Fishing The Clinch River

By James Marsh

Fly Fishing The Clinch River Tennessee: The Clinch River is a tailwater trout fishery located just north of Knoxville, Tennessee below Norris Dam near the town of Clinton. It is stocked with rainbow, brook and brown trout by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Both the rainbow and brown trout holdover from year to year because the stream stays very cold even during the summer months. The main attraction of this stream is its huge brown trout. Fly fishing the Clinch River can be challenging at times but equally as rewarding. The river can be waded when they are not generating water through the dam. It can be fished from a drift boat when they are operating the turbines. Some of the best brown trout fishing occurs when the river is running fast and high. Anglers that are familiar with the schedule of the dam discharges can time their fishing locations such that they can fish upstream until the dam begins to generate power and then move a few miles downstream and fish for a good time prior to the high water arrival. Caution should be used anytime you are fishing the Clinch. There are two basic ways to fish the Clinch that are almost opposite of each other. One requires the use of tiny flies and the other requires large streamers. The opportunity exists to catch a large brown trout on a streamer when the water is running high and fast. Heavy weighted streamers can produce some huge brown trout. It takes a lot of casting and retrieving but if you can keep it up, chances are good that you will hook up. Midges are the number one type of flies for the Clinch River. Midge larva, pupa and adult imitations will catch trout year-round. There are not many hatches on the river other than midges which hatch throughout the year. There are a few mayflies and stoneflies and there are a few caddisflies that offer some dry fly opportunity at times. Small flies from a hook size 18 down to a size 26 are considered the thing for the Clinch. We have taken several samples from the stream that indicated a huge amount of midge larvae exist about anywhere the bottom is checked.

Fly Fishing Guide to the Clinch River: The Clinch can be a tough river to fish for some anglers. Its water stays clear and cold and it flows smooth in many places you need to fish. Success demands long, light leaders and tippets under these conditions. Most of the time the flies you will be using will be no larger than a size 18. Midges are the main aquatic insect that you will need to imitate. There is a weir dam located about a mile below the dam. It forms a large pool of slow moving water. Although it is usually full of trout, they are very difficult to catch. We suggest you don’t waste time there unless you just enjoy experimenting. In the Miller’s Island area there is a public boat launch that provides a good place to fish if you are planning on wading. The water isn’t as smooth flowing as it is in most other places and it is somewhat easier for many anglers to fish. There are some riffles and runs in this area. The best way to fish the Clinch River is to float it. If you use your own boat be sure you are aware that it does have a lot of shallow rock ledges. You can tear up a boat fairly easy if you are not careful. The best time to fish the river from a drift boat is during the times one generator is operating. Two generators operating bring about some fast moving water. It is certainly possible to catch trout under these conditions but you will drift down the river very fast. It is also possible to drift the river in a canoe provided they are not running any water. You can move around the river and stop to wade when the conditions are suitable. The two big things to keep in mind is that the water discharges are of utmost importance on the Clinch River. You have to fish according to what the dam is doing. The other thing to keep in mind is that fishing dry flies is usually not the way to go. If you don’t like fishing nymphs and/or streamers, they you would be happier fishing somewhere else other than the Clinch River.

Clinch 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 Clinch River and in all stages of life that are applicable to fishing. If you want to fish better, more realistic trout flies, and have a much higher degree of success, give us a call. We will not only help you with selections, you will learn why, after trying Perfect Flies, 92% of the thousands of our customers will use nothing else. 1-800-594-4726 There are a few mayflies and quite a few caddisflies that emerge on the Clinch River but the hatches are not consistent day in and day out. There is a sulphur hatch that can be good at times. It is about the only mayfly hatch of any importance. It starts in late April and peaks during May. By the first of June it has ended in most areas. Many days you will be lucky to see midges on the surface. Most of the fly fishing should be done subsurface. The river has a population of both scuds and sow bugs and at times it seems they are the preferred food of the trout. However, as plentiful as they are, imitations of them don’t always work. There are several species of Cinnamon Caddis. They can hatch off and on from June through the month of September. Little Sisters are also present in limited quantities. They hatch in late June and on into the first two weeks of July. Other species are present but not in large quantities. This is an excellent river to fish large streamers in for two reasons. When they are running two generators, it is about the only way you can fish it. The other reason has to do with the huge brown trout that exist in the river. Fish from twenty to thirty inches long are not uncommon. They are used to eating large baitfish. This method requires a lot of cast and plain work but it can be very effective. Just don’t expect a fish every few minutes. When you do catch one, it most likely will be a good one. The best condition for a drift boat trip is when they are running one generator. You can occasionally catch trout on a dry fly, provided a hatch is occurring when one is running, but most often you will need to fish subsurface. It is also possible to catch a trout on a dry fly midge imitation. It depends on the water levels and flow conditions and, of course, the hatch. Most of the time, you will be better off fishing a midge larva or pupa imitation. If you notice any midges hatching, go to the midge pupa imitation. If you don’t, fish a midge larva imitation. We prefer to fish either of them without a strike indicator, but they do work fairly well on the Clinch. You should add a small amount of split shot above the larva imitation and adjust the indicator depending on the depth and speed of the water. You can fish imitations of scuds and sowbugs the same way as the midge larva flies. Add some weight to the tippet a few inches above the fly and fish them on or just above the bottom. Strike indicators can also be used with them if you prefer. Don’t forget streamer flies. They work great, especially when the water is running high and fast, or when it is off-color from heavy rain. Double or tandem rigs are popular on the Clinch. Some anglers fish a larger mayfly nymph and a small midge larva or pupa together. Others fish two midge flies a few inches apart, both a midge larva and a pupa imitation. We don’t prefer these multiple rigs but they do catch trout. If you haven’t done so already, please give our “Perfect Flies” a try. We feel sure you will find them to be very effective on the Clinch tailwater. Our Scud and Sowbug imitations are the best you can buy. Our Sulphur imitations work great on this river as well as any where else for that matter.

James Marsh has made his living fishing since 1980 through hosting and producing the first ever national syndicated weekly TV series on saltwater fishing for five years; hosting and producing forty-six instructional saltwater fishing videos more of which have been sold on saltwater fishing than anyone’s in the world; and for the past twenty-two years hosting and producing nineteen instructional videos on fly fishing and founding the Perfect Fly Company.