As it flows by our place, the South Holston is a tailwater river. This means that the flow is regulated by South Holston Dam (about 10 miles upstream). The water comes from the bottom of South Holston lake, and is nice and cold. It makes a great environment for trout. The topography of the river is also widely varied. From our river access, you are within easy walking/wading distance of calm pools, riffles, and shoals. There are several wooded islands in the river, providing not only interesting fishing options, but beautiful scenery as well. In fact, don't be surprised if you occasionally forget about fishing altogether. On a beautiful sunny day, it's very easy to pass the time just listening to the river flow, and watching the ducks and geese that use the islands as a protected nesting ground.
Being a regulated river, it is important to remember that water levels will vary as TVA generates power. During the Spring and Summer months, TVA usually follows a generation schedule designed to not interfere with fishing (they usually generate power in the evenings and at night). However, they reserve the right to generate at any time. TVA provides a toll free number to check the generation schedule for the next 24 hours, and you can also check this at the TVA website
When TVA is generating power at South Holston Dam, the water is too deep and fast for wading. But this doesn't mean that you can't fish. This is the perfect time for floating the river and fishing from a canoe, kayak, or drift boat. I've caught some beautiful Browns by floating the river in a canoe during power generation. There are several public areas where drift boats and canoes can be launched within a 10 minute drive. If you float a canoe or kayak, you can easily take out at our river access. If you choose a drift boat, your best bet is to take out at Bluff City, a couple of miles downstream, where there is a public boat launch.
The tailwater of the South Holston River is widely recognized as an excellent environment for trout growth and reproduction. Don't just take my word for it. Check out this report of studies conducted by the Department of Biology at Tennessee Tech University on the Trout Habitat of the South Holston Tailwater.
If you need to stock up on fishing supplies, or if you'd like to have an expert show you around the river, by all means check out the shops and guides in our links
Of course it probably goes without saying, but to fish the South Holston, you will need a valid Tennessee fishing license. Additionally, if you are fishing for trout, or plan on taking trout, you must possess a trout license too. However, it's not necessary to get a license before you come. There are several places within a 10-15 minute drive where you can purchase a license.
If the South Holston tailwater didn't supply enough fishing for you, or you'd like some variety, not to worry. There are plenty of other fishing opportunities in the immediate area. Between tailwater rivers, headwater rivers, mountain streams, and TVA lakes, you're bound to find just about anything you want.
Headwaters of the South Fork of the Holston
Above South Holston Dam, the South Fork of the Holston River is an unregulated stream. It originates in Southwest Virginia from creeks and springs. The South Fork provides nice cool water stream fishing in the Summer months.
The Watauga tailwater (below Watauga and Wilber dams) provides much of the same type of year-round trout fishing as does the Holston. The Watauga is very close by, and there are public access areas within a 20-minute drive. Just like the Holston, it is a TVA regulated river, and is subject to power generation.
Nearby Mountain streams in Eastern Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia
If you want to match wits against some small-stream trout, then you're in luck. There are several great mountain stream fisheries within an hours drive. In Southwest Virginia, there's Whitetop Laurel Creek that is rated among Virginia's best trout streams. The Laurel begins in the Mt. Rogers NRA. Further downstream, the Virginia Creeper trail parallels the creek for several miles, giving you many choices for access.
In Tennessee, the Laurel Fork and BeaverDam Creek both provide beautiful scenery and great fishing. The Laurel Fork has some popular waterfalls, provides parking just off US 321, and has footpaths that parallel the stream most of the way. Beaverdam Creek is nearby and flows from Shady Vally, TN towards Damascus, VA. It supports a good population of native and stocked trout.
Lake fishing on South Holston, Boone, Watauga, and Wilber lake
If you'd like to try your luck with something other than trout, then you almost have too many choices. There are 4 TVA lakes within a half-hour drive. The closest lake is formed as our South Holston river is empounded to form Boone Lake. The lake empoundment begins at Bluff City, and there is a public boat launch there.
The Watauga River is empounded to form Watauga lake and Wilber Lake, both near Elizabethton, Tennessee. As these lakes are empounded between two mountain ridges, they are both deep and quite cool, even in Summer.