East Tennessee Outdoors: News for the Week of May 22, 2020

Published 4:40 pm Thursday, May 21, 2020

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Memorial Day weekend is upon us, and in theory this is the start of the summer season. The year 2020 would not be living up to its reputation if everything this weekend was normal.

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With that said, there is flooding in many areas this weekend, and it is disrupting outdoor activities. Let’s take a look.

Stream/River Fishing:

Constant rain during the week of May 18, 2020, has raised stream levels so that some cannot be fished. The South Holston and Watauga tailwaters are also extra high because the TVA is having to release more water to maintain lake levels, though this is not working in some places.

Fishermen need to use their own judgment while fishing and take extra precautions. Some of the tailwaters can rise very quickly, and if you are wading the rivers, it will catch you in mid-stream where you may have to be rescued.

Almost every year someone has to be rescued from one of these waters because they did not notice the river rising so high so quickly.

Also, if you are fishing on the Nolichucky, take extreme caution because this river is probably the most dangerous river in the area. Its very name in the Cherokee Indian language means “dangerous water”.

The danger of the Nolichucky is it can rise higher, faster than any river in the area.

Much of the river flows from the North Carolina Mountains. An angler can be fishing in Tennessee and not realize that a storm has dumped a large amount of rain in North Carolina, flooding the Nolichucky until it is too late.

The water rises so quickly it is hard to get a boat off the water, and if you are caught wading out in the water, you could be in trouble.

Also, the river has some very strong currents and will pull you under quickly and tow you down the river. Almost every year someone dies in the Nolichucky from drowning.

Most of the time they die because they have underestimated the stream’s currents.

Lake Fishing:

Between Wednesday and Sunday of this week, Watauga Lake was expected to rise seven to eight feet. According to the TVA, the pool level of Watauga could set a record and surpass the record water level of 1967 feet that was set in 2013.

South Holston is expected to rise three to four feet during this same time.

I expect the fishing on these lakes to cool down while the front is moving through, but overall, I would think it could temporarily help the fishing in our lakes because the fish will hug the banks when the water is high.

They are in the shallow water to feed, and overall, the best fishing can take place while the water is still a little high.

Water clarity means a lot also. Bass and catfish both like the muddy water color these rains will leave in the lakes. Walleye do not like the muddy water color and don’t expect to catch many walleyes during these rains.

If you go on one of our lakes, expect to face some challenges. It will be harder to launch your boat and once you are in the water, expect extra debris such as sticks, logs, and trash.

The water temperature may cool down a few degrees making some fishing harder, and if you bank fish, you are in for a real challenge until lake levels subside.


Most of the closings and restrictions throughout the TWRA and TVA systems have been lifted in the last week or two.

Make sure to continue social distancing and use common sense during camping and other outdoor activities.

I know it is cool and wet, but that is no excuse not to enjoy the outdoors. Get out and appreciate all that God has given us.

God bless and happy fishing.