February 14 2013

Fishing in Chattanooga

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It’s one thing to see a monster catfish at the Tennessee Aquarium; it’s quite another to reel one in on 10-pound test line, warns Coast Guard captain and fishing guide Richard Simms. As owner of Scenic City Fishing Charters Richard Simms helped hundreds of fishermen (and women) reel in everything from crappie to largemouth bass, but his specialty are the whiskered blue giants that lurk in the depths of the Tennessee River – catfish.

Most of his tours take place within Chattanooga city limits, 15 miles up- or downstream from Chickamauga Dam on the Tennessee River. In fact, his clients often fish within sight of downtown’s Aquarium. Growing up in the area, Simms has an innate understanding of local waters and marine life. What’s more, he holds a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Management, and even worked for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency for several years.

“The Tennessee River in the Chattanooga region is unique in that it is so productive and so varied,” explains Sims. “It’s also a catfish factory. For most of the year it is very hard to go fishing here and NOT catch catfish."  Five to ten pound catfish are routine, ten to 20 pound fish aren't unusual and each year brings numerous catches in the 30 to 50 pound class, he says. “The largest I've had a client catch was 75 pounds, which holds a line class world record.”

Spending a day fly fishing in East Tennessee is so picturesque it’s like a scene straight from “A River Runs Through It.” (Brad Pitt not included.) The two closest rivers from Chattanooga are the Hiwassee and Tellico, consistently ranked in the top 100 by Trout Unlimited.

Whether you’ve never cast a rod or you never leave home without your waders, there’s a spot just for you. But there are more than 100 miles of trout streams on the Tellico alone, and picking your honey hole depends entirely on water level, temperature and dam generation schedules. For that reason, paying for a guide is money well spent, especially for your first trip, says Dane Law of Southeastern Anglers.

The main options are:
Float Trips on the Hiwassee River

Fishing the tailwaters of the Hiwassee is often done by guided float trip, primarily focusing on the seven miles downstream from the powerhouse. When it’s running, the river swells to more than 100 yards wide in some places, so opportunities abound in this stocked river. Rainbow, brown and brook trout can be caught year round but starting in May and throughout the summer there are opportunities for the famed Big Striped Bass, which average 15 pounds but reach up to 50. Most guides offer half- and full-day options, providing all the necessary gear, boats, snacks and drinks. All-day trips include a shore-side lunch. Only two anglers fit on each boat, but multi-boat trips are available.

Wade Trips on Tellico or Hiwassee River

If you just don’t feel like you’re fly fishing without waders, you’re in luck. The Tellico River offers plenty of walk-in access and you can wade in the Hiwassee if the powerhouse isn’t running. Both rivers are stocked and offer year-round fishing, however the Tellico’s prime time is April through early August or October through March, says Law. Most guides will only take two fishermen at a time, but Reel Angling Adventures allows a third wheel for a minimal fee.

Wild Trout Treks in Tellico Watershed

Wild trout options abound in the fingerling creeks of the Tellico Watershed. Some are only eight to 10 feet wide, and involve hopping over rocks and fallen trees, warns Bob Borgwat of Reel Angling Adventures. But efforts are rewarded when you pull a rainbow, brown or southern Appalachian brook trout out of the shallow waters. Again, two fishermen per guide is a max, with half- or full-day options. Tackle and all gear is usually included as well as snacks and drinks. (Some outfitters charge for waders.)

Fly Fishing Lessons

If you’re still wet behind the ears in your skills, all outfitters offer lessons that include some classroom time as well as on-river experience. They’ll review the gear needed, casting instruction and in-depth trout tutorials such as their feeding habits and preferred environments. After a few hours of book time you’ll have a chance to put your knowledge to the test on the river. Half- and full-day options are available.

Area Outfitters:
Hiwassee Angler, Reliance, TN

Located on the banks of the Hiwassee River, Hiwassee Anglers offers a full-service fly shop onsite carrying Orvis, ClackaCraft Driftboats, R.L. Winston and more. They also offer cabins on their property just 50 feet from the river.
Rivers Fished: Tellico, Hiwassee, North, Sycamore Creek, Little Tennessee, Tuckasegee, Toccoa, Clinch, Holston

Southeastern Angler, Reliance, TN

An Orvis-endorsed guide service, Southeastern Anglers offers guides with a combined 60 years experience, including two that are Coast Guard Captains. Clients and guides meet up at Reliance Fly & Tackle.
Rivers Fished: Hiwassee, Tellico, Holston, South Holston/Watauga, Clinch, Toccoa, Cumberland

Reel-Angling Adventures, Suches, GA

Based near Blue Ridge, GA, owner Bob Borgwat and his team offer more guided trips than any outfitter in the Southern Appalachian mountains. Fishing lessons are held on the most convenient river to the client.
Rivers Fished: Hiwassee, Tellico, Toccoa, Tuckaseegee, North, Sycamore Creek, Citico Creek, Big Creek, Soapstone Creek, Coopers Creek, Cheoah, Noontootla Creek, and more

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