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Summertime Options for Tennessee Trout Fishing

Summertime Options for Tennessee Trout Fishing
The South Holston gives up some impressive and colorful browns during July and August. Photo by Jim Casada.

While hot weather and trout fishing don't necessarily make the perfect angling marriage, here are some "cool" destinations where the action remains fine despite rising temperatures.

Although such is not the case, it would have been fitting had a trout fisherman written "What is so rare as a day in June?" The author was American poet James Russell Lowell.

That is because for those who thrill to the joys of rainbows rising to evening hatches or a big brown chasing a flashing spinner in water turned murky in the aftermath of a spring shower, May and June must rank, along with October, as the "glory" months of the trout fisherman's year.

Indeed, many anglers savor the splendors of a Tennessee spring and then proceed, as the heat and humidity of a southern summer lay their stifling hands on the land, to become hot weather couch potatoes. That's a downright shame, because even in the midst of dog days the savvy trout fisherman can find action aplenty.

Here are some thoughts on several destinations, which can punch your ticket on a trip to beat the summer doldrums.



The Little River and its major feeders, the Middle Prong (locals call it Tremont) and West Prong, form one of the major systems on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Much of the Little River proper runs right alongside Little River Road (State Route 73) and as a result it gets plenty of angling pressure. And, particularly in the area of The Sinks, more than a fair share of swimmers and tubers use it.

But catch it at dawn when everything is right, cast in the gloaming when there's a good hatch of yellow sallies, or be a stream on one of those occasional days of overcast and mist, and you can know magic. It is big water by Smokies standards, and there is probably no finer place to match wits with trophy wild browns anywhere in the park.

The upper reaches of the Little River, along with the Middle Prong, fit into the more typical high country type of trout stream. That is to say, they are really creeks.

Upstream of Elkmont the Little River is really the East Prong. It is fast moving, rugged, and characterized by a mixture of plunge pools and pocket water. Much the same can be said of Tremont.


The East Prong is accessible by vehicle along its lower reaches, with asphalt for the 2.3 miles to the Great Smoky Mountains Institute and then gravel for an additional 3 miles to a gate where there is parking and a turnaround.

For the upper reaches of both streams, shank's mare is the only way to go. For the fit and adventurous that enjoy getting back of beyond, the upper reaches of the streams in this system — including feeders such as Thunderhead Prong, Sams Creek, Jakes Creek, and Fish Camp Prong — there are opportunities aplenty. At present Lynn Camp Prong is closed in connection with brook trout restoration efforts.



The park portion of the West Prong of the Little Pigeon River (not to be confused with the West Prong of the Little River) closely parallels U.S. Highway 441 from its headwaters all the way to the park boundary just outside Gatlinburg. But that doesn't mean it is easily accessible over all of its drainage.

Part of it is right at roadside and readily visible, but two long sections — one in the sprawling valley residents that once lived there called the Sugarlands, and a second upstream of the Chimneys picnic area — lie in deep gorges with the road high on the ridge above them. Either offers an opportunity to get away from traffic and people.

But even when one is right at roadside this is a stream that is kind to anglers in two ways. It holds lots of rainbow trout and, in its upper reaches, increasing numbers of speckled trout. As a son of the Smokies I am constitutionally incapable of calling them brookies.

Moreover, for a stream of its size the West Prong is about as open as one could wish. This is thanks to the occasional heavy rain, which scours the streambed and keeps vegetation pushed well back. In other words, wayward casts aren't quite so problematic and the fisherman doesn't find himself, as my Grandpa Joe used to put it, "fishing for squirrels."

For these Park streams, and others, keep in mind that only single-hook artificials are permissible-no bait and no treble hooks. Most opt for flies, and in summertime a good choice is a dry-fly and dropper combo with the floating portion of the rig featuring a buoyant pattern such as a Thunderhead, Parachute Adams, Royal Wulff, Tennessee Wulff, or Royal Trude tied on a size 14 hook. Trail it with a small beadhead nymph (size 16 or 18 hook) pattern such as Cooper John, Tellico, Prince, or Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear and you should be in business. Should a sudden shower turn the stream dingy, change to a streamer such as a Black Matuka or Wooly Bugger.

These days you don't see all that many spin fishermen in the park, but that shouldn't suggest this approach is ineffective. In my boyhood there were old-timers who filled creels with impressive limits trip after trip using in-line spinners such as Panther Martins with two of the three treble hooks clipped or an old mountain favorite, a gold Colorado blade trailed by a Yellarhammer fly tied on a long shank hook. If the water is dingy, such tactics and be highly effective, and anyone interested exclusively in big trout might want to consider clipping all but one hook off a Rapala and slinging it in big, deep pools.


The South Holston River, one the finest tailwaters anywhere and arguably as fine a brown trout fishery as the Southeast has to offer, and it has plenty of rainbows as well.

The stream is especially noted for spring Sulphur hatches and cold-weather Blue Wing Olives, but thanks to running through limestone country it has a super food base with lots of hatches and a wide variety of trout edibles. Fishing here in the summertime can be super technical and checking with a local store or outfitter is advisable. One plus is that you won't face quite the same crowds, whether you are drifting in a boat or wade fishing, to be found in the prime months of spring. There are scattered walk-in access points off of State Route 44 and launch areas provided by near the Weir below the dam and in Bluff City.

The South Holston's brown trout are well established and naturally reproducing, but the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency stocks rainbows throughout the late spring and summer months. The regulations on this fishery are quite complex, with slot limits and what have you. It's a good idea to study the portion of the TWRA Web site at

Also, as is always true for tailwaters, check on the TVA's generation schedule, which is posted online daily at But also keep in mind that there can be changes and alertness is a must. If a horn sounds, get out and do it in expeditious fashion.


The accessibility of the Clinch River makes it the best and worst of worlds. Thanks to its proximity to Knoxville, the stream can be quite crowded on weekends and in peak fishing periods. However, many folks concentrate on spring and pressure drops dramatically in summer's dog days.

Wade fishing during periods when the power plant isn't generating can be pretty technical, and in the abundant still water areas it may actually be best to fish downstream so that the fly is the first thing trout see. When the power plant at Norris Lake is generating, a boat is a must and, when in full spate, even that approach is problematic.

On the other hand, when the current is moving right along, fish are less spooky, whether one uses dry flies, streamers, spinnerbaits, or other offerings.

Access is simple — take I-75 north out of Knoxville and exit 122 leads you to SR 61/Andersonville Road. Follow it for approximately 1 1/2 miles and turn left onto SR 71. This road offers several access areas for the wading fisherman as well as boat launching opportunities.

Like most tailwaters, the Clinch has a rich insect base and produces some big trout supplemented by ample stocking. It is also home to striped bass and the occasional hook-up with them is a bonus, sort of the lace on the bride's pajamas for the angler.


Citico Creek is a medium-sized to slightly smaller stream, which lays pretty much back of beyond, at least in its upper reaches. The headwaters are within the Citico Wilderness Area and can be reached only by taking shank's mare.

Lower down, you can get to the portion of the stream that receives periodic stocking by taking SR 165 east out of Tellico Plains. When it joins Indian Boundary Road for a short stretch, look for Whiteoak Flat Road on the left. Take it and follow the road for 3 1/2 miles. You can use Doublecamp Campground as a base of operations, or hit the trail into the headwaters.

Both the North and South forks of Citico Creek have populations of wild rainbows and, higher up, they gradually give way to specks at elevations of 3200 feet or above.


A feeder of the better-known Tellico River, the Bald River is notable for both scenic beauty — particularly the falls where it enters the Tellico — and wild trout. The fish here aren't big, but they have all the appeal of vivid coloration typical of stream-bred trout and are plentiful.

Thanks to relatively high elevation and plenty of canopy, the waters stay cool and fishing remains good right through the summer.

Access is by Forest Service Road 126 out of Tellico Plains. Take SR 165 east and turn right on River Road, following it up the Tellico and through the little community of Green Cove. Once past Green cove you soon come to FS 126, which leads to the Bald River.

There is decent fishing where the stream runs along the road, but the best action requires a walk into the gorge. It is accessed by Foot Trail 88, which begins near Holly Flats Group Camp.

Typical summer fly patterns are your best bet here. An Elk-hair Caddis is always a good choice and a Male Parachute Adams looks about as "buggy" as anything you can offer on the surface. If anything, a Female Adams or an Adams Variant (a pattern originated by Fred Hall just across the main ridgeline of the Smokies in North Carolina) is even better.

For the nymph fisherman, think about Pheasant Tails, Tellicos (almost certainly named for the area where you are fishing), or a beadhead Prince.

During the early and late hours of the day there likely are sporadic hatches of yellow stoneflies, and any fly with yellow in it is not a bad choice. Keep in mind it is presentation, not pattern, which matters most. On a personal basis I like a dry fly that is plenty buoyant so I can see it and it readily carries the nymph dropper underneath.



For summertime trout fishing in the Volunteer State, no matter whether your approach of choice involves bait, spinfishing, or opting for the long rod and whistling line, think small. Waters tend to be low and clear, there's been considerable fishing pressure in all but the most remote of regions for several months. The trout are spooky. That translates to the need for fine tippet or monofilament in 2- to 4-pound test; tiny flies, lures, or bait; longer casts; greater delicacy of presentation; and all the stealth you can muster.

When wade fishing camouflage or earth tone clothing should be de rigueur, and keep a low profile. Sometimes it is necessary to stoop in order to conquer.

One exception to these points comes after a hard rain, which raises stream flows and gives them a bit of color. This often triggers intense feeding activity and you can get by with bigger, flashier offerings and stronger terminal tackle.

From tailwaters where you park, walk a few yards to wade fish or launch a boat, to remote streams holding nothing but wild fish and demanding plenty of walking, there are options aplenty for the trout fisherman in east Tennessee.

Make your decision on whether you prefer the splendor of solitude and small wild trout or an abundance of angling company with the chance to hook a lunker brown — there's something for every taste.

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