Officials: South Holston River a fly-fishing mecca, economic booster for surrounding community


BRISTOL, Tenn. (WJHL) – The Tennessee Valley Authority has been working on a study for the last three years into the economic impact of its river systems. The findings revealed the waters that flow through the Tri-Cities region are economic gold mines.

The TVA reported the study which ran from 2019 till 2021, found that the TVA-managed river system with its 63 stream access sites draws more than 500,000 visitors per year.

TVA reported its river system also creates nearly $12 billion of an annual economic impact.

“It has an economic impact with right around $43 million in this site, in particular, this area of South Holston is likely most, one of our most popular, one of our most visited and therefore is obviously going to have a larger associated economic impact to it and it alone generates, right at about $4 million,” said Clay Guerry, recreation strategy specialist for TVA.

The economic impact is also associated with tourism, officials said.

“We’re in the process of studying outdoor recreation. COVID just put an exclamation point on outdoor recreation and all those things, we saw the rural communities all grow in their economic base while the big cities really struggle. It’s got us really looking at the outdoor opportunities,” said Dennis Tumlin, chief customer officer for Tennessee Department of Tourist Development.

The South Holston isn’t the only gold mine in Northeast Tennessee, but it is a job-creator for many.

One such job belongs to part-time fly-fishing guide and paramedic Logun Shell who said the South Holston is a premier fly-fishing destination.

“This is an excellent spot. As far as the Eastern United States this is the premier spot to be to fly fish, you have two extremely well-known rivers in this area Watauga River, which is in Elizabethton and South Holston which is in Bristol. Both of those rivers are very productive – people from all over the world know these rivers and come from all over the world to fish these rivers. Both of them can be very technical at times so that’s why I encourage people to get a guide if they’ve never fished here before,” he said.

At a TVA-hosted event Tuesday at the South Holston River, TVA Aquatic Zoologist David Matthews explained why the river attracts so many trout fishery experts and recreational fishermen alike.

“TVA has worked really hard on reservoir release improvements to oxygenate the water – the wier dam here helps oxygenate it – and the insect life just exploded after that it took off,” he said.

Matthews added that there are 15 different species of fish in South Holston, and has a presence of certain species – like the suckerfish – which means the river bed is clean and healthy.

“It’s a world-class trout fishery here. You have yellow-sulfur mayfly hatches that are found nowhere else. The are other mayfly hatches like this other places but these hatch continuously. The combination of limestone and aquatic vegetation is just great for them, and it produces big trout,” he said.

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