Trout Zone Anglers, LLC

Clinch River

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. While access is easy, finding fish can be more challenging. Proximity to Knoxville and Oak Ridge means you will rarely have the river to yourself. A Clinch River fly fishing guide will help you find trout on this gorgeous but technical river and shorten the learning curve.

The Challenge of the Clinch River

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.

A big brown trout on the Clinch River for Clinch River fly fishing guide David Knapp in Tennessee

Photo courtesy of Tim Helton

Anglers who have never fished this river often become quickly frustrated when they do not experience immediate success. The crystal clear water makes light tippets mandatory 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. Hiring a Clinch River fly fishing guide can speed up the process of finding these large trout.

Finding the Trout on the Clinch River

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. It can be tricky to navigate the river in a boat on low water. However, it also provides some obvious holding lies for the plentiful rainbow and brown trout. Clinch River fly fishing guides will not shy away from maneuvering the boat through these rock gardens. Fish will congregate near the riffles and ledges and the guides know it. They will also 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.

For some reason, many anglers have a difficult time spotting fish on this river. The bottom of the stream is about the same color as the trout you are seeking which makes finding them tricky. A good pair of polarized sunglasses are absolutely necessary for the Clinch River.

A Word of Caution

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. This is where a good Clinch River fly fishing guide is really helpful. They will know the safe places to wade and how to row the drift boat through the long stretches of ledges. 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: Midges

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. Midge fishing is where a good Clinch River fly fishing guide will really be helpful. Fish will not always eat the standard go-to patterns, and a good guide should have the ones that the fish want. For the record, we believe strongly in keeping the color dark such as brown, gray, and black. Tying your own flies is the best way to get exact imitations of the trout food.

Clinch River fly fishing guide David Knapp with a chunky and beautifully colored rainbow

Photo Courtesy of Trevor Smart

Matching the Hatch on the Clinch River: Other Bugs

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 river also sees some caddis, especially in the spring and again in late summer into early fall. 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. Smaller juvenile 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 base 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. A good Clinch River fly fishing guide knows the best terrestrial banks and will make sure you are in position to fish them correctly.

Hiring a Clinch River Fly Fishing Guide

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. This is especially true on rivers like the Clinch. There are two nicknames for the Clinch: the Cinch and the Grinch. Without 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. Then you will be catching plenty of trout. If you are interested in a Clinch River fly fishing guide, we enjoy showing both beginner and experienced anglers alike the amazing fish of this river.

Rainbow trout caught by Clinch River fly fishing guide David Knapp

A Day on the Clinch River: Wade Versus Float

Anglers often ask if they are better off booking a guided wade trip or a guided float trip. Both trips offer certain benefits. The majority of anglers prefer a float given a favorable generation schedule. This is due to the ability to get away from the crowds at the major access points. While we enjoy wade fishing on the Clinch, we also recognize that the crowded atmosphere is not always conducive to a great guided trip. That said, if your main goal is to learn the river so you can return and fish on your own, then a wade trip is probably ideal.

If you are looking for a Clinch River fly fishing guide for a float or wade trip, then I hope you will consider myself, David Knapp of Trout Zone Anglers. Wade trips can also be scheduled with Clinch River fly fishing guide Travis Williams. If you would like to experience the river from a drift boat, then I have just the thing.

Floating the Clinch River

In late summer of 2018, I purchased a brand new 2019 ClackaCraft Eddy 360 drift boat. This boat is ideal for floats on the Clinch River. As a Clinch River fly fishing guide, I wanted the perfect fishing machine and think I have found it. The walk through design allows anglers to change positions between the front and back of the boat with ease. Casting braces in both the front and rear makes fishing while standing safe. An integrated cooler keeps our lunch and drinks cold. If you want to target the large brown and rainbow trout of the Clinch River in a comfortable drift boat, then look no further.

A Day on the Clinch River: The Beginning

We typically meet anglers sometime between 7:30 and 9:00 am. If possible, please be flexible with your Clinch River fly fishing guide on the start time. This can vary depending on the generation schedule for the day.

When we meet, I’ll take time to go over your equipment and rig everything up just right. My personal preference and specialty as a Clinch River fly fishing guide is midge fishing. These tiny insects make up the bulk of the diet of Clinch River trout, especially in the upper river. In late spring through mid summer, this could also include sulfurs. This is the hatch that made this river famous. Sulfurs usually bring the largest fish in the Clinch out to feed, hopefully on adults. This allows us to experience some truly remarkable dry fly fishing. For anglers wanting to target large trout on high water, then streamer fishing might be in order.

After we launch the boat, I like to find a good place to anchor up and go over casting and techniques like mending. Once you have fished with me a time or two, we usually cut straight to the fishing. Anglers who fish this river with regularity know that long casts and quality mends are necessary to fooling fish.

A Day on the Clinch River: Hooking and Landing Fish

Skillful anglers will normally start hooking fish with regularity early in the float. However, if your casting isn’t up to par, don’t expect an easy day. These fish are some of the toughest we know of anywhere. Hooking them is only part of the equation. Because the fish deal with daily water level fluctuations from the dam generators, they are incredibly strong. The fine tippets required to fool these fish are often the reason for losing them. Playing and landing large fish on light tippets is exciting but also challenging.

A nice rainbow trout for Clinch River fly fishing guide David Knapp in the ClackaCraft drift boat

“Clinch River fly fishing guide David Knapp with a nice rainbow!” ©2018 Trout Zone Anglers

A Clinch River fly fishing guide is used to chasing these fish all over the river. Often, I’ll ask which ever angler is not hooked up to get their line out of the water. This makes it easier to focus on landing the hooked trout when we have large fish on the end of the line. Of course, if we are streamer or terrestrial fishing, then we are fishing heavier tippets.

In between casting and hooking and landing trout, you might also enjoy the beauty of the river. Bald eagles and osprey are often spotted perched in a tree or flying overhead. Deer, otters, and other critters are also commonly spotted. Wild turkeys may be seen foraging along a hillside nearby. Then of course there is the river itself. The Clinch is truly beautiful. If you are not careful, you will become mesmerized by watching your strike indicator. Many anglers forget to set the hook because they are soaking in the beauty of the place.

A Day on the Clinch River: Lunch

People love our lunches. Whether you booked a wade or float trip, lunch will typically be a great big sandwich so filling that you might not be able to finish it. In addition to the sandwich, anglers in the know specially request my Greek pasta salad. While I don’t bring it on every trip, I do my best to fulfill special requests. The bowtie pasta, cherry tomatoes, spinach, feta cheese and kalamata olives with Greek dressing are always a hit. A bag or two of kettle cooked chips, apples, and dessert rounds out the meal.

Dessert is typically chocolate chip cookies or a Snickers bar. Often, we hold off on dessert until later in the day. When the mid afternoon doldrums set in, a quick pick me up in the form of cookies or candy bars usually gets everyone back focused and fishing hard.

I like to pull into the shade somewhere to eat. On wade trips, we’ll probably enjoy our meal under big shade trees overlooking the impressive structure of the dam itself. In the boat, we’ll pull up along the bank in the shade except for in the cold months when sun feels good. At all times during the day, you will find plenty of water and Gatorade in the cooler. If you would like other drinks such as a particular soft drink, please let me know prior to the trip, and I will do my best to accommodate you. Likewise, let me know before the trip if you have any dietary restrictions I should know about for lunch.

A Day on the Clinch River: The Second Half

The second half of the day usually goes even faster than the first half. Time flies when you’re having fun and this seems to especially apply while fishing. Often, we experience a lull in the action as the hour grows late. This seems to be normal on the Clinch River where the best fishing is often between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm or so. Late in the day I often like to pull out a streamer rod and gun for trophy trout. Fish will often move from the midge pupa to emergers or even adults by late afternoon. This offers some challenging but potentially rewarding dry fly fishing with tiny midge imitations. If the sulfurs are hatching, the hatch could trickle off all afternoon on a good day.

A Day on the Clinch River: The Conclusion

A full 8+ hours out in the sun and wind is usually enough to tire even the most focused angler. By the time we approach the takeout ramp, Everyone is usually about done fishing for the day, and I’m pulling hard on the oars to get us to the takeout. Most anglers are already checking their schedules and inquiring about future days available to return for another trip on this fine tailwater.

Suggestions For a Great Day on the Water with Your Clinch River Fly Fishing Guide

There are numerous articles on how to maximize your time on the water with a guide. Here are a few specific suggestions for this river to help you enjoy your day on the water.

  • Be Honest: This is a technical river so don’t expect the world. Being up front about your skill level allows your guide to plan a day that allows you to fish to your strengths.
  • Be Prepared to Cast: This is especially important on low water, but be prepared to accurately fish at distances of 40-50 feet.
  • Expect Wind: This is a big, wide open river and is often breezy if not downright windy. Come prepared to cast and fish in wind. For that reason, we usually recommend at least a five weight rod.
  • Be Willing To Try New Things: The fish on this river go through a daily feeding cycle. Late in the day things can slow significantly as the daily midge hatch begins to wane. If you are able and willing to throw streamers at this point, your catch rate may be slowing anyway and the streamer will leave open the door for a monster.
  • Interested in the Clinch? Check out our friends at the Clinch River Trout Unlimited club to find out how to support the Clinch and learn more about the river.
  • Find our more about fly fishing the Clinch River from our friends at the Perfect Fly store.
  • Make sure and check the flows before venturing out on the Clinch River. The releases from Norris Dam dictate river levels on the Clinch. You can check flows out HERE. Feel free to contact us if you have questions about safe flows on the Clinch River.