Rainbow Trout on the Hiwassee River

Guide to Fly Fishing on the Hiwassee River TN (Maps, Flies and Technique)

When people think of Eastern United States fly fishing, Tennessee is too often left off of the list. Sadly, anglers have no idea what they’re missing when they choose to ignore this state. It’s filled with amazing tailwaters and beautiful scenery. Rivers like the Hiwassee that flow through southeastern Tennessee should be on the bucket list of anglers from all over the country. Fly fishing the Hiwassee will give you a new appreciation for the technicalities and skills of fly fishing.

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Read a complete guide 👉 How to catch brook trout

A Little About the Hiwassee River

The Hiwassee River is a historical river in Tennessee. It was the first-ever river in Tennessee to be known as a State Scenic River. It’s a tailwater fishery that flows for 55 miles through the Southeast part of Tennessee. It begins at the Appalachia Dam near the North Carolina border and flows into the Tennessee River at Blythe’s Ferry.

It’s known as a dry fly fishery that’s stocked regularly with brook, brown and rainbow trout from October 1st through February. This is a truly unique river and often reminds anglers of a mountain stream in the Rockies!

Since there are so many miles of productive water, you have all sorts of great access! However, here are three of my favorite access points and places to fish.

Rainbow Trout Scales
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Big Bend Recreation Area- Trophy Section!

Due to the proximity to the dam, the section between Childers Creek and Big Bend Recreation area is considered to be the trophy section. It’s a wide portion of the river with some great seams and pools. There’s plenty of food and room for the fish to grow here.

This portion of the river is heavily impacted by the turbines. If the turbines are running, do not wade. It’s too deep and fast. However, the streamer fishing is amazing because of all the baitfish that are in this section. Shad are pulled through the generators and fill this portion of the river.

If the turbines are turned off, then you’ll have the opportunity to wade. It becomes a shallower section of water and you can fish with dries, nymphs as well as streamers.

Pay attention to the TVA water release schedule to learn when they’ll be holding or releasing water.

Lost Corral Recreation Area- Great for Dry Fly Fishing!

Many anglers find themselves salivating over the dry fly fishing on the Hiwassee early in the fishing season. April, May and June offer amazing Mayfly and Caddis hatches that will produce fish after fish.

Plus, this section of water between Hiwassee Ocoee State Park and the town of Reliance is a bit calmer and you can easily wade in it throughout the year. It’s still decently wide, but you’ll find that you can wade your way into the perfect seams and holes. Dry flies and long leaders in this section as much as you possibly can! Plus, you can walk your way along the banks to wherever you would like.

Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge – Big Water!

If you want big water and the opportunity to catch a big fish, then head just north of Chattanooga and you’ll find it near the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge. You can access this section at the public boat ramp and drop in whatever sort of watercraft you desire.

Here, you have wide open water and the opportunity to catch big fish. Plus, any creeks or tributaries that enter the creek here are usually filled with fish. They provide all sorts of food options for the big fish in the area.

Why the Hiwassee is Perfect for Fly Fishing

The Hiwassee River is perfect for fly fishing because it’s heavily stocked and very productive. Every year on October 1st the TWRA stocks the Hiwassee River with brook, brown and rainbow trout. This is at the beginning of the Delayed Harvest fishing season. Once it’s stocked, the river is catch and release only until February 28.

Due to the strong efforts of Tennessee Game and Fish as well as local anglers, the trout populations continue to thrive year after year. Plus, the water temperatures stay fairly consistent throughout the year, so holdover trout are common. They can grow to be massive!

Combine the healthy fishery with great places to stay, and you have a perfect destination for families and hardcore anglers.

What Stream Flow is Best for Fishing the Hiwassee River

If possible, fish this river at around 1,500 to 2,000 CFS. The upper portion of the river has some Class I and Class II rapids when the turbines are releasing water, so make sure you’re paying attention to the release of water each day! The TVA keeps up-to-date records.

What Kind of Fish Can You Catch on the Hiwassee River?

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In the Hiwassee River, you’ll find healthy populations of brown, rainbow and brook trout. Each of these species are stocked every single year around the beginning of October. Due to the consistent water temperatures, there will be holdover populations.

Favorite Flies for the Hiwassee River

Most anglers would say they prefer to fish the Hiwassee River with only dry flies! However, you can use your entire arsenal depending on the time of year. Only limiting yourself to dries doesn’t give you the best chance to catch some of the trophies that are found throughout the river.

Pheasant Tail Nymph
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Elk Hair Caddis Fly Pattern
Elk Hair Caddis Fly Pattern
Woolly Bugger
Woolly Bugger

Pheasant Tail Nymph- Size 14

Early in the season, fish the shallower portions of the river with a Pheasant Tail Nymph. A size 14 is a little larger but it proves itself to work very well. Fish it with an indicator or below a dry-dropper. April, May and June are great months for a Pheasant Tail.

Elk Hair Caddis- Size 18

The Caddis hatches on the Hiwassee are legendary! May, June and July have consistent hatches that will blow your mind. Make sure you’re equipped with a variety of sizes of Elk Hair Caddis.

Woolly Bugger- Size 6

When the water is being discharged, it’s time to throw streamers. A size 6 Woolly Bugger is a great shad representation. A favorite color for streamers is white and light tan.  Some added sparkle with silver and gold makes a winning combination.

Swing or dead drift this fly near the Appalachia Dam when the turbines are turning and you’re in business.

Hatch Chart for the Hiwassee River

Fly NameSizeStart DateEnd Date
Early Brown Stone 12 February 15March 31
Hendrickson 12-14 April 1 April 30
BWO 18-24 April 1 June 30
Grannom 16 April 1 April 30
Brown Caddis 12 March 15November 15
Sulphur 16May 1June 15
Golden Stone 10-12 May 1June 30
Light Cahill 14-16May 15June 30
Trico 22July 1October 15
Stonefly 10-12November 15February
Midge18-22 November 15February 15

Fly Rod and Reel Setup for the Hiwassee River

A 5-weight 9’ rod is perfect for the Hiwassee. Since it’s a little larger, you’re going to want a rod that can handle longer casts and larger fish. Make sure you have a matching reel.

Foundation Fly Rod Combo
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You’ll want a 5-weight or 6-weight floating line to accompany your reel along with 0x, 1x, 3x and 4x leaders. For your dries and nymphs, carry 4x and 5x tippet! The fish can be spooky.

Guides and Fly Shops

Hiwassee River Guides– The Hiwassee River Guides specialize in all things Hiwassee river. They’re a guide service that offers full-day and half-day trips for both walking and wading.

Southeastern Anglers– Southeastern Anglers is a professional outfitter that offers guided trips on the Hiwassee. They’re an Orvis-endorsed outfitter and they have a full service guide shop for all the gear you need.

Last Cast for the Hiwassee River

The Hiwassee River is a fly angler’s dream. You have all sorts of unique features that make for a full couple of days on the water. You can fish the river in three sections and get a different feel in each one. Be prepared with your full fishing arsenal! You’re in for a treat.

Looking to Learn the Tips and Techniques for the Fish You Love to Chase? I’ve Got You Hooked Up Below

Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels

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