fly-fishing.

"The larger fish, which are primarily stream-reared, seem more eager to take flies. Some of the favorite fly patterns for the Doe are the Parachute Adams, the green or gray elk-hair caddis fly, or the Thunderhead, which is a local favorite. Nymphing also works well when the water is up or slightly dingy," said Carter.

To get to the Doe River from Elizabethton, take Hwy. 19 south to Roan Mountain. From Roan Mountain, take Hwy. 143 into Roan Mountain State Park. Good public access abounds inside the park. Permission needs to be obtained for fishing private properties that adjoin the park.

In recent years, the South Fork Holston River tailwater has become extremely popular among trout fishermen, especially those anglers who are intent on targeting fish that are the length of the fisherman's own arm. And the South Fork anglers have netted large browns that tipped the scales at 20 pounds. According to Carter, several 10-pounders are caught each year.

The South Fork Holston River is a tailrace waterway that is 14 miles long, running from the dam at South Holston Lake to Bluff City, where the river flows into Boone Lake. The generation schedule of the South Holston dam is very important, because if the preferred method of fishing this river is by boat, then generation definitely needs to be taking place. But if the angler plans to wade, then non-generating periods would be much safer. Generation information can be obtained by calling 1-800-238-2264.

Fishing guide and Trout Unlimited volunteer Duane Coen has netted many large fish along this beautiful green water. Coen's largest to date was a 30-inch 12-pound wild brown that would have made any angler grin. Coen, along with partner James Fortner, operates a guide service along the South Holston. The team specializes in drift-boat fishing.

Coen and Carter both agree that, although fishing can be good at any time, the fish seem to be more aggressive during the generating periods. Coen's favorite technique is to use a crankbait that imitates a Tennessee shad or a fingerling rainbow trout. "The most productive method I have found is to place my lure at the edge of some kind of structure and then retrieve the lure while twitching it to imitate a wounded baitfish. Most of the larger fish usually ignore a bait that appears too healthy. The angler may only get one opportunity to present their bait properly in a given area, so I strive to present it correctly the first time," said Coen.

According to Coen, the large browns tend to hold in or near the grasses that are commonly found throughout the length of the river. They also tend to hang near the edge of structure.

Other than two spawning areas along the tailrace that are closed to fishing from Nov. 1 to Jan. 31, the river falls under general gear, bait and creel regulations, with the only exception being a slot limit that protects fish from 16 to 22 inches. One fish may be harvested over 22 inches, while the remaining six of the creel must be less than 16 inches (alternatively, all seven may be less than 16 inches). These regulations were designed to preserve the spawning-age fish.

Each year in early April, the state stocks 100,000 fingerling rainbows. Also, from March through September, a total of 49,000 catchable-sized rainbows were stocked. Another 19,000 catchable-sized brown trout are stocked to help supplement the existing population.

Public access along the South Holston once again depends upon whether the angler chooses to wade or drift. For those who intend to drift, a TVA access area exists at Emmet Bridge. But because of a section of the river below Hickory Tree Bridge that contains a bad rapid area, the angler who launches here should use a boat that has the ability to return upstream to take out. Another boat ramp is located at Bluff City. Anglers who launch here typically motor upstream and then float back down.

The TVA has a walk-in area off River Bend Road for anglers who like to wade. There is a limited parking area and a trail that leads to the water. Another great wading area is upstream from Emmet Bridge. This public area offers pullouts as well as picnic and bathroom facilities.

To get there from Interstate 81, take Exit 69 and then travel Hwy. 394 to Hwy. 421. Follow the signs to the South Holston Dam.

To book a trip with Duane Coen and James Fortner, contact the Foscoe Fishing Company at (828) 963-7431.

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