Spring’s Steady Progression

Red sky foreshadows rain on the way

Red sky in morning, outdoorsy people heed the warning

March is well on its way with everything we’ve come to expect from this first month of spring: insect hatches on the rivers and streams, gobbling turkeys, and heavy rain.

We managed to get back on the water in the Smokies for the afternoon and the hatches are still progressing. A few fish are looking up, but the majority still aren’t aware of the bugs yet. We’re still in that awkward phase where the fish seem to swat the fly instead of eating it. In more than one instance we’ve seen trout slap real bugs without eating them. Seems like it takes them a day or two to finally get with the program.

That doesn’t mean you won’t catch any fish though. We’ve stayed true to the dry fly and fished an assortment of Quill Gordon fly patterns including two of our favorites, a parachute and the Haystack.

Strutting tom turkey

Rising trout aren’t the only sign of spring

There are other reminders that spring is here. A pleasant one is the sight of strutting tom turkeys. A few gobblers along our ridge have started their annual ritual. Another thing we can count on in the spring is heavy rain. Looks like we’ve got some on the way as we waiting for a strong front to arrive on Saturday with thunderstorms, windy conditions, and you’ll love this, snow showers in the mountains. All part of spring in the Smokies.

We had some heavy rain early in the week here in East Tennessee. The Smokies took a glancing blow from the storm a few days back and it was really just what we needed. A little but further to the west in the heart of the Tennessee Valley there was much more precipitation and that has shut down the tailwater fishing. More water won’t get them fishable any sooner.

All of our tailwaters are running high right now. By the middle of March the Clinch, Holston, South Holston, Watauga, and Hiwassee should all have generation schedules favorable for fishing as TVA allows the reservoirs to fill. Right now the lakes have risen much quicker than TVA would like and they are dumping as much water as possible. One of the primary purposes of the dams in addition to power generation is flood control. Water managers don’t want the lakes to rise too fast for fear that a string of strong storms could cause flooding from the upper Tennessee Valley around Knoxville all the way to Paducah, Kentucky. Norris Dam on the Clinch River is even spilling right now.

Get out if you can this weekend, but play it safe. It only gets better from here.


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  1. great update as always. I assume you have plenty of turkey feathers for fly tying? If not, I hope to have some supply in about 6 days!!

  2. Ian, I was planning on going out to the Smokie in mid-March to fly fish with my son, Ben, and my Dad.

    It seems there can be a lot of chilly days in March (50s and low 60s) and my dad always says “if it’s too chilly for fishing, they aren’t taking dry flies because the water’s too cold.”

    Well, I don’t know if I buy that, otherwise March (or even part of April for that matter) wouldn’t be good for dry fly fishing, correct?

    Can you have good dry fly fishing when it’s in the 50s? Would you recommend we stay in the lower elevation areas for warmer water?

    thanks so much as always,


    • Collin,
      You’re right on the money. Once the bugs start hatching they typically keep on coming as long as the water isn’t too high like a flood. Big changes in the weather that bring strong wind can also put a damper on fishing.

      Sometimes you’ll get some very cold water in the 30’s and fishing will be very slow through the morning, but around noon the bugs will hatch and the fish will rise to them. Then it just shuts down.

      As long as the water is in the mid 40’s expect excellent fishing.