about. Many anglers that fly fish for trout to at least some extent, don't know what a tailwater is. Just in case you are
one of those, tailwaters are streams that exist below man made dams. There are two basic types - bottom and top
water releases. The ones that provide some good wintertime trout fishing are the bottom discharge ones. That is
because the water comes from the bottom of the lake or reservoir that has been dammed. For at least most of the year
and sometimes year-round, depending on the particular tailwater, the warmest water exist in the bottom of the lake or
reservoir. As far as water levels and flows, you are always at the mercy of the people that control the discharges from
the dam. Some provide water for irrigation, electricity and flood control, and sometimes all three purposes.
The following tailwaters are located coast to coast in the United States, and represent only a small part of what we
have website pages on. Each one is considered to be one of the top destinations for the part of the country they are
located in. Notice, I wrote "one of the top". There are others, and some many would consider just as good or better.
We have fished and taken sample of the aquatic insects and food from most all of them in the United States that hold
trout. Some hold steelhead, salmon, and smallmouth bass as well. We have Perfect Fly website pages on all major
tailwaters as well as many you probably have never heard of. It it not practical to list them all in this article. From west
to east, here are some of them that stay warm enough to fish all winter long. .
Yakima River, Washington:
This is a series of three tailwaters from three different dams. Although each of these three tailwaters have trout fishing
opportunities, fly fishing the Yakima River is best in its prime section that begins where the three tailwaters merge
together near the town of Cle Elum. It provides a year-round trout fishery.
Deschutes River, Oregon:
The state of Oregon has several good tailwaters, but we think the two-hundred mile long Deschutes River (river of
falls) is the best. It begins in the Cascades as a spring-fed river and ends in the Columbia River. It has several
tailwaters with about every type of water you can think of. It has a population of the famous "Redside" native rainbow
trout as well as some stocked sections. It also has some brown trout, salmon and both winter and summer run
Upper Sacramento River, California:
This one will get me in big trouble because California has many good tailwaters, including one just below this, the
Lower Sacramento River, a tailwater of Lake Shasta. The upper river is a tailwater of Lake Siskiyou. You will find some
big wild rainbow trout in both of these tailwaters. I guess I should mention Pit River, and a favorite of mine, the Kern
Colorado River (Greers Ferry), Arizona:
The first time I fished this tailwater was in 1978 (maybe '77)with a spinning rod before fishing national professional
BASS tournament at Lake Powell It is just below Lake Powell and the beginning of the Grand Canyon. It is best fished
from a drift boat but does have a walk-in section with some big, wild rainbow trout.
San Juan River, New Mexico:
This is one of the nation's best tailwaters, with about as many fish per mile as exist anywhere. The rainbows are
stocked, but there are wild browns. It is one of our favorites and a great wintertime destination. It is a tailwater of
Navajo Lake. We always catch a lot of trout including many brown trout over 20 inches, up to 26 inches, on flies I can
Green River, Utah:
We have fished this one only during two trips and only in the walk in area. I don't like it near as much as many others
do. We prefer the Provo, Weber and Strawberry tailwaters better, but I'll give other anglers the benefit of my doubt.
We prefer tailwaters that provide good wading and boating opportunity and this one lacks in that regard. You need a
dirft boat. In fact, we like the one above this in Wyoming better, located on the same river, I'll list below.
Henry's Fork Snake River, Idaho:
Idaho has so many I would run out of space quickly. Many consider this one the best trout stream in the country. It is a
tailwater, and with several dams, but you may fish it and think you fished a big spring creek one time, and a freestone
stream the next time. It has some huge wild, rainbow trout along with all the other species, it ranges from the most
difficult stream you have ever fished to easy, all depending on when and where you fish it. The South Fork Snake
deserves mentioning, but it is one you need a boat to fish most all of time.
Boise River, Idaho:
Here's a sleeper for you. You can fish it in several places, but below Anderson Ranch Dam, you may hook a wild
rainbow you can't handle. It turns out some big ones for the relatively few anglers that fish it. Some locals will probably
hate the fact I listed it.
Green River, Wyoming:
This is probably a sleeper for you. Most of the streams, including tailwaters, in Wyoming, get too cold at times during
the Winter months. This one, out in the middle of no-where, can be fished year-round and has some big trout. The
Snake River, just below Jackson Lake, doesn't freeze over and can be fished all year, but most of the long river gets to
Madison River, Montana:
Many anglers don't think of the Madison River, outside of Yellowstone National Park, as being a tailwater, but it is.
There are two dams, one below Hebgen Lake, and the other below Ennis Lake. There is actually a third made by
Mother Nature, Quake Lake, but it is a top water discharge just five miles below Hebgen Lake. You can fish the section
between Hebgen and Quake all year, and much of the walk-in section below Quake. If you fish near the Holter dam,
you can fish the Missouri, River, year-round but the weather may be five degrees. You can fish the Bighorn River all
winter as long as you are within a few miles of the dam. You can fish the Beverhead River, all winter near the Clarke
Canyon dam as well as the Ruby River tailwater. Again, the problem is you may be fishing 39 degree water when it is
five degrees air temperature.
White River, Arkansas:
This tailwater flows from the deep Bull Shoals Lake and keeps the water warm enough to fish for miles downstream
during the winter months regardless of the air temperature. It does have discharges that vary greatly, so make sure
you check them prior to traveling very far to fish it.
Norfork River, Arkansas:
The Norfork is a tributary of the White River from Bull Shoals dam, and offers an alternate at times to the big White
when conditions there are not suitable. There have been a lot of huge brown trout caught from it as well as it's big
Lower Mountain Fork River, Oklahoma:
This is a tailwater of Broken Bow Lake that has three different types of sections and provides fly fishing opportunity for
many anglers during the winter months. It is a well maintained tailwater with one section requiring barbless hooks.
Lower Jackson River Tailwater, Virginia:
The lower Jackson River, a tailwater below Gathright Dam has more water available to the public to fish than most
anglers are aware of. The main area available to the public to fish is just below the Gathright dam. There are five other
areas open to the public that provide access to some of the approximate total eighteen mile length of the river.
Smith River, Virginia:
The Smith River tailwater is below Philpott Dam. In addition to a few miles of water with regular regulations, there's a
three-mile long "Trophy Trout Water" section downstream from the mouth of Town Creek.
Savage River, Maryland:
This tailwater comes from the deep waters of the Savage River Reservoir in Western Maryland. It can be fished all
winter long even on the coldest days.
North Branch Potomac River, Maryland:
This tailwater comes from the deep water of Jennings-Randolph Lake in Western Maryland. This is a sleeper because
it is located in a remote part of the state and fished by a relatively few anglers.
Big Gunpowder River, Maryland:
The Big Gunpowder River is the tailwaer of Prettyboy Reservoir Dam and flows through the Gunpowder Falls State
Park. The first few miles of water below the dam can be fished all winter long in spite of the air temperature.
Delaware River, New York:
The Delaware may surprise some since it is in the state of New York, but the West Fork comes from the deep water
and as long as you fish within a few miles of the dam, it will be warm enough to catch trout. Actually, just below the East
Branch is warm enough as well, but not downstream of the Beaverkill.
Deerfield River, Massachusetts
This New England Stream may surprise you. It comes from a series of five dams and has two "catch and release"
sections. The most popular wintertime section is the tailwater of the Fife Brook Dam.
Swift River, Massachusetts
Another New England stream that stays warm enough to fish all winter is the Swift River, a tailwater of the seventy-foot
deep Quabbin Reservoir. It is only seven miles long, but it stays warm enough to fish all Winter.
Housatonic River, Connecticut
This Connecticut stream is a tailwater of a series of five dams. It has two "catch and release" sections. Anglers fish it
most days of the winter months.
Farmington River, Connecticut
The Farmington River tailwaters come from both the Colebrook Reservoir and the West Branch Reservoirs. It can be
Tulpehocken Creek, Pennsylvania:
This is one of a few tailwaters in the state of Pennsylvania. It comes from the Blue Marsh Dam and is stocked with
fingerling brown trout, so it isn't a pushover. It also is stocked with rainbows.
South Holston River, Tennessee:
This one competes with the Delaware River's West Branch as being the best tailwater in the Eastern United States. It is
fished year-round and famous for it long lasting Sulphur hatches.
Holston River (Cherokee), Tennessee:
This Holston River tailwater is often confused with the South Holston. It's a tailwater of Cherokee Dam near
Knoxville,Tennessee, and stays warm enough to fish all winter long.
Clinch River, Tennessee:
The Clinch is another tailwater located near Knoxville, Tennessee, that stays warm enough to fish all winter long. It has
some huge brown trout as well as rainbows. It flows from Norris Dam.
Caney Fork River, Tennessee:
This is a tailwater of the deep water of Center Hill Lake and Dam in the middle of the state of Tennessee. It's water
stay warm enough to fish during the coldest month of winter.
Hiwassee River, Tennessee:
This beautiful trout stream comes from the deep water of Appalachia Lake but is released through a ten-mile long
pipe. The water within the first few miles of the discharge stays warm all winter long.
Watauga River, Tennessee:
The Watauga River comes from the deep waters of Wilburn Dam from both Wilburn and Watuaga Lakes on the
Tennessee/North Carolina state line. Its know for it's large brown trout as well as rainbows and is a popular wintertime
Tuckasegee River, North Carolina:
This was one of the first, if not the first, "delayed harvest" trout streams in the state of North Carolina. It was so
successful that delayed harvest streams are being set up in several other states as well as several other North
Carolina trout streams. The Tuckasegge River tailwater is one of the most popular trout streams anywhere in the
nation during the coldest months of the year. Its water comes from two different dams.
Nantahala River, North Carolina:
This is another of North Carolina's Delayed Harvest trout streams. It is a relatively small stream that offers some great
wintertime fly fishing opportunity.
Toccoa River Tailwater, Georgia:
The Toccoa tailwater comes from the deep water discharge from the Blue Ridge Dam. It is mostly a drift boat stream
with mostly deeper water but holds plenty of trout and offers some very good wintertime fly fishing opportunity.
Lower Chattahoochee River, Georgia:
This is a cold water trout stream that may come as a surprise to some anglers. It flows from the very deep waters of
Buford Dam below Lake Lanier. It is managed by the National Park Service and has several miles of water that can be
fished all winter long.
I am sure that I have left some tailwaters out that well deserve to be here, but this list is long enough that you should
find some good fly fishing opportunities near enough to your location that you can continue to fish during the cold
Fly Fishing Tailwaters For Trout
By James Marsh
Copyright 2016 James Marsh
April, 2016 Issue
few years ago, Angie and I, produced an instructional DVD on "Fly Fishing For Trout in Tailwaters". After
releasing it, I realized that I made a big mistake with one of the most important things - the title of the DVD.
I should have named it "Fly Fishing For Trout Below Dams" The reason is something I didn't thnk much
Choice waters for wintertime fishing
Flaming Gorge Dam, Copyright David Knapp
Angie with a good
cutthroatt trout. I left this
tailwater out - West Fork
Bitterroot River, Mt