Re: Thinking of giving it a try.
hey there out4trout,
Getting to know tailwaters takes some time and your on the right track researching them. Tailwaters can be a real blast as they often hold fish of much larger sizes that those common in our mountain streams. However, they can be dangerous if one is not wise to the tailwater and the characteristics of tailwaters.
Around here, with TVA in charge of most of our hydroplants, we're provided with a predicted release schedule that's usually put online the afternoon prior to the next day. You already know the website, but for those that don't, Byron has links on the new website.Now, this is a predicted schedule and always subject to change. I'd say for the most part TVA does about 90% system wide in keeping true to their posted schedules. So for this reason, it's wise to always pay attention to your surroundings while in the stream. Rising water comes on fast, but if your tuned into your enviroment and the facts of the river.....you will have enough time to reach high ground once you notice amd HEAR the water coming.
When TVA does stick to their schedules, it's good to know the layout of the river. Things like how long the water takes to make it down river after they've turned it on are good things to know. That way you might be able to fish a few hours longer after the water has come on. Likewise, it might be nice to know how long it takes the water to drop in certain areas after it's been turned off. Most of our tailwaters are best waded with the water off. The Hiwassee can be waded in several places with the water on but it's the exception of the bunch. For the particular rivers you mentioned.....I'd say neither river is wadable with water running from the dam. Of course wilbur dam (Watauga) has a constant flow generator that runs a hundred or so cfs .....so for the Watauga, any flows that say one or more for long periods of time should be avoided.
Access to water can be a tough question. A lot of our tailwaters lie on a good amount of private land. However, most of them (some better than others) offer great public access too. Public access includes wade in areas and boat launches. You can find these access by getting out your delorme topo and just driving around, as well as the folks on this board and others like it.
Look for buddies to tag a long with and or think about hiring a guide for the day. The best way to learn a tailwater and it's characteristics in a short amount of time. I'm sure Byron can direct you in the direction of a great guide up in that neck of the woods.