South Holston Lake is a 7,580-acre impoundment operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Much of the reservoir is in Tennessee, but the Virginia portion of the reservoir offers anglers more than 1,600 surface acres of water.
South Holston offers good fishing for a variety of species. Black bass, crappie, walleye, sunfish, and catfish are a few of the most sought after species. Predatory fish have diverse and abundant forage in the form of alewives, gizzard shad, threadfin shad and shiners. The lake’s shoreline habitats offer anglers a good diversity of structure including rock bluffs, shale banks and flat clay points. Anglers who prefer trolling will also find a good selection of open water structure ranging from mud flats to river channel drop-offs to submerged islands.
Maps & Directions
A waterproof topographical map of South Holston Reservoir can be purchased from Kingfisher Maps.
Walleye Fishing in Virginia’s South Holston Lake
The walleye population is also doing very well. Walleye abundance and size structure is very good. Sample catch rates are higher than most Virginia impoundments. Growth of stocked walleyes is also excellent. Generally, walleyes exceed 10 inches in their first year, measure 17 inches in their second year, and reach 20 inches by their third year. Recruitment of young walleyes has improved greatly since the Department initiated a new stocking program in 2000. More than 100,000 walleyes were stocked into the reservoir three out of the last five years. These fish have made a big appearance in population samples, and should create more consistent walleye fishing in the future. Many anglers reported catching lots of small walleyes the past couple of years, and this is a good indication that great fishing might be just around the corner. The spring run of walleyes into the South Fork and Middle Fork Holston Rivers near the community of Alvarado is increasing in popularity. An eighteen-inch minimum size limit has been established for walleye in South Holston Reservoir.
Although walleye are active throughout the winter months, most anglers start fishing for them in February. Some anglers find fish in the reservoir, but most concentrate in the headwaters of the lake. Walleyes make a spawning run into the Middle Fork and South Fork Holston Rivers during February, March and early April. The walleye “run” has provided excellent fishing opportunities the last couple of years. After walleyes return to the lake in late spring, anglers use a variety of lures and techniques to catch them. Casting crankbaits at night is one of the most popular methods. Summer trolling for walleyes can be great, but the success seems to be affected by water levels. When the reservoir stays full, walleyes tend to hang tight in shoreline cover. When the reservoir levels start to drop, walleyes have to leave the cover and often congregate on offshore structure. Most of this offshore structure (flats, points, submerged islands) can be trolled more effectively than shoreline cover. Jigging spoons fished over deep structure is another effective summer time technique that also works well during the winter months.
Black bass populations in South Holston Reservoir are fairly stable, and offer decent numbers of fish. The lake is well known for it’s smallmouth fishing, but many anglers still overlook the largemouth fishing. Largemouths typically dominate the electrofishing samples collected on the Virginia side of the reservoir each year. The size of bass available is also good. Largemouths and smallmouths up to 21 inches long have been collected in recent years. About fifty percent of the bass collected exceed 15 inches in length. Because bass are very structure-oriented, habitat improvements completed in cooperation with the Washington County Bass Club could improve fishing opportunities.
Anglers actively pursue bass year-round at South Holston. The most popular winter bass technique is known locally as “float-and-fly” fishing. Anglers use a small bobber (float) to suspend a lightweight hair or feather jig (fly) 10 feet or more below the surface. The tiny jig can be twitched or pulled to impart action, and the bobber keeps the offering at just the right depth. This method is very effective for catching bass that are suspended in the water column. Spring brings warmer water and the move to shallow water for spawning. A variety of methods are successful during this period. Summertime finds bass anglers fishing more at night. Soft plastics and jigs are popular baits. Fall anglers cash in on some great topwater action as bass chase schools of young shad to the surface on shallow points. Then it’s back to the float-and-fly or jigging spoons when water temperatures start dropping.
The black crappie population has made a strong comeback in recent years. Catch rates for black crappie began increasing in 1999. This population level should offer outstanding fishing opportunities. The crappie population has great size structure, with 40 to 50 percent of the adult population exceeding 10 inches in length. Black crappie over 15 inches in length have been collected. If these adult fish can find suitable spawning habitat and climatic conditions, good fishing could persist for many years. A ten-inch minimum size limit has been established for crappie in South Holston Reservoir.
Anglers fishing for crappie congregate in the headwaters of the lake during late winter and early spring. Many anglers begin the season fishing for migrating crappie in the old river channel near the Whitaker Hollow boat landing. As the water temperatures rise, crappie head for the shallows to spawn. Spawning crappie can be found near willows and other submerged brush. After the spawn, anglers fish for crappie at night under lanterns or floating lights. This pattern produces fish throughout the summer months and into early fall. Anglers who create or find brush piles submerged deep in the lake often catch crappie during the winter months.
Bluegill size structure is surprisingly good for a reservoir that supports several species of shad. Good-sized bluegills can be caught from late spring through the summer months. During late May and early June look for bluegills on spawning beds in the backs of coves and on other shallow flats. Later in the summer, some of the largest bluegills are caught by fishing worms or crickets along the steeper shorelines and rock bluffs.
Channel catfish are abundant and provide good fishing opportunities for anglers fishing the shoreline and for anglers trolling open water. There are some very nice flathead catfish available. Flatheads are typically found where logs have collected to create a tangle of submerged and overhead cover. Rock bluffs are also a favorite habitat for flatheads. Flatheads feed mostly on live prey, so anglers fishing artificial lures for bass or walleye often set the hook and find a huge flathead cruising for deeper water.
The white bass population has declined sharply since 1998. Their decline appears to be related to spring flow conditions that affect reproduction. Biologists are very concerned about the decline, and are considering all options to improve and restore the white bass fishery. Through a cooperative effort with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) , more than 200,000 white bass fry were stocked into the lake. These fry were produced at the Buller Fish Cultural Station in Smyth County. The adult white bass provided by TWRA for broodstock were also stocked into South Holston Reservoir after spawning was completed. Stocking efforts will continue in the future when broodstock are available. A catch-and-release only regulation was established effective July 1, 2010 to protect recently stocked white bass and help the population recover. No white bass may be harvested by anglers at South Holston Reservoir.
Any person possessing a valid Tennessee or Virginia resident sport fishing license, or who is legally exempt from those license requirements, and possessing the South Holston Reservoir License may fish in the Tennessee and Virginia impounded waters of South Holston Reservoir. Virginia residents fishing in South Holston Lake in TN must have a Virginia resident license and South Holston Reservoir Permit (or Tennessee non-resident fishing license); under the age of 13-no license or permit required. The annual cost of the South Holston License is currently $21 dollars. The South Holston License is valid in 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 River upstream to the Route 710 Bridge at Alvarado, VA. The South Holston License is not valid for possession of trout.
A valid resident Tennessee trout fishing license or a valid resident Virginia trout fishing license is required to fish for trout and to possess trout on South Holston Reservoir. All anglers shall abide by the laws of the state in which they are fishing as to manner and means of taking fish. Size restrictions and creel limits shall be as follows:
- No smallmouth less than 15 inches
- 5 fish/day
- No walleye less than 18 inches
- 5 fish/day
- No crappie less than 10 inches
- 15 fish/day
- No minimum size
- 7 fish/day
- ONLY 2 Lake trout per day
- No Harvest
- All White bass must be released
- Only 1 catfish over 34 inches
- 20 fish/day
- No minimum size
- 50 fish/day
- No minimum size
- 20 fish/day
*All trotlines, limb-lines and jugs must be tagged with angler’s name, address or license.
- 100 hooks per angler
- 50 per angler
- 15 per angler
Facilities, Amenities, and Nearby Attractions
- Fee ✘
- Parking ✔
- Handicap-Accessible ✔
- Food Concession ✘
- Picnic Tables ✔
- Grills ✔
- Restrooms ✔
- Hiking Trails ✘
- Bike Trails ✘
- Viewing Blinds ✘
- Observation Platforms ✘
- Fishing Pier/Platform ✘
- Boat Ramps ✔
- Motorboat Access ✘
- Horsepower Limit ✘
- Electric Motor Only ✘
- Paddle Access ✔
- Camping ✔
- Primitive Camping Only ✘
In Virginia, anglers can launch boats at Washington County Park near the Tennessee State line (fee required), at the Sportsman’s Marina (fee required), at the Avens ramp (mouth of Fifteen Mile Creek), and at Whittaker Hollow near the lake’s headwaters.
To access the Whittaker Hollow ramp take Exit 19 off I-81 and follow Route 58 east to Route 722, then follow signs directing you to the public boat-launching site. To access all other public ramps follow Route 75 South (I-81 Exit 17) toward the lake.
Numerous lodging options are available in and around the Abingdon area.
Several boat launch and marina options are available on the Tennessee portion of the reservoir.
For more information contact the Marion DWR office.
More information about fisheries activities in the Tennessee portion of South Holston Reservoir can be obtained athttp://www.tnfish.org/Anglers/SHolstonAngler.htm.