Mountain Empire/ High Country Fishing Calender
UPDATED JANUARY 2, 2007
This calendar has been prepared with help from many local fisherman, and is a continuous work in progress. We would appreciate any suggestions. Please email updates or suggestions by clicking on the E-mail us link on our home page.
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Smallmouth bass should fish fairly well on overcast days using the locally patented “Float N’ Fly” method. Using long light action spinning rods used by the steelhead crowd up north, 1/16 or 1/32 oz. craft hair or duck feather jigs are fished below a slip float. The most difficult part of this type of fishing is learning how to cast the rig, which is sometimes over 20 feet long. Fly fisherman will find this very similar to roll-casting. Give it a try, and if you find out fishing for an 8 pound bass with light action gear is not for you, try a vertical jigging spoon real slow like a Silver Buddy, or small crankbaits like a 200 series Rootbeer Bandit or darker colored Bomber Fat Free Shad. Any of these methods should be effective on South Holston or Watauga Lakes.
Striped bass fishing is excellent below John Sevier Steam Plant on the Holston River in Hawkins County, as well as on Boone Lake in Washington County. Best baits are Cotton Cordell Red Fins, bucktail bouncing jigs, bright colored jigging spoons and live shad.
Some of the largest trout in mountain streams are typically caught this time of year. Try your luck before trout stocking begins. Remember, big trout want a big meal, so try minnow-imitating crankbaits (Rapala), live minnows, and oversized black or brown Rooster Tails in stained water. Fly fishermen can have good luck with #10 flashback pheasant tails, # 8 Yallerhammers, # 10 Tellico nymphs, and # 8 black or olive woolly boogers.
Sauger fishing in Watauga Lake is at its peak. Although these fish are new to Watauga Lake in the last two years, many locals have reported catching them. White, chartreuse, or red crafthair jigs tipped with minnows are bottom-bounced or jigged to staging fish on creek and river channel beds. Pumpkinseed, white, and yellow grubs on 1/16 ounce jigheads have proven to be effective baits for sauger in other parts of the state, and should be effective here as well.
Walleye spawning runs usually begin in late March when water temperatures in rivers or lake tributaries reach around 50 degrees. Good baits include nightcrawlers, live hornyhead minnows, or shallow running jerkbaits or crankbaits fished on the drift. Rapala (fire tiger, blue back, rainbow black/gold) and A.C. Shiner floating minnows are the local favorite. Some good fly patterns are blue & white clouser minnows or brightly colored marabou/ rabbit hair zonkers which imitate bait fish. Walleye will strike out of aggresion while on spawning beds. Good walleye fishing can be found near the lake on the Elk and Little Watauga Rivers (Carter Co.), and along the lake shore near Doe and Roan Creeks in Johnson County. When fishing at late dusk and after dark, walleye can be fished by sight by watching for those iridescent eyes.
Smallmouth on Watauga and South Holston Lakes are hitting chartreuse spinnerbaits, 3” drop shot worms, and 3” green pumpkin or black & blue tubes.
State agencies have begun stocking catchable size trout in Appalachian Mountain streams, lakes, and tailwaters. Check the stock reports for Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia wildlife agencies to find your best chance to catch a creel limit of trout for dinner. Try your luck with chartreuse or yellow Powerbait, salmon eggs, nightcrawlers, crickets, gold blade Panther Martins, brown Rooster Tails, and Little Cleos. In Tennessee, bank anglers catch their limits on Watauga Lake at Rat Branch Boat Ramp, Little Stoney Creek camping area, and Shook Branch Recreation Area. All of these spots are located on Highway 67/321 between Hampton and Butler.
Many old timers say "when the redbuds (or dogwoods) are blooming the white bass are running". This time of year, white bass have completed their spawning runs in local rivers, and are returning back to the lake. The Holston River above Cherokee Lake in Hawkins County, TN, French Broad River above Douglas Lake near Greeneville, and South Holston River above Holston Lake in Washington Co., VA are prime spots to chase these hard fighting fish. Travels in schools pursuing concentrations of gizzard and threadfin shad and other small fishes. Also feeds on insects such as mayflies, crayfish and other aquatic animals, and are active feeders during their spawning runs, which take place typically from mid-April to late May when water temperatures range between 58 to 64 degrees F. White bass seldom exceed 3 or 4 pounds in size, so light action tackle, including 8 pound test line or less, is recommended. 40 or 50 catch days are possible. Grubs, spoons, in-line spinners, Beetle Spins, small crankbaits.
Smallmouth bass in local rivers like the N. Fork Holston River in Sullivan County, Nolichuckey and French Broad Rivers in Greene County, and the New River in Ashe County, NC, Grayson Co., VA are in pre-spawn feeding mode right now, making them as aggressive as they will be all year. Smallies will hit just about anything while guarding a nest, so find a gravel bar or scoured pool and try Rebel crawfish or hellgrammites, Mad Tom or sculpin minnows. The bluegill Rapala Shad Rap (size 5-7) is also a popular lure. For natural bait, head out early and collect the "Grampuses" (hellgrammites) emerging on the rocky shoals in the morning. These large dobsonfly larvae may look deadly, but they're even deadlier on river and small stream smallmouth. Fly casting large brown/orange crayfish patterns, chartreuse clouser minnows, brown/black stonefly nymphs and flashtail woolly boogers can bring these big fish in fast.
Largemouth on local TVA reservoirs chartreuse spinnerbaits.
Crappie will spawn this month when water temperatures approach 65 degrees. Crappie in local big rivers and lakes will take small 1” tubes in brighter colors on a jig head, as well as Johnson Beetle Spins and small pumpkinseed grubs.
Hornyheads (stoneroller) usually begin their spawning runs this month. Fishing for hornyheads is a long time tradition in Northeast Tennessee, probably before trout were regularly stocked in the local mountain streams. Although these minnows rarely get bigger than 9 or 10 inches, they can be lots of fun to catch with crickets, nightcrawler chunks, even size 10 or 12 nymphs with a fly rod. Hornyheads are considered rough fish, and there is no catch limit, so its possible to catch 40 or 50 in just a couple of hours. Large spawning males are easily recognizable by the large knots on the front of their head. Give it a try if you haven’t, they make for great eating.
Largemouth Bass spawn from early May through June, water and air temperature varying. Green Pumpkin, black & chartreuse soft plastic worms or lizards fished on a carolina rig Berkley Powerbait Black 10-inch Power Worm has been a hot lure
Fly fisherman around the country are familiar with the Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch which takes place this month. South Holston and Watauga tailwaters are in full swing with hatches of # 16 black caddis flies and sulphur mayflies. Swarms of these insects can fill the air, which really makes the residual stocked and native trout go into a selective feeding mode. Fly fisherman can have a big advantage over bait fisherman with dry fly imitations of similar size, as well as pheasant tail and hair’s ear nymphs. Fish the fast riffles with wet flies up and across the current, and deep pools with weighted wooley boogers or clouser minnows. Sulphur comparadun or parachutes and Flatwater Caddis in size 16 or smaller work well in slow water. Try your luck below Osceola Island and the weir dam on South Holston, or in Black Bottom Park in Elizabethton.
Striped bass on topwater on Boone Lake. Creek Chub Knuckle-Heads, Rebel Pop-R’s,
Bluegill are very active right now. Fishing in farm ponds is at its peak right now. Kids can have lots of fun with crickets, red worms, and wax worms.. Fly rodding for bluegill with popping bugs and black wooley boogers is lots of fun for grown-ups too. Bass in farm ponds like pumpkinseed grubs, chartreuse/gold blade spinnerbaits, black soft plastic worms, and kicker frog fly patterns.
Get away from the crowds and take a spring hiking/ fishing trip in one of the isolated mountain rivers. The Doe and Elk River Gorges in Carter County, TN, Little Watauga in Johnson County, TN, and Linville River Gorge in Caldwell County, NC are cool and full of big brown and rainbow trout, smallmouth and redeye bass. Skunk and Yellow Coachdog Rooster Tails, Rebel ultralite Crawfish and Hellgrammite lures are good lures to fish in deep holes for trout or across riffles for bass. Fly patterns for trout and bass include weighted # 8 Tellico nymphs, black stonefly nymphs, and olive/brown woolley boogers. Although you should watch carefully for snakes in these remote areas, they usually aren’t out in as many numbers as they will be in warmer months.
Catfish spawn when water reaches 75 degrees. Liver, blood, or cheese Powerbait, dip baits and Strike King Catfish hearts fished off rocky banks or below river humps can bring in big cats over 30 pounds. Lake catfishing using limb lines or jugs rigged with bluegill cut bait on circle hooks works well also.
The Green Drake Mayfly hatch takes place this month. Laurel and Beaverdam Creeks in Johnson County are havens for this hatch for two or three weeks in June just before dusk until dark. The Green Drake is commonly imitated with dry flies as large as # 8 or 10. The Tennessee Wulff in sizes 10-12 is an effective dry fly pattern when the hatch is heavy. Selective native brown trout will take # 10 olive hair’s ear nymphs, or dark emerger patterns fished just below the surface. The most successful spinner patterns are the single hook Green Caddis & Alderfly Rooster Tails, and Salamander blade Panther Martins.
2004's hottest new smallmouth tournament baits were: (1) green pumpkin Yamamoto Senko worms fished on a Wacky Rig, and (2) green/ blue Mizmo 3" tubes on weedless jig heads.
Hybrid bass weighing more than 30 pounds are active on Boone Lake near the dam, in the Watauga River channel near Wing Deer Park in Johnson City, and the South Holston River channel near Bluff City. Chicken livers, bucktail bouncing jigs and live shad work also well for big “stripes” this time of year.
Nighttime smallmouth/ largemouth bass fishing is great on East Tennessee reservoirs. Black & blue pig n’ jigs, dark colored spinnerbaits
Trolling for big trout in Watauga and South Holston Lakes from daylight to mid-morning or just before dark. Rainbow and brown trout can be found deep on South Holston, while Watauga holds rainbows (Kamloops), lake trout, and occasional hold-over brown trout. Luhr-Jensen Dipsey Divers or lead core line can be used to troll up to 90 feet deep, but to maintain consistent trolling on these lakes at depths greater than 50 feet usually requires the use of downriggers. Sutton Spoons, Flash King Wobblers, Krocodiles, and small Yo-Zuri crankbait patterns trolled from Watauga Bridge to the dam, as well as from Hwy. 421 boat ramp to Holston Dam are the most consistent methods. Night fishing with floating lights near the dam to attract bait fish is also popular, however lake trout are not known to be night feeders like rainbows. The current state record lake trout of 20 pounds was caught in Watauga in 1994, but this record could be easily broken. TWRA biologists have reported fish weighing almost 30 pounds.
Cool off stalking brook trout in one of hundreds of local mountains streams. Native Appalachain strain brook trout rarely exceed 12 inches in length, so ultra-light spinning or fly tackle is best. Ants, beetles, inchworms, and pheasant tail nymphs in sizes 12-16 are popular fly patterns, while spin fishermen use single hook spinners in sizes 1/16 ounce or smaller. The Frog Level section of Laurel Fork Creek runs through the Dennis Cove Recreation Area in Carter County. Gentry Creek in Johnson County, Paint and Horse Creeks in Greene County, TN and the headwaters of Whitetop Laurel Creek in Washington County, VA. Some other local brook trout favorites are Birch Branch in Shady Valley, Tiger and Hampton Creeks in Carter County. Three Top Creek and Horse Creek in Ashe County, NC are some out of the way places to find these fish.
Largemouth bass are still hitting topwater baits. Arbogast Jitterbugs, Hula Poppers, and Creek Chub Knuckle-Heads, and Frenzy Walkers are hot topwater lures for tournament anglers. Late summer brings on big hatches of mayflies, which can be imitated using white and yellow popping bugs thrown on a fly rod. Search for bluegill and bass in shallow coves and under covering structure (tree limbs, weeds).
Walleye begin staging in shallow water after warm season scattering, and can be caught on Watauga Lake in 15 to 25 feet of water along Roan Creek and near the Little Watauga River. Nighttime walleye can be found in less than 10 feet of water. Bright colored Husky Jerks and Spoonbill Rebels cast toward the bank at night is effective. Trolling nightcrawler rigs, Sutton Spoons, Rapala Shad Rap RS, Tail Dancers, Long-Bill Rebels, or Husky Jerks can also catch these tasty fish. Finding structure on which these fish will stage is very important, such as mid-lake humps, rock piles, reefs, and sunken islands.
Trolling for walleye is not an expensive undertaking if you purchase the right equipment. Little Joe Lindy Rig bottom-bouncing sinkers on a three-way swivel can easily put you where the fish are without spending lots of money on downriggers. Any boat with a small horsepower engine or trolling motor equipped with rod holders will work just fine. The best fishing this time of year is night to mid-morning. The new Rapala Deep Tail Dancer has been the hottest new lure in years for Watauga and South Holston walleyes. Purpledescent, Rainbow Trout, and Hot Flash are proving to be the best colors at night. Walleye can't resist their erratic action bright color.
Find a friend with a john boat or raft and float the trophy section of the Watauga River below Elizabethton in Carter County. TWRA stocks rainbow, brown, and brook trout throughout the year, and natural reproduction of brown trout is second only to the South Holston tailwater. Although this area was devastated by a chemical spill from the North American Plant in Elizabethton in 1998, TWRA’s aggressive stocking program has put the river back on the map in a very short time. Small beadhead caddis and brassie patterns, damselfly nymphs, brown and olive wooley boogers are good subsurface fly patterns. Ants, hoppers, and low water sulphur patterns work well on slow-moving water, or during low generation periods. For spin fishermen, most prefer rainbow and gold/black TD Minnows and floating Rapalas, Yo-Zuri Pin’s Minnow, Rebel Hellgrammites, or silver Blue Fox Vibrax spinners. This section of river is restricted to artifical lures and a 2-fish, 14-inch minimum creel limit.
Largemouth bass are active on Boone and Patrick Henry Lakes. Green pumpkin, rootbeer, or brown/orange pig n' jigs are favorites, as well as Red Bug Finesse Worms on a Carolina rig. Try your luck on the main lake channels near brushy cover or submerged weeds.
The tree colors of fall are enjoyed by thousands of people every year on the Blue Ridge Parkway from the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. But very few of these people take advantage of the hundreds of miles of trout. Native brook trout in these waters are in spawning season, and male brookies are as pretty as you’ll ever see. Streams and lakes on the Parkway are uncrowded or empty this time of year. Doughton Park, near Blowing Rock, NC has Price Lake, Basin Creek, Boone Fork, Cold Prong Branch, Laurel Creek, Sims Creek, and Camp Creek. Boone Fork, Cold Prong Branch, Laurel Creek, Sims Creek, and Camp Creek for trout fishing. In Virginia, Otter Lake offers trout and smallmouth, while Abbott Lake offers largemouth bass and bluegill. in A fishing license from Virginia or North Carolina is valid in all Parkway waters.
Winter spawning runs of rainbow trout from Watauga Lake start late this month and run through early March. Water temperatures of 50 degrees along with some rain to raise the creek levels will trigger these fish to leave the lake. Roan and Doe Creeks in Johnson County offer a chance to land 4 pound rainbows. Spawn sacs and Powerbait Steelhead clusters are the preferred local favorite, but fly anglers can have equal success with #10 Tellico Nymphs, # 10 egg yarn flies, # 8 Yallerhammers fished wet, and egg-sucking woolly boogers in brown or black. Doe Creek was known across the country in the 60’s & 70’s for world class trout, but has declined due to low water levels, overfishing, loss of habitat, and the introduction of walleye into Watauga Lake. Recently TWRA and Trout Unlimited funded the introduction of the Kamloop strain of rainbow trout into the stream, and hopes to re-establish Doe Creek as a world-class trout stream within a few years.
Big rainbow trout can also be found in the South Holston tailwaters below Boone and Fort Patrick Henry Dams right now. The current Tennessee state record rainbow trout (16 pounds) was caught last year below Boone Dam this time of year using live minnows. TD Minnows, Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows, and Powerbait Bubblegum worms are also good baits.
While almost everyone else is bow hunting, there is a limited group of people who hit the rivers to chase the elusive Muskie, or Muskellunge. When water temperatures fall below 60 degrees, these river dwelling giants are ready to go on a feeding frenzy to build up for the coming winter months. Ever see a tree stand on the river bank? You can bet there is a nice muskie hole nearby. Veteran muskie anglers use a spotter in a tree stand to find where these fish are cruising.
This time of year, muskies favor large jerkbaits such as Rapala original minnows in size 18, Smithwick Rattlin' Rogues, Red Fins, and Bomber Magnum Jointed Long-A's. The Magnum Long A is designed for saltwater use, but at 7 inches long, musky anglers love the silver flash chartreuse and it's wobbling action. Live horneyhead minnows on a bait rig is also effective. The best muskie fishing this time of year can be found on the New River in Grayson County, Virginia. The Nolichuckey and French Broad Rivers are also prime areas to search for the "Fish of a Thousand Casts". Hungry Mother and Rural Retreat Lakes in Wythe County, Virginia are also muskie hot spots. Be patient, do your homework, and you'll be rewarded with the fight of your life. Recommended tackle includes a short heavy action baitcasting rod, large capacity baitcasting reel, 30-pound test braided line, and a set of grips for handling toothy fish. A trophy muskie will often exceed 20 pounds or better.
Smallmouth bass on bone-colored Bomber Long-A’s.
White bass on Holston River above Cherokee Lake in Hawkins County, and South Fork Holston River in Washington County, VA.
Brown trout spawn on South Holston tailwater in Sullivan County. Although some of the river is now closed to fishing from November 1 to January 31 to allow these fish to spawn, large browns can still be caught weighing more than 10 pounds. Local favorite lures are gold/black and rainbow TD Minnows, Yo-Zuri Pin’s Minnow, LuckyCraft minnows, and blue back Rapalas. Be aware of your location at all times, and stay out of closed spawning areas. Also, TWRA enforces 16-22 inch slot limit, 1 fish over 22 inch restrictions from the dam to Bluff City. In 2005, many of our customers have 30 fish days or better using the new Rapala X-Rap jerkbait
Delayed harvest trout streams in Tennessee (Paint Creek, Greene County) and North Carolina (Watauga River, Watauga County; Helton Creek, Ashe County) offer the best opportunity to land nice rainbow and browns.
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