Monday, April 30, 2012

Family Vacation, South Holston River, Bristol, TN

Date: Sunday April 1 through Thursday April 5, 2012
Weather: Fantastic! Sunny with a few scattered rain showers, 70 - 80 degrees, NO WIND!
Insect/Activity: Sulphur mayflies were on the verge of hatching, scuds everywhere, midge and baetis were sparse, but effective patterns
Patterns Used: Blacktail PMD/Sulphur, AB Tungsten Pheasant Tail, Gammarus Scud, Olive Midge Pupa, Compara-dun Sulphur, Blacktail Baetis
Flows: Low (not sure what the river runs at with no generators, my guess is 150 CFS), Generators were on each day at 4 AM and 11 AM, each for one hour making for a perfect low water day with a nice break for lunch :-)

Michelle crossing the old iron bridge just upstream from our cabin.
Simply an AMAZING trip. The South Holston river is a tailwater in the northeast corner of Tennessee. Jay got turned on to it a few years back and ever since we have been visiting this place, and intend to make it a regular destination on our fly fishing calendar. It's fishes a lot like the White River and Norfork River in Arkansas, but the dam generation releases are much more predictable since, my understanding, is this dam is more for flood control than power generation.
One of the bigger browns from the week with FLAWLESS coloring!
As a brief overview, the river has an amazing bug and fish population, with natural spawning occurring (all the browns are wild I'm told), but one of the highlights of the river is a slot limit on fish. All fish between 16" and 22" must be returned to the water immediately and you can keep 7 fish under 16" and only 1 fish over 22". My hat is off to the Tennessee regulations department because that is a GREAT management practice! The only flaw, is poachers, and that will always be the case.
I took this shot from on of the best nymphing riffles.
It's looking across the river, back at the cabin's front yard.
As for the family aspect - PERFECT! We stayed at a cabin on the river and since this was our first trip with young Winston, it turned out ideal because we were able to hop down to the river and wet a line any time since it was only 35' away. Even better was the fact that the stretch of water in front of the cabin was excellent water. We had everything from long, slow, deep pools to shallow-wide riffles all within 200 yards of the cabin. Most of our days looked like me slipping out for morning fishing at 6:30 AM, then breakfast and back to the river for a couple of "day sessions" with a break for lunch and some family time playing in the yard near the river.
Winston, enjoying the river view.
Front porch
Winston meeting a new friend (yes, I got his hand wet before he touched it :-)
Chillin' out.
The fishing was nothing short of fantastic. The water was low the whole week, and the weather was unseasonably warm for April, which meant we were fishing in t-shirts most of the week. And, coming from a Colorado boy, there was NO WIND to speak of, which made me very happy!
Michelle, with a big brown. She was a very happy girl!
We were there just as the baetis were slowing down and the sulphur's  were ramping up. So we never hit a real strong sulphur hatch, but you could always find a few willing victims to rise to a compara-dun dry. The real champs of the week were (in this order) the Blacktail PMD/Sulphur and the Gammarus Scud and the AB Tungsten Pheasant Tail, but I would be remiss is I didn't mention that the Olive Midge Pupa and Blacktail Baetis didn't play their part in catching fish!
Another perfect brown.
The South Holston is really the best of both worlds - it's a technical, spring creek, fisherman's dream, but also a fantastic place for the beginner to catch fish. This is mostly due to the large fish population in both numbers and size. You can catch twenty 6" fish in a half day (and may even be surprised by a 13" here and there), or you can go "hunting" for fish that average 15" and run across 19" fish pretty easily. Then there are the mega-tanks that push the 10 lb. mark. They're not as easy to find, but they are definitely in there and are scary big!
A gorgeous rainbow.
Probably one of my favorite features of the week was the spring-creek-like nature of this tailwater. It is awesome to see some of the skinny, shallow riffles that you can find fish in, and good sized fish too! One of my favorite spots was a 60' wide riffle that was no more than 12" at it's deepest. Most of the time I was fishing a micro indicator, micro split shot and a #16 Blacktail PMD/Sulphur set at 8" deep. With a keen eye you could spot areas that were slightly slower in water speed, or where there was a small depression in the gravel and sure enough, there would be 5 or 6 browns concealed. What an excitement to be fishing water that look so unassuming, but held some of my best fish of the trip!
Notice the coloring on the tip of the dorsal on this rainbow.
If you ever get a chance to head that direction, the South Holston is a river not to be missed, and for any serious angler, it's a good place to put on your bucket list of destinations!

Below are some good shots from the trip, check 'em out.

Tight lines,



  1. Great report and trip pictures! Glad you were able to enjoy some of the great fishing here in Tennessee. If you make it back to the area again, consider trying some of the other great trout streams in the area or even chasing other species. Lots of diversity here in Tennessee and some phenomenal fishing as you have been discovering...

    1. Thanks David! I hope to keep coming back, it's a great place to try and meet family for a Spring Break and get away from the Colorado winter/spring.

  2. Great pics!! Looks like a fantastic time on the water with the family!

  3. You guys look great on this picture. It reminds me of the days when I went to tennessee fly fishing together with my family for a vacation. It was such a notable experience. I am planning to go back some time with my colleagues.