With the magic that is the Tennessee Valley Authority keeping most dammed water levels consistent and therefore fishable, it's tempting to simply stay nearby, fishing Lake Chickamauga, Nickajack Lake and the Tennessee River. However, to do so would be missing out on some of the finest stream fishing in the country, located just around the bend in the heart of the Cumberland and Appalachian mountains. Here are a few places to consider outside of Chattanooga.
Distance from Chattanooga: 130 miles
Flowing down from Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee, the chilled waters of Little River teem with excellent fishing opportunities. More like a shallow stream than a river, this waterway has several different sections that will challenge fishermen in different ways, with everything from fast-flowing headwaters near the Dome, gentler pools farther downstream, and pockets of water broken by large rocks or boulders in between. Several species of trout, including brown and brook, populate the river, as do smallmouth bass.
Distance from Chattanooga: 110 miles
This hideaway stream boasts some of the largest rainbow trout in Tennessee. Located in the heart of Cades Cove in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Abrams isn't the easiest to access. The only way in is an 11-mile drive along a one-way road, but it is well worth the effort. Anglers who make the journey will be treated with gentle pools to wade through and a very active aquatic ecosystem due to the relatively high pH level of the water, hence the size of the trout.
Distance from Chattanooga: 90 miles
Looking to break a state record? The tailwaters of the Clinch River might be the spot for you. A 28-pound brown trout was bagged on the Clinch in 1988, and has stood as the state record ever since. The proximity of Norris Dam leads to optimal water temperature and oxygenation of the water, producing brown and rainbow trout larger than your average stream can produce.
Distance from Chattanooga: 220 miles
Trout stocking programs may help keep the sport of fishing alive, but there's something special about catching wild trout. That's exactly what you can do on the Watauga, where the brown trout population is so healthy it no longer needs to be stocked. However, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency keeps a close eye on that trout population, and there may be restrictions on allowable lures and more. Read up before you go.
Little Pigeon River
Distance from Chattanooga: 145 miles
Speaking of wild trout, the west prong of the Little Pigeon River is unique in that it flourishes with brook trout, the only truly native trout species in the state. Frequently, these fish are bullied out of waterways by the larger brown and rainbow trout. Here, though, they're positively teeming in the headwaters of the river. Brook trout are notorious for being ravenous eaters of native flies, so cast away.