Trying something new always makes me a little nervous. South Holston River fly fishing was no different.

I am a bit of a control freak and like to know exactly what I’m getting myself into, but that’s not always possible!

The night before I was supposed to go out fly fishing, I had no idea what to expect, what to wear, if I would embarrass myself, the list goes on and on.

Not to mention that all I’ve heard about fly fishing is how hard it is which was intimidating in itself. Thankfully, my guide, Tim, was absolutely fantastic.

But anyways, that’s where this guide for South Holston River fly fishing came about! I hope it helps you to prep for your fly fishing trip and know a bit of what to expect before you go. It’s one of the best things to do in Bristol!

Disclaimer: I was hosted by Explore Bristol. As always, all opinions are my own. This article may contain affiliate links that I earn a small commission from at no additional cost to you.

What You Need for South Holston River Fly Fishing

fly fishing rod and flies

The things you’ll need to bring depend on whether you are planning a trip with or without a guide. If you are not familiar with the area or are a novice fly fisherman then I highly recommend going with a guide.

A guide will bring provide all the necessary equipment so you don’t have to worry about that while traveling.

Otherwise, you’ll need a fly rod and reel, fly line, a variety of flies depending on the type of fish you want to catch, plus waders and boots for cold water. This is the bare minimum.

Other helpful equipment is a fishing net, polarized sunglasses, a vest, and small tools to cut your line or handle your flies.

You’ll want to check the TVA Release Schedule for water levels since this is a dam-release river.

Make sure you also have a valid fishing license! You can purchase one in the hunting section of any Tennessee Walmart. The shortest time period that you can purchase one for is three days.

Do make sure that you get the one that includes all species if you’ll be trout fishing. There is a license that excludes trout.

You’ll also want to verify what the restrictions are – how many fish you can keep, what the slot size is, etc.

If you are going with a licensed guide then they may have you covered with their commercial license, just be sure to check.

Going with a guide also means that they will provide all the gear except possibly waders and boots. They should offer rentals or know of a place that rents them though if you need them.

If you’re planning a trip by yourself then you’ll also want to know where the public access points on the river are. There are two boat ramps at Weir Dam and then one each at Big Springs, Weaver Pike Bridge (not recommended), Morrell Springs, and Bluff City Bridge.

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South Holston River Fly Fishing Guides

Like I said, I highly recommend going with a guide unless you really know what you’re doing. It just makes things so much easier and the guides know where to go to give you the best fishing experience for that time of year.

Here is a list of recommended fly fishing guides for the South Holston River:

If you want to fish for multiple days during your time in Northeast Tennessee then you could fish with a guide the first day and ask them for recommendations on self-guided trips for the next few days.

What to Wear Fly Fishing

fisherman in the river

This will obviously depend on the time of year that you go and whether you’ll be fishing from the bank or a boat or if you’ll be wading in the river.

In the colder months you’ll want to layer up. Choose a good base layer like merino wool or a synthetic fabric like polyester. No cotton.

Then you’ll want a warm mid-layer like fleece or a synthetic insulated jacket. If it’s windy then you can add a rain jacket or windbreaker on top of that.

Your waders will go over top and you’ll want to make sure you have a warm pair of socks on as well.

In warmer weather it’s a bit easier to figure out what to wear. A lightweight fishing shirt will do just fine. You’ll want to consider water temperature though when determining what shorts/pants to wear.

If the water temperature will be warm then you can plan on wet wading – wading without waders. However, some of the rivers you may be fishing in will be pretty cold.

In that case you’ll want to wear a lightweight base layer of merino wool or synthetic fabric under your waders. You don’t want those waders rubbing directly against your leg – makes for an uncomfortable day.

Other items you may want to bring are polarized sunglasses, a neck gaiter, hat, and sunscreen.

South Holston River Fly Shops

mayfly on man's finger
This is a fully grown mayfly – you can see it against the background of the sweater.

If you are planning your own trip then you’ll get the best advice from the local fly shops. Need some advice on what fly to use? Want to know the recent South Holston River fishing reports? Interested in purchasing new gear?

A fly shop should be your first stop if you said yes to any of those.

You want to make sure you stop at the right fly shop though! Good, local tips can make all the difference in how your trip goes. So here are a few recommended fly shops:

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South Holston River Lodging

If you are coming to Northeast Tennessee for the sole purpose of fly fishing in the South Holston River then you’ll want a convenient location as a home base.

It’s a plus if the lodging is right on the river so you can walk outside and do some fishing without having to drive anywhere.

The South Holston River Lodge offers incredible all-inclusive packages and you can rent their cabins during the off-season based on availability.

This property is right on the river and if you go the all-inclusive route then all you’ll need to bring is your clothing and a valid fishing license. Though it is recommended you bring your own fishing equipment, it’s not required.

Tailwaters Lodge offers seven different cabins on their property with 320’ of river frontage. You can wade and fish here if you’d like.

Each cabin offers something a little different and they have enough to accommodate a variety of group sizes.

At The Reserve on South Holston River, you’ll find a mile of river frontage plus a private boat ramp. They have three cozy cabins plus the main house which has 4 bedrooms.

If you want more of a VRBO or Airbnb type experience then check out Pappaw’s Fishing Pad. This home is multi-level and split into two different rental properties.

You’ll have a great spot to wade on the South Holston River and can catch plenty of Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout here.

Another option for cabins is the South Holston River Cabin Rentals. This is a unique spot with a very reasonable price. It’s a bit like camping but with nicer amenities.

The cabin is one bedroom but sleeps 6 people and there is a detached indoor kitchen area. There’s also plenty of outdoor space to hang out and relax with a grilling area and fire pit.

Broken Rod Lodge will sleep up to 10 guests and is also located right on the river. The fire pit with Adirondack chairs is an added bonus.

Other Places to Fly Fish in Northeast Tennessee

While South Holston River fly fishing is the best you’ll find in the area, there is one other spot that anglers like to visit.

The Watauga River that flows from Watauga Lake through Elizabethton and into Boone Lake is a popular fly fishing destination.

All of the fly fishing guides listed above will service the Watauga River as well as the South Holston.

The South Holston and Watauga Rivers are the absolute best places to fly fish in Northeast Tennessee.

First-Time Fly Fishing? Here is What to Expect


Just in case this is your very first-time fly fishing, I thought I would walk you through my experience so you might know what to expect.

We arrived to Weir Dam just before 10am and there were a number of fishermen already there. First thing we did was suit up in our waders and boots.

Since I had never cast a fly rod my guide, Tim, had me practice on land first. He demonstrated a few times how to cast and then let me try it for myself.

He provided feedback on my form and let me continue practicing until he thought I was ready to head into the river.

If you are interested in the flies and where those forms and shapes come from then be sure to ask your guide as well! Tim explained that the flies were made to resemble mayflies throughout their lifecycle.

After this we were able to wade into the river! If it’s your first time using waders in a river (it was mine) then just take small steps and look at where you are placing your feet. Make sure one foot is firmly planted before taking the next step.

Be very aware when you are walking through any kind of plants because they will tangle your feet up.

We only had a short time to fish since I was on a schedule so we weren’t able to catch anything. It was definitely a fun experience though!

After you’re done fishing, make sure you check out the local restaurants and some of my favorite breweries in Bristol.

Other Fishing Destinations You May be Interested In:

Do you have any other questions about a South Holston River Fly Fishing Trip?

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