When the jet boat you’re standing on is surfing an eddy on a stretch of the Holston River flanked on both sides by the iconic industrial architecture of Tennessee’s largest chemical plant — the effect isn’t merely extreme, it’s downright surreal.
Despite the incongruity of the surroundings, this spring saw untold numbers of wallhanger-grade smallmouth caught in the Holston downstream from Tennessee Eastman Chemical Co.
A steady barrage of thunderstorms has slowed the action a bit. But it may just be a momentary lull.
“I think the pH of the river is kind of messed up now by all the rain we’ve had this week, and all the mud and stuff,” Bolling’s brother Chance said after releasing a nice one he’d caught on a Pop-R. “But we’re still catching some good fish today.”
A former tournament bass angler who became bored with blast-offs and weigh- ins, Lance Bolling bought his first jet drive outboard-equipped boat and started exploring area rivers with a focus on the Holston.
What he discovered in the heart of Kingsport was a river teeming with healthy bronzebacks that nobody seems to want to eat. The Holston River in Kingsport, as it turns out, is a paradoxical paradise for catch-and-release angling.
Funny smells aren’t the only obstacle.
“I’ll warn anybody else — you get a jet boat and you can’t expect to just come right out and get to it. These rivers are pretty shallow,” Lance Bolling said. “To get to the fish, you’ve got to beat and bang.”
A jet boat is designed for shallow water, but getting through the rapids isn’t just point and go. Until the routes are deciphered, the boats — and at times the boaters — are likely to sustain some damage.
“We’ve hit rocks so hard before that it’s actually bruised my legs on the steering wheel and threw my passenger on the deck,” Lance Bolling said. “That was during my earlier stages of learning the river. Luckily, we were able to limp back and get her on the trailer so we could take her back and weld it up.”
The Bolling brothers have spent a lot of time repairing hull damage over the years and own a high-frequency welder bought primarily for that purpose. Chance does most of the TIG welding, not only for Lance but for other jet boat owners who need repairs or modifications.
“We hit about every rock in this river until we finally figured out where to run,” said Chance, who is River Extreme Outfitters’ fabricator and “parts man.”
“We’ve had to replace the whole bottom of a boat. But it’s a lot better now because of our knowledge of the river.”
And even then it’s not exactly gentle on the equipment. Experience has shown the brothers how to build a better boat for the purpose.
Lance noted that his newest aluminum boat has been reinforced with an additional three-sixteenths-inch outer hull to help the boat withstand the inevitable abuse.
River Extreme Outfitters offers trips on other area rivers, including the South Holston and Watauga tailwaters and the French Broad River out of Douglas Reservoir. The service also offers some striper trips on local lakes during the winter months.
But the Holston River from Fort Patrick Henry Dam all the way downstream to Surgoinsville is Lance Bolling’s main thing, offering trips catering to either fly fishermen or spin fishermen.
“When you can catch 40 or 50 good fish a day versus five or six on the lake, that’s kind of the reason we stay where we’re at,” Lance said. “We do other stuff. But this is my bread and butter, as far as the quality of the fish in this area. We’re blessed with some big smallmouth.”
Contact River Extreme Outfitters at (423) 388-0404 or (423) 677-1397.