“Any angler who’s ever spent a good amount of time on the water has struck those kind of magical golden moments, when suddenly the river comes alive”-Chris Dombrowski

As you eagerly await the coming of fall with its cooler temperatures and vibrant colors lighting the skyline, late August and September are the perfect time to visit some of the best fly fishing spots East Tennessee.

As waters begin to cool in early fall, trout everywhere in Tennessee begin feeding heavily. Late summer into autumn offers the best chance to tangle with some of the state’s trophy size trout as they prepare to spawn.

Ed Carter, executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency said it best, “From our native brook trout fishing available in the high elevations streams around the Appalachian Trail to some of the deep and beautiful reservoirs that have a variety of popular fish that include smallmouth and walleye, the eastern portion of our state could keep a serious angler busy for years, even if they fish year around.”  

Before You Go

To help get you on the water more quickly, consider visiting www.gooutdoorstennessee.com where you can easily purchase required licenses or permits in minutes.  Residents between 13 and 15 can purchase an inexpensive youth license, while those 16 and older are required to have adult fishing licenses. The cost can vary  depending on your age or whether you make an annual or daily purchase.

The website will also help you understand license versus permit requirements. If you hunt and fish, your best investment might be the Sportsman license, which is valid for hunting, trapping and sport fishing without any supplemental state licenses or permits.  Non-residents are able to purchase an all species three-day all-fish license for $40.50, this is the best option for a weekend fishing in TN if you are traveling from another state.   

The money from fishing licenses goes directly back into the many programs that benefit all Tennesseans and visitors who enjoy the state’s many fishing opportunities, including construction and maintenance of boat ramps, stocking of fish, and fish management.  

Day 1- Dust off Your Fly Rod at Watauga Lake 

Start your trip by driving to Watauga Lake after stocking up for the weekend in nearby Butler. The 6,430-acre TVA reservoir located in northeast Tennessee near the North Carolina border. Smallmouth, walleye, and trout are the most popular game fish in the Watauga. There are eight public boat ramps, and two Forest Service recreation facilities all supported by fishing licenses purchased from the state.  A favorite for anglers on the Watauga are the stocked rainbow and lake trout. There is no size limit for any trout species, but there is a daily limit of 7; only two of which can be lake trout.  If you are backpack fishing for the weekend, there is a shelter available. However, consider giving up the shelter for AT thru hikers that might need it and roughing it in a tent or nearby hotel for the night.

Day 2 Morning- Find Trout Haven the Laurel Fork Creek

Travel southwest approximately 30 minutes to Elizabethton for a big breakfast and your fill of coffee before heading to Laurel Creek, an eastern Tennessee favorite among trout fishermen in the know. Not to be confused with Laurel Creek, another northeastern Tennessee trout stream located not far from here, the Laurel Fork can be reached from Dennis Cove Road.  The road doesn’t follow the wild trout part of the stream and you will need to do a bit of hiking to reach the best trout pockets in the stream. The stream is overflowing with brown trout and early fall is the best time to fish Laurel Fork Creek because the brown trout will be spawning.  It is highly possible to catch a trophy size trout in this tiny creek.  

Day 2-Afternoon- Venture to the Doe River in Roan Mountain State Park

From Elizabethton, take Highway 19 South to Roan Mountain, approximately 20 minutes t From Roan Mountain, take Highway 143 into Roan Mountain State Park. Good public access abounds inside the park. Permission needs to be obtained for fishing private properties that adjoin the park.

The Doe River is cool enough to support a healthy population of three species of trout. Native brook trout, rainbow, and brown trout, are stocked regularly, and in fact, the Doe River is stocked every two weeks from February through June. Brown trout weighing up to 7 lbs. have been caught on the Doe, as well as wild brown trout in the 13- to 14-inch range.

Day 3-End Your Weekend with a Jaunt to South Fork of the Holston River

Complete your weekend fishing loop by driving north to the South Fork of the Holston River. The South Fork is a 14-mile long tailrace waterway, running from the dam at South Holston Lake to Bluff City, where the river flows into Boone Lake and off of Highway 421. The river falls under general gear, bait and creel regulations, with the only exception being a slot limit that protects fish from 16 to 22 inches.  There is a walk-in area off River Bend Road with limited parking for shoreline anglers who like to wade. Another great wading area, complete with pullouts and picnic facilities is upstream from Emmet Bridge.  

For more on Eastern Tennessee fishing, including complete regulations for individual streams, check out the TWRA’s Web site at www.tnwildlife.org.  

 Doug Markham is the Communications Manager for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. He has been with the agency since 1987 and among his favorite hobbies is trying his best to catch a fish.

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