1. Hire a guide. By hiring a professional guide, you will get a crash course on the South Holston and it's unique fishing challenges and techniques required to be successful. You will also catch more fish and learn about the access points. If you go solo on your first trip to the SoHo, don't be shocked if you get skunked. It happens to experienced fishermen every day.
2. Use small flies. Because the South Holston trout enjoy such a dense population of small aquatic insects, they tend to key on small offerings. Try to match the actual size of the insect stage they are feeding on. Usually, it will be no bigger than size 16. On low water, sulphur and baetis patterns down to 20 and midge larvae and pupae down to 24 are often required. If you take your fly box with only your favorite size 12 attractors that work elsewhere and expect them to work here, prepare to be disappointed.
3. Concentrate on fishing with drag-free drifts. These fish are quite unforgiving when it comes to fishing skill. You absolutely must be able to use slack line control techniques through casting and mending. If your fly is acting unnaturally, you will not catch fish on the South Holston.
4. Use long leaders and fine tippets. With low water flows you should be prepared use 9 to 15 foot leaders and to go down to 7x or 8x tippet if you are not getting strikes. On high water, you can stick with 6x and heavier tippet, but you will still need 9 foot or longer leaders to maximize success.
5. When wading, stalk your prey. On low water, the South Holston trout are extremely wary and are very difficult to approach closely. Try to wade slowly and don't push a wake. When you have arrived at you casting position, rest the area for a couple of minutes and watch for activity. If you immediately start casting without knowing where the trout are positioned, you risk spooking fish by casting over them or "lining" them. If you spook even one fish, the immediate area will fish poorly until it is rested. This might take 15 minutes or longer.
6. Practice casting long distances with accuracy. Czech nymphing is not going to cut it on the South Holston. Many days, waders will need to be able to cast 50 feet or more with a gentle presentation and put your fly within a 1 or 2 foot circle to target a specific trout or lie. If you have limited casting abilities, consider floating with a guide. A pro guide can use the boat to help present your flies downstream. If you are fishing low water without a guide and have limited casting skills, seek broken water and/or deeper water that will allow you to approach within a more comfortable casting range. If wading with limited casting skills, consider swinging soft hackles on a longer line and long leader to rising trout.
7. Change something. Anything. There are over 5000 trout per mile on the South Holston. If you are not catching any fish at all, you should change fly, depth, tippet, leader length, technique, or location. Keep changing until you find something that works. If you are catching an occasional fish, try making small changes to increase your success. You can always change back.
8. Leave the crowds. There are some areas that have extremely easy access to waders and these are the areas that receive the most fishing pressure. If you are willing to hike an extra 5 or 10 minutes, you can usually find solitude and less pressured fish.
9. Go prepared. The South Holston is not a forgiving fishery. Make sure that your equipment is in good shape before you go. Clean your fly line, check you drag, use fresh leaders and tippet, have your maps and navigation unit ready, and take a variety of appropriate South Holston flies in different patterns, stages, sizes, and colors.
10. Position your boat carefully. On some rivers, you can park right on top of the fish. This is actually quite common. Just don't try this on the South Holston. If you are dropping anchor, lower it gently and leave a reasonable distance between you and the trout you are targeting. Be prepared to rest thehole for a while if fish if they seem spooked.
11. Try streamers on high water. Be sure to take your streamer box when floating. Cast right to the bank and work your streamer cross-current back to the boat. Overcast days can be near nonstop action. This method is probably your best shot at a monster South Holston trophy trout.
12. The amount of disturbance during a rise is not indicative of the size of the fish. Large fish can create very subtle riseforms and small fish can cause impressive and loud splashes. If you see any rises at all, watch carefully and/or fish over them. That tiny rise might be a 30 inch fish sipping an emerger.
13. Buy flies from local shops. There are two shops that I am familiar with that know the South Holston inside and out. They stock and sell flies that will greatly increase your chances of having a stellar fishing experience. Buy flies, leaders, tippet, wading boots, hat, T-shirt, or whatever. By supporting independent fly shops, you will improve your fly fishing experience. These are the guys that clean the rivers, report poachers or problems to the State, and generally have our backs.
14. Stay away from the redds. Spawning redds are circular shallow depressions in the river bed, usually between 12" and 36" in diameter. Watch for brown trout redds in the fall and rainbow redds in the spring. Never wade near them and keep your boat away from them. They are easy to see if you are watching foe them. The female uses her tail to clear out sand and gravel to create the depression. This process exposes substrate without surface algae and is therefore lighter in appearance. When you see these light color circles, move away and give them some privacy.
15. Didymo (Didymosphenia geminata) has found a home in the South Holston river. Please help slow the spread of this invasive species of alga by removing all visible remnants of plant matter from you gear (flies, boots, anchor, rope, boat, waders, etc.) and allow them to dry completely before you use this gear in another stream or river.