The Watauga River is a tailwater located in the northeastern corner of the state of
Tennessee. Its water comes from Wilburn Lake through a small TVA electric
power generating dam. It is a relatively short tailwater with about ten miles of
water that holds trout. The stream runs through the town of Elizabethton.
This is another stream that is stocked by the state with rainbows, brook and
brown trout. It has some very large, long pools which probably help account for its
large brown holdover trout. Like the Clinch, its large brown trout is what makes
the stream worth fishing.
There are a few pubic access points. The first bridge below the dam is one point
you can access the stream. You can also access the stream just below the dam. It
is possible to walk downstream from there.
Floating the stream is probably the best way to fish. This website will give you the
discharge schedule. It is floated by some anglers using single and two man
pontoon type crafts as well as other types of non-drift boats. Canoes and kayaks
are frequently seen on this stream. Fishing from a boat also allows you the
opportunity to stop and wade certain areas of this short stream. I want to caution
anyone using a small boat of this type to pay particular attention and caution in
fishing the faster water during a discharge.
Like many tailwaters, the Watuaga has a large population of midges. Midge lavae,
pupae and adult imitations are the most reliable flies day in and day out. That
said, the Watuaga River has about as many, if not more, mayfly and caddisfly
species as most any Eastern tailwater. It is quite fertile. It is surrounded by farm
land and that is one reason it is fertile but that is also true of many other southern
tailwaters. It lies below two lakes and that may also be a factor in its caddisfly
We have only fished this stream about six times. Our efforts were not made
towards catching a large brown trout. We haven’t had much luck in catching
larger browns using dry flies and luck is what it will take to do that on dry flies.
Because the stream has very good hatches for a tailwater, we have stuck with
dries on our few trips. Streamers and nymphs are much more effective for the
larger browns. We have caught some browns up to fourteen inches and of
course, a lot of stocker rainbows and smaller browns. We have not fished the
river from a drift boat and as already mentioned, floating the stream is the best
way to fish it. The odds of hooking a large brown on a streamer are considered
very good according to the anglers we have talked to that frequently fish this
I think any angler would be interested in trying for one of the Watauga's large
holdover brown trout. It is a beautiful little river. This is especially true in the
trophy section of the stream. It is very near the South Holston River tailwater, so a
visiting angler could easily fish both tailwaters although I wouldn’t advise that for a
I definitely rate it as a “destination” stream along with the South Holston. By
"destination stream" I mean a stream that is worth the time and effort it takes an
angler to travel there, even from other states located in the eastern United States.
I would recommend that any visiting angler spend at least a full day or two on the
river. This will increase the odds of hooking on of the larger browns.
Copyright 2008 James Marsh