Fall Fly Fishing Forecast for the Smokies and East Tennessee

Fly fisher amid fall color

September is well on its way and there has been a chill in the air in the mornings. Wake up temperatures have been just a touch more than 50 degrees here in Townsend and you know it much cooler in the higher elevations of the Smokies. It’s even been way down in the 30’s on the highest peaks.

We’re on our way west for our annual trip to Yellowstone, but when we return to our guide calendar it will be October and autumn will be in full swing. Fall is one of the best times of year for fly fishing in East Tennessee, only rivaled by fishing in the spring. Because of heavy rains and massive flooding last spring we expect this will easily be the high point of fishing this year.

As always, the Smokies are very good for dry fly fishing, but fall will often find many trout sitting high in the current feeding on small Blue Wing Olives, midges, and micro caddis. Cool mornings will usually keep the bugs and trout down early in the morning, but expect plenty of activity by lunch time and it carries well into the afternoon.

A trout holds near the surface watching for food on a fall afternoon

A trout holds near the surface watching for food on a fall afternoon

We typically fish small dry flies like a #18 Hi Vis Blue Wing Olive or X-Caddis, but a #14-16 Parachute Adams can fool plenty of fish in swifter riffles and pocket water. This is also the time when the big brown trout start to come out into the day light in preparation for spawning. It’s not unusual to see them out feeding or simply moving about in search of a mate. These fish are never easy to hook or land, but this is the time of year when they are easiest to find.

Tailwaters

Fall is always a little unpredictable on the tailwaters from one year to the next. This year looks like we should have some good fishing on the Clinch as inflows to Norris Lake are relatively light. That means that the flows from Norris Dam can still draw down the lake while providing some fishing opportunities in the river below. Up to this point there has been daily construction on the weir dam so TVA has focused all generation at night while cutting flows in the day so work can be done. This has allowed for plenty of good fishing but we’ve noticed they tend to turn the water on earlier than scheduled on some days so keep an eye on the water while wading. Once construction is complete it’s unclear whether flows will allow for wading but it’s highly likely that flows will allow for some good float conditions.

Clinch River

A bluebird fall day on the Clinch last year

We’re essentially writing off the Holston for the rest of the year, or at least until the weather turns cold. We’re still seeing plenty of trout in the river but water temperatures are absolutely marginal as heavy rains in the spring caused TVA to have to push an inordinate amount of water through Cherokee Lake. As a result the cold water layer on the bottom of the lake was gone by some time in June.

That’s typically very bad news for the trout. Fortunately it’s not all gloom and doom for this fishery, though. Water temperatures remained in the 60’s all summer long and there were a few spikes into the 70’s on days with minimum flows, but the mild summer and excess water meant that the fish have not had much stress at all. Water temperatures in the 60’s can spell disaster if the dam is running a minimum flow and afternoon temperatures are in the 90’s.

We were very fortunate that situation never happened so we should still have plenty of big fish in the river next spring. Are we sure? Yes! We’ve hooked a number of nice trout on poppers while fishing for smallmouth bass further down the river. If trout are surviving in what is typically “marginal” water we’re sure they’re in great shape closer to the dam.