Out of State Destinations: The Elk River

An angler fly-fishing in the Elk River tailrace below the Tims Ford Dam near Winchester, Tenn. The state of Tennessee periodically stocks brown, rainbow and brook trout in the cold water near the dam. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

This scenic river offers chances to catch ‘other’ trout

When thinking about “trout” most Louisiana sportsmen naturally envision long white spotted fish of salty waters, which isn’t really a “trout,” but a member of the drum family.

Except for when the LDWF stocks rainbows at Get Out and Fish! sites, people in the Sportsman’s Paradise never see true trout. To catch wild trout, sportsmen must visit northern Arkansas, Alabama or Tennessee, the closest places to Louisiana to catch wild freshwater trout.

About eight hours from either Monroe or New Orleans, Louisiana sportsmen might catch three wild freshwater trout species in the Elk River where none should exist. Completed in 1970, Tims Ford Dam created the 12,000-acre Tims Ford Lake near Winchester, Tenn. Cold water flowing through the dam changed the river ecosystem and created prime trout habitat. Tennessee regularly stocks brook, brown and rainbow trout in the chilly waters.

“The Elk River is a system where people can catch good trout numbers with a chance of catching a really nice one,” said David Perry with Southeastern Fly (615-796-5143, southeasternfly.com) in Murfreesboro, Tenn. “We’ve caught some browns and rainbows in the 20- to 25-inch range. They would weigh about two to four pounds. We hear about some 10- to 12-pounders from time to time.”

Beauty all around

Just below Tims Ford Dam, Angela Millet from Lenoir City, Tenn. and I boarded Perry’s drift boat, a craft specially designed to accommodate a guide and two fly anglers. Drifting gently with the current for nine miles to the takeout spot, we caught browns and rainbows along the way. One could easily believe we passed through a vast wilderness instead of a populated section of Tennessee between Nashville and Chattanooga. As we fished, we spotted bald eagles and many other birds, plus other wildlife including mink on the shoreline.

A trout in the hand means a successful day fishing. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

“If one is ever inclined to see ‘Gods Country,’ take a drive to Tim Fords Dam and hook up with David Perry for a float trip on the beautiful Elk River,” Millet said. “It’s beauty all around and a day filled with magical laughs and memories of catching incredible brown and rainbow trout!”

Just beyond the trees lining the riverbanks, watercress farms dot the area landscape. Farmers use river water to grow their crops. Several small waterfalls pouring from adjacent fields plunge into the river, making excellent places to catch trout. The running water frequently carries bugs and other small creatures that trout eat.

We fished nymphs under floating strike indicators. Trout face upstream waiting for the current to bring them food. Ideally, suspend a fly just off the bottom so it drifts at the same speed as the current. People can also fish with streamers, dry flies and various other feathered temptations.

“We do indicator fishing with a nymph under it,” Perry said. “People can also use various flies and midges. Dry flies are good from June through early September. Late summer to early fall is the best time to fish dry flies when the bugs start hatching and sitting on top to dry their wings. If trout are eating other fish, we like to throw streamers.”

Planning your trip

People without boats can wade fish at the landing below the dam or at Farris Creek. Visitors to the area should check with Tim and Rhonda Page at Tim’s Flies and Lies Outfitters (931-759-5058, www.timsfliesandlies.com) in nearby Normandy to learn the best enticements to fish that day. Whether wading or drifting, always check the dam generation schedule at www.tva.com/Environment/Lake-Levels/Tims-Ford.

While in Tennessee, people can tour the mansion of country music legend Loretta Lynn on her ranch in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. (Photo by John N. Felsher)

The Elk River flows 195 miles from the Cumberland Plateau into the Tennessee River at Lake Wheeler near Rogersville, Ala. The water gradually warms as it flows farther from the dam.

“Cold water coming off the bottom of Tims Ford Lake took away the first 10 to 12 miles of really good smallmouth waters below the dam,” Perry said. “We still catch smallmouth and even an occasional largemouth bass when fly fishing, but we mostly catch trout in the first nine miles below the dam. We’re doing more smallmouth fishing farther down the river.”

Across the dam, anglers can fish the deep and clear Tims Ford Lake for striped bass and hybrid crosses between stripers and white bass. Anglers might also catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, walleye, crappie, catfish, various sunfish and other fish.

Visitors can find accommodations in Winchester or Fayetteville. People can stay at Tims Ford State Park (tnstateparks.com/parks/tims-ford) or Tims Ford Marina (www.timsfordmarina.com), which has a lakeside restaurant.

While in Tennessee, visit Loretta Lynn’s Ranch (www.lorettalynnranch.net) in Hurricane Mills and tour the country music legend’s mansion. Also tour the exact replica of the cabin where Lynn grew up in Kentucky, which was used to film the movie Coal Miner’s Daughter. People can rent cabins or park their own recreational vehicles to camp on Lynn’s property.

For area information, see www.fayettevillelincolncountychamber.com. For Winchester, see www.winchester-tn.com/things-do.

About John N. Felsher 47 Articles
Originally from Louisiana, John N. Felsher is a professional freelance writer, broadcaster, photographer and editor who now lives in Alabama. An avid sportsman, he’s written more than 3,600 articles for more than 173 different magazines on a wide variety of outdoors topics. He also hosts an outdoors tips show for WAVH FM Talk 106.5 radio station in Mobile, Ala. Contact him at j.felsher@hotmail.com or through Facebook.