Watauga River Fly FIshing & Guided Trips
A world-class tailwater located in the heart of East TN rich with bug life and trout-holding habitat.
The Watauga River In East Tennessee
The Watauga River tailwater is a world-class trout fishery located right here in East Tennessee. The Watauga begins high in the mountains of North Carolina and makes it’s way west through the mountains into the 6,430-acre Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) impoundment, Watauga Lake. Watauga Lake is one of the country’s cleanest reservoirs and boasts deep, clear, and cold water. Flowing out of the Watauga Dam, the river then makes its way into a smaller but very deep lake called Wilbur Lake. Wilbur Dam directly feeds the world-class tailwater and trout fishery below as it flows 18 miles before running into Boone Lake. This tailwater section is where we spend most of our time with our clients. The depth of Wilbur Lake is a key factor in supporting the trout habitat of the river below as the cold water consistently released from the depths of the lake creates and maintains optimal conditions to support robust insect and trout life. Depending on the time of year and section of the tailwater, the water temperature generally ranges from 40 – 65 degrees. Boone Lake adds an interesting dynamic to this tailwater and the South Holston, as it provides anglers with the chance at a world-class brown trout by chasing migratory fish throughout certain times of the year.
Fly Fishing The Watauga River
Being a world-class trout fishery, the Watauga offers incredible fishing for brown and rainbow trout year-round. The ability to fish a variety of techniques, including dries, streamers, and nymphs, all on the same day, is something truly special that our clients enjoy. The river is comprised of prime trout habitat ranging from gorgeous riffles and seams to deep pools and pockets. The bottom composition varies throughout the river, but you’ll find larger boulder fields, bluff walls, cobblestone & limestone streaks, grassy banks & shoals, and more. This blue-ribbon river supports an incredible 2,000 fish per mile, with roughly 85% of them being wild brown trout and the remaining 15% being wild and stocked rainbow trout. As you may have heard, this is only possible due to the river’s famed hatches and robust bug life. The caddis hatch is the most well-known, along with heavy mayfly hatches of BWOs and sulfurs. Terrestrial fishing here can be great as well, with hoppers and beetles during the warmer months. As always, food sources like midges, scuds, and leeches produce year-round, and last but not least, when generating, streamer fishing can be fantastic if you have a good guide rowing you into them.
The best way to experience the Watauga is a full-day float trip, as you will be able to cover numerous techniques over different water types. Wade trips are also an option when the TVA is not generating. When the TVA is generating, the river can be quite hard to wade fish and is much better suited for anglers fishing out of a drift boat.
Latest Watauga River Fishing Reports
Find our latest updates on the Watauga below. We try to update these as frequently as possible. Any questions don’t hesitate to reach out via email.
May 2023 – Watauga River Fishing Report
May has been good. Lots of opportunities with lots of nice fish being...
January 2023 – Watauga River Fishing Report
The Watauga has been fishing solid, and there are some big fish being...
Photos From the Watauga
Here are some of the fish ourselves and our clients have crossed paths with on the various sections of the Watauga.
Seasonal Fishing Strategies
Being a tailwater, the Watauga offers great fishing opportunities year-round. Check below to get a quick idea of what generally may be happening during the time of your visit. You’ll also want to check out the generation schedule for when you’re here. Here is a link to check that out as well.
Watauga River/Wilbur Dam Generation Schedule
Spring is one of the best times to be fishing the Watauga. Fish are coming out of the winter months and are getting ready to put on the feedbag. Big browns are often recklessly looking to pack on some weight, making it a great time of the year to throw the big streamers. More notably, this is the time of year when hatches of BWO and caddis come into play, so bring your dry fly “A” game. Water conditions vary, but oftentimes lakes are drawn down and are in the process of being filled for the summer months. As a result, flows below can often be low, making for low and clear conditions.
Suggested Flies: BWO nymphs #14-18, BWO emergers #16-20, BWO dries #16-20, Caddis nymphs #14-18, Caddis emergers #14-18, Caddis dries #14-18, Scuds #14-16, Midges #18-22, Streamers
Summer months provide ample opportunities via many different techniques and disciplines. We throw streamers, dries, and nymphs all summer long. During the summer, plenty of high-water opportunities exist. Sulfurs/PMDs are the primary hatches this time of year. In late summer, the fishing can pick up as more fish are moving into the river for the spawning season and looking to feed before the intensive spawning season ahead. Terrestrials are also in play this time of year, primarily beetles.
Suggested Flies: BWO nymphs #14-18, BWO emerges #16-20, BWO dries #16-20, Sulfur nymphs #14-16, Sulfur emergers #14-16, Sulfur dries #14-16, Scuds #14-16, Midges #18-22, Streamers
The fish are spawning. Please respect the resource and leave fish on redds alone. BWOs will reappear but are much smaller than the spring BWO. This is the time of year when some of the biggest brown trout are in the system. We like to throw big streamers and target aggressive browns.
Suggested Flies: BWO nymphs #14-18, BWO emerges #16-20, BWO dries #16-20, Scuds #14-16, Midges #18-22, Eggs #14-16, Streamers
The rivers in this area are midge factories, and they are the primary menu item this time of year for trout. We fish a lot of light tackle nymph rigs this time of year, but many techniques will produce.
Suggested Flies: BWO nymphs #16-18, BWO emerges #18-20, BWO dries #10ths 18-22, Scuds #14-16, Midges #18-22, Eggs #14-16, Streamers
Guided Watauga River Fly Fishing Trips With Tri-City TroutFitters
Here at TCTF, we fish the Watuaga just as much, if not more, than the South Holston as it’s often less crowded. We consider this our “home” river and know it well and fish many different sections and use many different access points. If you’re looking to chase trophy browns on the Watauga, we know where to find them. Check out our guide trips page for more information, but feel free to give us a call or fill out the form below to request your dates.
Watauga River Boat Ramps/Meeting Locations
Wilbur Dam is the first boat ramp on the Watauga and is directly below the generation release dam.
Hunter Bridge is right outside Elizabethton and is the first take out point after the Wilbur Dam put in. This is a very small dirt parking lot right under the bridge. There is a concrete boat ramp.
Lover’s Lane is a new fishing access/boat ramp directly under 19E bridge and in the heart of Elizabethton.
Blevins is a great ramp to use to access the middle section of the Watauga and has a very large paved parking lot.
Persinger Bridge/Wagner Rd
This is the last ramp on the Watauga before the river dumps into Boone Lake. If you’re floating past into Boone Lake be prepared for a long row to the next takeout.