Rainbow Trout from Elk River TN

Guide to Fly Fishing the Elk River Tennessee (Maps, Flies and Technique)

The state of Tennessee is filled with beautiful fly fishing rivers, but few are as picturesque as the Elk River in the south-central part of the state. The river offers anglers of all skill levels a great chance to land some high-quality trout. Plus, it’s one of the lesser-known tailwaters in the state.

Brown Trout Scales
Learn how to Fly Fish for Brown Trout with this article 👉 How to Fly Fish for Brown Trout

A Little Bit About the Elk River

The Elk River is 195 miles long. It starts in Grundy County, Tennessee and flows all the way into Lake Wheeler near Rogersville, Alabama. Within those 195 miles lies the Tim’s Ford Dam. The dam was built in the1970s and turned the river into a phenomenal trout fishery. Anglers will find that the 15 miles below the dam are some of the best trout waters in the state.

Sadly, those 15 miles below the dam are not filled with access. There are a few places anglers can enter right below the dam and a few more within those miles.

Right Below the Dam- Good Access!

If you’re the type of angler who wants to float instead of wade, feel free to enter here. You can float nine miles down to Farris Creek Bridge to end the day! I’d recommend using a kayak or smaller river raft. The water can get shallow, so you want to make sure you’re not grounding out.

You can also wade here if the water levels are low! Make sure you pay close attention to the water release schedule before you fish close to the beginning of the dam. If you do choose to wade, you’ll find that almost the entire river is surrounded by trees and vegetation, so make sure you’re far enough out into the water to avoid getting hung up.

The river is fairly wide and flat, so take a look for structure and somewhat deeper water to begin your journey. Dries, nymphs and streamers will work in these sections.


Farris Creek Bridge- Easy wading

The Farris Creek Bridge is another easy access point for fly anglers. Here, you’ll notice similar water conditions to what you would see towards the beginning of the dam. If you’re willing to work your way upstream, you’ll find a nice bend in the river. This bend is a great place to fish. It has deep water and plenty of structure for the fish to hide.

Throw streamers here. The structure protects some of those extremely trout that are more selective in their feeding. However, if it’s early in the day and the fish are rising, feel free to throw dries.


Old Dam- Great structure!

The final place you should look to fish is at the end of Old Dam Road. It’s a few miles further south of the Farris Creek Bridge. Here, you’ll find some small islands throughout the middle of the river. These islands create pools and great holding areas for fish. You can work your way both up and downstream. The fish are hungry and waiting. 


Why the Elk River is Perfect for Fly Fishing

The Elk River is perfect for fly fishing because it offers anglers a chance to catch wild and stocked trout, has plenty of fishable water and is manageable for all types of anglers. Plus, with the close proximity to a variety of campgrounds and lodging, you’re able to make a trip out of it if you would like.

Also, this river is one of the more scenic options in all of Tennessee. You’ll be surrounded by farmland and large trees. You’ll receive a wonderful sense of peace and quiet while you’re out on the water.

What Kind of Fish Can You Catch in the Elk River?

Fly Fishing Rainbow Trout Green River
Fly Fishing Rainbow Trout

In the Elk River, you’ll find populations of brown, rainbow and brook trout. All three of these fish are stocked on a yearly basis, but there are plenty of holdover trout. It’s not uncommon for anglers to catch browns and rainbows over 20 inches long. On occasion, there are rumors of fish over 10 pounds being caught.

If you choose to travel further down the river, then you’ll find nice populations of smallmouth and largemouth bass. You have to go beyond the first 15 miles below the dam, but once you do, you’ll find nice populations of both.

Favorite Flies for Elk River

The Elk River is a great river for dry-dropper rigs. The insect populations are healthy, but nymphs almost always seem to be working. Plus, you’ll find that streamers work well in the deeper sections of 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 18

Early in the season, you’ll find the Blue Winged Olives all over the river. A size 18 nymph can be fished under an indicator or a larger dry fly pattern.

Elk Hair Caddis- Size 20

When the fish are rising, feel free to use an Elk Hair Caddis. Caddis hatches occur almost all year, and the Elk Hair is a great pattern to start with.

Black Wooly Bugger- Size 6

The bigger trout in the Elk River are more than willing to eat streamers. Start with a size 6 black Wooly Bugger and see how they take it. From here, you can move to a different color or smaller size.

What is the Best Stream Flow for the Elk River?

When fishing the Elk River, you want the water to be moving from the dam somewhere between 250 and 400 CFS.

Stream flow Elk River
Stream flow Elk River link to USGS

Hatch Chart for Elk River

Fly NameSizeStart DateEnd Date
 Adams 14-18 August 1August 31
 Caddis 14-22 January 1 December 31
 Blue Winged Olive 16-22 September 1 April 31
 Midge 18-22 November 1 February 28
 Hendrickson 12-16 March 1 May 31
 Light Cahill 12-16 May 1 June 30
 March Brown 12-14 March 1April 30
 PMD 16-18 June 1June 30
 Crane Fly 14-20September 1October 31
 Scud 14-18January 1December 31

Fly Rod and Reel Setup for Elk River

For the Elk River, you don’t need an overly large setup. Somewhere between a 4-weight and 6-weight rod would do. Make sure you have a matching reel to go with it.

In terms of fly line, use a weight forward floating line. Pair that with a 1x through 4x leader depending on the fly you’re using. Be prepared with 4x through 6x tippet as well.

Guides and Fly Shops

Tim’s Flies and Lies Outfitters is a full service guide shop and they offer guided trips on the Elk! They’re a family owned operation, so be sure to check them out.

If you’re staying near the Nashville Area, the Tennessee Fly Fisher is another service that offers guided trips on the Elk.

Last Cast

The Elk River below Tim’s Ford Dam is a great place to test your fly fishing skills. This river has over 10 miles of great trout water and dozens of miles of water filled with bass. You can easily target both species on the same day. If you’re visiting or live near central Tennessee, make sure you give the Elk a try.

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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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