Best Fly Fishing in Tennessee

A fisherman fly fishing at Little River, Tennessee, surrounded by lush greenery and flowing waters.
Shaman Mountain is reader-supported. We may earn a small commission on certain links, at no additional cost to you. Learn more.

Tennessee stands as a premier destination for fly fishing, offering an abundance of rivers and streams teeming with trout and other species. With the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the state provides not only a scenic setting for anglers but also a diverse range of fishing experiences. Whether you are wading in the clear mountain streams or casting from the banks of a larger river, you will find the variety of fishing spots caters to both novice and experienced fly fishers alike.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Encompassing over 500,000 acres of Appalachian wilderness, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a haven for fly fishing enthusiasts seeking both beauty and the thrill of the catch. Here, you will find pristine streams where wild trout, including the elusive brook trout, flourish in abundance.

Guides in the area offer invaluable knowledge for anglers of all skill levels, ensuring a remarkable fishing experience.

Essential Information

  • Fishing License: Before casting your line, ensure you have a valid Tennessee fishing license, which you’ll need when fishing in the park.
  • Regulations: Familiarize yourself with park fishing regulations to protect the natural trout populations and other wildlife.

Notable Fly Fishing Spots:

  • Cades Cove: Famous for its plentiful trout and scenic vistas.
  • Abrams Creek: Known for its limestone composition and diverse insect life that is attractive to trout.

Surrounding Areas

  • Cherokee National Forest: A short drive away with its own set of unique fly fishing opportunities.
  • Norris Dam: Situated on the Clinch River, providing excellent tailwater trout fishing.

In the Smoky Mountains National Park, you’re immersed in a diverse ecosystem, where each cast connects you to the natural world. Amidst the backdrop of Gatlinburg and the Tennessee River, the park offers a fly-fishing getaway that is as rich in history and culture as it is in its wildlife and quietude. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or new to the sport, the park’s waters beckon with the promise of an unforgettable fly fishing adventure.

South Holston River

When you choose to fly fish in Tennessee, the South Holston River is arguably one of the most prominent destinations you’ll find. The river flows from the South Holston Lake, offering a wealth of opportunities for catching trout, especially wild brown trout.

Before you plan your trip, checking the release schedule is essential to ensure safe wading conditions. The river’s characteristics can change rapidly with water releases from South Holston Dam.

Here’s what you need to know about the South Holston River:

  • Access Points: Several public access points make it easy to enter the river, catering to anglers of all experience levels.
  • Fish Populations: Expect an impressive density of fish, particularly brown trout, with estimates of around 8,500 fish per mile in some stretches.
  • Flies to Use: The aquatic life here is diverse, so matching the hatch can be critical for success. Consider sulfurs, midges, and streamers as good starting points—depending on the season.
WadeabilityWater Level ChangesDistance Across River
85% at low waterMonitor for safe conditions60 to 100 yards

Remember to respect the river and surrounding environment by following the Leave No Trace principles during your visit. With the right preparation and a mindful approach, your experience on the South Holston River can be both memorable and rewarding.

Clinch River

When you’re considering the top fly fishing destinations in Tennessee, Clinch River emerges as a noteworthy location. Situated in East Tennessee, the Clinch River is accessible to both Knoxville and Oak Ridge, making it a popular spot among the local angling community. Despite its popularity, which means you might not always have the river to yourself, the Clinch River offers a serene environment ripe with opportunities to hook a trophy trout.

The waters of the Clinch are fed by the Norris Dam, ensuring cold, clear conditions ideal for sustaining large populations of rainbow trout and brown trout. It’s worth noting that the Tennessee record brown trout was caught here—a testament to the quality of fishing you can expect.

How to Fish:

  • Fly Patterns: Select your flies to mimic the natural food sources; common hatches provide a guide for successful patterns.
  • Seasonal Strategy: Adapt your approach with the seasons, as the river’s conditions and hatches change throughout the year.

The Clinch River isn’t just about the catch; it’s about the experience. You’ll find yourself admiring the surrounding beauty as you cast your line, with the rolling hills of Tennessee as your backdrop.

Travel & Access Tips:

  • Boat Access: To explore more remote sections, consider drift boats or wading in permissible areas.
  • Regulations: Always check local regulations before you head out, as restrictions can apply.

A successful fly fishing trip on the Clinch will require both patience and attention to detail, so come well-prepared. Whether it be the depth of your nymphs or the delicacy of your dry fly presentation, your skills and adaptability will be the key to a rewarding experience.

Caney Fork River

When you set out for fly fishing in Tennessee, the Caney Fork River must be on your list for its robust trout population. Fed by cold water releases from the Center Hill Dam, you’ll find prime conditions for rainbow, brown, and brook trout for over 15 miles downstream.

Equipment Recommendations:

  • Fly Rod: Use a 5-weight to 6-weight, 8’6″ to 9′ rod for the right balance of power and finesse.
  • Fly Line: 5 or 6 weight lines are suitable for the variety of fishing conditions you’ll encounter.
  • Leaders: For dry fly fishing, go with 9 to 12 ft., 5 or 6X leaders; nymphing may require different setups.

Seasonal Considerations:

  • Spring: Conditions peak making it prime time for success on the water.
  • Summer: Despite warmer temperatures, strategic approaches can still yield good catches.
  • Fall: Offers the chance to land large brown trout; arguably the best opportunity.

The river’s width ranges roughly from 20 to 40 yards, so prepare for potentially longer casts. Though accessible year-round, spring through fall presents the most abundant opportunities. If you’re new to the river, consider spending a day with a fly fishing guide to learn the specific nuances that can help you succeed. The Caney Fork is a treasured fly fishing location in Middle Tennessee, offering a blend of ease and challenge for any avid angler.

Hiwassee River

Your fly fishing journey in Tennessee isn’t complete without a visit to the iconic Hiwassee River. Recognized as the first State Scenic River in Tennessee, it boasts 55 miles of water teeming with trout. Your adventure begins at the Appalachia Dam and can last all the way to where the river merges into the Tennessee River at Blythe’s Ferry.

The Hiwassee River’s consistent water temperatures make it a premier destination for year-round trout fishing. Due to its classification as a tailwater fishery, you’ll find the conditions stable, which contributes to both the abundant trout population and the fishing experience.

Here’s what you need to prepare for your trip:

  • Best Time to Fish: Spring through Fall, though fishing can be fruitful year-round.
  • Suggested Flies:

    • Dry Flies: Adams, Elk Hair Caddis
    • Nymphs: Pheasant Tail, Hare’s Ear
    • Streamers: Woolly Bugger, Muddler Minnow
  • Essential Gear:

    • Rods: 5-weight or 6-weight
    • Reels: Sized for 5/6 line
    • Accessories: Floatants, Strike Indicators, Nippers, Forceps

Recent fishing reports from the Hiwassee River in Tennessee suggest that conditions continue to be favorable, with near-normal stream levels and discharges. When planning your trip, a guided service can enrich your experience, and Hiwassee River Guides are an option that offers licensed and experienced staff to assist you on the water.

Remember to check local regulations, as they can change, and always practice catch and release to preserve the stellar fishing for generations to come.

Watauga River

When you’re searching for the premier locations for fly fishing in Tennessee, the Watauga River should be at the top of your list. Originating in the North Carolina mountains and flowing into eastern Tennessee, this river offers a diverse fly fishing environment that accommodates both wading and flotation methods due to its varying width and depth.

Watauga River Highlights:

  • Freestone-Tailwater Hybrid: You’ll find the best features of both freestone and tailwater within its 60-mile expanse.
  • Diverse Fish Population: Expect to encounter a range of trout, including rainbow and brown trout in healthy numbers.

And here’s what you need to consider for the best fly fishing experience:

  • Best Time to Fish: Fishing conditions are perennially good, but tailoring your time to insect hatches can yield a better catch.
  • Gear Essentials: Equip yourself with a 5/6 weight fly rod and ensure to carry floatants to handle the varied flow conditions. Best Fly Rods could be Perfect Fly Superb Five or Ultimate Six.

To further improve your experience, consider reaching out to local guides. Services like Watauga River Guides not only offer in-depth knowledge of the river but also have a passion for teaching others about fly fishing in these waters.

Remember, while fishing is often good throughout the year, it’s essential to keep an eye on local conditions such as discharges and stream levels which, when near normal, significantly enhance the fishing experience.

Little River

Fly fishing in the Little River offers an exceptional experience in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Known for its healthy populations of wild rainbow trout and impressive brown trout, Little River provides great opportunities for anglers of all levels.

When planning your trip, it’s essential to focus on techniques and locations within the river:

  • Techniques:

    • Dry flies: Fishing with dry flies in the fast pocket water usually involves short, upstream casts.
    • Nymphing: A method known by locals as “high stickin’” is effective — pursue this short-line nymphing technique to increase your chances of a catch.
  • Locations:

    • The East Prong of Little River, often just called “Little River” by locals, is a large stream that begins near Clingmans Dome and Mount Collins.
    • As the river descends, it grows with contributions from streams like Rough Creek and especially Fish Camp Prong.

The scenery along Little River is stunning, and the accessibility of the river makes it an ideal choice for a day of fishing. Be sure to check out more details on what the Little River has to offer before you head out.

Remember to always check the local regulations and acquire the necessary permits or licenses. Your adherence to the rules helps protect this prized ecosystem and ensures future anglers can enjoy the same experience.

Elk River

The Elk River, starting in Grundy County, Tennessee, offers a remarkable fly fishing experience across its 195-mile length. When fishing on the Elk River, you can expect to encounter both rainbow and brown trout, which thrive in these waters due mainly to the stocking of over 20,000 trout each year.

Key Characteristics of Elk River:

  • Location: Begins in Grundy County, Tennessee
  • Fish Species: Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout

You’ll find the river’s condition ideal for wading, setting it apart from other tailwaters in the state. Ensure that you’re aware of the water levels, as they fluctuate depending on the releases from the Tim’s Ford Dam, constructed in the 1970s, which transformed the Elk River into a superb trout fishery.

Recommended Flies:

  • Caddis Larva (Beadhead)
  • Midge Patterns

For the best chances of a successful fishing trip, visit when the water is low, generally offering more comfortable and accessible wading conditions. Don’t forget to verify the latest stream flows and fishing regulations, which are managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, before heading out.

The Elk River is less crowded compared to more prominent locations, providing you with a peaceful fishing environment. You’ll find the river to be both inviting and generous, with fish populations high throughout much of the year. Remember to respect the natural habitat and practice catch and release whenever possible to maintain these waters for future generations of anglers.

Cumberland River

The Cumberland River in Tennessee is a sought-after destination for fly fishing enthusiasts. It is known for its abundant trout populations, including record-breaking brown and rainbow trout catches.

When you are planning your trip, consider focusing on the 75-mile stretch below Lake Cumberland, which is often compared to fishing hotspots like the White River in Arkansas. This section boasts a premier trout fishing experience, making it a highlight for anglers nationwide.

Key Fishing Areas:

  • Below Wolf Creek Dam: Here, the cold water releases create ideal trout habitat.
  • Burkesville: Known for good access points and available guided trips.

Recommended Gear:

  • Flies: Match the hatch or consult local fly shops for specific advice.
  • Tackle: Lightweight rods and a variety of line weights depending on conditions.

For a more refined experience, consider hiring a guide with local expertise. A guide can provide insight into river nuances, educate you on the best fly patterns for the season, and lead you to the most productive stretches of the river. One such service is Southern Brookies Fly Fishing, run by a certified fly-casting instructor.

If you’re self-guiding, Lexington’s airport is the most convenient large hub. Accommodations are available in local towns such as Burkesville, where you can also find equipment rentals if needed.

Remember to check local regulations managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency before you cast your line, as these ensure the sustainability of this incredible natural resource. Happy fishing!

Duck River

The Duck River is recognized as one of the most biologically diverse rivers in North America. A treasure for fly fishing enthusiasts, it boasts over 151 species of fish and supports a variety of freshwater wildlife. You’ll find this river in the heart of Tennessee, offering some of the best fly fishing experiences in the state.


  • Bass: Both smallmouth and largemouth bass are abundant.
  • Catfish: Channel catfish are common, with an average length of 13 inches.
  • Trout: Brown and rainbow trout can be found, especially in the tailwaters.

When planning your fly fishing trip to the Duck River, consider the following access points for wading:

  • Just below the Normandy Dam
  • Normandy Road Bridge
  • Cortner Road Bridge
  • Three Fork Bridge

Be mindful of dam discharges as they significantly impact water flow and conditions. Ensure you check the schedule before your visit.

Your fly selection should include versatile patterns that cater to the river’s diversity. Recommended flies for the Duck River include the Royal Wolf (Size 12) and Poppers (Size 6), which are effective for enticing a variety of species.

Prepare for your adventure with the right gear and local knowledge to experience the rich fishing opportunities the Duck River offers. Whether you’re a seasoned fly fisher or just starting, the river’s clear waters and diverse species assure an enjoyable and potentially rewarding outing.

Remember, always adhere to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency regulations for a responsible and ethical fishing experience.

Related Posts:

A fisherman casts a fly into a pristine Canadian river, surrounded by lush forests and snow-capped mountains

Best Fly Fishing in Canada

Canada offers an expansive mosaic of fly fishing spots, each teeming with a variety of fish species and set against breath-taking natural backdrops. From the

A serene river flows through a lush, mountainous landscape. A lone fly fisherman casts his line into the clear waters, surrounded by the beauty of the Spanish countryside

Best Fly Fishing in Spain

In Spain, you’ll find a rich tapestry of culture and history, intertwining with natural beauty to create a premier destination for fly fishing enthusiasts. The

Crystal clear river flowing through rugged mountains, with a lone fly fisherman casting his line into the water, surrounded by towering pine trees and a bright blue sky above

Best Fly Fishing in New Mexico

New Mexico, often referred to as the Land of Enchantment, offers a diverse array of pristine fly fishing destinations for anglers of all levels. With