There are many streams in our neck of the woods, but one of them rules them all. That would be the Watauga River. Watauga is most likely a Cherokee word that historians believe means ‘the land beyond.’ If you’ve ever spent any time on this river, you know the name fits it well. When you are down in one of its many gorges, you feel like you are many miles from any civilization. When talking fishing and the Watauga River, it is usually broken down into two sections; the headwaters and the tailwaters. We will explore them both.
The Headwaters of the Watauga is spring fed and starts on the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. As the stream meanders down the mountains, it gets larger and larger. You can follow the headwaters from Grandfather Mountain as you head down NC HWY 105 S towards Boone, it cuts beneath 105 (behind Watauga River Fly Shop), and then you can follow it on Broadstone Rd. through Valle Crucis. From there the Watauga is heading west towards TN, which you will follow along HWY 321. Once it gets into TN it flows into Watauga Lake. Now, for the good part…fishing! The headwaters of the Watauga River is spring fed, so that means there is a constant flow of fresh, clean and cold water. This along with a rocky bed and good elevation drop, creates well oxygenated water with many good pools and ‘runs’ which make for ideal trout habitat. Trout thrive in cold, clean and well oxygenated water. The Watauga has all of that. When fishing the Watauga headwaters you can find wild and stocked brook, brown and rainbow trout, smallmouth and red eye bass, panfish, chubs, and many other species. Some of the most popular sections of the river are the Delayed Harvest sections through Valle Crucis and Sugar Grove. In these areas, the NC Wildlife Resources Commission stock thousands of trout in the Spring and Fall, making for some spectacular fishing. It’s definitely worth wetting a line in these areas.
For many anglers, the Tailwaters of the Watauga River are a destination trip as well. A tailwater is a steam located directly below a hydraulic structure or dam. The Watauga tailwaters is the section below the Wilbur Dam near Elizabethton TN. The release of cold water from the bottom of Watauga Lake year round means the water stays a relatively stable temperature. All of the nutrients from the lake bottom that make its way into the river, makes it a very good environment for bug life. Good bug life, cold, oxygenated water = great trout fishing! There is an abundance of good fishing on the Watauga tailwaters and it is a PREMIER trout fishing stream on the East Coast. Trout is the main catch, but in the lower sections, near Boone lake you can find stripers running up the river in the warmer months. There is some very good wade fishing all up and down the river and if you have a drift boat or raft, you can hammer some fish. Watch out for them releasing water on any tailwater stream. The flow is regulated by the energy demand and by lake levels. They may release water at any point, so if you are wading and the water starts to rise, get out. You can check the flows simply by downloading the TVA app on your phone.
This was a quick tour of the Watauga River, but if you’d like to explore the headwaters or tailwaters a little more in depth, give Watauga River Fly Shop a call at (828)963-5463 and we’ll take you on a guided trip and show you how great the fishing is on the Watauga!
This was a short article written for Angler Magazine WNC. Check it out there as well!