With a long season, mild weather, and a convenient mid-Atlantic location, the South Holston River Lodge is a great pre-season trip before the American West and a perfect spot to visit multiple times annually.
March, 2022 – Recently I found myself down in Bristol, TN and subsequently hanging out with Jon Hooper, the general manager of the South Holston River Lodge nestled on the banks of the famous Tennessee tailwater of the same name. It was early March, and we left Pennsylvania to try to escape some cold winter weather for a bit of fly fishing and early season gravel bike training for the coming 2022 season. Well, that was the plan anyway although Mother Nature had a different idea in store for us.
Upon arrival at the South Holston, we were welcomed with 20-degree temps, sideways snow, and winds of about 20mph. Not exactly ideal. But the flow was perfect for wading on the river, and I broke out my 11’0” Trout Spey to swing streamers until my fingers went numb. Having already settled into “spring mode”, my body quickly forgot the ice-cold Erie steelhead days from the winter. I was anticipating fishing in light-weight shirts and riding in summer cycling kit on the meandering gravel roads of the Cherokee National Forest. After one day, the score was South Holston 1 and Hank Ingram 0.
A day later and with mother nature in a better mood, we met our SHL guide, Braydon, at the spillway below the dam in shorts and light spring jackets just heavy enough to ward off the crispness of the morning. Bluebird skies welcomed us as did the river flowing at about 2,100 cfs – an ideal and manageable flow according to Braydon. We situated ourselves in his new kitted-out Hyde drift boat and settled in for the day. Now I have drifted – and rowed myself – down many of the great Western and South American rivers but hopping into a drift boat east of the Mississippi was a brand-new experience for me. My home state of Pennsylvania has amazing walk-and-wade options, but besides the Delaware River and Allegheny, there is very little drifting (besides smaller cata-rafts or kayaks).
Still a few days before the start of the sulphur hatch, the nymphing was excellent. Within sight of the launch, we were into our first river-smart 14-inch brown. The day kept on trucking from there. The fish are hearty and well fed on the “SoHo”, knowing how to use the current to their advantage and thus take on the persona of a larger fish. Depending on who one asks, the tailwater boasts 6,000 to upwards of 10,000 wild brown trout per mile averaging in the “10 to 20 inch” range with some real monsters taken seasonally.
Although I missed it on this trip due to weather and flow the nearby there is another “got to” fish tailwater in the region. The Watauga River originates in North Carolina and enters Tennessee with freestone-like characteristics including exceptional caddis and mayfly hatches, as well as solid summer terrestrial fishing. The Watauga is definitely on my short list for the next visit.
As for the accommodations, the South Holston River Lodge is a comfortably appointed refurbished farm property along the river. The lodge offers all the charm and warmth an angler expects in a top destination. Th staff was welcoming and personable. Jon Hooper has a wealth of information ready to share about the region, the fishery, and the fishing hospitality business. The lodge also boasts a string of top guides. I was lucky enough to fish with a young “up and comer” that will be setting the standards for guiding the SoHo for years to come. Braydon was truly one of the most personable and attentive guides I have experienced recently. The day was a true pleasure.
A relatively short drive from several major metropolitan centers, it is no surprise that the lodge is busy, and space is limited. However, the season is long from March to December. With typically mild weather, the South Holston River Lodge is a great pre-season trip before the American West and a perfect spot to visit multiple times annually on it is own. Want more information on this truly unique fishery? Check out the Frontiers website or contact our destination specialist, Joe Koziera.
~ Hank Ingram