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Bristol, TN

South Holston River and World-Class Trout Fishing

Posted by 
John M. Dabbs
John M. Dabbs
 24 days ago
Man Fishing In The WoodsTaylor Grote/Unsplash

It's been more than a few months since fishing time opened on the tailwaters of the South Holston, just outside of Bristol, Tennessee. The trout have spawned and the warm weather have the trout looking for action. Though there are some hard-core anglers who pull on their coldweather gear and hit the river in the cold, most of us wait until it's warmer.

TVA and the South Holston

The South Holston River begins is a tailwater coming from the South Holston Dam. The cold, deep waters of the South Holston reservoir keep waters at a steady temperature. This keeps the fishing conditions good all year.

The river can range from 60-100 yards across, but is easily traversed when the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is not generating. The majority of the river can be waded during non-generating times. If you are wading, or standing on rocks in the river to fish - always be aware of water conditions. The waters can rise rapidly when generation begins, and the currents can be deadly.

TVA is working on their weir project at the moment. We are experiencing low-water mornings and generation in the afternoons.


The fish of the South Holston River are mixed. A wild population exists (around 35%), and the remainder are regularly stocked by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA). Many of the stocked fish survive, and blend in with the native trout.

Spawning sites for trout are protected from November to February. Fishing in the designated area is prohibited by the TWRA during this period. Additionally, regulations do not allow fish between 16 and 22 inches to be kept. This is to keep large nubers of these fish available for anglers who are sport-fishing and not consuming.

When trout fishing, you'll be able to keep seven per day, with only one of these fish being over 22 inches. The stream is a world-class trout fishing destination. These limits in fish management have brought us this far. We'd like to see it remain a quality site that only improves over tiem.


Fishing and catching are not the same thing. We must always remember this. Fishing the South Holston (sometimes known as the SoHo) is a great experience that's easily enjoyed by the whole familiy.
Fly FishingCarl Heyerdahl/Unsplash

Fishing from the bank, or wading the river are common fishing methods. Western-style float fishing boats are seeing more popularity in recent years. The boat is the best method for fishing the river during TVA power generation times. The water level rises and the current is too swift to safely be in the water during generation.

Fly fishing has become very popular and lends itself well to the open areas of the river. The tranquil mornings and afternoons (when TVA isn't generating) are perfect times to spend on river flyfishing. Flyfishing is both an art and a means of meditation for some. Catching a fish of any size becomes most exciting with a fly rod.

We see many old-school fishermen on the river who enjoy their spinning reels too. There are problably just as many spinning reels as fly rods out there. You may see a few jerk poles and bait-casting reels out there too.

Personally I prefer my ultralight spinning rod combo - but also like to play around with my seven foot fly rod. It's nice to have options.

Fishing conditions at the moment are good - not quite excellent. The gang at Mountain Sports, Ltd. in Bristol, Virginia recommend a long leader with a 6x tippet if fly fishing. They also recommend the English Pheasant Tail fly. I am not about to disput them.

For spinning rigs out there, I recommend an ultralight with 2-6 pound test and a #10 or #12 hook. I usually prefer a couple of kernels of sweet corn to cover the hook, or mini-marshmallows. You can use salmon eggs or Powerbait if you can't find corn. But that's where I've had my best luck with a rod.


My favorite spots for catching fish are on the eastern side of Osceola Island, just below the weir dam, casting toward the middle of the bridge. There is a hold there the trout seem to like. Another favorite spot is the pull-off at Rock Hold Road at the fork to Bluff City and Chinquapin.


While you are fishing, remember to enjoy the outdoors while you're in it. Have your proper fishing license so you aren't scared the game warden (Wildlife Officer) might catch you.

By their very nature, fishermen must be philosophers. Think about things and ponder their meanings while you are there. There is no greater gift that to be alone with your thoughts in nature. Learn to relax and enjoy.

The fishing on South Holston River is good most of the time, and most enjoyable when the weather is pleasant. When it's hot out, there are many good places to get cooler... and fish.