Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

Region 4
Stream Management
Warmwater River Resources
Clinch River

The Clinch River originates in Virginia and flows in a southwesterly direction before emptying into Norris Reservoir near river mile 152.  The river has a drainage area of approximately 1,482 sq. miles (upstream of the reservoir).  In Tennessee, approximately 51 miles of the Clinch River flow through the Ridge and Valley province of east Tennessee coursing by the town of Sneedville before emptying into Norris Reservoir just northwest of Thorn Hill.  Public access along the river is primarily limited to bridge crossings and small “pull-outs” along roads paralleling the river.  There are several primitive launching areas for canoes or small boats and three developed launching areas managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (Kyles Ford, Sneedville, and Hwy. 25E Bridge).

East Tennessee is blessed with several large river systems that support a wealth of aquatic wildlife.  Below you will find information about the major warmwater rivers in east Tennessee and will understand the appreciation that many visitors hold for these special places.
Clinch River
The Clinch River represents an important recreational resource for the state both in consumptive and non-consumptive uses.  It provides critical habitat for threatened and endangered species and species of special concern.  The river supports a diverse fish community and has been documented to host some 43 species of mussels.  It is one of only two rivers in the region having reaches designated as mussel sanctuaries. 

The Clinch River supports one of east Tennessee’s better warmwater sport fisheries.  It provides anglers with the opportunity to catch all species of black bass, but smallmouth bass and rock bass are the primary gamefish present.  The popularity of this riverine fishery has grown over the last few years and it now hosts a good percentage of anglers from Kentucky.  Musky stockings made by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), upstream of the state line, have been quite successful and have resulted in the establishment of a sport fishery on the Virginia side.  This has also lead to occasional musky catches in Tennessee as far downstream as Sneedville.  The development of a musky fishery in the Tennessee portion of the Clinch River may result from the VDGIF stockings.  

Overall the Clinch River represents one of east Tennessee’s premier warmwater river resources.  It provides anglers with the opportunity to catch good numbers of smallmouth bass and rock bass and has the potential of producing memorable catches (both in number and size).  While not as remote as the nearby Powell River, much of the surrounding landscape on the Clinch River is still as aesthetically appealing.  It also provides an excellent escape for recreationists (consumptive and nonconsumptive) who are looking for a river that offers some undisturbed surroundings and a diverse community of wildlife.


Powell River

The Powell River originates in Virginia and flows in a southwesterly direction before emptying into Norris Reservoir near river mile 54.  The river has a drainage area of approximately 685 sq. miles.  In Tennessee, approximately 62 miles of the Powell River flow through the Ridge and Valley province of east Tennessee, coursing by the town of Harrogate before emptying into Norris Reservoir near the community of Arthur.  Public access along the river is primarily limited to bridge crossings and small “pull-outs” along roads paralleling the river. There are several primitive launching areas for canoes or small boats and one developed launching area managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (Mulberry Creek).
Powell River
Like the Clinch River, the Powell River provides anglers with the opportunity to catch all species of black bass, but smallmouth bass and rock bass are the primary gamefish present.  The popularity of this riverine fishery is continuing to grow as more anglers shift from reservoir habitats to rivers.  This trend will undoubtedly continue as the use on reservoirs increases.  

Overall, the Powell River represents one of east Tennessee’s premier warmwater river resources.  It provides anglers with the opportunity to catch good numbers of smallmouth bass and rock bass and has the potential of producing memorable catches (both in number and size).  The surrounding landscape is as eye appealing as the wildlife that lives in and around the river.  It provides an excellent escape for recreationists seeking a more remote experience in the ridge and valley province of east Tennessee.

Little River

Little River originates in Sevier County on the north slope of Clingmans Dome, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It flows in a northwesterly direction for about 59 miles, past Elkmont in the National Park, and Townsend, Walland, and Maryville in Blount County, and joins the Tennessee River near river mile 635.6.  Fort Loudoun Reservoir, impounds the lower 6.8 miles of Little River with another 1.5 miles being impounded by the low head dam at Rockford (located at the backwaters of Fort Loudoun).  In all, a little over eight lower river miles are impounded.  Another 0.75 mile or so is impounded by Perrys Milldam downstream of Walland, near river mile 22.  A third low head dam is located in Townsend near river mile 33.6.  The river has a drainage area of approximately 379 sq. miles at its confluence with the Tennessee River.  The upper reach of the river (upstream of Walland) is located in the Blue Ridge physiographic province, and then transitions into the Ridge and Valley province from Walland to Fort Loudoun Reservoir.

Little River
Little River is a very scenic stream in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  There, it drains an area containing some of the most spectacular scenery in the southeastern United States.  The Little River fishery within the National Park boundary is primarily wild rainbow and brown trout with smallmouth bass in the lower reaches.  An excellent trout fishery exists, and is managed by the National Park Service with special regulations that apply (contact Park Headquarters at 865-436-1200 for regulations and detailed fishing information).

Little River’s gradient becomes moderate as it leaves the National Park and flows through the Tuckaleechee Valley from Townsend to Walland.  Excellent populations of smallmouth bass and rock bass exist there, and rainbow trout are stocked in spring and fall as water temperatures allow.  This portion of the river has many developed campgrounds and is a popular recreation destination for tourists.  While not as developed as Pigeon Forge, the Townsend area has grown significantly over the past two decades.

Downstream of Walland, Little River leaves the mountains and no longer displays the extreme clarity and attractive rocky bottom of its upper reaches.  Here it enters the Ridge and Valley province and resembles the more typical large river habitat with lower gradient and large deep pools interspersed with shallow shoal areas.  Downstream of Perrys Milldam, the fishery, while still primarily smallmouth bass and rock bass, declines in quality relative to the upstream reach.  This is probably related to limited availability of preferred smallmouth bass habitat.  Near the small community of Rockford, Little River flows into a surprisingly large (given the size of the stream) embayment of Fort Loudon Lake.  The Little River forms the boundary between Blount County and Knox County for the last few miles of its course.

Little River represents an important recreational resource for the state both in consumptive and non-consumptive uses.  It supports an active tubing/rafting industry and is an important recreational resource for local residents and tourists alike.  It is also the municipal water source of the cities of Alcoa and Maryville.  It provides critical habitat for species of special concern and is home to over 50 species of fish.  Additionally, its upper reach supports one of east Tennessee’s better warmwater sport fisheries.  It provides anglers with the opportunity to catch all species of black bass, rock bass, and even stocked rainbow trout when water temperatures allow.  General statewide fishing regulations apply to Little River outside the National Park.


Clinch River
Powell River
Little River
French Broad River

The French Broad River originates near Rosman, North Carolina and flows in a southwesterly direction before joining the Holston River near Knoxville to form the Tennessee River.  The French Broad has a drainage area of 5,124 sq. miles and courses some 217 miles from its headwaters to the confluence with Holston River.  The French Broad is located in the Blue Ridge physiographic province in North Carolina and a small portion of Tennessee (Cocke County).  The river transitions into the Ridge and Valley physiographic province near Newport and soon becomes the backwaters of Douglas Reservoir.  Douglas Reservoir is located mainly in Jefferson and Sevier counties and impounds approximately 43 miles of river channel and spreads out over 30,399 acres. The elevational profile of the river in Tennessee is quite impressive, as it descends about 477 feet over the 102 river miles between the state line and Knoxville.  The river downstream of Douglas Dam is one of the few warmwater tailwaters in east Tennessee.  It is managed under a minimum flow regime by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

French Broad River above Douglas Reservoir
French Broad River above Douglas Reservoir
to provide recreational opportunities and to ensure that water quality remains at acceptable levels. Since the improvements in water quality below the dam, several restoration projects have been initiated.  These include the introduction of the lake sturgeon and selected species of mollusks.  The federally threatened snail darter, has in recent years, colonized the river from stockings made in the Holston River and has established a resident population.

Access along the river is somewhat limited, although a good portion of the upper reach of the river is located on U.S. Forest Service land.  There is only one developed access point upstream of Douglas Reservoir that is maintained by the USFS.  Developed public access downstream of Douglas Reservoir is limited to ramps at Douglas Dam (TVA), Highway 66 Bridge (TWRA) near Sevierville, and at Seven Islands (Knox County).  There are a few primitive ramps and pull-outs along some of the roads paralleling the river both upstream and downstream of Douglas Reservoir.  Like many of the larger rivers in east Tennessee, the French Broad has a long history of pollution-related problems stemming from industry, urbanization, and agricultural activities within the watershed.  Although degraded over the years from these influences, the river has seen improvement in water quality and maintains many of its scenic and natural characteristics.  Water quality improvements to the tailwater section of the river by TVA have allowed for the recovery of selected species of fish and mussels.  Lake sturgeon have been stocked into the tailwater annually since 2000 in hopes of returning this species to some of its former range.

French Broad River below Douglas Reservoir
French Broad River below Douglas Reservoir
The French Broad River represents a valuable resource for the state.  It supports an active whitewater rafting industry (upstream of Douglas Reservoir) and is an important recreational resource for local residents.  The fishery of this river provides adequate angling opportunities that deserve management consideration.  While a respectable smallmouth bass fishery exists, probably the most abundant species that would be sought by anglers is the channel catfish (particularly upstream of Douglas Reservoir).  
Nolichucky River

The Nolichucky River originates in North Carolina and flows in a southwesterly direction before joining the French Broad River near river mile 69.0.  The river has a drainage area of approximately 1,092 sq. miles.  In Tennessee, approximately 99 miles of the Nolichucky River flow through the Blue Ridge and Ridge and Valley provinces of east Tennessee, coursing through or by the towns of Erwin, Greeneville and Morristown before joining the French Broad River near the community of White Pine.  Public access (found in Unicoi, Washington, Greene, Cocke and Hamblen counties) along the river is primarily limited to bridge crossings and small “pull-outs” along roads paralleling the river.  There are several primitive launching areas for canoes or small boats and four developed launching areas managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (Easterly Bridge and Birds Bridge), the City of Greeneville (Kinser Park) and the U.S. Forest Service (Chestoa).

Nolichucky River
Nolichucky River
The Nolichucky River represents an important recreational resource for the state both in consumptive and non-consumptive uses.  It provides critical habitat for species of special concern and is home to approximately 50 species of fish and has historically contained at least 21 species of mussels.  Additionally, it supports one of east Tennessee’s better warmwater sport fisheries.  The Nolichucky River and its tributaries have been the subject of numerous biological and chemical investigations that span some 40 years.  These investigations have concentrated on evaluating pollution levels and documenting sources for mitigation.  Much of the upper reach of the Nolichucky River has been impacted by sand dredging and mica mining in North Carolina and extensive agricultural development along the entire length in Tennessee.  However, in recent years, the Nolichucky River has improved in water quality as a result of mitigation and education conducted during these early studies.

The Nolichucky River provides anglers with the opportunity to catch all species of black bass, rock bass, and musky.  The smallmouth bass is the primary gamefish encountered on the Nolichucky River, providing a better than average fishery.  During the winter months the upper reaches of the Nolichucky are stocked with rainbow trout from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery in Erwin.  This provides additional recreational opportunities for winter anglers frequenting the river.  In recent years, the river has seen an increase in use with the establishment of several rafting companies and the increased recognition of the river’s sport fishery.  

Pigeon River

The Pigeon River originates in North Carolina and flows in a northwesterly direction before emptying into the French Broad River near river mile 73.8.  The river has a drainage area of approximately 689 sq. miles at its confluence with the French Broad River and flows through a mountainous terrain with interspersed communities and small farms.  In Tennessee, the Pigeon River flows approximately 22 miles through Cocke County before joining the French Broad River near Newport.  Public access along the river is primarily limited to bridge crossings and small “pull-outs” along roads paralleling the river.  There are a few primitive launching areas for canoes or small boats.

Pigeon River
Pigeon River
The Pigeon River has had a long history of pollution problems, stemming primarily from the 80 plus-years discharge of wastewater from the Champion Paper Mill in Canton, North Carolina.  This discharge has undoubtedly had a profound effect on the recreational use of the river and after the discovery of elevated dioxin levels in the 1980’s, raised concerns about public health.  Although the river has received increased attention in recent years, the recreational use of the river has not reached its full potential.  Consumption of all fish was prohibited up until 1996 when the ordinance was downgraded, limiting consumption of carp, catfish, and redbreast sunfish.  The consumption advisories were lifted completely in 2003 and the river now draws a relatively substantial amount of angling pressure.

The Pigeon River provides anglers with the opportunity to catch all species of black bass as well as rock bass.  It is best known for its “trophy” status smallmouth bass fishery.  Special regulations apply to the Pigeon River from its confluence with the French Broad River upstream to the North Carolina state line.  Only one smallmouth bass per day, with a minimum length of 20 inches can be harvested.

Over the last 20 years the Pigeon River water quality has been steadily improving, primarily as the result of improved wastewater treatment at the Champion Paper Mill in Canton, North Carolina.  The improved water quality has undoubtedly had an affect on the amount of recreation that is currently taking place, particularly whitewater rafting.  It has also resulted in the return of a few fish species previously not found in the river.  More recently, a multi-agency (including TWRA, TDEC, TVA, UT, and others) approach has resulted in the initiation of an intensive recovery effort focused on reintroductions of native fish species.  The continuation of improvements to the water quality of the Pigeon River will in all likelihood have dramatic impacts on the use of the river in the future.


Holston River

The Holston River originates near Kingsport with the confluence of the North Fork Holston and South Fork Holston rivers.  These rivers, along with the Middle Fork, all originate in Virginia.  The Holston flows in a southwesterly direction before combining with the French Broad River near Knoxville to form the headwaters of the Tennessee River. The river has a drainage area of approximately 3,776 miles2 at its confluence with the French Broad River.  In Tennessee, approximately 114 miles of the Holston River flow through the Ridge and Valley ecological province before joining the French Broad River near Knoxville.  Public access along the river is primarily private, however, there are some "pull-outs" along public roads paralleling the river.  The TWRA manages three public access areas along the river, which include boat ramps near Hunt Creek, the community of Surgoinsville, and Nance Ferry downstream of Cherokee Dam.  TVA maintains access below John Sevier Steam Plant and immediately below Cherokee Dam.  The cities of Church Hill and Kingsport both have public ramps at their city parks.

The Holston River represents a valuable recreational resource to the state as it provides water-based recreation to several communities, towns, and cities along its course.  It is also an important source of drinking water for many populations between Kingsport and Knoxville.  Through history, the Holston River, has been subjected to many man-induced alterations including channelization, damming, and pollution.  Two dams regulate most of the flow outside of tributaries that enter the river above and below these dams.  Fort Patrick Henry Dam located on the South Fork Holston River near Kingsport controls the river between Boone Reservoir and Cherokee Reservoir.  Releases from Fort Patrick Henry coincide with lake level management activities and the need for cooling water at the TVA John Sevier steam plant near Rogersville.  With the completion of Cherokee Dam in 1941, much of the free flowing characteristics of the river basin within Tennessee were eliminated, altering the aquatic community and its inhabitants.  Although a "controlled" river, the Holston still boasts a fairly diverse fish assemblage and is home to at least two threatened species (spotfin chub and snail darter) and about thirteen species of freshwater mussels.

Mitigation efforts have been conducted in order to establish or re-establish certain suitable species in portions of the river, particularly downstream of Cherokee Reservoir. Between 1997 and 1999, 11,816, fingerling smallmouth bass were stocked into the tailwater downstream of Cherokee Dam in an attempt to bolster the existing population. A put-and-take rainbow trout fishery was established in the Cherokee tailwater and has become quite popular with local anglers. One threatened species, the snail darter, has been successfully re-introduced into the tailwater near Knoxville and there has been discussion of re-introducing selected mussel species into the river.  Lake sturgeon have also been introduced into the portion of the Holston River downstream of Cherokee Dam.  Efforts made by the Tennessee Valley Authority to improve water quality downstream of Cherokee Dam have, for the most part, been responsible for the observed improvements below the dam. Dissolved oxygen (DO) management in the forebay of Cherokee Lake has drastically improved the D.O. levels in the tailwater resulting in restoration projects that would have historically not been considered.

Over the past decade there has been a noticeable decline in the once excellent rock bass fishery in that portion of the river between the North Fork Holston and John Sevier Steam Plant.  Observations indicate that much of the habitat in this portion of the river is no longer suitable for rock bass due the proliferation of aquatic vegetation, particularly riverweed and water stargrass.  Much of what would be considered suitable habitat has been "choked" out by extensive mats of vegetation, which in many cases, spans the entire width of the river channel.  Apparently, this increase in aquatic vegetation has occurred in the last 5 to 10 years.  It could be related to a change of minimum flow regimes, nutrient loading, or a combination of these.  The occurrence of this aquatic vegetation has undoubtedly affected some species and angling opportunities (especially in summer months when vegetation mats are extensive).

The Holston River supports one of east Tennessee’s better warmwater sport fisheries.  It provides anglers with the opportunity to catch all species of black bass, although smallmouth bass and rock bass are the primary gamefish present.  The upper 19 miles of the Cherokee tailwater, from the dam downstream to the vicinity of Nance Ferry, is now being managed as a put-and-take and put-and-grow trout fishery.  Rainbow and brown trout fingerlings and catchable rainbow trout have been stocked annually since 1999 and the tailwater is quickly gaining popularity among area anglers.  

North Fork Holston River

The North Fork Holston River originates in Virginia and flows in a southwesterly direction before joining the South Fork Holston River near Kingsport.  In Tennessee, the 5.1 mile reach of the river courses through the Ridge and Valley province of Hawkins and Sullivan counties.  Land use is primarily residential with a few small farms interspersed.  Public access along the river is primarily limited to bridge crossings and small “pull-outs” along roads paralleling the river.  There are a few primitive launching areas for canoes or small boats.

The North Fork Holston River has a reputation of being one of the regions best riverine smallmouth bass fisheries.  This is supported by frequent reports of quality size smallmouth bass being caught in the 5.1 mile section between the state line and the confluence with the South Fork Holston River near Kingsport. 

North Fork Holston
North Fork Holston River
Overall, the North Fork Holston River is one of east Tennessee’s premier smallmouth bass fisheries, even though only a small segment of the river is in Tennessee.  It provides anglers with the opportunity to catch substantial numbers of quality size smallmouth bass and rock bass and has the potential of producing memorable catches (both in number and size).  While not as remote as other smallmouth rivers, much of the surrounding landscape is still eye appealing and it also provides escape for recreationists in a largely urban area.  Upstream of the state line, Virginia has a special regulation permitting the harvest of only one smallmouth bass per day, with a minimum length of 20 inches.
Holston River above Cherokee Reservoir 
Holston River below Cherokee Reservoir 
Smallmouth Bass Regulation Change

13-17 Inch Protected Length Range (PLR). Five (5) Bass Daily Creel Limit.  Only One (1) of the Daily Creel Limit Can Exceed 17 Inches.

The above regulation effective March 1, 2008 in the following rivers:

North Fork Holston River,Holston River,Clinch River, Powell River, 
French Broad River, and Nolichucky River

The above regulation effective March 1, 2009 in the following rivers:

Little River, South Fork Holston River (from confluence with North Fork Holston upstream to Ft. Patrick Henry Dam), and Tellico River