East Tennessee Outdoors: Watauga River trophy trout

Published 11:20 pm Monday, August 26, 2019



I felt a tap, then a hookup as a Watauga River brown trout took my plug.

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After a good little fight in the current of the river, I landed it and dislodged by the hook. It had deep brown color, and the red dots on its sides were especially bright.

I released it back in the river to let it grow. Not a bad start for a magical evening on the Watauga River.

 Watauga River is one of the best trophy trout tailwaters in the state of Tennessee. Though there may be other waters that produce more fish, few can compare to the quality of fish that come from this river.

 I was fishing this day with Rob Benfield with The Strike Outdoors Fishing Guide Service and we were using a specially designed jet boat to navigate the cold water of the Watauga.

“I used to use a float boat”, Rob said, “but I hurt my shoulder, and I have switched to the jet boat. This boat will take you anywhere you want to go as long as there is at least 10 inches of water.”

Rob specializes in guiding clients on the Watauga and South Holston tailwaters.

“I can guide fly fishing clients, but my specialty is catching fish using jerk baits and plugs. I average about 40 fish each trip on the Watauga River. Some days we will catch less, but some days we will catch more,” Rob stated.

Rob drove the jet boat up the current of the Watauga like he had been weaned on a boat anchor. The entire time he was telling my grandson and me about the habits of the Watauga trout.

“There is a lot of fish on this water that will go from 10 to 14 pounds and up. The largest one I have caught this year so far has been 11 pounds, but the largest one I have ever caught was 17 pounds. I caught it a few years ago.”

As we fished, we were using Rob’s specially designed plugs that had been hand-painted to resemble the baby rainbow trout in the river. Rob showed us where to flip our plugs and how to move the plug through the water to tease the fish into a strike.

“You have to give the fish something that they do not see every day. Every year in the late fall I take my boat up the river and retrieve plugs, flies and other artificial lures that people have left in the trees.

“They are always the same type of plugs and the same pattern of flies. I usually fill a tackle box up with these. The fish see these same patterns all year.

“Show them something they have never seen, and you will get the fish’s attention.”

We were fishing after a rainstorm, and the fog was heavy on the river. “The fish are going to be deep because the barometric pressure has fallen so much,” Rob stated as he maneuvered the boat to a promising hole of water. “Sometimes twitching the lure will get the fish to react.”

The words had not cleared his mouth when his pole doubled, and he brought in a beautiful 18-inch rainbow. “Beautiful fish,” was all Rob could whisper as he turned him back to the river.

The evening saw us catch fish after fish, mostly brown trout. The true excitement was knowing that any cast could bring a trophy of a lifetime to my net.

As usual, my grandson caught more than I did, including some very beautiful 14-inch browns. I guess I have taught him well.

The rain came again as we were landing the boat, and I knew this was not the last time I would see that boat. I was hooked now.

Trophy trout from the Watauga was now in my blood, and the only cure was to feel one on my taunt line.

I am planning another trip with Rob Benfield, this time on the South Holston River. I am looking forward to it, and I will let you know how it goes in a future column.

For now, every time I trout fish I hope I will catch a 17-pound brown or rainbow. I guess a humble fisherman can always dream.

To book your own guided fishing trip with The Strike Outdoors and Rob Benfield, give him a call at 1-828-260-2896. To see more of his trophy trout photos, visit his Facebook page – The Strike Outdoors.