The Wilbur Dam

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The Wilbur Dam controls the flow of the Watauga River in Tennessee and also happens to be a great spot to catch trout, but can tend to get crowded on nice days. It’s always important to keep a check on the generation schedule while you’re wading, the water rises fast! The rocks here are extremely slippery and there are some unexpected deep pockets, so be careful while wading.

Right below the dam, there is a small rapid that forms from the current flowing out of the dam. Place your flies near the tail end of the seam and let it dead drift down. I will start by presenting my fly on the far side of the seam, then in the middle, and then on the closer side. Keep in mind the eddy lines can make your flies drift unnaturally, so keep a tight mend on your line.

There isn’t much wading room right below the dam. If you go too far down, it gets too deep for the possibility of wading. There is also a large pool to the right of the dam where a boat ramp is that has fish in it sometimes, but they’re hard to catch since the water is stagnant there. If you want to try anything, try setting a dry fly right on top of one, but don’t let the line hit the water.

You can find the dam at Wilbur Dam Rd in Elizabethton, Tennessee. There are dozens of signs that point you all the way to it, and once you park it’s a few feet to the edge of the water!

 

What to use*:Ā 

Nymph rig: Squirmy worm, pheasant tail, black/purple/olive midge, split case (sulphur or BWO)

Streamer: Wooly Bugger

Dries: Caddis, Sulphur, Blue Wing Olive (Winter)

*These fly choices may depend on the current season. Contact me or a local fly shop for more information about which flies to use!

 

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Watauga River: Siam Bridge

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The middle section of the Watauga River at Siam Bridge is a great place to catch a mixture of rainbow and brown trout. Parts of this section are a little on the deep side, so you generally have to stay closer to the bank if you’re wading. This section is road-side, so you typically won’t be fishing alone.

Find a spot to park and make your way through the weeds, strap your boots on tight or else you might lose a shoe to the mud pits at the rivers edge.

One of my favorite ways to fish in this area is using a wooly bugger. It’s an optimal spot for casting your line across the river and dragging it back towards you. Usually I’ll cast my line, let the wooly bugger sink some, and then start slowly dragging the line back towards me.

The water here is slow and clear, so a light tippet is always necessary when fishing small flies. Come prepared with your 6 and 7x. Make sure that the only thing the fish can see is your fly hitting the water. If any part of your line hits hard, it’ll spook them.

What to use*:Ā 

Nymph rig: Squirmy worm, pheasant tail, black/purple/olive midge, split case (sulphur or BWO), copper John, soft hackle pheasant tail, red butt

Streamer: Wooly Bugger

Dries: Caddis, Sulphur, Blue Wing Olive (Winter)

*These fly choices may depend on the current season. Contact me or a local fly shop for more information about which flies to use!

You can get here by typing in 222 Steel Bridge Rd, Elizabethton, TN into your GPS. Previously, there was a steel bridge in this exact area, but it was demolished after they built a new one. You can still see the support beams in the water!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stoney Creek, Elizabethton, TN

One of my favorite creeks to go to while the Watauga and South Holston rivers are generating is Stoney Creek, a feeder stream for the Watauga River. If you follow this creek down to the river, you can sometimes find big rainbows and browns that swim up into it to feed.

When getting here, there is a small volunteer fire station that I usually park at on the corner of Blue Springs Rd and Willow Springs Rd in Elizabethton. After parking, there is a very shortĀ walk right to the river. Across the street from the fire station is a residential cabin-type house, and right beside of that is a great section to fish. There are generally dozens of fish in that particular pool, but you can walk up and down the stream for a long time and catch fish.

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This is the volunteer fire station with the creek to the left. If you go downstream, there is a nice pool, but you can go all up and down this stretch.

During the summer I had the absolute time of my life slingin’ hoppers and beetles here. There is a large amount of tree coverage over the river, so it is perfect for beetles. Using one is very different from using a regular fly though. Instead of letting it down gently, it is better to smack it on top of the water to imitate it falling out of a tree, and let it dead drift. I also use sulphurs, which always seems to do the trick as well!Ā During the winter, blue winged olives, zebra midges, copper johns or anything of the like would certainly work.

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South Holston: Hickory Tree Bridge

 

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This section of the South Holston is referred to as Hickory Tree Bridge or Steel Bridge because of the old steel bridge cascading over the river. This section can be accessed by parking at the Central Holston Christian Church and then walking down a small trail across the road, over the guard rails and down to the water. Keep in mind the parking lot for the church is off limits on Sundays and Wednesdays for church activities. This trail is pretty steep, but the other area surrounding this section is private.

I usually start by casting into the big pool below the small rapid with a nymph rig if I don’t see any dry fly action. Start by casting a few feet in front of you at the top of the stretch and let your flies dead drift down, then recast into the middle of the stretch, and then recast into the further section.

I find the most success while dead drifting my rig on the outside edge of the current – your flies should still be in the current, but just beside the edge of the eddy line.

South Holston trout can be very particular. Try to learn what flies work the best for each season, or start by flipping over rocks and seeing what kind of bugs are underneath. If nothing seems to be working, I usually default to a 18-20 midge (black, tan, olive, purple- sometimes one color works better than others but it’s a trial and error process) behind a squirmy worm. Make sure to weight your line accordingly. The current is faster in this pool so you need to make sure your flies are getting down fast enough. If I use a squirmy worm I’ll add one light split shot above it.

Watch for rising trout in the afternoon. Typically you can count on hatch starting around 11am if you want to sling dries. I always suggest having an arsenal of size 14-18 sulphurs, puff daddies (learn how to tie puff daddiesĀ here,) cripples, and emergers.

The address for the church isĀ 261 Sand Bar Rd, Bristol, TN 37620.

Thanks for stopping by! Remember to check out the generation schedule here before hitting the river!

 

 

Watauga River: Riverside Dr.

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To find this stretch, use 108 W Riverside Dr, Elizabethon, TN in a GPS.

Riverside Dr. is one of my favorite places to wade on the Watauga because of how easy it is to access and the amount of water you can cover. If you’re a beginner or taking a beginner with you I would recommend coming here since it’s so wide open and typically pretty easy to catch small to medium sized trout.

About half way on this street, I usually get in right above a small rapid and work my way up the river and cast my lines close to the opposite side of the bank. There aren’t many hard eddy lines to mend around, the water is slower, and it’s easy to walk around here.

Watauga trout can be finicky – I’ve had hard times figuring out what they’re eating. As far as nymphing goes I always bring my zebra midges, pheasant tails, and a variety of soft hackles. For dry fly fishing I bring sulphurs, puff daddies, BWO’s (these are more for the winter), emergers, Morgan’s Midge*, and caddis.

*When I see trout rising for flies and I can’t get them to hit a sulphur, BWO, or caddis, my fall back is always the Morgan’s Midge. Drop it behind your main fly and trout will hit it on the swing.

 

To find this stretch, use 108 W Riverside Dr, Elizabethon, TN, in a GPS.

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Rocky Fork Creek

 

Rocky Fork Creek is the perfect place to go if you want to leave your waders at home, get some exercise, and step away from a mainstream river.

When you first turn to get to the parking lot, there will probably be a few people fishing along the paved road beside of the creek. This is the largest pool you’ll see throughout the park. This hole is fun to fish for a few minutes, but you can tell that the fish you’re catching here are stocked rainbow trout, which are fun to catch, but don’t quite compareĀ to the beautiful wild rainbows further up the stream!

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This was caught road-side, an easily distinguishable stocked rainbow trout.Ā 

So on this road you will come to a new and improved gravel parking lot that can now house dozens of cars. When I first started coming here a few years ago, you were lucky if you could squeeze 3-4 cars outside of the gate leading to the trail. Usually when I go I’ll hike a little and stop to fish whenever it looks like there’s easy access to fishing holes. If you’re hiking up the trail and not directly up the stream bed, some of the fishing spots can be hard to get into because of either huge amounts of foliage or because of a steep drop off that’s too hard to get down and back out of. But if you just keep hiking further it gets easier to reach good fishing spots.

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Here’s a little bit of view where you can see the road and the part of the stream that’s roadside. Right in the upper-mid left hand side of the picture is where the gravel parking lot and the beginning of the trail is.

While you’re fishing here itĀ is best to just use a dry fly. I typically use a small (size 14 or 16) parachute sulfur with a lighter color CDC (so it’s easier for you to see) or some type of lighter colored elk hair caddis. In some of the deeper pools it is good practice to use a dropper as well, I usually use a small prince nymph or a zebra midge. It’s shaded here and the stream moves on the fast side in some places, so if you’re using a darker colored fly it’s super hard to follow and set the hook when a fish hits. While fishing here it’s important to enter fishing pools quietly. If they know you’re there they’ll spook very easily and hide. If you’ve cast your line more than 10 times with no luck it’s probably safe to say there aren’t any fish in the pool or you’ve spooked them. Either take a break for a few minutes or keep going.

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This pool is a little tricky to get into because of a steep embankment.Ā 

This trail goes on for miles! The further up you go on this trail, the more beautiful the fish start to look. Roughly three miles up the trail, you will start finding native brook trout. The bugs can get thick here in the warmer months, so take your bug spray.

As a side note, you can take waders here but it’s way too hot for me to have that extra layer, so if you have some wading boots and neoprene or wool socks that’ll work just perfectly. I usually just wear my Chacos with some wool socks. A 4 weight 6-8ft rod will work just fine, but I usually just use my 9 ft 5 weight rod because I like the extra length for high-sticking.

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You can get to this spot from the Old Asheville Highway or plug in 501 Rocky Fork Road,Ā Flag Pond, TN 37657 into a GPS. The street name is also called Rocky Fork Rd, so that may make it easier for you to find.

There’s all sorts of hiking and fishing trails in there, so you can go check out Rocky Fork’s official website hereĀ for more information.

 

 

 

South Holston: Weir Dam

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If you’re a beginner, teaching a beginner, or find happiness in catching easy stockers all day, below the Weir Dam is a great section for you.

The best place to fish at this section is found by crossing the river and casting along the bank, especially underneath the overhanging trees. Sometimes the water looks shallow, but there are some deeper pockets that larger fish hide in. The biggest fish I caught here was right above a shallow section, so don’t be afraid to explore all parts of the water.

Below the bridge the water can get deep, so you can follow the trail outside of the water beside of the bridge and fish the stretch above the grates. This water is extremely slow, so the right fly and tippet size is very important here if you’re going to be successful.

If you hear the sirens start to go off, make sure to get out quickly because the water rises very fast when the dam starts generating. Here is the South HolstonĀ generation schedule, which is updated daily. The times are always subject to change, so make sure to keep a close eye on the generation schedule, even until the minute you step in the water.

Most of the water is pretty shallow in the top area above the bridge so I use a short dropper or it’ll get hung up on the bottom. The water here is cold year round since it comes from the bottom of the lake. Bring your waders, pants and wool socks because it can get cold.

 

The South Holston can be frustrating at times. Later in the season the trout get smart, so try to perfect your fly presentation for when the time comes. Long leaders and light tippet go a long way when they’re being finicky. Stay aware of the bugs that are flying around and underneath the rocks – there are 9,000 trout per mile in the South Holston. If you’re not catching fish, you’re doing something wrong.

Keep an arsenal of various flies with you at all times. There is no worse feeling than being in the middle of a sulphur hatch with no sulphurs!

Here are some flies I keep on me at all times:

PMD’s, parachute sulphur, CDC sparkle dun sulphur, emergers, morgan’s midge, crippled sulphur, puff daddies, BWO,Ā zebra midge (black, purple, red, olive, tan,) split case, pheasant tail, soft hackle pheasant tail, squirmy worms, etc. Contact me or a local fly shop if you have questions about seasonal flies or what they’re currently eating!

Tip: For dry fly fishing, use a sulphur on top and tie on a puff daddy behind it with about 8 inches of 6-7x (depending on how finicky they are.) They crush the puff daddy on the swing.

You can find this fishing spot at Holston View Dam Road off Highway 421 in Bristol, Tennessee. Appalachian treks has a great review of the Weir dam park area and more accurateĀ directions here.