Tailwaters Getting in Shape

There’s a steady rain falling here in East Tennessee as I write this and cooler weather is on the way. That’s OK, though. If it’s going to rain, it might as well do it while you have to be at work, right? Plus it was a beautiful, warm weekend.

The weather was unseasonably warm, the sun was shining, and the trout in the Smokies would rise to a dry fly. But we didn’t go fishing in the Smokies. You’d need a pretty good reason to pass that up, especially in December. Flows on our local tailwaters have really gotten good and it’s been over a month since the drift boat has seen any use.

Clinch River Rainbow

The Clinch had what I’d almost refer to as a mythical type of schedule that was optimal for both waders and floaters. A two hour release with one generator allowed us to float while giving plenty of time before and after for good wading conditions on different sections of the river.

It was a pretty relaxed day by our standards. There were some pretty good opportunities to jerk streamers, but I wasn’t feeling that level of intensity. In fact, I merely enjoyed coasting down the river without feeling any pressure to put a bend in anyone’s rod.

There were a few pods of midging trout, but we coasted drifts through all the likely spots and did at least as well fishing blind and we did targeting risers. Don’t let this talk of “rising” trout give you the wrong impression, though. Most of what they were eating was near the surface, but not on top, so nymphs were the top producers.

This combination of a casual attitude and some dimpling trout led me to a dropper rig instead of a standard nymph and indicator set up. Over the course of the day we used a #12 Thunderhead and #12 Stimulator for the dry fly and a #16 Zelon Nymph as the dropper nymph. Over the course of the day we probably boated close to 20 fish and we probably had about 5 or 6 of them eat the dry fly.

Yes, I absolutely love fishing with streamers but how often do you see trout on the Clinch River eating large attractor dry flies?

Most of the fish were in the category of strong and healthy twelve inchers. There were about three fish that made strong runs before breaking off we’d like to think were substantially larger. There were a couple of smaller brown trout in the mix and it was a little unusual that we didn’t hook up any brook trout as we often do.


Expect this rain to raise water levels in mountain streams throughout the region. This is a good thing, though. Stream levels had fallen well below normal and resembling August. Streams should be much higher than that in the winter so this will help us get more in line. I wouldn’t expect this dry fly fishing to continue if the water levels rise and the temperatures drop.

That’s not a bad thing, just winter fishing. You can always count on nymphs to produce as long as conditions aren’t extremely cold or the water too high.
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  1. Hi, totally enjoyed your update. Iam new to tn,ky tailgaters and the good reports are few and far between. We are planning on coming down on saturday for a week on the s holston/watuaga 22-28. I have a bunch of different midge patterns and wt nymphs, streamers etc. is there anything in particular I should tie up?

    • Expect to see some BWO’s hatching on the South Holston, perhaps Watauga as well so have several patterns of those in #18-20. Same for Pheasant Tail Nymphs. Zebra Midges are also tailwater staples. Check with the Champions at South Holston Fly Shop. They’ll have all the latest info for you. Good Luck!