100 Best: Clinch River
Location: East Tennessee
Type of stream: Tailwater
Angling methods: Fly, Spin, Bait
Species: Browns, Rainbows, Brook trout
Supporting Services: Knoxville
Short take: Huge fish, but you gotta work for them
Handicapped Access: Yes
Closest TU Chapter: Clinch River
When the Tennessee Valley Authority completed Norris Dam, its first combined flood control and hydropower project in 1936, it created a 13-mile long tailwater. Shortly thereafter rainbows were stocked. For the next 50 years, the Clinch was a so-so put and take fishery.
TVA, attempting to make amends for killing the great Little Tennessee tailwater below Chilhowee Dam, installed a low, regulating weir about a mile below Norris Dam. The weir helps maintain a minimum flow of 200 fps in the river. About the same time baffles were added to the turbines to suck air into the water, adding dissolved oxygen so vital to a healthy trout population. Four years later in 1988, Greg Ensor pulled the Tennessee record brown, a 28-pound 12-ounce beauty, from two miles below the dam near the weir.
Still the Clinch proved to be a finicky fishery, not known for great hatches. The river is rich with minnows and crayfish, great food for big trout. In March, Heavily stocked with browns, rainbows, and brook trout, average browns and rainbows run in the 15-inch class. When generators are running, the river is generally unwadeable. Best way to fish the Clinch is to float it in a classic jon boat, canoe, or drift boat. Access to the river is easy around boat launch ramps and bridges and on the Norris Dam Reservation. Most of the bank downstream from the TVA property is privately owned, another great reason for floating.