Floating the South Holston River
WARNING: Floating the South Holston River can be extremely dangerous. Hire a guide first to learn safe routes. If you go take the wrong channel, you will endanger yourself and others. Only experienced rowers in driftboats or drift rafts familiar with these routes should attempt to navigate the South Holston during a release or other high water event.
Please note that the TVA can release water at any time due to power demands or equipment failure. Watch for rising water and have an escape plan at all times. The TVA controls the releases and offers up to the hour previous release and projected release data. The TVA information hotline is well designed and easy to use. Call 1-800-236-2264. You will be given a menu and at this time you will press "4" for water release schedule (predicted discharges) or "5" for previous release data (observed discharges). When prompted for the two digit code for the reservoir/river you are interested in enter "01" for the South Holston. I recommend you save this number in your cell phone and check predictions right before you start fishing and throughout the day to confirm the schedule. You usually must wait until 4 PM to get information for the following day's release schedule.You may also find this information online at http://www.tva.gov/lakes/shh_r.htm .
With no generation and low flows (90 to 250 cfs), the South Holston is a gentle and mostly shallow river. Under these conditions, a reasonably experienced wader can cross the river easily in just about any stretch. A canoe or kayak would be easy to paddle safely, but would have to be dragged over shallow shoals occasionally. If you are going to paddle on low water, I recommend traveling by craft, but wading to fish. At these lower flows, a drift boat or raft would be difficult at best and would have to be dragged often. Do not get caught in a release in a canoe or kayak. If you even think you notice the water flow or depth increasing, exit the river at the nearest safe location, staying away from trees and snags along the shoreline. If it was a false alarm, you can put back in after you are sure it is safe.
When TVA releases for power generation purposes, the river changes from shallow and gentle, to deep and raging. The flows increase to 2400-2500 cfs and the speed of the flows increases dramatically. Areas that were knee-deep with a barely perceptible current are now 4 feet deep or deeper with a very swift current. Under these conditions, poor judgement can be fatal. Never try to wade with these flows and be extremely careful floating. Driftboats or drift rafts with experienced rowers are the only safe way to fish the South Holston in my opinion. I do see some jetboats and some johnboats on the water, but I shudder to think what would happen if there was a mechanical failure at an inopportune moment. I have seen picture of one sunk jetboat on the Soho, so it can happen.
The safest and most enjoyable way to float and fish the South Holston is to hire a professional guide. I do not know them all, but I know a few really good ones. Even if you own a drift boat and you're experienced at the oars, you should hire a guide for your first trip down the South Holston to find the best lines and anchoring areas. Drop me an email if you want a referral.
If you are going to float it in your own drift boat or fishing raft, there is a public put in at the grates on Dam View road. From there, you have about a 5 mile drift to a makeshift mud ramp on Big Springs road. If there has been a recent rain, 4 wheel drive may be required. Throughout this section, the water is moving at a very fast clip and is dangerous if you do not know your way. I recommend not rowing the South Holston at all until you have floated the river with a professional guide first and are familiar with the safe route. The flows are fast and deep with strainers and large rocks in areas. Be safe.
The insects and trout act differently during a release on the South Holston. The trout move into different lies and are usually less discriminating. They become quite a bit more opportunistic and aggressive. Add some overcast skies, and you might experience the awesome SoHo streamer bite!
When floating the South Holston, I recommend taking long rods for the longer casts and huge mends you'll be throwing. I usually have a 4 wt. dry fly rod, two 5 wt. nymph rods, and a 6 wt. streamer rod, all 9 footers.
Fishing two nymph rigs below an indicator is usually as productive as any other technique. Watch for insects and rises. If you find risers and position your boat properly, you can sight fish dry flies to some of the strongest and most beautiful trout in the world.
This picture was taken with 95 cfs flows at the wading area called about a mile downstream from the grates. At 2500 cfs, the water is at the base of the trees on each shoreline!
The scenic and calm South Holston at 95 cfs is an extremely technical fishery.
The power of the South Holston during a release is not to be taken lightly. If you go right of this little island, you are in serious trouble.
Hire a guide and enjoy the majestic view from the front!