The Clinch River Fishing Report
Depending on who you talk to it has been feast or famine on the Clinch River. The bugs have come this year in epic abundance and they've yet to abate. This is typically great news for the fly angler but I've personally heard a lot of belly aching this year about the fish being too difficult to catch. I suspect that many anglers are 'flock shooting' the hatch and as a result they are being met with limited success, or worse, blanking entirely. The secret to success on the Clinch during a blanket sulfur hatch is picking your fish and giving it precisely what it wants. This may mean changing your fly more than a few times. The reward, however, is well worth the time and effort. The Clinch is some of the most technical water in the South and possible even the entire United States. Slow down, take your time, and make every cast count.
Norris Lake and the Clinch river are located 20 minutes north of 3 Rivers Angler. Norris Lake was formed in 1936 when the Tennessee Valley Authority began creating a hydroelectric dam system in East Tennessee.
Norris Lake is a 34,213 acre reservoir that is widely noted as one of the clearest and cleanest lakes in the southeast. Most all of the typical warm water species are present and currently a movement is afoot to establish a slot limit for the smallmouth bass population. Norris can be a tricky water to fish because it is so clear and the vegetation so often associated with fishing is minimal. If you fish Norris, focus on rocky banks and feeder creeks as these are the most likely holding spots. If you are fly fishing, a 7wt rod with sinking line is recommended.
Below Norris Dam is the Lower Clinch River. This section of the Clinch, as with all rivers within the TVA system, is regulated by the electrical generation schedule. A 12.5 mile coldwater fishery, the Clinch sustains a healthy population of fish, most all of which were stocked into the river. Average size of a trout gleaned from the Clinch is going to be somewhere between 10 and 13 inches, but don’t be surprised if you hook into something much bigger. The state record Brown Trout was caught here (28lbs. 12 oz.)
Most of the insect life on the Clinch is small in stature. It is not uncommon to see trout sipping wildly on the surface of the river yet no insect hatch is apparent. Simply put, some of these bugs are to small to see very easily, but don't be discouraged, midges in size 20 or 18, pheasant tails in 18-16, sow bugs and scuds are safe bets anywhere on the river. It also might be a good idea to pack some Sulpher dries and a few Griffiths gnats as well. Caddis can be seen on occasion. A 9 foot five weight rod is optimum, though it is not out of the question to step up a few sizes and cast streamers when the generation schedule raises the water levels
Archived The Clinch River Fishing Reports:
The hot hand in East Tennessee currently belongs to the Clinch River below Norris Dam. Sulfurs have finally arrived in significant numbers. The better numbers of bugs are coming off during the early to mid-afternoon hours but the fishing is good throughout the day on beadhead pheasant tails fished below indicators. TVA has been running a favorable wade schedule during the week with the water turned off either till one or two in the afternoon. With weather forecasts looking great for the weekend and the start of next week it is the perfect time to get out there and wet a line.
Anglers are reporting good catches on the low flows provided by TVA on the Clinch River below Norris Dam. Thus far, however, most of the activity has been coming subsurface on beadhead pheasant tails and/or zebra midges. That the Clinch has been fishing so well should be indicative of the fact that the dry fly action isn't too far behind. Low flows have reigned over the past few weeks which have been a distinct departure from what we were seeing in April. This has meant plenty of low water for the wading angler but has made it tough on anglers in boats. The bugs, which tend to love some flow, may also be waiting for higher water and the security it affords them. The good news is that we are only a couple weeks out from recreational flows.
If you are like me you've been breathlessly watching TVA's website for any chance of getting some low water on the Clinch. Mercifully TVA provided us with a few brief windows over the weekend and those that managed to get out on the Clinch were rewarded. Sulphurs are being spotted on the lower end of the river and the fish are eager to get after them. The recreational schedules start this weekend and it looks like TVA may even run a single unit on Thursday. If you were inclined to catch eager trout on dry flies I'd be looking for an excuse to get out there and see what is happening on the Clinch.
Despite the weather I made it onto the Clinch yesterday with client Jay from Cincinnatti. TVA choose to mix it up on us just a bit and didn't turn the water on until 8 AM instead of the 7 AM they had posted the day before. Despite this one hiccupp we put the Towee in at Peach Orchard prior to the water arriving and ran upstream to the bottom of Miller's Island. Jay and I fished down to Coldwater Farms on one generator with limited success on bead head pheasant tails. With the flow cutting back to zero at 1 pm we ran back up to Peach Orchard and threw the boat on the trailer and made our way down to the 61 bridge access while we had lunch. From the 61 bridge we ran back up towards Coldwater and the Big Bend area on the river. At about 3:30 pm there was some sporadic sulfur activity. While there weren't enough bugs on the water for us to get too excited about, what bugs were on the surface were quickly eaten by willing trout. We are a little early yet for consistent hatches but by the looks of it we aren't too far off.
The Clinch River below Norris Dam has been fishing very well for the past three weeks with anglers either finding lots of bugs or nearly none at all. It's been a tail of two rivers depending on the day, the spot, and the angler. I've personally fished some of the best hatches I have seen on the Clinch in 20 years within the past three weeks but I've also been on the river and had very lack luster results. At this point in the season one has to guess that the major sulfur hatches are probably behind us, in the same breath, the river is fishing well on subsurface flies and the fish are in phenomenal shape with TVA relasing some very favorable flows for both wade fishing and drift fishing.
At long last the Clinch River below Norris Dam is dirty, stinky, and filthy with bugs. Sulfur hatches in good numbers are occurring on the lower portion of the river with lots of nymph activity on the upper portion. Things haven't settled into a consistent "set your watch by it" pattern as of yet but on any given day there is a good chance that you are going to run into some significant dry fly action at some part of the day with the bead head bite being good throughout the day. Norris Lake is still sitting about 8 feet below full pool so you can expect the wader favorable flows to continue through the better part of the rest of May well into June.
The Clinch River below Norris Dam has finally come into its own here in the last week to ten days with anglers reporting significant catches throughout the day. The sulfurs are beginning to make an appearance with the fish taking them on top sporadically. The subsurface bite, on (guess what?) bead head pheasant tails (size 16) is on fire however and so most have not even begun to break the comparaduns out as of yet. Cloudy overcast days with intermittent showers (check the weekend forecast) seem to be fishing better than the hot days but don't let the nice weather dissuade you as the bite has been good all day long.
After a brutally cold winter and a slow start to this spring the Clinch River below Norris Dam is finally showing signs of life and may even have taken a step over its sister river the Holston over the last weekend. Midges were in abundance in the earlier hours until about mid-day. Afternoon has seen the beginnings of a decent sulfur hatch with sporadic rises here and there. There has been a healthy mix of crane flies coming off of late. No surprises on what's working; size 16 bead head pheasant tails.
I found a surprising scene on the Clicnh river yesterday, a vacant river. Only a handful of fishermen were out and as a result I had my pic of runs and riffles to choose from. The air was cold, the wind was up, and the bug activity was slow but as the day drew longer the wind layed down and the midges got busy. Most of the bugs were microscopic and very difficult to immitate, I'm talking #26-30. Fortunatley the Fish were cooperative and contented themselves to take the size #20-24 griffith gnats and midge larvae I threw at them. I caught the majority of my fish, mostly acrobatic rainbows, on grey and cream colored midges tied with a spanflex body. The fish were extremley concentrated to depressions in the bottom that had decent current running through it. A down stream presentation was key to fooling these trout, they are extremely spooky in the skinny water conditions TVA has given us. Take your time and rest the pod of fish you are working, even when I made a bad move or cast the fish would reset and start eating again if I rested them. Best of luck to ya'll, call us or swing by the shop if we can be of any assistance on your next outing.
I had the good fortune to get out on the Clinch River below Norris Dam last week with Darrell Benton. With the temperature punching close to the 70 degree mark and Norris Dam set to drop from 8,500 cfs to 3,500 cfs in the early afternoon, Darrell and I slipped the Towee into the river and ran up to weir dam as the flow began to fall out to its one generation level. Fishing on the tailwaters of east Tennessee, it is extremely important to fish the change of flow whether that's a drop or a rise in the current. It is akin to a change in tide on a coastal fishery and if you can ride the edge you are sure to have better luck. True to form, we were immediately into fish just below the weir as the water fell out. Darrell was throwing his new Helios 2 8 weight rod with a SA Streamer Express 250 grain line and a white sex dungeon and he was the first to land a fish. Action remained relatively hot through the upper section but slowed as we drifted by Miller's Island prompted us to run down stream to the head of Johnnson's shoals and higher water. The strategy worked as I was immediately into a decent sized brown. As the afternoon waned and the water fell the streamer bite slowed. If you get a chance, look to fish the change in tide on your next outing.
Reports of happy fish and happy fisherman have been pouring into the shop lately. With the recent reprieve from onerous generation schedules on Norris Dam we are seeing more Anglers breaking the winter lockdown and getting after fish.
Low flows and clear, cold water are necessitating 6 and 7X tippets with small nymphs and tiny midges. The most consistent action is on the upper section of the river using cream, grey and black midge patterns in sizes 18 to 22. The fish are in spawn colors and are in great shape from having so much water and so little pressure for the last few months. Of course this is the Clinch so you may want to get your place on the river early but if you need to get out and chase some willing and feisty fish keep an eye on generation schedules and get out when they cooperate.
Thanks to Kevin Smith for this beautiful picture he took while fishing the Clinch earlier this week.
TVA has been running some extremely erratic schedules on all of East Tennessee's tailwaters here for the past few weeks and the Clinch has been no exception. The only bright spot in their lunacy has been an occasional low water spell for the wading angler and some rather exceptional flows for the drift boat angler. While the flows have cooperated on occasion, the fishing on the Clinch River below Norris Dam has been on and off depending on the day and the angler. General consensus, however, states that whether drifting or wading you are much better off focusing your efforts on the upper section of the Clinch from the dam down to Peach Orchard Access. While this is pretty typical this time of year while the fish go through their spawning motions, I spoke with Mike Bone the other day and he said that he felt that this year the lack of fish on the lower portion of the Clinch was even more pronounced. He suspects that this may be in part due to decreased stockings associated with the 2008 USFWS directive. Only time will tell...
I played a little hooky today with fellow 3RA pro-staffer Jeremy Nelson whilst making the rounds in Norris visiting old friends. We made our way down river on the Clinch to catch the falling water about mid-river on a full-off flow on the Clinch below Norris Dam from . It appears that the work on the weir dam has resumed just in time for the higher flows rolling on the French Broad and Holston. We fished for a few hours mid-day with limited results which prompted me to hit the high grass on the edge of the river and rest my eyes. Jeremy was a little more intent on making his time out count and managed a few fish on midge patters in the faster water. There were a few risers here and there but in all likelihood we left a bit before the real party started. I suspect further, that we really missed the better fishing early in the AM up above the weir or near Miller's Island. The fish should settle down into this new new low-flow regime and, of course, the good news is there is wading available throughout the day up and down the river. I'll be back with my game face on the next time...
TVA has been punching out some very favorable flows for wading anglers on the Clinch River below Norris Dam here of late and that trend appears as if it is going to remain through at least the end of the week. That's great news given the crazy spring and summer we've experienced here in East Tennessee. Most of the reports I'm getting from anglers on the Clinch have been some what of a mixed bags. Anglers over the weekend reported tough times with low catch rates and high levels of frurstration. More recent reports from reliable sources indicate that you may have to dig a little deeper into your fly box if you want to consistently catch fish on the current flows. If you haven't already, give a size 14 copper john a shot. Of course, with low flows comes spooky fish, get out the flurocarbon and 6x.
I stole a couple hours early this morning in advance of the arriving weather front to hit the Clinch River below Norris Dam. Generation was a solid 9,300 cfs through the night and despite it the streamer bite was still going relatively strong. I managed seven rainbows in about an hour and a half and had at least one follow from a decent brown. Contrary to conventional wisdom, white was not my color of choice. Muted autumn colors are working much better. Try olives, browns, and yellows. It takes at least a 300 grain line to get the fly in the zone. No salmon eggs needed.
Word on the street is that TVA has suspended work on the weir dam below Norris indefinitely with the advent of last weekend's rain. With that suspension comes the end to the low flows we've been privy to over the last couple of weeks and with them the excellent dry fly fishing. Fear not, however, as I can confirm that the hatch has continued unabated despite the 9,300 cfs cranking from beneath Norris. Scott Anderson, owner of the Montana Fishing Company and an East Tennessee native, was is in town yesterday and we decided to give the Clinch a go despite the high flows. During the middle of the day, at the peak of the hatch, the streamer bite was descent if not pretty good. Sometimes you just gotta play the hand your dealt, and sometimes you might even just get lucky.
Floated the Clinch yesterday on an slightly improved and definitely unexpected rec. schedule that TVA threw at us out of the blue (0ff till 11, 1 generator 11 - 4, and 2 or More from 4 on). On low water the fish were tough and spooky, as to be expected. When the first generator caught up to us the fish were willing enough on a bead head pheasant tail but the top water bite and hatch was extremely sporadic. The bugs finally did show at the end of the day (6:30 or so) on the lower portion of the river but their emergence coincided with the arrival of the 2nd pulse of water from the Norris Dam upstream. The fish were up for about thirty minutes or so before the heavy water forced them back down. The good news is that there are plenty of sulfurs to go around, you've just got to catch the water right in order for the fish to be willing.
Low water is back on the Clinch River below Norris Dam after what feels like a long, long time. Maintenance on the weir dam is the culprit and for once I'd say we're all happy about TVA's determination to attempt a little good. The good news is, of course, not only does the maintenance comes when we all could use a little fishing time and its also coinciding with a descent sulfur hatch. Bugs are showing mid-day sporadically and building. The kicker here is that there is a new player on the block in the form of some larger than usual sulfurs (size 12/14). If you're headed up that way make sure you have a few bigger bugs in your box.
The Clinch River below Norris Dam is back on a day time low water schedule as work on the weir dam resumes. This is great news for the wading angler, although, not entirely so. The low flows will also mean wary trout. Most anglers are reporting very good fishing early in the morning before the fog burns off entirely and then slow fishing from then on. Sulfurs are beginning to pop and the reports are mixed as to whether the fish are keyed in on them. This should improve as water temperatures increase and hopefully the afternoon bite will increase as well. The forecast is for spotty afternoon showers for the next couple of days. Clouds equal cover and cover equals comfort for the fish. If I could sneak away from the shop I'd be up on the Clinch in the afternoon hoping for a passing rain shower.
Mercifully the Clinch River below Norris Dam actually is posting some wadeable/float-able flows over the weekend. Reports of sulfurs in good numbers are trickling in from yesterday's anglers. Most reported good fishing early but frustrating fishing in the afternoon. While the bugs were out in decent numbers the fish weren't really keyed on them yet. This may be a good sign as the good fishing may still be out in front of us.
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