Chasing the Big Browns of NE Tennessee

Payne Outdoors

Contributed by Bruce Leonard

Fishing for big brown trout in NE Tennessee has always been a passion for me and today I would like to share that passion with you. I will be covering my lure selection and lure techniques which have been very productive for me. Also we will talk about what I look for in the water and water safety.

Depending on the time of year and day lure selection can vary quite a bit. For this particular article we will be talking about times from mid-April to mid-September. We will also be concentrating on night fishing, since that is when I have found it to be the most productive. For me I consider June- September to be the peak months and the hotter the night the better.

When fishing at night I use a 7’6” medium action rod with 10# braid and a 12# vanish leader of about 3-4’ long. I generally start off throwing a #70 pearl/gold rip-n-slash by unfair lures. If the night has no moon I will start with a #70 midnight trout rip-n-slash, bright moon I will go with a #70 chartreuse/pearl white rip-n-slash or #70 mullet in the same color. Point to remember dark night dark color, bright night light colors. Some may say different but these are the patterns I have found to be most productive for trout in my area of waters. Also effective are the #11 Rapalas in bleeding chartreuse, brown trout, rainbow trout; however for me not as effective as the Unfair Lures. Often times I will play around making some of my own lures or color combos, one which has been very productive is a glider in a color I call the “orange bitch” and a jointed I made in a custom color June bug. You can see them in the photos below.


Everyone has their own technique for working lures, the techniques I will discuss are the style I use and have found to be the most effective, and you may find a different style for you. For the rip-n-slashes and mullets, they are lipless and slow suspending baits; these get worked with a medium retrieve twitch-twitch pause. Generally I start with a 1-2 second pause and if the bite is slow will slow the retrieve and increase the pause to 3-4 seconds; the majority of my bites come during the pause as the bait is falling. On the rapalas I use a slow retrieve to keep the bait just below the surface, slowly reeling then stopping, during the stop I will twitch my rod just a bit. If you are a fly fisherman you may want to try a sculpin pattern, small poppers or even a rat pattern all are very productive during this time of year.


Now let us focus on the water, the particular rivers I fish are tail water rivers which means they are rivers with a generation schedule. I do not fish during the generation for safety reasons. Depending on the release schedule the water can rise 3-4 foot during generation so it is important to do your homework. I suggest getting out during the day without generation and just paddle around taking notice of the banks and natural currents. What I look for is areas of about 2’ of water moving into deeper holes or ledges with a slow current. I check the bottom for natural pockets that tend to hold trout, log piles where the currents bring bait in and large over hanging trees where bugs are dropping. Also while I am out during the day I am looking for escape routes should the water start to rise. Remember you will be out at night and everything will look different, so taking mental pictures will play a big part in your success. The pockets or ledges you noticed that looked to hold trout are areas you want to avoid paddling through or anchoring in since trout are very skittish. Use a headlamp only when necessary or else use a red or green headlamp light to fish, bright lights will spook trout very easily.

Trout are predatory fish and will move to your bait; however it may take several casts to get their attention. Big browns, I’m talking browns 25-30+ inches do not always give an aggressive bite like one would think, often you may only feel a heaviness on the line like weeds. This is the time to be paying attention to detail you are not hooking a bass, instead of the big hook set rise the tip of the rod and keep a constant pressure or you will lose possibly the best trout you have ever hooked.

Before you head out for the night float remember what you have noticed while on the water during the day, be sure to check the generation schedule. If you are new to the area talk with locals to see just how long it takes for the water to get to the area you plan to fish or how long it takes to go down once it is turned off. Lots of anglers die every year fishing these types of water simply because they did not check schedules or do their homework on the rise and fall of generating water. I CAN NOT stress enough how important it is that you wear a PFD while fishing these waters. Once you have flipped it is too late to place a PFD, you may not have time to grab it or the ability; water temps on tail water rivers tend to run below 50* and if they have just generated they can be as low as 40*. Remember those escape routes you noticed during the day always keep those in mind because generation schedules can change without notice. Should the water start to rise, paddle downstream and head for the bank at an angle. DO NOT anchor your boat or kayak, this could result into a very dangerous event. So our safety points are ALWAYS wear a PFD, have an escape plan, let someone know where you will be, use a buddy whenever possible instead of fishing alone, check the generation schedules and do your homework before hand. For Tennessee Waters there is an app for checking the water release schedules provided by TVA (Tennessee valley Authority), install it and use it. I always recheck the schedule right before I go out just to be sure nothing has changed, because like I said generation schedules are subject to change without notice.

I hope this article has been helpful, tight lines and best of luck on chasing some trophy browns. Share your pictures, would love to see them. If you are looking to order some Unfair lures you can order them at or you can stop by HOOK 1 kayak fishing gear as well. Thank you for taking the time to read this, Bruce Leonard,


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