Hiwassee River - Trout Fishing Profile

Fishery in Tennessee
  |  Gorp.com
Map of Tennessee

Location: Southeast Tennessee.
Section: Powerhouse at Appalachia, downstream eight miles from US 411. The Hiwasseeoffers a total of 19 miles from the powerhouse.
Maps: USGS Oswald Bald, McFarland, Farner.
Type of Stream: Tailwater.
Best seasons to fish: Year-round.
Species to be found: The river is heavily stocked each year but has many holdovers which survive each year. Anglers can fish for stocked rainbow, brown, and some brook trout.

Average sizes: 9-14 inches. Trout are regularly caught weighing several pounds, and trophy trout run 612 pounds.

Regulations: General Tennessee regulations apply except for the 3-mile trophy trout section from 2.5 miles below the powerhouse near the Big Bend Recreation Area downstream to the town of Reliance. Trophy trout regulations require artificial lures and flies, and a daily 2-fish creel limit of 14-inch minimum length.

Well-known areas and places to fish along the river: The trophy trout, no-kill zone holds big browns in the winter when large numbers of shad come through the generators. In the summer during low flow and higher temperatures, fishing can be productive in the deeper pools of the lower region. Anglers will find hard-fighting rainbows in the riffles and rapids, and heavy browns in the pools and shoals.

Recommended Equipment

Light, long tippets are often needed when the river is low and flat. In those cases, light tackle like a 3- or 4-weight rod is preferable. When the river runs high and fast, tippets can be strengthened and shortened, and rod weights can go to a 5 or 6 weight. An 8-1/2 to 9-foot rod is best for flyfishing.

Top fly patterns: The river has better hatches than most Appalachian waters, better than most tailwaters. Mayfly, caddis, stonefly, midge, and terrestrial hatches keep the flyfishermen matching bugs all year long. Forage fish also comprise some of the trout's diet, so streamers are good producers, especially in high water when the large fish lose some of their fear and leave cover to feed. Some of the better patterns are Elk Hair Caddis (1420), Blue Winged Olive (1620), Hendrickson (1618), Sulphur Dun (1416), Adams (1218), Royal Wulff (1216), Red Quill (1416), Light Cahill (1418), Black Ant (11416), Muddler Minnow (1216), Woolly Bugger (48). Productive nymphs include the A.P. Pheasant (1416), Gold-ribbed Hare's Ear (1216), and Pheasant Tail (1620). Spin fishermen have luck with Rapala lures, while bait fishermen will catch big ones on whole kernel corn and worms.

Recommended Techniques

The major consideration for the fisherman has to be the power generation schedule. If you fish on the weekends of national holidays, then you can take advantage of the fact that no water is released before 9 a.m. If you fish upstream early and then move downstream, you could easily fish for most of the day before the high water forced you into a boat. When the river is flat or low, anglers must stalk their prey, moving cautiously from channel to channel and pool to pool. Long, delicate leaders (up to 12 feet) are needed under low water conditions. Anglers can cast to the shadows of the overhanging trees, strip Zonkers across the large, slow, shallow pools, or cast to rising trout feasting on a solid hatch of tiny blue winged olives. Hatches are usually good early and late in the day, but occasionally there is midday action.

Best access points: Access to the portion above the powerhouse is limited, but below it Forest Service Road 108 parallels the north side of the river.

Quality of Angling

Many believe that the fertile Hiwassee River tailrace will soon surpass its present standing as the best tailwater in Tennessee. Some predict that it will become the best tailwater in the southeast and will someday rival any in the nation. The trout aren't quite big enough to challenge just yet. However, with the recent flow management improvements, the return of aquatic insect life after the mid-1980s drought, the river's designation as a state Scenic River, and the trophy trout regulations, the Hiwasseemight someday fulfill this prophecy. It doesn't hurt that the river gets some protection from the fact that most of its waters are within the boundaries of the Cherokee National Forest. Many also think the river is underfished.

In the trophy trout section, anglers catch football-shaped rainbows and browns to 20 inches, with a 16 incher becoming a regular occurrence. Most of the time, the catches average about 12 inches. It would help if more of the river had special regulations. The lower Hiwasseebelow US 411 can be difficult to reach because most of the land is private, but access to the upper region is afforded by several roads. Above the powerhouse access is tough.

Wadeability/floatability: The river is wadeable when the flow is low, and since the Hiwasseeis broad—up to 300 yards wide in many places—anglers can wade even in high water in some places. The current can be deceptively strong in places, and felt-soled waders are recommended for solid footing. Floating the Hiwasseeis easy enough when the river is up. You'll see all kinds of crafts on the river, including canoes, drift boats, kayaks, small watercraft, and even float tubes. When the flow is minimal, navigating the river is difficult. Floaters end up picking up their light craft and walking across the bedrock to get to the next pool.

Fly Shops, Guides, and Outfitters of Interest

Adams Fly Tackle, Route 2, Box 122, Reliance, TN, 37369, 615-338-2162
Outdoor Guides Services, Inc. , 1418 Euharlee Road, S.W., Kingston, GA, 30145, 404-386-0413.


Chattanooga is about an hour away and has numerous accommodations and services. Cleveland is closer and has a few places to eat and sleep. Campgrounds can be found at several places along the river.

© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press and Mark D. Williams. All rights reserved.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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