On the Virginia and Tennessee border, uncover the sights and delights of Bristol for a relaxing getaway in a world class fishing destination.
You could spend days fly fishing the South Holston River and nearby streams for native brook, brown, and rainbow trout while the South Holston Lake is an excellent spot for catching smallmouth bass. Cherokee National Forest borders much of the river and lake shoreline, providing a scenic spot for anglers, boaters, and hikers alike.
Head over to Mountain Sports Ltd. for all of your outdoor needs while you are in town. Featuring fly tying classes on Thursday nights and a wealth of local knowledge, these outdoor enthusiasts carry a wide range of brands and products to keep you safe and prepared for any fishing outing. The South Holston River Fly Shop is stocked with any gear you might have forgotten, and provides float and wade trips on the river.
For an all-inclusive fly fishing trip, the South Holston River Lodge provides a top notch experience in a pristine destination. Located right on the bank of the South Holston River, you’ll have access to professional guides, riverside accommodations, delicious meals, and complimentary drinks all weekend or week long at this Orvis-endorsed lodge.
A Local’s Take
At Mountain Sports Ltd., a family business, Jimmy Cheers serves as head guide and leads the fly shop, helping people get on the water more than 200 days a year. “I’m proud to be the third generation to carry on the tradition,” he said. “We have always had a passion for getting people outside, and my personal calling has been to get them on the river.”
Cheers has been fishing the South Holston River for as long as he can remember. “One of my earliest memories is standing waist deep with my dad on a foggy morning learning to fly fish,” he said. “Bristol is a fishing Mecca. We have it all close by.”
You’ll find great fishing all year long on the large tailwater of the South Holston River, home to nearly ten thousand wild brown trout a mile. While you’re in the area, you can also find rainbow and brook trout, striped, smallmouth, and largemouth bass, muskie, pike, walleye, and carp. “It is a true world class fishery that offers shots at the fish of a lifetime,” Cheers said.
For the best fishing, the upper portion of the river features a higher fish concentration and more public access. Below the Weir Dam and Emmet Bridge is a popular spot with hiking trails that lead downstream to allow easier access. Riverbend Road is another great area that offers almost a mile of remote river and several different types of water. “This section of river is regarded as one of the best dry fly areas due to the incredible Mayfly hatches in the warmer months,” Cheers said.
If you’re planning to fish in the area, Cheers recommends a long leader (12+ feet) and light tippet (6X). For flies, midges and mayfly nymphs are the ticket. Standard pheasant tails (#18-16) and zebra midges (#20-22) will always be breadwinners. “I always recommend stopping by a local fly shop on the way to the river,” Cheers said. “The shop will know what’s hot and where to go that day.”
Let the Good Times Roll
After a day on the water, there’s nothing better than a hearty meal, cold drink, and good night of rest before doing it all over again. Sit down at the Burger Bar, a local staple since 1942, for that classic diner feel, complete with mouthwatering burgers, chili cheese fries, and milkshakes. If you’re in the mood for beef brisket, pulled pork, and other southern staples, Delta Blues BBQ will hit the spot. Or head to 620 State where you will find a menu full of everything from stir-fry and sushi to burgers and wings.
Finish off the night with a drink at one of the area’s top establishments. Lost State Distilling, voted the 2020 Best New Craft Distillery by USA Today, is the hottest new spot to find a locally-made gin, rum, or Tennessee whiskey to enjoy. Try The Cascade Draft House for a rotating list of over 40 brews, ciders, sours, and seltzers that are sure to hit the spot. For drinks under the stars, the Lumac Rooftop Bar is the place to be with 360-degree views and refreshing drinks on tap.
Stay in Downtown Bristol for access to the best restaurants and amenities the area has to offer. The Bristol Hotel, named a Top Ten City Hotel by Travel + Leisure, features cozy rooms and sweeping views of the Appalachian Mountains. Since opening in the summer of 2020, The Sessions Hotel has quickly become a top destination for the country music lover with onsite music venues and a day spa. Both hotels feature a rooftop bar with delicious cocktails, local brews, and epic views of the city.
Discover an angler’s paradise in Bristol, Va./Tenn.
All photos courtesy Discover Bristol