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Welcome to the River Journal!  My name is Mike Bone  I've made my living as a full time fly fishing guide here in East Tennessee for over twenty years. If you are interested in our current rates, or how to contact me about a float,  please click on the guide information section to the right. If you have questions, comments,  suggestions, or something you would like to contribute to these pages email me at, or by signing the guestbook at the top of this page. I'd be happy to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoy the read..Mike Bone


Tragedy on the Clinch..


Man drowns in Clinch River near Norris Dam

Posted at 8:33 pm September 7, 2012 by Leave a Comment

An elderly man drowned in the Clinch River Friday afternoon after his fishing boat capsized and he fell into the frigid water about a half-mile downstream of the Norris Dam, Anderson County Rescue Squad Chief Terry Allen said.

The victim’s name is being withheld pending family notification, Allen said.

The man’s body was found in the River Road boat launch area, about a half-mile downstream from where he was first reported in the water near a weir dam, Allen said.


The man was unresponsive when medics found him, Allen said. Medics administered advanced life support measures, such as CPR, but were unable to revive him.

Allen said the water depth in the area can vary from four feet to 18 feet, and the water temperature is about 55 degrees where the man fell in.

Allen said the Anderson County Rescue Squad and Anderson County Emergency Medical Services both responded to the 1:33 p.m. drowning


I and another guide were floating this stretch of river Friday when this accident occured. We had launched at the canoe access and were floating downstream when this gentleman passed us headed upstream toward the dam. We exchanged waves and he disappeared around the bend and out of sight. We didn't see him the rest of the day although on occasion we could hear his motor start and go back upstream. We took out and shuttled the cars and trailer back upstream for a second run. About mid way through, we noticed the water had been shut off so we hurried down stream to the takeout before it got too low and were met by TVA, TWRA, and local EMS and law enforcement folks who informed us of what had happened. A couple was also there who had been making the run back and forth between Millers Island and the weir dam and they had been the ones who recovered him from the water.

According to some workers who were pouring rock above the weir the man had fallen out of the boat, a small low sided jon, and was unable to get back in. They tried to assist by throwing extension cords but he was unable to reach shore before both he and the boat were taken over the weir by the fast current.

I've spent a good amount of time thinking about the tragic events that led up to this accident, and all the things that could have happened to prevent it. Over the years we have assisted several people who have overturned boats or gotten caught by high water, some of whom were merely embarrassed and some who were actually in genuine peril. Most of these incidents have occured in the lower parts of the river. It's still hard for me to believe that we were in the same short stretch of river, and that the timing of the events kept us from helping or even seeing this accident occur. I have seen this gentleman many times in this section of river, usually with a companion, but for whatever reason this day, he was fishing alone. He trolled slowly up the river probably pulling plugs and was always pleasant and courteous when we would pass each other. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

Friday the Clinch was running two generators, somewhere around 6700 cfs. That is a lot of water and it is cold, fast, and deep. Water temps, especially that close to the dam are frigid, probably around 52 or 53 degrees, hypothermia and loss of motor skills can happened very quickly if you find yourself emersed in it. TVA has done a very good job of making these dangers known to the public, with any number of warning signs, sirens, and flashing lights. Both the website and the phone line, designed to inform you of the water schedules, have strong warnings about those dangers. This particular section of the river also has posts, and large rocks put there by TVA to keep boats of this type from operating above the weir. There is no ramp, except for one that is locked and barricaded , that is used by TVA navigation only. It is a canoe, kayak, and raft access and boats must be picked up and carried to get in. There is also a portage built by TVA on river left to allow paddlers to carry their boats around the weir before heading down stream. I know first hand the efforts that have been made by TVA to try and keep this type of accident from occurring. I haven't always liked it, but I had to agree with the reasoning and we as guides have actually changed the type of boats we use to comply with those regulations. This gentleman used a small dolly he had fashioned to allow him to walk the narrow jon boat around the posts placed there by TVA to block access.

By all accounts he was an experienced boatman, but even experienced anglers can become complacent to the dangers of powerful rivers. Accidents can happen quickly and these type of environments are very unforgiving of mistakes. Avoid fishing alone, use boats and equipment designed for the type of water you intend to fish, observe all regulations and warnings, get training in safe operation and self rescue. TWRA officers, rescue personnel and law enforcement are dedicated, conciensous individuals but are often too far away to help in time. You can only make things so safe, outdoor activities and risk more often than not, go hand in hand.  Be careful out there, and good fishing.





Big Pigeon River..

Happy Labor Day everyone! Sitting here looking out the window at the rain this morning I found myself contemplating the Big Pigeon river below Waterville dam and the changes that have been made there since the time I began guiding this area.

I was first introduced to the Big Pigeon by a friend of mine who lived in Newport and fished for  trout and smallmouth bass in local rivers and streams, including the then and now, controversial Big Pigeon river.

Champion paper company in North Carolina was dumping waste from their paper processing into the river and had been for many years and even when the water was off it had a very dark tannin color and the rocks that protruded from the stream were black and slick as glass. When water was released from Waterville dam the river became even darker with large rafts of brown foam and a chemical odor that was disgusting. Tests proved the river contained dioxin and it was strongly suggested there be no water contact and it certainly wasn't safe to eat the fish. Finally the EPA stepped in when lawsuits were filed by the residents along the river and Champion  was required to begin cleaning up the river in phases. Champion of course claimed these changes would bankrupt them and I attended several meeting that were nothing more than shouting matches between Tennessee residents and workers brought in by Champion on busses. Eventually cleanup began and Champion was bought out by the employees and as I understand it, is now known as Blue Ridge paper company. As cleanup progressed rafting companies moved in to the upper end and began offering whitewater trips from the power house to Hartford. If you go there today during the Summer its a bustling tourist attraction.

Fast forward ten years..I still floated the Big Pigeon occasionally but with excellent smallmouth streams closer by, that offered as good if not better fishing, and no crowds, I got out of the loop on the Big Pigeon's progress and fate. But last week, low and behold , I was contacted by the lawyer representing the residents in a lawsuit against Blue Ridge and I recalled that I was named as a witness in the case by a friend of mine who represents Blue Ridge in the same lawsuit. Now I can't comment on the particulars because I don't know them, but as I understand it, some residents are still claiming the river is hazardous and a big issue seems to be the amount of foam still present.  All rivers have foam because of bio mass so it's not unusual to see that, especially when they are below powerhouses where a large amount of water is released. So I thought "what the heck" , called up a couple of willing friends, hooked up the raft, and off we went to the Big Pigeon.

The water was off when we arrived and was to say the least, boney! However it was clear and the bottom was plainly visible almost everywhere. As it turned out a little too plainly visible because the fish were spooky and skittish. We spent most of the trip gliding and sometimes pushing over rocks, caught a variety of fish on streamers and surface flies including smallmouth, largemouth, sun fish, and rock bass.  At the tailout of most pools we observed nice smallies blowing out of the shallow water as we approached, confirming there are nice bass in this river even if the water level made it difficult to catch them. One of the things that really struck me is how much cleaner the river is, not just the water but the banks and the stream bed. Where years ago there were trash piles and old junk cars, back then, a friend even caught a smallmouth out of a car window as we floated by, most of the trash was gone.

By design we hung around long enough for the water to come on and although it got a little dingy, even the Clinch does that, it soon cleared, and as we drove back upstream after we took out we could see the river was clearing rapidly after the initial pulse had passed. None of us observed an excessive amount of foam and the stinch that use to accompany the water release was gone. I'm not a chemist, or an expert on water quality but to a fisherman's eye the river looked good. The fish we caught were healthy and strong, there seemed to be a good diversity in both fish species and food base, and the float was actually quite scenic and pleasant, save for an annoying barking dog or two.

The Big Pigeon is and will likely continue to be a very controversial river but there is little doubt progress has been made. I only saw a small part that day and as I stated, I'm no expert, but it's encouraging. It's a beautiful river, and I hope the good people on both sides find a way to keep making it better.


Early Fall Report...

I'm not sure you can consider August early Fall but since I'm feeling optimistic and haven't posted for a while I'm gonna call it that! Yesterday morning on the way to the Upper Clinch I actually had to put on a light fleece pullover..felt awesome after the June and July heat. On with the fishing report.. 

All the tailwaters have been running a good bit of water lately..seems TVA has begun the drawdown after getting an unusual amount of rainfall lately. Running water is the ticket for streamer fishing the South Holston so we made the trip up last Friday and despite dire predictions on how the river was fishing, and an almost total lack of other boats, we did quite well! Good action most of the way down on some gorgeous browns who chased the fly aggressively. The fish were fat and healthy and no one must have informed the river gods we were coming because we even missed the obligatory afternoon thunderstorms! Good day..

 Then it was off to the upper Clinch for some surface action on the smallmouth. Fishing with me were Mike Tenbus, a surface smallmouth enthusiast, and local fly tyer and cane rod guru, Walter Babb. Walter is a dedicated creek crawler but we managed to talk him into a litlle drift fishing for smallies and he wound up scoring a couple of the big fish of the day! After having to reschedule this trip a couple of times due to high water we were happy to arrive and see the river clear and running a good fishable level. This was also a first for me as both these guys used cane rods built by Walter. Now fishing for smallmouth involves a lot of casting, and most folks are ready to see the takeout by the time we get there, and that's casting graphite! I'm sure both these guys are feeling it today, but both the anglers, and the rods, were well up to the task.

If the fish were on a pattern we couldn't tell what it was. We caught bass in almost every kind of water and on most every fly we threw as long as it wasn't chartreuse! The action was steady if not wide open and we all agreed, pretty darn good for late August. The bass fishing should only improve over the next couple of months and I'm looking forward to some great Fall color smallmouth fishing.

I hope everyone is enjoying the cooler weather and gets a chance to get out and chase the fish this Fall. It's my favorite time of year to be on the water!...Mike.


What Slot Limit?

No, this is not the latest addition to the fish heads gallery..this pic was sent to me today by a friend who happened to be running the songbird trail on the Clinch river and came upon this fish head hanging out of the TVA trash can at the weir dam access. Clearly an seventeen or eighteen inch trout well inside the 14-20 inch slot limit, cleaned in plain sight of the ramp and the road which begs the question..did this guy have a bigger sack than Santa Clause or did he just not know? Who can tell. I personally witnessed a few days ago an angler walking out of the river at this very same access carrying a stringer of fish of which three or four were clearly inside the slot. I mentioned to him it looked like several of his fish were in the slot and he just stared away blankly. Did he know? hmmm...

If one obtains a copy of the rules and regulations you can clearly read about the Clinch river slot limit but I defy anyone to show me a sign anywhere on the river that states such a slot limit even exists..go ahead..I'll wait. Nope..ain't there folks..nowhere to be found. In fairness I did witness TWRA on the river earlier this year checking licenses and fish, and I also witnessed them write several tickets and take possession of two full stringers of fish because they were in the slot..Kudos! We need more enforcement like that. I realize like a lot of folks, their budget is stretched thin and there are not enough officers to go around, but I doubt TWRA is so strapped for cash they can't afford about six signs to place at boat ramps and access areas..surely a sign or two would not cost anyone their pension.

My long time friend and guide Bob Durham just returned from a trip to Montana and as we were having this very conversation, said you can't go anywhere on any trout river in Montana without seeing signs posting exactly what the regulations are. I believe most anglers are law abiding and would follow the rules if they were aware of them, and yes, you should read the reg book, but lets face it, a lot of people don't. So they poach out of ignorance of the rules and a good fish gets removed, and good fish are not easily replaced.

TWRA did a very good thing by adopting the slot limit regulations, it can work, it has worked, but only if people obey the law. A few well placed signs would avoid it becoming an enforcement issue for a lot of good people. A poacher will poach, no question about it. They should be fined, personally I think shot, but that won't bring the wildlife or resources back they took from all of us. You are required to post private land if you don't want poachers..shouldn't TWRA do the same?

Conservation..especially cold water conservation is a hot issue around here, especially on the Clinch. When we do get some regs to protect the resources, we should do our best to give them a chance. There will always be anglers who kill fish, trendy Knoxville magazines even publish articles encouraging it, but the truth is there are only a handful of rivers in the Southeast that can grow fish the size of the rainbow in that trash can..give 'em a chance.


The Heat Is On...

 Well..looks like the Summer heat is upon us. We've been pretty busy around here getting in the last of the Spring fishing and checking out the prospects for the Summer. All in all it has been a great of the best in a number of years, and I'm really looking forward to the Summer and Fall fishing. Summer usually means more generation from the dams and higher water. Most of the dry fly hatches are gone but the nymph fishing can still be outstanding. Summer also means streamers, for trout and smallmouth bass and we've been doing a little of both lately! So on with some suggestions for Summer trips.

South Holston Streamer Fishing..

When most folks from our area think of the South Holston they usually think of wading when the water is off, casting small nymphs or dry flies to rising browns and rainbows..usually with a good number of your new closest fishing buddies who have the same thing in mind. Or floating with the water on and doing the same thing from a driftboat normally in the upper 5 or 6 miles. While both of those things make for a nice trip, you really are missing some of the best, and most scenic parts of the river. If you like to streamer fish or are interested in learning, this trip offers good action, great scenery, and a chance to escape the masses on one of the South's most popular trout streams. The drive from Knoxville is about two hours so often it makes sense to plan on fishing a couple of days.

                                                                                Clinch River...

The Clinch fishes great in the Summer. Being one of the coldest tailwaters in this area, the water temp changes very little throughout the Summer months. High water often requires a change in tactics and locations but we catch some really nice fish when the heat is on. I've always said, if you're not going to be inside in the air conditioning, the Clinch river is the best place to be. Cold air coming off the water keeps the temps bearable even in the hottest Summer months.

Smallmouth Bass...

 Summer months are a great time to fish for smallmouth. Warmer water temps mean the bass have to feed more and that makes for good action on both popper rigs and streamers. Some of the unregulated streams (no dams) are very low right now due to an unusually dry Spring, but some are dam controlled, and floatable throughout the Summer. Even the unregulated streams can change quickly with a couple of days of rain.

Smallmouth have been gaining in popularity among fly fishers for several years now and for good reason. They fight hard, jump, and eat flies voraciously. The crowds on most of these rivers range from slim to non existent, making them a great Summer escape. It also serves as a great tune up on your streamer skills for the Winter big brown trout hunt.

Don't let the Summer heat get you down. There's still good fishing to be had in our area and the heat won't last forever. Before you know it, Fall will be upon us, my absolute favorite time of year to fish. More on that later. :) Have a great Summer everyone and be safe out there.