Unprecedented Water Conditions Across East Tennessee & The Smoky Mountains

We’re not the oldest fly fishers in the region, but we have been guiding a long time now. Charity has been doing this professionally for about 12 years now and Ian has been at it since 1995 plus we’ve been around the area longer than that. We’ve never seen or heard of water conditions like this in July.

Meigs Falls On Steroids

Here’s a picture of Meigs Falls along Little River Road. It’s typically a popular pullout where tourists take a photo of the beautifully serene falls tumbling over a fifteen foot ledge. Yesterday it was about three times wider than usual and this typically small rivulet was running about the average flow for the Middle Prong of Little River. Speaking of Middle Prong…

Tremont Running High

This is a photo of Middle Prong just below the confluence of Thunderhead and Lynn Camp Prongs yesterday. It was running full to the brim and clear. There were a few spots where a cast could be made, but it was essentially an unsafe environment to tripping around with a fly rod. And that was before an additional two inches of rain fell and sent flows through the roof.

And here’s an unusual sight…

Paddlers At Tremont

It’s not everyday when you see whitewater paddlers at Tremont. There are perhaps a few days in any year when the Middle Prong runs high enough for boat traffic and virtually all of those days should be in winter or spring. It’s typically after a strong front pushes through with heavy rain and there’s often melting snow in the mountains to combine with the rain for excess runoff. Paddling small streams in July? Practically unheard of….

A quick look at flows across the region shows conditions are pretty much the same in the Tellico River basin as well as the North Carolina side of the Smokies.

The tailwater situation is pretty grim as well. Those with boats can find high but fishable flows on the South Holston and Watauga but it may be a few days for tributaries to clear up. Honestly, the Watauga is never this high so it might not be the week to check it out, particularly if you’r not experienced on the oars.

Today there’s a fishable flow on the Clinch but you’ll need to be upstream of the I-75 bridge to have any shot at clear water. TVA will ratchet up the flow tonight and is likely only holding water back to try to drain downstream reservoirs before adding more water.

The Hiwassee is rocking to say the least. It usually runs about 2800 cfs on a typical day but there’s over 7700 running this week. Maybe it’s floatable, but we don’t have any experience with the river at such high flows and can’t say. It’s a treacherous rive to float on a good day, so we’re not planning any excursions down this week to find out.

Smallmouth fishing will be blown out for a while as well. You’d be hard pressed to find water that isn’t muddy right now. Douglas Dam is spilling right now which is a rare event in an of itself and this is likely the first time it’s ever spilled in July. The lower French Broad is typically a summer time smallmouth staple but it’s probably not an option for a while.

Chilhowee Lake might work out for those chasing mountain smallmouth, but Fontana Dam is spilling plus all the mountain streams are gushing. Expect off color water and plenty of floating debris.

As guides who make their entire living from out local rivers this has been a tough month. Looking back at the massive drought of 2007-08 we’re almost thinking of that as the “good old days”. Even as water levels were low there were actually a number of high elevation streams with water temperatures in the low 60’s where you could catch fish. Furthermore the tailwaters were always an option for trout or smallmouth.

Overall high water is easier on the fish, though, and that’s a good thing. Just tough to swallow when you lost almost a week’s worth of work for two guides. Believe us, we’re ready for things to get back to just “a little bit high” so we can get folks back out on the water. It’s our core philosophy to never take anyone to the river when conditions aren’t safe and there’s not a reasonable opportunity for them to catch fish.

If things can dry out just a little bit the Smokies could be fishing by mid-week and you can be sure we have our fingers crossed! We’ve had several people ask if the high streams are fishable and right now we’re sure they really aren’t. They will certainly drain first but these streams are among the steepest you’ll find as well. That means they don’t have to be very high to change from a tumbling stream to a long, continuous set of cascades and waterfalls. Even though they are smaller they can be much more dangerous.

Trust us, no one wants to get back on the water more than us, but we’ll let you know when flows get negotiable.

In short, it looks like a good week to catch up on fly tying or maybe check out that golf course bluegill pond once it clears up a bit.



  1. Robert Maner says:

    Ian: Thanks for posting a brutally honest fishing report. I had planned to stop through the Smokies Tuesday, but this doesn’t look good. Some guides would have looked for a silver lining, but thanks for putting safety and reality above booking a trip.

    • Trust us, Robert. When we say it’s good, it’s good. We’re expecting water levels in the Smokies to recede to a decent level on Wednesday barring any more significant rainfall.

  2. Ian,
    After having retired this past December and seeing what a tough year this has been for area guides, you really have my sympthies. I’ve seen you on the Holston River almost every time I’ve been down there this year and each time I say to myself “Thank the Lord that he is getting in a few days with clients “. It’s been tough to make a decent living this year, I’m sure. You have my best wishes and hopes for a better second half of 2013. Good fishing to you and your clients.

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Hugh.

      Typically East Tennessee is one of the friendliest environments for fly fishing guides to make a living. We have a very long season and can usually find some good trout fishing all year long. Add all the opportunities for smallmouth bass to our prolific tailwater and mountain stream fisheries and it’s a great set up.

      We’ve “re-purposed” many trips this year just to get folks on the water with the best fishing possible. Every one of our customers has enjoyed themselves when they went trout fishing while smallmouth rivers were muddy or went smallmouth fishing while the trout tailwaters were high. A few converted from Smokies trout to tailwater floats to find the best fishing. People appreciate the chance to get some kind of fishing in as most are on some type of schedule, vacationing here or made special arrangements to come on the dates they booked. So, this could have been much worse but we’re looking forward to when things get back to normal.

      Let’s hope the weather dries out soon, the rivers fall out a bit and run clear, and we’re sure the fishing will be just fine.