The section of the Clinch River below Norris Dam and 30 minutes North of Knoxville is receiving national attention as one of the great trout tailwaters of the Southeast. Because of its consistently cool temperature and state-sanctioned stocking program, trout are able to reproduce naturally and grow to considerable sizes. While many local anglers choose to wade in at various public access points, this is also an excellent river to float in a canoe, kayak or drift boat.

What Makes It Great

When compared to our fly fishing friends in the Western states, the tailwaters of Southern Appalachia are often overlooked when considering the best rivers in the country. However, tailwater rivers like the Clinch are starting to gain national recognition as anglers produce trout of monstrous sizes.

The TWRA (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency) stocks the river regularly with rainbow and brown trout. Though many of these fish are caught on bait and kept for food, new regulation requires anglers to release all fish between 14” and 20”, leaving many fish to reproduce naturally. When paired with a burgeoning fly fishing scene in Knoxville that practice catch and release, the trout just keep getting bigger (and smarter).

Access is somewhat limited on this river, as the river is still surrounded by farmland and private homes. On top of that, the dam releases water at various intervals throughout the day and at different times throughout the year. Check the flows for Norris Dam and plan to wade if 0-1 generators are running and floating for two or more.

All year round, anglers can cast streamers to entice big trout. These streamers are best fished on a slow sinking line or a sink tip. For a “match the hatch” approach, cast small black caddis imitations, midges, or look for the sulphur hatch that sometimes occurs in the Spring with your floating line. Small nymphs under an indicator will be effective year-round as well.

Who is Going to Love It

If you consider yourself an adept fly fisherman that enjoys a tough challenge with high rewards, you’ll live on the Clinch. Though you may find one of the holes near the dam where the foolish stocked trout live, the river is flush with wise trout that have seen a lot of flies.

If you enjoy using your jon boat or canoe to enjoy a refreshing summer drift, this is also a fantastic river to take in the pastoral hills and pastures of East Tennessee.

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

There are several public access points and no parking fees at any of them. If wade fishing, go to Miller’s Island Boat Ramp and move up or downstream to give other anglers some room. If floating, it’s recommended to start here and float to the Highway 61 bridge where there is a public take out. Be prepared, this float could last 6-8 hours depending on the flow and how long you plan on fishing.

Pro Tip: Pop into Clinch River Brewing for craft beer and food in a laid-back, outdoorsy setting. In addition to flagship beers on tap, CRB hosts guest taps from Knoxville and East Tennessee breweries. Learn more HERE.