The Norris Tailrace Near Norris, Tennessee

The Origins of Norris Tailrace

Conceived in a time of national crisis and constructed amidst considerable controversy, Norris Dam, like most of the dams along the Tennessee River drainage, had it’s origins in the 1930s. Growing demands for hydroelectric power, ravages of recurrent floods and provision of employment during the Depression’s lean, mean times all figured prominently in a madness for impoundments.

The Resistence of Norris Tailrace

Fishing, whether for trout or other species, did not at first enter the equation in any significant way, nor for that matter did boating or other outdoor recreational activities. Not surprisingly, many contemporaries sharply criticized the drive to build dams. A “damn the dams” attitude was exhibited by some politicians, many prominent conservationists, and in particular, those who stood to lose their land. The latter, hardy rural folks living close to the earth, bemoaned flooding of the rich bottomlands their families had farmed for generations. Sportsmen, for their part, complained about the loss of traditional hunting grounds and favorite fishing holes.

The Opportunities of Norris Tailrace

Today, three-score-plus years later, most view impoundments created by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Army Corps of Engineers in a quite different light. Everyone realizes that flood control in the Tennessee Valley was a singular achievement, and the lakes along the river drainage have provided varied recreational opportunities. Dam advocates predicted some of these developments, but nowhere in original mission statements or among the considerable hoopla surrounding construction will you find mention of trout fishing. Quite simply, no one, not even the wildest of dreamers, anticipated the trout habitat and fishing potential of cold, highly oxygenated waters that formed dam tailraces.

Trout Stocking Program at Norris Tailrace

Rainbow and brown trout are both stocked. About a quarter of a million (251,000) trout were released annually during 1990-2001. The 176,000 fingerling rainbows released in the Norris Tailwater annually during 1990-2001 typically made up 80-85% of the rainbow trout stocked each year. Adults comprised the remainder of the rainbow trout stocked in the Norris Tailwater each year (about 37,000).

Beginning in 2002, the stocking rate increased to over 400,000 trout per year as the supplemental rainbow and brown trout fingerlings were added according to the 2002-2006 management plan strategy. On average, just over a half million trout were stocked each year during that time, yielding a stocking rate of ~806/acre. Adult rainbow trout stocking has remained at baseline levels (~ 37,000/year) since 1990. About 100,000 surplus brook trout fingerlings from West Virginia (Bowden strain) were stocked in the Norris Tailwater in May 2007. Introduction of brook trout to the Norris Tailwater fishery was a potential management action considered in the previous management plan (Habera et al. 2002) and, given a reliable source, brook trout stocking will continue during the new plan’s term. (source: Tenneessee Wildlife Resources Agency)

Fishing Methods at Norris Tailrace

Fly Fishing

The icy waters flowing from Norris Dam never get much higher than 60 degrees or so. In fact, wading here requires waders’ year around. The Clinch River tailwater fishery is comprised of mostly rainbow trout in the 10 to 13 inch range with 15 to18 inch fish turning up regularly. The Clinch is most noted for turning up good numbers of large brown trout. The state record brown trout weighing a little more than 28 lbs was caught on the Clinch River. Common brown trout range from 7 to 14 inches.

The Clinch River is a little different than all our other destinations. The food base on the Norris Tailrace is on the very small side. Midges, black fly, sow bugs, scuds, and small caddis pupa make up the majority of the fisheries diets. This makes for some great light line nymphing for good-sized fish. The Clinch does feature a great sulphur hatch that occurs from late March through June. This is the best time to fish dries on the Clinch. Mainly because you can actually fish good sized dries as opposed to the typical small fare. Streamer fishing is also a good way to connect with some of the Clinch’s trophies

Bank Fishing

Many Norris Tailrace fishermen prefer to fish from the bank, that is especially true when the turbines are on and water is high and swift. Before the turbines are turned on the fish are scattered all over the river. When the water is high and swift, the fish tend to concentrate more in the eddies near the bank to avoid the swift current.

The preferred baits for fishing from the bank are whole kernel corn, night crawlers, salmon eggs, and berkley trout bait. There are plenty of places to fish from the bank below the Dam, including trails leading through the wooded areas.

Boat Fishing

When the turbines are on, and the water is deeper, may anglers fish from kayaks, canoes, and motor boats. Both spinning rods and fly rods are used from boats. Mepps spinners, crank baits with trout patterns, night crawlers, salmon eggs,and berkley trout bait are poplular baits to use from a boat.

One popular method of fishing with a motor boat is to run upstream, shut off the motor and drift back down. Another method is to put in at one point, and drift down the river to a designated pick up point several miles downstream. There are several boat access places along a two mile stretch below the dam.

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