Fly fishing the Clinch River is the stuff of legend. The Tennessee record brown trout came from the waters of the Clinch River. Many anglers believe that even larger trout are here. Overall, the Clinch is a big wide river with crystal clear water. The cold water comes from the bottom of Norris Lake and keeps the trout happy and healthy year round. Known as a midge factory, the Clinch is perfect for any angler who loves technical fishing on low water to spooky fish. In fact, some of the best anglers in the country have spent time testing their skills on the wary fish of the Clinch River.
Finding the Trout on the Clinch River
Anglers who have never fished this river often become frustrated quickly when they do not experience immediate success. The crystal clear water requires light tippets and usually also requires tiny flies. This is a recipe for a tough day on the water for any angler. Long accurate casts are a must. However, once you understand the river, you realize that there are trout everywhere. Sight fishing is always a treat, and the Clinch River offers many sight fishing opportunities.
As with most Tennessee tailwaters, you will find trout consistently in certain water types. Riffles hold a lot of fish on the Clinch River. Compared to rivers like the Caney Fork, the Clinch has a lot of riffles and broken ledges. This makes it a bit tricky to navigate in a boat on low water, but it also provides some obvious holding water. Trout will congregate near the riffles and ledges. They also will stack up in any deeper water. Sometimes this deeper holding water is just a subtle pot that may be a foot deeper than all of the surrounding water.
Wading anglers need to be cautious because the ledges can be quite slippery. Some of the deep slots and pots drop off quickly, so wade carefully at all times. Trout will also often be in flat featureless water as well. These are the skittish fish that will spook at their own shadow. Long leaders and fine tippets are a must along with accurate casts and long drag free drifts.
Matching the Hatch on the Clinch River
The Clinch River is a midge factory. Midge and blackfly larva often emerge in tremendous numbers and the trout take note. Most fish in the Clinch River attain impressive sizes within a short time feasting on the bounty the river offers. The Clinch is unique because trout will often key in on midge emergers or even adults as the hatch progresses. Thus, a prepared angler will have all stages of the midge life cycle from larva to pupa to emerger to adult. As with most tailwaters, Zebra midges are a good choice, but there are many other midge patterns that will work magic.
When not feasting on midge or blackfly larva, the trout will eat a variety of bugs such as scuds and sowbugs although these are primarily found on the upper river. The Clinch is famous for its Sulfur hatch. These small mayflies bring out every fish in the river when the hatch is on. The fish become quite selective as well. When there is not an active hatch underway, a small Pheasant Tail nymph is usually all that is needed to imitate the nymph stage of this hatch. The lower river also sees some caddis, especially in the spring. These emerge in great enough numbers to get the fish keyed on them occasionally, but in general stick to the midge patterns.
Streamer and Terrestrial Fishing on the Clinch River
Streamer fishing on the Clinch can offer the shot at a trophy brown trout or even large stripers that migrate up from Melton Hill Lake. Flies that imitate sculpins are particularly successful as are huge trout imitations if you are looking for stripers. Small trout imitations can be excellent as well. The Clinch River is unique in that TWRA stocks a lot of fingerling sized trout. These provide an excellent forage for the larger trout in the river.
Summer terrestrial fishing can be exciting as well. Hoppers and beetles in particular can bring up some large trout. Streamer and terrestrial fishing is never about numbers but instead is all about quality.
Guided Fly Fishing on the Clinch River
A guided fly fishing trip on the Clinch River will help you become a better angler. Learning how to fish tiny flies on light tippets will help you catch many more fish on rivers like the Clinch. There are two nicknames for the Clinch: the Cinch and the Grinch. If you do not have the skill set and knowledge to fish this river, it will always fish like the Grinch. However, with the right approach, you will find this river fishing like the Cinch and you’ll be catching plenty of trout.