The South Holston has been fishing really well over the past month. The sulphur hatch has tapered off mostly; sulphur nymphs are working well still. Blue-wing olive (Baetis) larvae are very plentiful throught the S. Holston, and sometimes exceed the sulphur larvae in total biomass. In other words, dark BWO nymph patterns in small sizes can be successful year-round. Blue-wings are hatching in some spots on both tailwaters already, and sizes 18-20 dry flies can be very successful during a hatch. Scuds are also very plentiful throughout the river and scud patterns work well this time of year. Try an olive scud pattern in size 18. Midges occur in almost every body of water in America, and the S. Holston is no exception. There are several species, mostly in very small sizes, that have been hatching recently, and small to very-small midge larve and pupae patterns work well. Adult midges are mostly very, very small (#26 and smaller), and matching these hatches is fairly hard; the exception is when there is a blanket hatch (this often occurs simultaneously with BWO hatches, usually on cloudy days. When this occurs, try a Griffith’s Gnat pattern on a long, thin leader. The browns are still eating mice [at night] and there have been some really big ones caught in the last month. This bite will taper off as the temperatures get colder. When the water is running high (usually around 2200 cfs this year…), various streamer patterns have worked well. Go smaller than normal, and try different yellow, white and brown streamers. Use a heavy sink-tip line to get deeper. Lake-run rainbows and browns are coming in through the mouths of both the S. Holston and the Watauga, and there are a few lake-run rainbows that have already been spawning or trying to spawn for the last 2 weeks. This small run of lake-run rainbows occurs every year below some of the dams, starting about September 10. Browns in both tailwaters will be spawning by November, and eggs/nymphs and some streamers will be the patterns to use then. During the upcoming spawn, watch for some rainbows eating eggs a few feet downstream of brown-trout redds; in this case try to match-the-hatch with the proper color and size of the brown-trout eggs. I should also mention that many different colors of eggs can work during the upcoming spawn. During the spawn, please be careful not to walk on the redds, as these are wild fish that have natural reproduction in both rivers, and redds are fragile.
The Watauga has been fishing well recently. The Watauga is a longer river than the S. Holston, and has a broader temperature range in summer and fall. This results in a broad range of aquatic and terrestrial insects and other trout foods (this can be easily observed by taking bug samples in different spots of the river, or any river. Keep good notes if you are a bug-freak and you take a lot of samples; this can be very valuable information years later. I learned this the hard way.). On hot days the temperature on the Watauga can be up to 20 degrees F difference from the dam down to the mouth. Some of the fish, especially on the lower Watauga, will travel down to the lake when temperatures get too hot and dissolved oxygen levels get too low. Brown trout can tolerate higher temperatures with lower dissolved oxygen levels, and for that reason you will sometimes find more browns than rainbows during late summer/early fall on the lower Watauga. You will also occasionally find hatches of sulphurs (Ephemerella) and Potomanthus mayflies up to a mile downstream from the mouths of both tailwaters. When this occurs you will catch mostly small rainbows; this is a fascinating summer/early-fall behavior to observe. Beetle season is tapering off this month, but on hot days you can still throw a beetle pattern near the riverbanks and have success. Blue-wing olive hatches are occurring already, especially on cooler, cloudy days. Try a dry-fly pattern in sizes 18-20 during these hatches. Worm patterns in various colors are working well right now. Other successful patterns include small to very-small midges, blue-wing olive larvae patterns, and split-cases. When all else fails, try a split-case dropper with a zebra midge as your point fly. Many people think this formula is a secret, but I think any fool can figure it out with a little research. Blame Google and high-technology if you would like. When the Watuaga is on high water generation (usually around 1700 cfs), use a lot of weight, and fish even deeper than you would think. The fish are there but they are often on the bottom or behind rocks and other structures where the current is less strong.
Smallmouth on the Holston Proper in Kingsport, and for about 25 miles downstream, were biting pretty well recently, but the weeds started coming loose by the ton, and it’s currently very hard to fish without getting weeds on almost every cast (even with ‘weedless’ lures and flies). The weeds should clear out in about 3-4 weeks, depending on how much rain we get and how much water comes through Ft. Patrick Henry dam.
The hybrid and striper fishing is picking up on Boone, Ft. Patrick Henry, and South Holston lakes, and there are schools of threadfin shad getting busted on top at dawn and in the evenings, as well as on cloudy days. There are a few gizzard shad also, and the stripers are eating both shad species; loud busts can often be heard after dark. The hybrids tend to key on the threadfin schools. Try to fish on cloudy evenings with little wind if possible. Try white baitfish patterns, and if you don’t succeed, try a smaller baitfish fly. This bite should be good for the next couple months.
With the colder water temperatures, musky season is here. If you do a little research, you will find musky in many places in Tennessee. One of the main foods of musky in the rivers is a redhorse sucker. These are common in the warmer freestone rivers of Tennessee, as well as other rivers and lakes, and a big, bright, sucker pattern can work really well this time of year. Musky also eat the smallmouth/largemouth bass and sometimes yellow perch, where they are common, and bass and perch patterns can produce also. Knowing what a musky will eat is a weird science, and the answer is: almost anything. Switch up flies fairly often if you are not seeing fish; try patterns as small as a leech and as big as you can possibly throw; this applies to both lures and flies. Try several different color patterns also. Use a figure-8 of some sort at the end of every cast.