Waterways Fishing Series: The Miracle Mile, Watauga River, Tennessee

What if I told you there was a fishery where you could target wild trout three hundred and sixty-five days a year on the fly? What if I told you it offered nearly nine thousand fish per mile? Would you believe me? In this blog, I will be talking about what I refer to as the miracle mile or otherwise known as the Watauga River in Elizabethton, TN.


For starters, we must understand what makes the Watauga River so unique and beautiful. The Watauga River is a tailwater, which simply means that the water in the river is controlled by a dam. When they release the dam, the water comes from the bottom of the lake, and this means the river generally stays at a consistently cold temperature. This temperature gives trout the ability to stay active year-round while providing a great environment for the insect population.

The Watauga River is generally broken into three sections that can be floated via kayak, raft, or drift boat. Today we will focus on the upper section of the Watauga River as I believe this is a great spot when visiting this river. The upper section starts just below Wilbur Dam and usually ends right around Siam Bridge. Through this section you will find wild rainbow and brown trout in a variety of sizes.


I generally use my kayak on the Watauga as a taxi to go from spot to spot and wade fish. The majority of the land surrounding the Watauga River is private property and inaccessible unless you’re on the water already. I outfit my kayak with a 6lb Tornado Anchor paired to the Anchor Wizard system. This allows me to get out and fish without worrying about my kayak floating away. I aim for a minimal setup when fly fishing as I do not want to snag anything on the boat. In addition, I do not mount my fly rods vertical as the low tree coverage will snag your rod from time to time. I lay my rod down vertical and find that it fits perfectly into the cones on the front of the Seastream Angler 120 Kayak.


Let’s talk fishing setups real quick. The Watauga River offers caddis and blue winged olives. As with most fishing, be observant and key in on what the bugs and fish are doing. My favorite way to fish the Watauga River is dry dropper. I generally use a chubby chernobyl in size #14 paired to a soft hackle fly with a midge fly below that. For tippet, I recommend 6x as the fish tend to be leader shy. For gear, you cannot go wrong with a 9’ 5wt fly rod, but I have found that a 9’ 4wt fly rod can be great as well. Floating line and long leaders will also be the ticket for a majority of your fishing needs on the Watauga River.

The next step is to get out there and give it a go for yourself. I recommend using the phone app, "Trout Routes," and deciding which portion of the river you would like to fish on there. Alternatively, giving the local fly shops a call for recommendations can be a great resource as well. There are a few local shuttle services as well, and the fly shops can point you in the right direction.

Ultimately, the Watauga River has become one of my favorite Fisheries to visit time and time again. I hope that you take the time to visit the Watauga River and to practice your techniques. I always recommend becoming familiar with current fishing guidelines and releasing these fish so the fishery can continue to thrive. I hope to see you out on the water, hooked into a big one.

Find The Watauga River Flow HERE

Fishing Report HERE

Adventure Gear List 

Written by Jake Smith

Waterways Marketing Specialist 

Asheville, North Carolina