Our Spring Fly Fishing Forecast for East Tennessee and the Smoky Mountains

Even though we had a good chunk of winter left we’re taking phone calls and answering emails everyday from folks wondering when the best fly fishing will arrive. Here in East Tennessee good conditions arrive much earlier than they do in other parts of the country.

We have a nice variety of mountain streams and tailwaters that start to fish well by March. This makes our region a good place to get your fishing season off to a quick start since other locations like Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania are either still under a considerable amount of snow or have opening days that come later in the season.

Quill Gordon Mayfly

Quill Gordon mayflies are the first major hatch of the year in the Smoky Mountains

In Great Smoky Mountains National Park we see our first major hatches of the season by mid March. Both Quill Gordons and Blue Quills are mayflies that may hatch as early as the last week of February or as late as second week of March. A mild stretch of weather that warms stream temperatures to 50 degrees will jump start these hatches, but we’ve also seen years when the insects started to hatch even though winter had stayed in place well into March.

Here’s some video taken in March last year during an afternoon Quill Gordon hatch in the Smokies.

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Tailwaters

Our tailwater rivers are dramatically different in character, but they also start to fish around the same time. The Tennessee Valley Authority, better known as TVA, manages these rivers for both power generation and flood control. Reservoirs are lowered during the winter to provide a buffer against possible spring floods.

Clinch River Rainbow trout

Chunky trout eat small midge patterns in the spring on the Holston and Clinch Rivers

TVA begins to fill the reservoirs by the middle of March and will typically maintain a minimum flow on rivers like the Clinch, Holston, South Holston, and Hiwassee. These flows provide superb conditions for wading or floating depending on the specific river. Furthermore, the stable flows get all the aquatic life into a predictable groove.

We’ll see consistent midge hatches on the Clinch and Holston in the late winter and early spring. The first sulphurs will usually appear around the first of April and the hatch will gain momentum at the end of the month. Caddis hatches on the Holston peak around the end of April and first of May and continue well into June.

Here’s some video of trout sipping emerging midges on one of our tailwaters.

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Smallmouth Bass

Because of all superb trout fishing that’s going on in so many locations around East Tennessee we often tend to overlook smallmouth bass, but fly fishing for them can also be quite good at this time of year. The Little Pigeon River around Sevierville is a popular to wade along with the Pigeon River in the vicinity of Newport and Hartford.

Pigeon River Smallmouth Bass

We consider April early for smallies here in East Tennessee, but they will certainly take a slowly presented streamer. Fly fishing with poppers picks up steam later once water temperatures have gotten closer to 70 degrees, but the fish will eagerly take streamers once the water is warmer than 50 degrees.