Trout Fishing in Tennessee
Note: The stocking report is updated bi-weekly through stocking season. The dates listed next to the water body are representative of when the water was last stocked as information is available. There are many factors that may impact when fish can be stocked, so the scheduled stocking dates are subject to change.
Each year TWRA biologists survey trout populations in tailwaters to evaluate current fishing regulations and stocking rates. Data collected during sampling helps TWRA biologists make informed decisions and guide future management strategies.
If practicing catch and release, follow these steps to ensure the best chance of survival:
- Land the fish as quickly as possible. Do not play the fish to exhaustion.
- Use shallow landing net with soft, knotless mesh or rubber netting.
- Keep fish in water when handling & removing hooks.
- If deeply hooked, cut the line. Do not pull hook out.
- Release fish only after it has recovered. If necessary, gently hold the fish facing upstream in slow moving current.
Brook Trout are Tennessee’s only native trout species, which have been found to be genetically distinct from Brook Trout native to more northern parts of its range.
At one time, all wild trout water in Tennessee was inhabited by Brook Trout. However, in the late 1800s many populations were lost due to primitive logging techniques and stocking of non-native Rainbow Trout. Wild populations can now only be found in the coldest and cleanest headwater streams in the mountains of eastern Tennessee at elevations greater than 3,000 feet where water temperatures are typically below 68° F. TWRA biologists, in cooperation with the US Forest Service, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Tennessee Aquarium and Trout Unlimited have recently worked to expand the range of Brook Trout by stocking native strains back into their native waters.
Today, we have about 150 streams that support wild Brook Trout. For additional information on TWRA’s efforts to restore native Southern Appalachian Brook Trout populations across East Tennessee, check out of this episode of Tennessee’s Wild Side.
Identification: Yellow or reddish-orange spots on sides and belly. Light wormlike markings on the upper body. Leading edge of lower fins white with black stripe.
State Record: 4 lbs, 12 oz. (Caney Fork River)
Angler Recognition Program: minimum 10 inches
Fishing Tips: Brook Trout are aggressive feeders eating insects, crayfish, salamanders, and other fish. Food is typically in short supply in headwater streams so Brook Trout rely heavily on prey that falls into the stream (e.g., ants, caterpillars, inchworms).
Wild Side Brook Trout Restoration
Rainbow Trout are native to the Pacific drainages of the western United States, but through extensive trout management during much of the 20th century has become the most widely distributed and abundant trout species in Tennessee.
Rainbows were originally introduced into Tennessee in the late 1880s when logging practices destroyed native Brook Trout habitat.
Wild populations are now found in about 300 streams across East Tennessee. Rainbow Trout spawn in late winter and their juvenile hatch out in early spring. They can tolerate temperature slightly warmer than Brook Trout, preferring water temperatures below 70° F.
Identification: Body olive to silver in color. Small black spots throughout the body that extend into the bottom of the tail. Pink streak along middle of the body.
State Record: 18 lbs, 8 oz. (Private Pond)
Angler Recognition Program: minimum 24 inches
Fishing Tips: Rainbow Trout eat insects, crayfish, fish, and fish eggs. They are susceptible to a wide variety of tackle. Fly-fishing with streamers, wet and dry flies can be effective. Spinning and bait casting tackle includes small spinners, spoons, worms, and hellgramites.
Brown Trout are native to Europe and Asia and, like Rainbows, became naturalized in Tennessee through stocking. They are typically found in lower elevation streams, often coexisting with Rainbow Trout.
They spawn in the fall between October and November, and juveniles emerge in February or March. Common in about 25 wild streams, Brown Trout offer the best opportunity to catch a trophy trout in Tennessee. Tennessee’s wild Brown Trout can live twice as long and attain much greater sizes than either Rainbow or Brook trout.
Identification: Brown to yellowish body color. Large dark spots and reddish dots, many having halos. Slightly forked tail with no spots.
State Record: 28 lbs, 12 oz. (Clinch River)
Angler Recognition Program: minimum 26 inches
Fishing Tips: Young Brown Trout feed mostly on aquatic insects, small crayfish and minnows. Adults will feed on fish, crayfish, rodents, and salamanders. Large browns tend to feed during low light conditions and after dark. Typical trout baits and lures work for Brown Trout, but slightly larger tackle may help catch trophy sized fish.
Cutthroat Trout are native to the western United States. They were originally stocked in a few of Tennessee’s tailwaters in the 1950s through the early 1960s with little success due to poor water quality prior to the Clean Water Act.
TWRA has recently partnered with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to begin stocking Cutthroat Trout in Tennessee to provide a unique fishing opportunity in some of Tennessee’s tailwater fisheries. In 2021, Cutthroat Trout were added to the stocking list in the Tims Ford Tailwater (Elk River), Appalachia Tailwater (Hiwassee River), and Boone Tailwater (Holston River) to diversify the trout fishing experience below these dams. Evaluations will be ongoing.
Identification: Similar in appearance to Rainbow Trout. Body coloration can vary from olive to silver. Small black spots throughout the body. A key identification of Cutthroat Trout is the bright orange or red coloration that appears as “slashes” or “cuts” on the underside of the jaw.
State Record: 0 lbs, 6 oz. (Obey River)
Angler Recognition Program: Currently not recognized
Fishing Tips: Cutthroat Trout are known to be fairly aggressive and are usually willing to bite a fly, lure, or bait. Typical trout baits and lures for other species will work well for Cutthroat Trout. Check out the Tailwater Trout Fishing Forecast for specific information regarding fishing tips in the tailwaters you can find Cutthroat Trout.