Tough Winter for Fly Fishing in the Southeast

If you’ve been waiting for a good time to go fly fishing this winter in the Southeast you’ve probably had a tough time making it work out. That’s been made even more ironic by the admission that we’ve had some pretty good weather moments, but unfortunately there were enough high water events to negate the good weather. It’s been tough to get everything to align at the same time.

Charity with our daughter on a particularly nice afternoon a couple of weeks ago.

Charity with our daughter on a particularly nice afternoon a couple of weeks ago.

This point was made all too clear when I was at the annual Tennessee Coldwater Fisheries meeting in Knoxville where biologists and others from the National Park Service, US Forest Service, TVA, TWRA, and a couple others converge to brief each other about the last year. It’s always a good way to get a good snapshot of things in the big picture, not just the Smokies or a single tailwater.

One of the most striking things that come into focus was just how much high water we’ve seen this winter. I keep watching tailwater flows but there have been damn few good moments to hit the big rivers and they were so short and intermittent I didn’t get a chance to go. An engineer at the meeting who is in charge of coordinating river flows for TVA said that we had the wettest December on record. Furthermore, several of the dams in the system including those in the Holston and Hiwassee watersheds had just experienced their largest “flood mitigation” event in their history. What that means is that if the dams weren’t in place there would have been massive flooding throughout the Tennessee Valley from Knoxville to Paducah, Ky.


A reminder of what winter fishing on the Holston River looks like. We haven’t much in the way of fishable flows this winter.

Even now the dams are pushing out huge quantities of water so they can keep the reservoirs low enough to absorb any heavy rain events that typically happen this time of year. Fortunately we are approaching the time of year when TVA starts to allow the reservoirs to fill. This usually translates to lower flows from the dams, but that’s all dependent upon how much rain falls and how fast the reservoirs fill.

The mountain streams haven’t been in particularly bad shape, just cold enough to keep the fish pretty sluggish. Even when we see some nice weather we’ve seen melting snowpack keep the water frigid. Today we’re in the middle of an extra sloppy event with a steady, cold rain falling on snow. It’s a cold, wet, foggy kind of day in the Smokies and we’re expecting to see some high water in the aftermath.

Fortunately it should subside within a few days and the weather for the coming weekend looks spectacular with sunshine and temperatures in the high 50’s and even low 60’s. Hang in there!