Rainbow trout on South Holston tailwaters in full spawning colors

George Thwaites • Aug 22, 2013 at 6:00 PM

Randy Ratliff of East Tennessee on the Fly has encountered something colorful — and a little strange.

The local fly fishing guide has been catching rainbow trout on the South Holston tailwater. And they’ve been ablaze in full spawning colors.

“There are some big rainbows spawning in the middle section of the river right now and we’re not figuring out why,” Ratliff said. “I caught seven rainbows from 18 to 20 inches. They had the bright red stripes, the hook jaw, the works.”

It isn’t uncommon for Ratliff to encounter early rainbow spawning activity like that below Boone Dam. But it’s a first for him so far up in the South Holston tailwater.

There are so many strains of rainbow in the fishery nowadays, it’s hard to sort things out, he said. He speculated that there might be a steelhead strain in the river that spawns in August. Or perhaps this is an unexpected by-product of the rainiest summer in recent memory.

He noted that big brown trout have been moving up the river toward the spawning ’bows, perhaps to go on an egg feed. Ratliff and a client tried an egg pattern dropper behind a San Juan Worm. Rainbows are taking the worm but the eggs are being ignored by everything. A Quasimodo Pheasant Tail has been the best thing so far for browns, he said.

With the rivers having cleared up, Ratliff has had quite a few productive smallmouth floats, catching lots of fish with nothing but topwater poppers — Walt’s and BoogleBug, mostly.

“I think the dog day cicadas are out. Those are black bodied with a lime green wing and accents,” Ratliff said.

“I’d go with a Size 2 popper, regular stop-light yellow. And lime green has been good.”

Rex Pendergrass at Watsons Marine in Bluff City reports that the bass fishing has picked up on the uppermost TVA reservoirs in the Holston watershed.

“I’ve gotten some good reports from Watauga this week. People are catching spots and largemouth during the day on the drop shot Robo Worm, spinnerbaits and the Pop-R,” Pendergrass said.

“On South Holston the night bite is pretty strong. We’re talking about mainly jigs — rootbeer, green pumpkin, the usual suspects.”

Water temperatures are in the upper 70s, which is cool for this time of year. Most of the fish are being found in the 15 to 20 foot range.

The action on Boone has been a lot more sporadic than either of the upstream lakes. But that’s pretty normal for Boone, he said.

Rod Colyer at Colgard Outdoor Sports in Norton reports that the bass fishing on Cherokee has been a little tougher this week.

“Everybody I’ve talked to is catching a few fish until right after dark. People are pretty disappointed in the night fishing,” Colyer said. “I’d say water temperatures are at least five degrees cooler than normal and water levels are 5 to 10 feet higher than normal. I don’t know if the fish are confused or the fishermen are confused.”

The most consistent thing has been the deep crankbaits — the Strike King 10XD and Norman DD22 have both been popular — just before sundown and a couple hours afterward.

George Thwaites is a Sports and Outdoors Writer for the Kingsport Times-News. Follow him on Twitter @KTNSptsThwaites. Email trophy fish photos to: gthwaites@timesnews.net

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