Tennessee Brown Trout

Guide to Fly Fishing the South Fork of the Holston River Tennessee (Maps, Flies and Technique)

It’s not often that two states want to fight over something and claim it as their own. The Holston River, however, is the pride and joy of anglers in both Virginia and Tennessee. Many would say it’s some of the best trout fishing east of the Mississippi River.

The South Fork of the Holston River partially flows through Northeast Tennessee and is an amazing trout fishery. Fly fishing the South Fork of the Holston River should be a priority for fly anglers all over the country.

How to Fly Fish for Brown Trout
How to Fly Fish for Brown Trout 👈 Link to learn more

A Little Bit About the South Holston River

In Tennessee, the South Fork of the Holston River flows out of South Holston Lake and is a wonderful tailwater for around 14 miles. Many experts say there are upwards of 6,000 fish per mile. Known by the locals as the “SoHo”, you can float or wade fish through these beautiful waters. Like many of the other trout fisheries in Tennessee, it’s important to pay attention to the flow rates before you go.

While the river isn’t hundreds of miles long, it’s extremely productive for the 14 miles until it flows into Bluff Lake. Make sure to visit the following three spots when you visit the river!

Big Springs Road- Great Big Fish Water!

The Big Springs Road boat ramp is about halfway between Bluff City and South Holston Lake. This is a great place to fish if you’re looking for bigger fish. If the generators aren’t running, you are able to wade along the edge of this portion. It’s a long, straight portion of river, so you have to work hard to find seams and deeper sections, but when you do, they’re holding fish.

This section of river can change depending on the day and flow rates, but it’s generally a great place to throw all types of flies! Streamers, nymphs and dries will land fish. They’re fairly educated, so keep that in mind! Also, make sure you’re in the water early. That’ll give you your best chance.


Bouton Trail- Good Privacy

If you’re willing to take a 3/4 of a mile hike through the woods, then make sure you visit the Bouton Trail. It’s located about five miles from the dam itself. The best part of this section of river is that it’s located on one large eddy. This large bend in the river has very deep water that holds some of those 20 inch trout that anglers rave about.

Bring your dry flies to this section. You’ll want to drift them along the banks. Hatches are prevalent when the sun hits this section. Plus, there are great seams in these sections. If you’re willing to stay patient, you have a great chance at landing a trophy.


J. Forrest Thomas Access Area- Nice Place to Start Your Day!

The J. Forrest Thomas Access area is around 12 miles below the dam. This is the last section of very productive water before you hit the town of Bluff City. You’ll find some overhanging branches and thick vegetation in this section of the river, so your best bet is to float this section or wade it. You don’t want to spend the majority of your time pulling your fly out of trees.

Most anglers don’t venture down this far, so you have a really good place to enter and have a bit of the river to yourself. Like all other portions of the river, the fish here can be spooky, but you can attack them with your entire arsenal. They’ll eat dries, nymphs and streamers. Stay patient and don’t give up!


Why the South Fork Holston River is Perfect for Fly Fishing

The South Fork Holston River is perfect for fly fishing because of the healthy fish population, close proximity to town and regulated flows and water temperature. It’s a perfect trout fishery and the Tennessee Game and Fish Department as well as local anglers work extremely hard to protect these fish.

Bring your family and let them see the beauty of Northeast Tennessee and sneak away for a few hours at a time to explore these waters.

Keep in mind that if the generators are on and water is being released, you’re going to want a boat. If they aren’t, you should be able to wade the entire 14 mile section of river.

What Kind of Fish Can You Can on the South Fork Holston?

Biggest Brown Trout
Biggest Brown Trout

Brown trout are the primary fish caught in the South Fork Holston. However, there are also rainbow trout that are regularly stocked in the river. You’ll find a decent amount of 16-22 inch fish throughout these waters.

The Tennessee Game and Fish stocks around 50,000 rainbow trout in the river between March and September. Brown trout aren’t stocked nearly as often in an effort to continue to support the thriving wild fish population.

Favorite Flies for the South Fork Holston River

The fish on the SoHo can be picky, but there are a few patterns that continue to land fish.

Pheasant Tail Nymph
Pheasant Tail Nymph
Zebra Midge Fly Pattern
Zebra Midge Fly Pattern
Sulphur Dun for Fly Fishing
Sulphur Dun for Fly Fishing

Pheasant Tail- Size 18

Complete Guide to Fly Fishing with the Pheasant Tail NymphThe Pheasant Tail nymph is going to land fish all-year long. You want to fish it with a bead head if at all possible. It’s better if you can fish them deep.

Red Zebra Midge- Size 20

Midge hatches occur all year. A small, size 20 Zebra Midge is just about perfect. Fish it as the last fly on a nymph rig or below a dry-dropper. Either option will work.

Sulfur Parachute- Size 20

When the Sulfur hatches are happening, that’s when the South Fork of the Holston is at its best.

Hatch Chart for the South Fork Holston River

Fly NameSizeStart DateEnd Date
 Midges 18-26January 1December 31
 Sulfurs 14-18April 1October 31
 Blue Winged Olive 18-22January 1 September 1April 31 December 31
 Tan Caddis 14-18March 1April 31
 Black Caddis 14-18March 1April 31
 Terrestrials 8-12May 1August 31
 Streamer Patterns 2-8January 1December 31

Fly Rod and Reel Setup for the South Fork Holston River

When you’re getting ready to fish the South Fork Holston, you want to make sure you have a 5-weight 8’6” or 9’ rod. While the water isn’t huge, the fish definitely are larger than the average trout you’ll find. As a result, you want to make sure you’re able to fight them.

Foundation Fly Rod Combo
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Sage Foundation Fly Rod and Reel Combo

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Use a matching reel as well as a floating line. For your leader, use a 2x, 3x or 4x depending on the type of flies you’re using. With your tippet, make sure you have 4x through 7x. Yes, these trout are spooky!

Guides and Fly Shops

South Holston River Company– The South Holston River Company is widely regarded as one of the best guide services in the Southeast. These guides know their stuff, and they’re the official guide service for the South Holston River, Tailwaters Lodge.

Conrad’s Guide Service is another reputable company that offers full and half-day trips on the South Holston. Give them a call!

Last Cast

The South Fork Holston River is going to test your skills and abilities. The fish have been around the block and know a poorly presented fly when they see one. However, if you’re willing to stick with it and trust your skills, you have a chance to land some of the largest trout in the Southeast. If you want to know more about fishing in Tennessee, check out our article of the 13 best places.

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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