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South Holston Reservoir

The Angler’s Paradise

South Holston Reservoir is a Top Spot for Fishermen

Nearly every day, Billy Jones makes time for a visit to South Holston Reservoir.

And on most of those days, the Bristol, Tennessee, resident will head to two spots: the overlook at the dam and the nearby Osceola Island.

It’s all about the incredible views and the unbeatable ambiance.

“I just sit around and talk to people,” Jones said. “It’s nice to get out of the house. I like to sit near the trees in the shade. The breeze coming off the river is nice.”

Nestled in the northeast corner of Tennessee, South Holston Reservoir has a storied reputation as one of the best smallmouth bass fisheries in Tennessee.

And not just smallmouth bass – it offers great fishing opportunities for other species, including walleye, lake trout and crappie.

While South Holston has plenty on tap for eager anglers, it also provides easy access to lush woodlands and recreational activities that appeal to all ages.

Osceola Island recreation area

Overlook and Osceola Island

Looking for a picnic spot with a beautiful view? South Holston Dam Reservation is your place.

Spend a few hours hanging with friends or family, or just enjoy some relaxing time alone. Play games, read a book, host a picnic or simply lay in the grass to soak up some sunshine.

“It's just a breathtaking view,” said Anthony Summitt, TVA senior manager of Natural Resources and recreation. “You get the view of the property managed by the U.S. Forest Service, a view of all the islands and Holston Mountain.

“It’s an awesome landscape ... from the top of the dam and the overlook. There aren’t a whole lot of places like it in the Valley.”

The overlook is also the site of the visitor’s center, where folks can learn about the history of TVA and South Holston Reservoir.

Osceola Island, accessible by footbridge at a parking lot below the dam, is a go-to spot for birdwatchers, walkers and picnickers. It features a 1.8-mile wildlife trail.

“You partner that with the recreational assets and the public access, and the aquatic habitat – upstream and downstream – it's a recreational paradise,” Summitt said. “It's really impressive how, over time, those assets and TVA's operations of the dam have really culminated into this gem.”

Young boy fishing at South Holston

Fish Tales

Fisherman from around the world consider South Holston River – the tailwater below the dam – a top destination for trout fishing. The tailwaters are home to a thriving wild brown trout fishery, ensuring anglers of all skill levels stand a good chance of reeling in an impressive catch.

“It’s extremely popular with locals," Summitt said.

But out-of-towners make up about 50% of the fisherman here.

“Because of the quality of the fishery, you’ll pull in and see (vehicle) license plates from five to 10 states from across the country at any given time,” Summitt said.

He grew up in the Holston area, spending many afternoons fishing just below the dam. He still lives there – and for good reason.

“I can have my waders on and be in the water in 15 minutes,” he said.

Bristol resident Isaiah Cole has experienced firsthand the thrills of South Holston’s waters. It’s among his favorite fishing spots in the Valley region.

“It’s fun to come out here with my family and see what I can catch,” Cole said.

An aerating labyrinth weir below the dam is a distinctive feature of South Holston. It helped make this area an angler’s paradise.

“It ensures a consistent flow of cool water and dissolved oxygen, perfect habitat for insects, plant life and fish, supporting a world-class trout fishery,” Summitt said.

South Holston weir system

Aquatic Adventure

By boat, kayak or raft, water lovers will find a spot for recreation and fun at South Holston.

As TVA’s reservoirs go, it’s far from the largest – it has about 7,500 acres of water surface. But its unique characteristics set it apart.

Bordered by Cherokee National Forest, South Holston offers mountain views virtually unrivaled in the region. Leisurely boaters can trace 138 miles of shoreline at a cool pace, taking in the remarkable clarity of the water.

Canoeing around the reservoir guarantees an adventure. Little islands and quiet coves are just waiting to be discovered – and it’s a budget-friendly way to stay cool on summer days.

For those seeking thrills? There's plenty of space for water skiing, wakeboarding and more.

Wildflowers growing near South Holston reservoir

On the Trails

When the breeze blows in, South Holston’s visitors can enjoy a comfortable stroll along shaded trails.

Hikers can explore about 10 miles of easy to intermediate trails at the reservation and the nearby South Holston multiuse trail site, located just a short hop north of Osceola Island. A well-timed visit – evening and mornings are best – will offer a look at waterfowl, deer and the other wildlife.

Tammy Smith, of Kingsport, Tennessee, visits the trails here often, not just for exercise but for the peace and beautiful scenery.

“I love the quiet and hearing the nature sounds,” she said. “That’s why I love coming out here.”

TVA recently added the multiuse trails, which include up to 6 miles of mountain bike trails suitable for beginners, ensuring the whole family can enjoy a ride under the trees.

Hikers, bikers, birders, fishermen and many others will find what they’re looking for at South Holston.

“It’s one of those hidden jewels at TVA,” Summitt said.

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Visit TVA's recreation page to learn about opportunities for fishing, birdwatching, swimming and more.

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