Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

South Holston Reservoir - General Information

TWRA Region IV Office
3030 Wildlife Way Morristown, TN 37814
(423) 587-7037 or (800) 332-0900
Updated - October 2016



South Holston is a beautiful, 7,580-acre TVA reservoir located in upper east Tennessee at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. The dam was completed in 1950 and impounds 24 miles of the South Fork Holston River. A small portion (1,244-acres) of the reservoir is located in Virginia. Here is a link to the marinas and boat ramps located on the Tennessee protion of the reservoir.

The reservoir has relatively low productivity and water clarity is normally greater than in many other Tennessee reservoirs. The 168-miles of shoreline are only partially developed and much of the reservoir is bordered by the Cherokee National Forest. This abundance of public land makes South Holston a haven for campers and bank anglers. Winter draw-downs can be severe and water levels may fall 40-feet below summer pool during some years.

Quality smallmouth and largemouth bass fisheries are present. Walleye, rainbow trout, black crappie, and catfish are other popular game fish. The forage base is made up of a mixture of gizzard shad, threadfin shad, alewife, bluegill, and various minnows.

A reciprocal agreement with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries went into effect in 2011. Tennessee residents may now purchase an annual South Holston Reservoir License (Type 063) to fish the VA portion of South Holston Reservoir. Virginia residents can purchase a similar license from VDGIF to fish the TN portion of the reservoir. Anglers that are not TN or VA residents must abide by the state boundary line unless they purchase other appropriate fishing licenses from both states.

A South Holston Reservoir License is valid for all impounded portions of the reservoir below full pool elevation of 1,730 feet, including the confluence of the Middle Fork and South Fork Holston Rivers and the South Fork Holston upstream to the Route 710 Bridge at Alvarado, VA. In addition to the South Holston Reservoir License, an angler must have whatever licenses that are required to fish in their home state. A valid resident TN trout fishing license or a valid resident VA trout fishing license is required to fish for trout. All anglers must abide by the laws of the state in which they are fishing.


A variety of fish attractors have been constructed over the years in an attempt to concentrate fish for anglers. These include brush piles which are used by many game fish and stake beds that are primarily for concentrating crappie. Attractors work well, but must be refurbished occasionally to maintain their effectiveness.

The TWRA and the Sullivan County Parks Department often host an angler workday. This is a productive method of creating numerous fish attractors and it usually takes place in February. If you are interested in helping, contact Russell Young at (423) 587-7037 or Observation Knob Park at (423) 878-1881.

Bald cypress plantings have been added in several areas to create long lasting habitat. Benches designed to provide smallmouth bass spawning habitat have been built, but there have been problems with anglers using the wooden planks as firewood. Please call your local wildlife officer if you see someone destroying these or any other TWRA installed habitat structures.


South Holston is not highly fertile and cannot support the density of fish more fertile reservoirs such as Boone can. However, a good percentage of its largemouth and smallmouth bass are of quality-size. The bass populations are also consistently well balanced and in good health.

The daily creel limit is five largemouth and/or smallmouth bass in any combination. There is no length limit for largemouth, but there is a 15-inch minimum length limit for smallmouth bass.

Spotted (Kentucky) bass rarely reach quality size in any East Tennessee reservoir and they compete with the more quality size smallmouth bass for habitat and food. Anglers are encouraged to keep them for the table. There is no size restriction and the limit is 15 spotted bass per day.


Crappie fishing has improved, due in part to the creel limit set in the mid-90s. Black crappie are more abundant than are white crappie and the daily creel limit is 15-crappie in any combination with a minimum length limit of 10-inches.


South Holston's water is cool enough and has adequate dissolved oxygen throughout much of the year to support trout. Dissolved oxygen can sometimes fall below optimum levels during the summer, limiting the success of the fishery. Approximately 8% of the effort expended by South Holston anglers in 2007 was for trout.

There is no size limit for trout on South Holston. There is a daily creel limit of seven trout, only two of which can be lake trout.


South Holston is well suited for a successful walleye fishery and they were stocked by the TWRA from 1986 to 2010. The Virginia Fish and Game Commission has now taken over stocking the lake with walleye. The daily creel limit is five, 18-inch or longer walleye.


White bass are a schooling fish that can provide some great fishing action. Like walleye, white bass make spawning runs up the South Fork Holston River. Their populations can fluctuate greatly because it is a short lived species and environmental conditions play a major role in the success of any given spawning season. No harvest of white bass is permitted.


The new 2011 reciprocal agreement with Virginia has resulted in several regulation changes. There is a 20 fish per day limit on catfish and only one, 34-inch or longer catfish may be harvested per day. The bluegill creel limit is 50 per day and anglers may only fish 15 limblines. No harvest of white bass is permitted.


Largemouth bass - Spring: Spinner baits, buzz baits, lizards, 4-6 inch worms and Flukes, small Shad Raps, Bandit crankbaits and stick baits. The flooded willows in the creeks and in the backs of coves can be very productive. Summer: Good night fishing with worms and lizards.

Smallmouth bass - Spring: Fish clay and broken-shale banks with spinner baits, lizards, worms, live bait, small crankbaits, float-n-fly, and suspended flukes. Secondary points are prime smallmouth holding spots. Summer: Smallmouth move to deeper water and this is a good time for night fishing with various worm rigs and pig-n-jig.

Crappie - February through November: Any kind of structure is productive. Use small flies tipped with minnows, small crankbaits, grubs, and spinners are recommended. Jacobs Creek would be a good place to start any crappie fishing trip.

Walleye - Spring: Fish at night with Long Bill Rebels, Rapalas and Doll Flies. Flooded tree tops and black willows hold many walleye. Since both lake and river spawning fish have been stocked, some walleye make a spawning run to the headwaters of the reservoir . Good fishing takes place as far upstream as Alvarado. Standard river walleye fishing tactics (grubs, flies and minnows) should work.

Channel catfish - Summer: Limb lines and jug-fishing with shad or bluegill work well.

Trout - Spring: Bank fishing with corn or salmon eggs is productive. Summer: Troll spoons at 30- to 50-feet.

White bass - January through April: White bass make a spring spawning run to the headwaters of the reservoir. White spinners (Roostertails), grubs, and small flies are all effective. Summer: Good white bass fishing can be found on the lower end of the reservoir with the same tackle.


South Holston Length at Age