Tennessee’s South Holston River Producing Nice Trout

By: Chris Shaffer

The South Holston River is one of the premier trout fisheries in the Southeast. On the other hand, to tackle it best timing is imperative. A rigorous generation schedule has the river yo-yoing daily. If you’re a bank angler timing a visit when they aren’t generating is imperative. Drift boaters seek the opposite.

Fortunately, we met guide Jonathan “Huck” Huckaba who ironically no longer fishes bait. He’s now a successful fly guide who knows the river as well as the rainbows and browns and grew up using Pautzke Green Label salmon eggs. Rather than try to learn the entire system in a day we hired Huck and floated the river to test a few of our new products. Pautzke salmon eggs have been a staple here for decades.

The Holston is one of the most heavily stocked systems in East Tennessee and provides a tremendous opportunity for bait, spin and fly anglers. The river is loaded with trout and also yields trophy fish. You’ll find guys swinging flies, drifting salmon eggs and soaking minnows in the same run.


Of course, even in the custody of a fly guide, we were here to pitch bait and spent the first few hours of the day flipping and drifting Chartreuse Garlic and Gold Label salmon eggs. The morning didn’t yield any large fish. In fact, there were so many fresh 10-inch planted rainbows around that we struggled to get through them. They were chomping the eggs quick. We found success drifting them a few feet off the bottom in small runs and along seam lines and fished them on single salmon egg hooks and four-pound test.


As we migrated downriver, and left many of the areas easily accessible to bank anglers, we decided to switch things up and threaded a worm on. Meanwhile, this wasn’t your typical crawler, rather one we dyed in Pink Fire Dye. Using pink plastic worms has become standard in the industry. We thought a live Pink Fire Dye worm would field even more bites and it did. We caught several nice browns on it and even after it died (after being drowned following many drifts) the rainbows and browns continued to hammer it.


As the day continued they stopped generating and flows decreased. We migrated downstream where slow moving water joined us. Some of it was so slow we struggled to gain natural drifts with our eggs. Instead, we switched to live Chartreuse Fire Brine minnows. We didn’t fully dye the minnows, instead used only enough dye to change the color of their eyes, fins and tail chartreuse. It was incredible how many fish we caught and released in a short period of time.


The bites came in seconds and ranged from 10-inch rainbows to five-pound browns. We hooked a few browns that were much larger, but they broke our line when they dove into the rocks. Keep in mind; we were using four-pound monofilament line due to the clear water.


Fortunately, this is the beginning of the fabulous, high action trout fishing on the Holston. Spring and summer will continue to bring action to anglers using a multitude of techniques. Expect success to persist as weather stabilizes. This one system we won’t hesitate to return to.

Editor’s Note: Team Pautzke filmed Pautzke Outdoors on this day on the South Holston River in East Tennessee. The edition will be live later this spring. For more information on South Holston water releases please visit https://tva.gov/Environment/Lake-Levels/South-Holston.