100 Best: Watauga River
Location: Northeast Tennessee
Type of stream: Tailwater
Angling methods: Fly, Spin
Species: Browns, Rainbows
Supporting Services: Bristol, VA; Johnson City, TN; Abingdon, VA
Short take: Excellent tailwater for browns and rainbows
Handicapped Access: Yes
Closest TU Chapter: Overmountain
Among Tennessee’s oldest tailwaters is the flowage of the Watauga River below Wilbur Dam near Elizabethton, Tenn. Constructed in 1912 to provide power for the artificial fibers industry downstream, Wilbur actually functions as a sort of afterbay to Watauga Dam, the second highest dam in the Tennessee Valley Authority system. For nearly 20 miles from the base of Wilber dam to the headwaters of Boone Lake, the Watauga is a first class trout fishery.
The upper half of the river slips through a short and very narrow gorge then breaks out and braids just above the old bridge pillars at the store in Siam. Here the gradient flattens and the river picks up a little western flavor. Winding gently, here hard against a hillside and there sprawling through meadows, the Watauga rounds a low mountain and bends back to the west, picking up the water from Stony Creek. From that confluence down to where the Doe River comes in downtown Elizabethton flows the most easily waded section of the Watauga.’s most productive wading waters. Access to this upper stretch is ample and easy.
Downstream from the bridge, the Watauga is best floated. Launch at the Blevin’s road access and take out just above the railroad bridge at the village of Watauga. You won’t need a drift boat to run this water, a canoe will do fine. As you slip down gentle riffles, you’ll be astounded at the number of rainbows you see scurrying out of the way of your watercraft. Ground your boat and fish.