The Big Picture
My primary tailwater destination is the Clinch River about 20 minutes north of Knoxville. The Clinch is near 75-yards wide in most places so this is a great place for anyone looking for a little more casting freedom. It is also an excellent destination for anyone searching for large trout. The fish are stocked here, hold over year to year, and with ample food supply, they grow at a rapid rate. As a matter of fact, the Clinch is home to the current Tennessee state record brown trout – almost 29 pounds!
Type of Fishing
Certainly 29-pound brown trout are not the norm on guided trips. Most of the trout we catch are in the 10-14” range but fish exceeding 20” are very common. And few fish fight harder than a Clinch River rainbow! We mostly fish nymphs in the Clinch with periodic opportunities to fish streamers. The only opportunity for consistent dry fly fishing is from late April through mid June during the annual sulfur hatch. This hatch can be quite heavy and the trout can be extremely selective, making it a blast for anyone who enjoys technical dry fly fishing!
Access and Physical Demands
Though not as rugged as the mountains, the river bottom here is still rocky and some of those rocks are slippery. Wading through faster currents can be fatiguing.
Access to the Clinch is very easy and usually requires very little additional walking. However, if you prefer to get off the beaten path, I do offer trips here that may require a 1-2 mile walk in. This river can get very crowded on weekends so I strongly urge weekday bookings. If weekends are the only time you can go, the walk-in option will definitely be the best.
Best Times to Go
Since the Clinch is a tailwater, its flows are controlled by a dam. The water released from the dam comes from deep in Norris Lake and is a consistent 50-55 degrees regardless of air temperature, so the fishing can be productive here year round. However, the amount of water released and the timing of those releases are impacted primarily by flood control and power demand. This phenomenon is what will determine the best time of day to fish. While I can often make fairly accurate guesses at future releases based on trends, the exact schedule for a given day isn’t posted until about 5pm the day before, so flexibility on start times will be a must for these trips. At times when flood control needs or power demand is high, they may release water all day long, making the river unfishable.
What to Bring
As mentioned above, the water temperature is always in the low 50’s here, regardless of air temperature, so waders are a must any time of year. Shorts or light pants under the waders are adequate in summer months –layer accordingly during colder times of the year. Felt soles or studded Vibram soles on your boots will offer the best traction and stability in this river.
This is a large river that is also subject to gusty afternoon winds. A 9’ 5-weight rod is recommended here but any longer rod in the 4 to 6-weight range should be suitable. There is very little shade here so sunscreen, a hat, and polarized sunglasses are also a good idea.