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Best Trout Streams in Tennessee: Your Ultimate Fishing Guide

Tennessee is home to some of the best trout fishing opportunities in the United States, attracting anglers from all over to cast their lines in pursuit of rainbow, brown, and brook trout.

trout fishing

With numerous rivers and streams across the state, it’s easy to see why our fishing enthusiasts are excited about spending days on the water trying to catch these beautiful fish.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the top trout fishing locations in Tennessee, including the South Holston River, the Watauga River, and the Little River. These impressive stretches of water offer a variety of environments and support a healthy population of trout, making them ideal for both experienced and novice anglers alike.

As avid fishers, we understand the importance of being prepared and knowing the best spots to cast our lines. That’s why we’ve done the research for you, using our own experiences and insights from other reliable sources. So grab your fishing gear, and join us as we dive into the best trout streams Tennessee has to offer.

Top 5 Trout Streams

As avid anglers ourselves, we’ve compiled a list of the top 5 trout streams in Tennessee to make your fishing adventures more fruitful. With diverse rivers and an abundance of trout, there’s something for every skill level and preference.

South Holston River

Known as one of the best trout fishing spots in Tennessee, South Holston River is home to an ample supply of trout. It’s arguably one of the top two or three trout streams east of the Mississippi. The tailwater here provides excellent fishing opportunities and picturesque views, making it an angler’s paradise.

Watauga River

Another fantastic trout stream in Tennessee is the Watauga River. As a tailwater fishery, it offers year-round fishing opportunities alongside an abundance of rainbows, browns, and brook trout. The river has a mix of large and small sections, perfect for wading or fishing from the bank.

Caney Fork River

Often ranking among the state’s best trout rivers, the Caney Fork River boasts several miles of outstanding trout waters. The river has both wadeable spots and stretches more suitable for canoeing, allowing for diverse fishing experiences. It’s the perfect place for anglers looking to hone their skills.

Elk River

The Elk River is a renowned trout stream that features a unique setting and abundant trout populations. Anglers can find brown and rainbow trout within the Elk River’s cold clear waters. The surrounding scenic landscape makes it a tranquil spot for a day of casting lines.

Hiwassee River

Complementing the list is the Hiwassee River, known for its great trout fishing opportunities and stunning surroundings. As a tailwater fishery, it serves up an abundance of rainbows, browns, and brook trout. The river provides a mix of faster and slower water, offering ideal conditions for any experienced or novice angler.

These five trout streams showcase the fantastic fishing opportunities that Tennessee has to offer. We hope that the highlights of each location inspire you to venture out and make lasting fishing memories.

Fishing License Information

In Tennessee, you’ll need a valid fishing license to enjoy trout fishing in our beautiful streams. Obtaining a license is an easy process, and we’ll provide you with some important details below.

brown trout

If you’re a Tennessee resident, you can purchase different types of fishing licenses depending on your needs. For non-residents, a fishing license is also required. Tennessee offers a three-day all species fishing license for $40.50, or an annual fishing license for all species for $99. Please note that a social security number is required to purchase a license.

Moreover, Tennessee has a special day dedicated to free fishing! No fishing license is required during Free Fishing Day, which takes place on the Saturday of the first full week in June. It’s a great opportunity to introduce friends or family members to the joys of trout fishing.

You can acquire a fishing license through various channels, including:

  • Online at the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) website
  • In person at authorized retailers such as sporting goods stores
  • Over the phone by calling the TWRA

Remember to always carry your fishing license with you while fishing, and to familiarize yourself with the specific regulations related to trout fishing in Tennessee. Compliance plays a vital role in maintaining our precious trout habitats for current and future generations of anglers.

Guided Fishing Trips

If you’re looking to have a successful and enjoyable day on the water, consider taking a guided fishing trip. Joining a professional guide will not only enhance your angling skills but also help you discover some of the best trout streams in Tennessee.

We recommend exploring the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where you’ll find hundreds of miles of streams teeming with native Brook Trout. In addition, the well-known Little River hosts Rainbow and Brown Trout, as well as Smallmouth Bass. The South Holston River is another fantastic option, offering cold, deep waters that are a haven for brown and rainbow trout, with an estimated population of 6,000 fish per mile.

There are numerous fishing charters and guide services available, with experts who are both knowledgeable and passionate about trout fishing. These guides will assist you with gear selection, fly fishing techniques, and locating the best spots to find your target species. To make your search easier, we’ve listed some of the top guide providers in the area:

Alongside the expert guidance, many of these services offer lodging and meal options to make your trip even more comfortable and enjoyable. We encourage you to browse through their websites, read reviews, and find a guided fishing trip that suits your needs and preferences.

Trout Fishing Gear Tips

When it comes to trout fishing in Tennessee, having the right gear can make your experience more enjoyable and successful. In this section, we’ll share some tips on the essential equipment you should consider bringing on your next trout fishing trip.

First and foremost, a high-quality fishing rod and reel combo is crucial. We recommend a 6-7 foot light or ultralight spinning rod paired with a smooth spinning reel to handle the lighter lures often used for trout fishing.

Next, let’s talk about fishing line. We suggest using a 4-6 pound monofilament or fluorocarbon line. These lines are thin and nearly invisible underwater, making it more difficult for trout to detect them.

You’ll also want a good selection of lures and baits in your tackle box. Some popular options for trout fishing include:

  • Inline spinners
  • Small spoons
  • Minnow-imitating lures
  • Worms and other live bait
  • Artificial flies and nymphs (for fly fishing)

Feel free to experiment with your lure selection, as trout can be both opportunistic and selective in their feeding habits. Don’t forget to bring along a pair of needle-nose pliers for removing hooks, as well as a landing net to help secure your catch.

When fishing in colder water, waders and wading boots provide additional comfort and safety, while polarized sunglasses can help reduce glare and make it easier to spot trout in the water. Finally, pack a hat, sunscreen, and insect repellent to ensure you’re adequately protected from the sun and pesky bugs.

Best Time to Fish

Now, let’s talk about the best time to fish for trout in Tennessee. We’ve found that late March through June is considered the prime time for trout fishing, especially in or near the Smoky Mountains. During this period, the water is warm and the trout are abundant, making it an ideal time to cast your line.

In case you’re wondering about stocking, you’ll be happy to know that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency stocks 84 hatchery-supported streams and small lakes in Tennessee annually with approximately 330,000 rainbow trout. This helps in maintaining an ample supply of fish for the anglers.

However, if you plan to fish the Gatlinburg streams, it’s important to note that they are closed on Thursdays. Additionally, a Gatlinburg permit is required for trout fishing in those areas. Don’t worry, though, as some areas cater specifically to children 12 and under, making it a great family-friendly activity.

When it comes to specific locations, there are numerous top-notch trout streams throughout the state. Some of our favorites include:

  • Little River
  • Watauga River
  • South Holston River
  • Caney Fork River
  • Tellico River
  • Dale Hollow

Each of these spots offers unique fishing opportunities, so be sure to research and pick the one that suits you best. Remember, the key is to enjoy your time out there while pursuing those beautiful Tennessee trout. Happy fishing!

Catch and Release Tips

Fishing for trout in Tennessee can be a thrilling experience, and practicing catch and release ensures these beautiful fish can thrive for future generations to enjoy. In this section, we will share some helpful tips for a successful catch and release experience.

Firstly, landing the fish as quickly as possible is crucial. Avoid playing the fish to exhaustion, which can negatively impact its chances of survival. We recommend using a shallow landing net with soft, knotless mesh or rubber netting. This minimizes harm to the fish and makes the catch and release process much smoother.

When handling the trout, it’s essential to keep the fish in the water. This reduces stress on the fish and further increases their chances of successful recovery. Additionally, using wet hands or a damp cloth when touching the fish can help protect their delicate slime layer, which serves as a barrier against pathogens.

Another critical aspect of catch and release is proper hook removal. If the fish is deeply hooked, we suggest cutting the line and letting the hook go with the fish. Attempting to remove a deeply embedded hook can cause more harm than good. If the hook is shallow and easily accessible, use a pair of long-nosed pliers or a hook removal tool to gently remove the hook while keeping the fish submerged.

Reviving the fish before release is important for their well-being. Gently hold the trout in the water, facing into the current or gently moving the fish back and forth to stimulate water flow through their gills. When the fish appears to be strong enough to swim away on its own, gently let go.

By following these catch and release tips, we can protect the trout populations in Tennessee’s beautiful streams, allowing everyone to enjoy this rewarding pastime for years to come.

Trout Fishing Events

We’ve gathered some trout fishing events that are perfect for anglers of all skill levels. Participating in these events adds a fun twist to your trout fishing experience in Tennessee. From competitions to instructional workshops, we cover events that cater to various interests.

First, let’s take a look at the Annual Clinch River Trout Tournament. This event, held each spring, draws a large crowd. Compete for cash prizes while enjoying the wonderful atmosphere of the Clinch River—one of Tennessee’s premier trout fisheries.

Another great event is the Tennessee Trout Unlimited Chapters. These chapters host various meetings, workshops, and trout fishing outings throughout the year. Joining a local chapter is an excellent way to meet fellow anglers, learn more about the craft, and give back to the local trout fishing community through conservation and restoration projects.

If you’re looking for a more relaxed event, check out the Tennessee Valley Fly Fishers Club. This group organizes monthly fly fishing outings in some of Tennessee’s best trout streams. It’s a great opportunity to hone your skills, socialize, and simply enjoy the great outdoors.

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