Water Levels in the Smokies Looking Great! Tailwaters… Not So Much

A wild Smoky Mountain brown trout below a plunge

A wild Smoky Mountain brown trout below a plunge

It looks as if we’re finally getting a reasonable break in the weather! The forecast for this week may be the best one we’ve seen all spring with tons of sunshine and daytime temperatures in the 60’s to high 70’s in the Smoky Mountains this week. Our water levels aren’t bad right now and will only get better as they fall to optimal levels in the coming days.

Solid Smoky Mountain rainbow trout

This solid Smoky Mountain rainbow trout took a Pat’s Nymph fished deep with a split shot

We’ve done well recently with a blend of nymphs and dry flies, but we’re still sticking with nymphs more than we like for the middle of May. A dropper rig of two nymphs and a split shot fished deep has been most productive. Tellico, Zelon, and Pats Nymphs have all been working well. Copper Johns and Pheasant Tail Nymphs have hooked plenty of trout as well.

Dry flies are working well too. We’re just being choosy about the best places to cast them. We’re trying to keep them in runs of water that are about three feet deep or less. With all the water flowing the fish haven’t been so willing to rise through swift water. If there’s a riffle of pocket about two feet  deep you should have no trouble at all getting a fish to rise to a good drift in the afternoon and evening.

This chunky brown trout ate a Haystack fished on a 12' Tenkara rod

This chunky brown trout ate a Haystack fished on a 12′ Tenkara rod

All the water we’ve had has made it very tough to fish every good looking spot. There are many places where deep, swift currents make it difficult if not impossible to get a good drift. Our Tenkara rods have been valuable as they’ve allowed us to make casts to tough spots and get flawless drifts. A few days back we even hooked a couple of fish we couldn’t handle. One was at least 15″, perhaps larger, and a strong run downstream through rapids made it tough to follow after and he came off.


The tailwater situation is still pretty grim, but we’re hoping for improvement soon. Norris Lake is quickly getting down within its banks, but the dam is still spilling and flows are well over 10,000 cfs. Cherokee Dam isn’t running near so much water as Norris, but the Holston still isn’t great. There were a couple of days with flows negotiable for fishing, but the water is bumping up again.

We’re keeping a close eye on the situation, but we’re not optimistic in the short term. Hopefully our weather will be dry enough to reduce inflows such that TVA can reduce flows from the dams.

Right now the South Holston is about the only river fishing, and that’s with a boat. The Watauga will also fish, but at these flows it’s essentially going to be hucking big streamers and whoever is on the oars better know what they’re doing. The Hiwassee is currently spilling from Apalachia Dam and flow are twice what they normally are. That’s a pretty tough river for all but the most experienced oarsmen on an average day, so it’s not a good idea to see what your drift boat can do with these flows.