Fishing the Clinch River by Gary Verholek
Normally, I don’t like to fish the Clinch on Fridays, because it’s often quite crowded, at least by comparison to other weekdays. I definitely don’t fish there on the weekends - the fishermen outnumber the fish. But… based on the TVA discharge schedule published on their website Thursday evening, it appeared that they would run a reduced flow. Since Tuesday was such a productive day, it seemed like a good idea to try again while the fish were dumb and happy.
Leaving before 6:30AM, I covered the 30 miles and got to the river a little after 7AM. The fog lay thick over the cold water. With only the edge of the water visible, the first thing I noticed was that the flow was still high and fast. The two-generator flow had stopped at 1AM, but the river hadn’t drained down at the Second Baptist Church parking lot. It appeared to be running at least 12” – 15” above normal minimum flow. I leisurely lined my rod and selected some flies. I opted to use a #12 parachute Adams (instead of my normal Thingamabobber) for an indicator and a #16 Zebra Midge dropper tied on with 6x fluorocarbon. Slowly donning my waders to kill time didn’t work; the water still hadn’t receded. Finally, around 7:30AM I entered the river and felt the strong, cold flow from Norris Dam, some 12+ miles upstream.
I couldn’t see more than about 50 feet in the fog, but it quickly became evident that I wasn’t the first on the river. A spin fisherman was working my favorite riffle, so I moved up stream to another ledge that had produced on Tuesday. Quickly enough, I hooked a small rainbow on the Midge. Then a small Brown hit the Adams dry fly. After another hit and miss, the action stopped. I moved further out along a ledge and into the heavier flow, but could not see the Adams. I decided to put on an olive Wooly Bugger and work the pools below the ledge. I worked out across the flow and back, and finally a nice Rainbow took the Bugger.
It was now about 10AM, the fog was thinning and the river level was receding. I decided to go to the Thingamabobber and Midge that produced so well for me before. I took a couple of small Rainbows, before I was able to see that my riffle downstream was vacant. A fisherman had been working Soft Hackle flies through the area, but he moved further to the center of the river. I quickly moved downstream and set up where I could drift the midge through the soft water below the long, lateral ledge. Good move.
I began to pick up several nice Rainbows in fairly quick succession. I’m sure glad I brought the net, and I’m equally glad I use a reel with a good drag (Lamson Velocity 1.5 on a 5-wt TFO TiCr) to save the 6x tippet. I caught and released several fish over 12”, including a nice fat 15” Rainbow. The soft hackle fisherman was getting nothing while I kept catching fish. Feeling rather smug, and anxious to keep the parade going, I got careless with my backcast and tangled the indicator and midge. The fine 6x tippet couldn’t be salvaged, so I cut off some of the tangle and re-tied the Midge tippet to the indicator. The dropper was now about 14” long. The fish ignored me. I retied the Midge on a longer 20” tippet and the catching resumed.
By about 11AM, the water had reached normal low flow, and the fog cleared. The run where I picked up a half-dozen fish went quiet, so I began casting up into the base of the ledge, letting the Midge drift through the soft water. I quickly caught two more nice Rainbows. It was near lunch and I was getting hungry, so I did the old “one more fish” routine. It wasn’t long before a small Brown trout called my hand. I decided to call it a day.
The soft hackle fisherman called over to me and asked to see what I was using. I showed him the Zebra Midge I had on and gave him one I had tied. Before I could get out of the water, he had a fish on. That fish was almost as satisfying as the ones I was catching.