Copyright 2016 James Marsh
Fly Fishing On The Holston River In
The Holston River is a tailwater trout fishery located just
north of Knoxville, Tennessee below Cherokee Dam near
the town of Jefferson City, Tennessee. It is stocked with
both rainbow and brown trout by the (TWRA) Tennessee
Wildlife Resources Agency. Both the rainbow and brown
trout holdover from year to year because the stream
stays cold for a short ways below the dam even during
the summer months. This tailwater is sometimes confused
with its neighbor, the South Holston Tailwater to the
Northeast. We have a separate website on the South
The Holston River is one of Tennessee’s premier fly
fishing for trout and smallmouth bass destinations.
Rainbow and brown trout are usually fairly easy to catch
and anglers enjoy a busy day. Fly fishing the Holston
River tailwater caddisfly hatches can be a lot of fun.
The river can be waded when they are not generating
water through the dam. However, there are only a few
place you can access the river where wading is possible.
It can be fished from a drift boat when they are operating
the turbines but if it is running high, it usually isn't worth
Caution should be used anytime you are fishing the
Holston Tailwater. The water can rise fast.
Holston River Fly Fishing Guide:
Public access is very limited on the Holston River. This
limits the number of wading anglers. The best access
point for waders is at the Nance’s Ferry boat ramp.
Starting there, you can wade a good distance upstream.
The river mostly consist of shallow riffles in that area.
During the warmer months of the year, this area isn't that
desirable because the water can become too warm.
Another public access for wading anglers is just below the
Cherokee Dam. This section of the Holston fishes well
most of the year. The cold bottom discharge from
Cherokee Dam keeps the water fairly cool in this area
even in hot weather. The best area from the dam access
is downstream. There you will find shoals and if the flows
are right, some easy to wade water.
Another access is the Indian Cave public access. It's
about mid way between Nance's Ferry and the dam.
There's only a small amount of wadable water but it is an
Floating the river is the best option but again, access is
still very limited. The public boat ramps are located at
Cherokee Dam, Indian Cave, and Nance’s Ferry.
Floating the Holston tailwater can be tricky. There are a
lot of problems that can arise from floating the river.
There are several, very long sections of water that flow
slowly and you often need a trolling motor or a lot
of paddling to get downstream. The stretch from the dam
to Indian Cave Ramp is a long one and that can
The stretch from Indian Cave to Nance’s Ferry is usually
the best bet for most anglers. It too, can require some
rowing or a small electric motor.
You should always be aware of the generation schedule
of any tailwater. Cherokee Dam can let go of a huge
amount of water. Your safety and pleasure depends on
knowing when these releases are scheduled. The river
fows at about 300 cfs or cubic feet per second when no
water is being generated. Minimum flows are usually
during the winter and early spring.
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Recommended Tackle & Gear
5 or 6 weight
Dry fly: 9 ft., 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 71/2 ft.,
3 or 4X, Midges 6X, streamers 0-2X
Dry fly: 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 3 or 4X,
Best Fly Rods:
Perfect Fly Superb Five or Ultimate Six
For 5/6 line size
Fly Floatants and Misc Items:
Floatants, KISS Strike Indicators
Tools & Accessories:
Nippers, forceps, retractors, etc.
The fly-fishing season is year-round on the
The warmest days on winter provide decent
fishing on the Holston River, but it is not the
best time of the year.
Springtime brings about the big caddisfly
hatches and some of the best dry fly fishing
the river has to offer.
Holston River Hatches and Trout Flies:
Our information on aquatic insects is based on
our stream samples of larvae and nymphs, not
guess work. We base fly suggestions on
imitating the most plentiful and most available
insects and other foods at the particular time
you are fishing. Unlike the generic fly shop
trout flies, we have specific imitations of all the
insects in the Holston River and in all stages of
life that are applicable to fishing. If you want to
fish better, more realistic trout flies, have a
much higher degree of success, give us a
call. We not only will help you with selections,
you will learn why, after trying Perfect Flies,
92% of the thousands of our customers will
use nothing else.
There are two basic ways to fish the Holston
that are almost opposite of each other. One is
using small imitations of midges and the other
is caddisfly imitations. Midge larva, pupa and
adult imitations will catch trout year-round.
Many anglers use a tandem rig with both a
larger mayfly nymph and a small midge larva
or pupa fly. Most of the midges are either
cream or red (blood) midges.
Most of the time, midge imitations are the best
choice of flies. They will work day in and day
Caddisfly imitations work when a hatch is
occurring or egg laying is taking place. There
are several species of caddisflies that live in
the Holston River. Caddisflies are the most
important hatches on the Holston. Most all of
them are commonly called Cinnamon Caddis.
Most all of them are net-spinning caddis
Few free-living and only a few cased
caddis exist. There are several minor
species or caddisflies that hatch in sparse
quantities. The hatches start in March and
peak in May.
Some species hatch during the summer
but in smaller quantities. A few hatch in the
fall months. The opportunity to catch larger
trout on a streamer always exist. The best
streamers are imitations of baitfish and
sculpin. Crawfish imitations also work for
the larger size browns as well as the
smallmouth. The river has some fine
smallmouth bass fishing in its lower
sections. Streamers and at times, large top
water flies work great for them.
Terrestrials work fine in the late summer
and early fall. Beetles, ants and
grasshopper imitations catch their share of
Holston River trout.
Craneflies are plentiful in the Holston. At
times, imitations of the Cane Fly larvae
adults work fairly well. Black flies are very
plentiful and more important in the colder
months of the year. You should have
imitations of the Black Fly larvae, pupae
and the adults.
Sulphurs are the most common mayfly.
There are plenty of bugs to keep trout
rising on the Holston. Sulphurs hatch in
May and June.
The hot days of summer still produces
prolific caddisfly hatches and great fishing.
Autumn provides the most stable time to
fish the Holston Tailwater. The weather is
normally good and the discharges are
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (email@example.com)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
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Headlines: The river has been
very low for the last month but that
is about to change soon. It is
raining as I write this and there's
more to come this weekend. The
lake level is very low and it may not
result in discharges anytime soon.
Smallmouth bass has been the
main fishing feature lately. Few
anglers are fishing. Be sure to
check out our weekly Holston River
fishing report by clicking link
Holston River Map
10/15/15 Great weather is in the forecast next week with no rain. The discharges have been too
high to wade most of the time but should start dropping with fewer discharges. Don't overlook
the good smallmouth bass fishing on the lower Holston. Streamers will get the large trout and
smallmouth. Late afternoon caddis egg laying activity is usually the highlight of the day.
10/21/15 Great weather is giving anglers a good opportunity to fish the Holston for trout and for
smallmouth bass. The cooler weather has slowed the caddis activity but nymphs and larvae are
still producing. There should be a few changes to wade this week but you have to always check
the discharge schedule.
10/28/15 Smallmouth bass has been the target species this past week. We did get two reports
of trout being caught. Stream levels have been up and down and difficult to pinpoint. The
caddis seem to be gone with only midges and tiny non-baetis Blue-winged olives in size 20 the
only hatches. Rain is forecast every day but one next week.
11/04/15 The Holston has been high the past week. Heavy discharges have been necessary
because of the amount of rain received. There more coming Friday and Saturday but it should
be much less than the weed before. We didn't receive any reports frfom anyone fishing the past
week. The caddis are about gone and Midges are the only thing hatching other than a few tiny
11/11/15 Smallmouth bass have still been the most pursued fish. The water temperature has
been excellent for them but a few trout have been caught recently. Drift boats offered the only
option this past several days due to the high discharges from heavy rainfall. Midges are about
the only aquatic insects to be concerned with right now.
11/18/15 Heavy rain is in the area right now. The discharges will be higher for the next few
days, so be sure to check on the schedule. Blue-winged olives and midges are the only
hatches to be concerned with. The Brown Sculpin has been the top producing trout fly lately.
Smallmount Bass fishing should continue to be very good . The weather is still relatively warm.
11/25/15 Trout fishing should be excellent but there has been very little opportunity to fish due
to very high water levels. Blue-winged olives, size 18/20 and midges should be the only
possible hatches of importance. The weather is remaining fairly warm and so is the water.
12/02/15 The area in general is under a flood watch and there are very high stream levels right
now. The watch ends today and things should begin to settle back down. It will take the TVA a
few days to get all the water through the system.
12/08/15 The good news is, the weather is going to be very warm and clear this coming week.
The bad news is, the TVA has still got to discharge a lot of water to get the lakes back down to
winter levels. Maybe the fishing gods will look on the conditions with favor and give some good
opportunities. The fish are willing and waiting to be played with.
12/16/15 The Cherokee tailwater is finally turning on and our customers are catching trout and
smallmouth bass. You will just have to keep a close check on the release schedule which is
currently showing from 2 generators running to none, depending on the time. Midges and our
Brown Sculpin streamer are the top flies you need. The weather is absolutely great.
12/23/15 Conditions don't look very good right now for the Cherokee tailwater. They are
showing two generators running for the next two days and there is a chance of rain every day
for the next week. High discharges are likely to continue but keep a check. There may be an
opening. The fishing will be great when the levels do settle down. The Brown sculpin streamer
and midges should be the flies of choice.
12/30/15 It looks like they will be running two generators today and tomorrow, and my guess is,
for the next few days. There is a lot of water to get through the system to get Cherokee lake
back down to winter storage level. The rain should end after today and be clear for the next few
days, but of course, colder. Midges and Winter stoneflies will be the best options.
01/06/16 The good news is the weather is warming back up and it will be nice through the
weekend except for a little rain. The bad news is, for at least today and tomorrow, the TVA will
be running two turbines. You will just have to keep a close check on the discharge schedule
and hope for the best. The trout will wait and you may have to as well.
01/13/16 It looks like they are running two generators today and tomorrow, so there isn't any
wading opportunity yet. You will just have to keep checking the TVA schedule. Midges, winter
stoneflies and black fly pupa and larva are the flies you need at this time. The White Belly
sculpin works great, especially when there is cloud cover.
01/20/16 The TVA is running a good bit of water, more than you can safely wade. Based on the
weather forecast with lots of rain and snow, it is likely high discharges will continue. We can only
keep a close check on them. Drift boats can fish but high discharges adversely affect them at
times, depending on the flows.
01/27/16 It seems like anglers just can't get a good break on the Holston. They are running two
turbines today and tomorrow, so you will just have to watch the schedule. Midges, little Winter
stonefly nymphs, Black Flies and Sculpin streamers are the main flies you will need to use.
02/03/16 One of our regular customers caught some smallmouth bass this past week on the
lower Holston. We had a rather warm week and the lower river is affected by the air
temperature. He used our smallmouth streamers and fished the deeper holes and pools. It is
going to be colder this week. You should be able to catch plenty of trout if you can catch the
02/10/16 Stream levels are still running high and the power company will be running two or m re
generators today and tomorrow. You will just have to watch the discharge schedule. The water
is cold and the weather is going to be colder than normal. Midges, Winter stoneflies and Black
Flies are the insects you will need to imitate when you can fish.
02/17/16 The weather is going to be nice and much warmer through the weekend but rain is
coming the first of next week to the point discharges may continue to be high at times.
Hopefully, there will be a break in the discharges this weekend but you will just have to check
the schedule. Midges, creams and reds, and black flies are the main insects you should be
02/24/16 There will be high discharges for a few more days, based on the weather. It is raining
hard and will continue to rain, followed by a chance for snow on Friday. You will just have to
watch the TVA schedule and stream levels. Midges, creams and reds, Winter stoneflies, and
Black Flies will be the insects you need to imitate when the levels do settle down.
03/02/16 The TVA is running water for the next two days and will likely continue. Maybe there
will be some breaks near the end of the week. This coming weekend is looking good with warm
weather. The lower end of the river will be good for smallmouth as soon as the discharges
subside. The Upper section of the river should be fished with midges, and black flies.
03/09/16 It appears the TVA is going to continue higher discharges through the week, but
maybe they will give anglers a break. You will just have to keep checking the schedule. The
weather is going to be very warm but that brings with it a chance of more rain from Friday
through next Monday. Midges and Blue-winged olives have been hatching good.
03/16/16 The weather will be returning to a more normal early springtime pattern later this
week. There is little rain forecast and hopefully the discharges will settle down for a while. As of
now, they are still running a lot of water. When they do drop the heavy discharges, look for
good smallmouth bass and trout fishing conditions.
03/23/16 We have received some good reports very recently from anglers wading at the Nance’
s Ferry boat ramp. There isn't many places you can wade due to the huge amount of private
property along the river. It shouldn't be long before there are a lot of caddis hatching. The
water is up a couple of degrees lately.
03/30/16 The Holston has a good discharge schedule for the next couple of days. There is rain
in the forecast Thursday and Friday and we are not sure how much that is going to affect this
weekend, but for now, it looks good. The water is a little warmer and Smallmouth anglers have
been doing great on streamers. We also had one good report on trout.
04/06/16 The Holston has been good to our customers the past few days. They have been
catching good numbers of trout and smallmouth bass. The bass has mostly come on streamers
and the trout, mostly on midges, larva and pupa fished in tandem. Blood midges and cream
midges are hatching. The discharges will be low the next three days.
04/13/116 The discharge schedule looks good for the next couple of days. There are some
caddis hatching on the lower end of the river. Smallmouth bass fishing has been great with the
fish taking both streamers and top water flies occasionally. Midges and little BWO's, size 20,
have been hatching off and on. Sculpin streamers are always a good fly choice.
04/20/16 Conditions remain excellent for fly fishing the Holston. Both smallmouth bass and trout
are being caught by our customers in good numbers. The weather is goin go continue to be
good with little rain and the discharge schedule looks great for wading anglers. There should
be more caddis this coming week and plenty of surface action.
04/27/16 This is sure to be a good day for fishing the Holston. Low discharges and levels and
lots of trout and smallmouth bass being caught. There is rain starting soon, and we are not
sure how it will affect discharges this next week, so now is a good time to go. The smallmouth
have taken top water popping bugs already but most were caught on streamers.
05/04/16 Customers have been reporting some good smallmouth bass and trout catches this
past week. Discharges have been low and most days anglers have been able to wade some.
The little Cinnamon Caddis have begin to hatch on the middle and lower sections. Smallmouth
have been taken on popping bugs and streamers.
05/11/16 The past week has been good one for both those anglers fishing for smallmouth bass
and trout. There are beginning to be some good Cinnamon Caddis hatches taking place. The
weather forecast has a lot of rain chances in it this coming week, but hopefully, they are not
expecting and heavy amounts, mostly showers.
05/18/16 The stream levels and discharges have been good to anglers the past few days and
the schedule looks good for the next couple of days. There is a lot of rain in the forecast
through Saturday and this likely will be a factor later on. Smallmouth bass have been taken on
streamers and popping bugs on the surface. Trout are eating caddis and conditions rather
05/25/16 There have been a few opportunities for the wading angler recently. Hopefully, there
will be more this coming week. At least there is less chances of much rain although there is a
chance every day. Sulphurs are hatching along with Cinnamon Caddis. Smallmouth bass are
taking both streamers and top water flies. When the discharges are reasonable, the conditions
are very good.
06/01/16 The few reports we have received this past week were very good. There have been
some opportunity for wading. The hot thing going on now, is the smallmouth bass fishing. It is
great and they are taking popping bugs as well as streamers. Our crayfish patterns have taken
several as well. The trout are feeding mostly on caddis.
06/08/16 I don't normally make a deal out of the smallmouth bass fishing, but it has been
superb this past few days. Even when the water has been high, they are catching plenty of
them mostly on top on popping bugs. Trout are being caught as well, mostly on the caddisfly
hatches, or egg laying more specifically. You need to fish late in the day for the best caddis
06/15/16 This past week has been good to those fly fishing the Holston. There has been
several good opportunities for wading anglers. There will be cloud cover the next three days
and this should help the surface caddisfly action. Smallmouth bass fishing continues to be
excellent. Most of the fish are being taken on top water flies.
06/30/16 The Holston has been good to the smallmouth bass anglers lately. We have several
customers who have caught not only good numbers of the smallies but some very big ones.
The trout are taking the egg laying caddis each late afternoon. If possible, fish late in the day
and up until near dark. That is also the best time for the smallmouth. You can catch fish
throughout the day though.
07/06/16 The river is in good shape. The discharges have allowed a few times for anglers to
wade this past week. There is a chance of rain everyday for the coming week, but some days it
is a low chance. Caddisflies, mostly Cinnamon Caddis, are hatching good. If you fish the last
two hours of the day, you can catch trout on the egg laying activity. Smallmouth bass are still
taking popping bugs and flies good.
07/13/16 We didn't receive any reports from any customers fishing for trout this past week but
we understand some were caught. We did receive more smallmouth bass reports. They are still
going strong and taking popping bugs and other flies, many from the surface. There is rain in
the forecast every day providing good cloud cover but most likely, less wading opportunities.
07/20/16 The smallmouth bass fishing continues to be very good. The high discharges have
given trout anglers only a few opportunities but we receive good reports when the levels are
reasonable. You need to fish early and late in the day. It is going to be very hot. The tailwater is
getting a little warmer in the middle and lower sections, but not the uppermost section.
07/27/16 Flows have been better for anglers recently but still few and far between in so far as
being able to wade is concerned. There are lot of Cinnamon and little Sister caddis.
Smallmouth bass fishing is still good in the mornings and late afternoon.
08/03/16 It is going to be a little cooler this coming week than it has the past two weeks. The
lower end of the tailwater is getting quite warm but of course, that's not a bad thing for the
smallmouth. Most anglers fishing the river are after smallies and it has been very good early
and late in the day. We are still getting reports of sparse hatches of Sulphurs.
08/10/16 The Baby Popping frog, which is a hook size 6 and not so small, has been catching
smallmouth late in the day and early in the morning. Our crayfish streamer patterns have been
working good during the day. The stream levels have been high recently. Trout fishing has
been slow. There are lots of caddisflies hatching.
08/17/16 There is a chance of rain everyday this coming week. It is still hot weather and they
continue to run a lot of water, one this morning and two this afternoon. It will be turning cooler
later this week. Smallmouth bass fishing continues to be the best game, it is very good.
Hopefully, trout fishing opportunity will be better soon.
08/24/16 The weather is turning back hot again. Discharges and stream levels will be mostly
high. This may change later this week. Smallmouth bass fishing continues to be very good. Our
Perfect fly Baby popping bug is catching smallies for one of our customers. We recommend
fishing early and late in the day. During the day, the best fly option would be the dumbbell lead
eye Crayfish patterns.
08/31/16 Finally, it appears the weather will be cooling down some. That will help the middle
and lower sections of the river some and trout fishing will soon be back as the key species to
pursue. There are a lot of caddisflies hatching. Fish late in the day to imitated the egg laying
caddis. Early morning fishing with streamers (crayfish) is working for the smallmouth bass as
well as popping bugs like our Baby Popping Frog.
09/07/16 Last week's report started out saying the weather is turning cooler. That isn't the case
this coming week. It is continuing to be hot with little to no chance of rain. The discharges will
continue to be high at times due to A/C needs. Smallmouth bass fishing is continuing to be the
main thing. It is very good with fish being caught on top early and late in the day.
09/14/16 Flows and discharges have been favorable for wading most days but the water is
staying too warm for trout. The temperature should be dropping and they should be stocking it
next month. Smallmouth bass fishing continues to be excellent. Fish top water flies like our Baby
Popping Frog early and late in the day and our Crayfish patterns during the day.
09/21/16 Conditions remain about the same as last week. Hot weather and little to no chance of
rain. Popping bugs are catching smallmouth on the surface early and late in the day. Crayfish
patterns like our Brown and White Crayfish with Dumbbell eyes and our Brown Crayfish work
good during the day. Fish the lower end of the river.
09/28/16 The Holston will be undergoing some changes this coming month, all for the good of
the trout. The Smallmouth bass fishing has been excellent for a long time and soon trout will be
the highlight of ones trip to the river. The middle and lower section water temperature has
already dropped some and will continue this week. The smallmouth fishing will continue to be
good as well.
10/05/16 There is little change taking place. The discharges and resulting stream levels
continue to be low most of the time, allowing easy wading. Smallmouth bass fishing continues to
be very good. One customer did well this past week using our Baby Popping bug and the
Crayfish patterns. The weather will continue to be cool, but there's little to no chance of rain.
10/12/16 We were expecting some reports on trout being caught this past week but we didn't
receive any. The conditions are getting favorable for them. There are some that hold over near
the dam during the summer. The stream isn't stocked until November. We did continue to get
some good smallmouth bass reports. Crayfish are the key to that but some are still being
caught on top.
10/19/16 The power company is running water in the afternoons. You may tend to think with the
lack of rain we have had they wouldn't but electricity is still needed. It is more Summer like than
Fall and most of you are well aware of it. We only received one report this past week but it was
a good one. Smallmouth bass can still be caught early and late on top and during the day on
our Crayfish patterns.
10/26/16 They continue to run water in the afternoons even though we are in a basic drought.
There is really no chance of any rain for this coming week. The smallmouth bass fishing
continues to be very good. Our baby popping frog is catching them in shallow water during low
light conditions and our crayfish patterns during the day.
11/09/16 Stream levels and discharges remain very low. The area is in a drought with no rain
expected this next week. This makes it easy to wade most of the time. They are running some
water about an hour or so each day. Smallmouth bass are still taking top water popping bugs.
Our Perfect fly crayfish patterns are taking them during mid-day.
11/16/16 The river is still running low just about all the time. The do run water daily for a short
time. You have to avoid that by moving way up or down the river. Smallmouth bass fishing
continues to be very good. Our Perfect fly Crayfish patterns do the best and most consistent
job of catching them. One version has lead, dumbbell eyes and one doesn't.
11/23/16 Conditions remain much the same as last week. The weather is a little colder. They
continue to run only for about an hour for a couple times a day. The lake level is low. There is a
chance of rain Wednesday night. Smallmouth bass are still being caught bujt most likely, you
will have to fish a little deeper. The water is a little colder in the lower river.