Winter Fly Fishing Forecast for the Smoky Mountains and East Tennessee

Every year it seems like we’re just coming out of spring fishing, going into summer fishing, then we look around and find that the fall season has come and gone and winter is at our doorstep. Guiding keeps us busy wading and floating rivers all over East Tennessee, but with our children getting a little older it seems we have almost no time to breath, always running from one thing straight to the next. Our drift boat isn’t just well known on the Clinch and Holston Rivers, but also in line at the local schools dropping off kids in the morning or at events in the evening. One of our long time repeat customers told us this year that we’re in what he calls the “blur years”. He explained it’s that time of your life when you’re completely busy with work and while also spending a tremendous amount of time at your children’s activities.
A brook trout this autumn in extremely shallow water

A brook trout this autumn in extremely shallow water

It was a dry summer and even dryer autumn but our weather pattern seems to be shifting with rain in both the short term and long range forecasts. Fall is always a dry time in the Smokies and winter is relatively wet, so this isn’t an unusual development, but will impact considerations for flows on our tailwater rivers. Temperatures have a greater impact on how the Smokies will fish in the winter months. It’s not much more than educated guess, but this is what we expect fishing to be like over the next few months.
MIld afternoons can have some good nymph fishing in the Smokies

Mild afternoons can have some good nymph fishing in the Smokies

The Smokies should fish well enough to make a go of it whenever temperatures are mild. Any time that afternoon high temperatures extend into the mid 40’s for more than a couple of days in a row fish will usually take nymphs. Low to middle elevation streams are best and high elevation streams are usually much colder with less activity. Abrams Creek, Tremont, and Little River are our favorite places on the Tennessee side of the Smokies.
Clinch Rainbow Trout

Rainbow from the Clinch

TVA reservoirs have been at winter pool for some time due to the dry weather so there should be good flows for both wading and floating. The Clinch has had some great days lately, but it’s also had some tough days too. As usual, it seems like the more consistent the flows are, the better the fishing is. The Clinch can have some good midge activity through the winter and it’s currently at a historic high for both numbers and the size of the fish in the river.
The Holston River below Cherokee is just now getting cooled down thanks to the cold weather that has moved in. While access isn’t great on this river, wading can be good when flows are low at Nance Ferry.  Floating can also be pretty good through the winter if flows are consistent, and they likely will be unless there’s a dramatic change in our weather pattern featuring multiple heavy rain events.
Another sleeper choice for a good day of winter fly fishing in East Tennessee is the Hiwassee tailwater. It typically has lower flows and the fish population isn’t usually too picky about what they eat, taking a wide variety of nymphs. Sometimes you can find pods of midging fish too.
A solid winter rainbow trout on the Hiwassee

A solid winter rainbow trout on the Hiwassee

The South Holston and Watauga are both among the best rivers to find feeding trout in the winter in the Southeast. Both have good opportunities to find fish up on midges and Blue Wing Olives. Even better, both of these rivers typically have ideal flows for wading.