Fly fishing the Holston River with North Fork River Outfitters in Bristol, Tennessee

My family, travel, sports, music – these are my passions in life and if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you already know this. But what you might not know is that there is another “love” in my life. Opportunities to spend time with this love are rare so when they do come my way, I do whatever necessary to make it happen. I was ecstatic to learn I could spend time with this love of mine while I was in Bristol, Tennessee. It didn’t take long for me to decide that I would leave my family for a day in Bristol so I could…. go fly fishing.

Yes, the love I’m speaking of is fly fishing. I fell in love with it almost 20 years ago when I worked in Yellowstone National Park. My grandfather gave me his old fly rod to take out there with me and I pretty much taught myself to fly fish in Yellowstone. I fell quickly and I fell hard. Upon my return home to Chicago, I introduced my father to this newfound love, and he also was enamored. Dad and I attended a fly-fishing instructional school together and we both proceeded to spend much money on rods and other gear. Problem is, quality fly fishing spots around Chicago are scarce. We’d have to travel a bit to find the right kind of streams and, for a while, it wasn’t exactly feasible.

And then came the opportunity for my family and me to visit Bristol. During the years I spent researching and dreaming about fly fishing spots, I learned that there were plenty in the Appalachians. But what I didn’t realize is that some of those spots are in and very near Bristol! So, along with attending Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, going fly fishing was placed at the top of the list of things I needed to do in Bristol.

Since I hadn’t been fly fishing in some time, I didn’t exactly feel comfortable going out on my own. I hooked up with local guide, Carl Brickey, of North Fork River Outfitters. I spoke to Carl prior to my arrival in Bristol to set up logistics and discuss what gear of my own I’d need to bring, which turned out to be minimal. Carl had it completely covered, though I chose to bring my own set of waders. Carl tried explaining to me via email that we would be fly fishing the Holston River and that what time we set out depended on the generating schedule. I had no idea what he meant but he explained that the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) operates a a dam on the South Holston to generate power and provide flood control for the region. The TVA posts a schedule every day, outlining the water release times for the following day. It was in our best interest to be out on the water well before the first release time.

Fly fishing the Holston River | Bristol, Tennessee

Sunrise on the Holston

Carl picked me up well before dawn at my hotel in Bristol and we drove out to our first stop. I didn’t even mind being up before the sun. It was so quiet and peaceful on those winding country roads, and watching the light fog lift and dissipate was mesmerizing. At our first stop, we had to hike in a bit along the river’s edge to reach the spot that looked most ideal to Carl. We hopped over downed logs and trudged through squishy mud. It had been far too long since I got to enjoy the outdoors so I loved every second of our short hike. When we reached our spot, we realized we weren’t alone; there were a few other anglers on the river but we were no bother to one another. Carl tied a fly on my line, sprinkled some magic dust on it, and I began casting away.

Well, trying to cast. Turns out I was a wee bit rusty but Carl patiently refreshed my memory and went over the basic mechanics. I had a few hits but, again, my rustiness prevented me from properly hooking the fish. I didn’t really care, though, because in between casting and mending, I was basking in the glow of the sun rising over the Holston. It was absolutely glorious.

A little while later, Carl suggested we try another spot on the other side of the river. Hey, he’s the guide; who am I to argue? I turned to walk back up the way we came, thinking we were going back to the car, but – oh no, we were fording the river! We walked across the width of the river and climbed out on the opposite bank. It was so fun – what an adventure!

Carl took me to a few more spots, one more scenic than the other. My casting was improving and my waders were holding up, keeping me warm and dry in the chilly Holston River. I still hadn’t caught any fish, though. We were nearing the end of my guided fly fishing adventure when Carl suggested one more spot. Like any excellent fishing guide, Carl was determined to exhaust all options to make sure I caught at least one fish. Honestly, I wasn’t bothered at all; I was having a blast. But we made one more stop and waded into the deepest water we’d been in all day. I was in almost to my waist (which isn’t saying much, I guess, since I’m so short) and it was COLD. But I kept on casting and, sure enough – BAM! I remembered everything Carl had told me that day, put it all into action, and reeled in a gorgeous rainbow trout. It’s quite possibly the smallest fish I’ve ever caught but, you know what? It didn’t matter to me. It was an already-perfect day and catching that fish was just the so-called icing on the cake. I was happy just to be outdoors in beautiful surroundings, listening to the soothing sounds of the rushing river instead of being stuck in Chicago rush hour traffic, listening to cars honking and brakes screeching. I could have caught zero fish and would have been perfectly happy.

Fly fishing the Holston River | Bristol, Tennessee

Small but pretty rainbow trout | Photo by Carl Brickey

A little bit more about Carl… That guy is a true sportsman and he knows his stuff. We spent several hours together so, naturally, we chatted a lot. Carl takes anglers out on wade trips (which is what I did), as well as guided canoe and kayak fishing trips. He’s a bow hunter, too, and I was even more impressed to learn that he makes his own arrows and has even started working on building bows.

I know I’ll get back to Bristol at some point, and when I do, I’ll be calling Carl to go fly fishing again. To book your own guided fly fishing trip with Carl, give him a call at (276) 780-0846. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

Reminder: If you plan to fish the South Holston, be sure to check the TVA generating schedule ahead of time and plan accordingly!

My fly fishing adventure was set up and provided by the Bristol CVB. I genuinely enjoyed the entire experience and was not swayed in any way to write positively about it. As always, all words and opinions are my own.

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24 Responses to Fly fishing the Holston River with North Fork River Outfitters in Bristol, Tennessee

  1. Raul (@ilivetotrave) October 28, 2015 at 1:07 pm #

    So glad you were able to break away from the family even if briefly to do something you love so much. I love that it connects you with memories with your grandfather!
    Raul (@ilivetotrave) recently posted…The Carmel Mission: Quiet and BeautifulMy Profile

    • Francesca November 5, 2015 at 1:37 pm #

      Thanks, Raul!

  2. Erin Marie October 28, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

    Yay! I know you’ve wanted to do this for a while – good for you! AND you caught a fish!!! SO COOL! I caught nothing and it was raining and I was pretty miserable, haha. Your experience sounds better!
    Erin Marie recently posted…Getting Tired of Solo TravelMy Profile

    • Francesca November 5, 2015 at 1:38 pm #

      Yeah, that’s how it goes with fishing. Sometimes you catch ’em all, sometimes you get skunked.

  3. Traveling Ted November 1, 2015 at 8:23 am #

    Reading this makes me feel foolish that I did not do any fishing in Tennessee when I went to college there, but fly fishing is expensive and cuts deep into the college student’s budget. I will have to make amends and get down there sometime in the spring.

    I am the same way when it comes to fishing. If I do not catch anything it is just glorious to be outside. One fish caught and it makes the trip complete. Congrats on reeling in the beautiful rainbow.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Winter weekend getawaysMy Profile

    • Francesca November 5, 2015 at 1:39 pm #

      Thanks, Ted. Fly fishing IS expensive but I’ve accumulated gear over the years so the cost doesn’t seem so bad.

  4. the lazy travelers November 2, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

    had NO idea you were such an experience fly fisherman! fisherwoman? we’re impressed!
    the lazy travelers recently posted…the lazy girls’ guide to the city of londonMy Profile

  5. Jenn November 3, 2015 at 2:15 pm #

    I wish I had someone like Carl to go fishing with! I am so rusty, and I probably haven’t gone fishing in 10 years. But it was so fun and relaxing that I want to get back into it!

  6. jodyR November 3, 2015 at 6:03 pm #

    Trying new experiences like this is always a hoot. I never thought fly fishing would be something I’d do, but after reading about your experience, I think I’d be willing to give it a try. Thanks also for letting me know what fording a river is:)

  7. Jolanta | Casual Traveler November 4, 2015 at 6:50 pm #

    Fishing can be very relaxing. I remember fishing with my Dad one time on vacation when I was a kid. We lived in the city, so he didn’t really do it otherwise. Glad to hear you had fun!
    Jolanta | Casual Traveler recently posted…Quebec City’s Le 760 Honore Mercier Apartment 604: A ReviewMy Profile

  8. Victoria@celebratetheweekend November 4, 2015 at 9:47 pm #

    I had to google how is fly fishing different from other kinds of fishing i may have done growing up:) i have to admit, i haven’t fished since childhood but i can see how someone may love it- it could highly therapeutical:) or just a great way to enjoy the lovely outdoors. I hope you get a chance to pursue your hobby more often!!
    Victoria@celebratetheweekend recently posted…Visiting Greenvale Vineyards in Newport, Rhode IslandMy Profile

  9. Leah November 10, 2015 at 4:53 am #

    I do remember that you adore fly fishing, something I’ve never even thought about trying. I’m glad you got a chance to do it in Tennessee. Such a pretty place. Do you think you could teach me?
    Leah recently posted…Things to know about the French before visiting ParisMy Profile

  10. craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) November 13, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    Wow, simply, wow. I just love this… I am so in love with fly fishing myself… this is something i need to make sure i do,…. Carl, when I get back TN, you;ll be hearing from me, Stay Fly, Craig
    craig zabransky (@StayAdventurous) recently posted…Sunset Toast to Eco-Friendly Luxury, Nemi Eco Villa in Puerto VallartaMy Profile

  11. Madison River Fishing Guide February 11, 2016 at 11:37 am #

    Great article. It’s so common for people to learn fly fishing from their grandfathers. I know I think about mine a least once every time I am on the river.

  12. Hooks Life April 23, 2016 at 11:27 pm #

    Seems to be a great start for a beginner. Never go fly fishing before. I should try it sometimes.

  13. Dutreaux August 2, 2016 at 8:02 pm #

    Great post! I’ll have to get out there when I’m in Tennessee next – which I’m not sure I’ll ever be. We have some great fly fishing out here in California. Glad you caught that Rainbow – although just being outdoors is amazing. Like you said, fly fishing can be a bit costly, but if you accumulate gear over time, it’s not so bad. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Ben August 29, 2016 at 4:31 am #

    Great! The more fly line which touches the water, can greater the chance of drag affecting your fly. Keeping the rod tip high and extended while fishing close to the target can be a good technique.

  15. Morgan September 27, 2016 at 9:39 am #

    Awesome picture! It looks like you had a ton of fun out on the water and made some great catches. Good work, and thanks for sharing a bit of the experience with us!

  16. Brian November 2, 2016 at 8:31 am #

    Fly fishing looks like so much fun! I really want to give it a try one day. Thanks for sharing your trip!

  17. Dean November 9, 2016 at 6:36 pm #

    I have fished all of my life but never tried fly fishing. If I ever make it to Tennessee I will have to try this spot.

  18. James A Williams December 21, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your story. If you want to keep a bend in your fly rod, head just north or south of Chicago — you’ll find salmon, big browns and rainbow trout in Lake Michigan tributaries. Some hold brook trout through the winter.

  19. Kevin Wagar January 27, 2017 at 2:50 pm #

    Fly fishing seems like such a relaxing way to spend the day.

  20. Aron February 1, 2017 at 11:23 am #

    Nice article. Sking and fishing does sound awesome. Make me think about when I use to live in Northern New Mexico by the Taos Mountains.
    Thanks for the sharing your experience with us.
    Aron recently posted…Best Inflatable Hot Tub Reviews And Buying Guide 2017My Profile

  21. Ryan February 3, 2017 at 10:13 am #

    I’ve been fishing plenty of times but never fly fishing, so I feel like I need to try that sometime soon! Sounds just so nice and relaxing, thanks for sharing!

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