Doe River Fishing: Doe River Fishing Trail

So the biggest pleasant surprise that I’ve had fly fishing in Northeast Tennessee is the Doe River. And getting to know the newly established Doe River Fishing Trail (DRiFT). Now I’d read about the Doe River being one of the best freestone streams in all of Tennessee. And how there’s a surprising number of wild fish in it. And how it may not be a destination river or anything. But that it’s worth a visit.

Yeah right, I thought. That’s all just a bunch of BS. Because, anyone can see that the Doe is nothing but a roadside cesspool, filled with stocked rainbow trout and overfished by the usual bait-dunking crowd. But, there came a time when I just had to fish it. And boy was I ever wrong about the Doe River.

Spring Rainfall: Trout Fishing East Tennessee:

It was the Spring rains last year that forced me to get to know the Doe River better. Heavy rainfall that caused the TVA to release lots of water on my two favorite tailwaters, The South Holston and Watauga Rivers. Making both of them too high to wade fish. And with the constant threat of rain, I didn’t want to venture deep into wilderness areas, such as Laurel Fork Creek in TN, or even Whitetop Laurel Creek in Virginia.

However, the Doe River last year had more manageable water levels, and, of course, easier roadside access. Exactly what I was looking for. Thus, the Doe was going to be the place where I’d fish for the next few weeks. But the real question that I had to answer first was: Where should I go fishing on the Doe River?

Doe River Origins

Beginning on the slopes of Roan Mountain near the Tennessee / North Carolina state line, the Doe River flows well over 30 miles to where it ends near the city of Elizabethton, TN, as a tributary of the Watauga River. And, given all of that water, I knew that it wasn’t going to be so easy to figure out exactly where I should fish.

However, not all of the Doe River is prime habitat for trout. In fact, I’ve heard it said that the trout fishing starts upstream of Hampton, TN, and continues all the way up to where the Doe River begins. Still, a lot of water, no doubt.

But for my money, I figured that I’d start fishing it in Roan Mountain State Park, which renowned fly fishing guide, Ian Rutter, recommended as, “the best all-around stretch of water.” And it didn’t hurt that I was already somewhat familiar with this part of the Doe River. Indeed, I’d scouted it many times, as I drove through the park on my way to hike the balds near Roan Mountain.

Doe River Fly Fishing: Roan Mountain State Park

Okay, I’ll start by saying that I’ve only fished the section above Roan Mountain State Park, once. And I can tell you that there isn’t much in the way of public access up there. Still, I did catch a few small wild rainbow trout when I fished there. Maybe even one bigger fish at a certain bridge. But if you want to fish this section, then I’d definitely recommend asking for permission to fish the private property up there, which almost all of it is.

That said, my very first fly fishing trip to the Doe River was to Roan Mountain State Park, which has now become one of my favorite places to fish for a lot of good reasons…

For one thing, it’s all open to the public. Another reason is that it gets a good amount of stocking. Also, it’s excellent trout habitat throughout the entire 4-mile Roan Mountain State Park section.

Another thing I like about this section is that there is good canopy cover. A pleasant riffle and pool mixture. A few deep holes, holding bigger trout, up to 7 pounds! And, there’s also a few picnic shelters in the park, where you can run for cover when the inevitable thunderstorms start.

An enjoyable day of fly fishing

In fact, I had one of my most enjoyable fishing days on just such an occasion. Caught a load of wild bows in a deep hole within Roan Mountain State Park. One after another. Mostly small wild rainbows. But a few good ones, too. And, I even scared up a doe, walking to one of my favorite fishing holes.

At the hole, I landed a nice 14-inch brown trout. Then, I heard thunder and started hauling *ss back to my truck. Grabbed my Igloo Island Breeze Cooler just before the deluge started. Ate lunch under the picnic shelter and enjoyed the show. So yes, the stretch of water within Roan Mountain State Park is an awesome and fun place to fly fish.

Doe River fishing in Roan Mountain State Park yields this nice wild brown trout.
Doe River fishing yields a nice wild brown trout.
Thunderstorms stop an enjoyable day of fly fishing on the Doe River.
Arrived at the picnic shelter just before the thunderstorm struck.

Doe River Fly Fishing: Gristmill Visitor Center through Roan Mountain

This is the next section of the Doe River that I enjoy fly fishing. This section starts at the Gristmill Visitor Center on Highway 143 and continues downstream through the town of Roan Mountain. There is a lot of public access here, upstream and downstream of the Visitor Center. But, as you head downstream, you’ll encounter more private property.

For the record, there are a few places to fish in the town of Roan Mountain, itself. No doubt, most of the access here is on private property. But you can fish the Doe River in town of Roan Mountain by going to at least one public park. You can see the park as you drive over the bridge in town on Highway 143. Look downstream. It’s the Roan Mountain Community Park right at the Post Office.

I really like this section, too. Maybe almost as much as the upper Roan Mountain State Park section. Why? Well, sometimes, there are guys shooting basketball in the park. Or locals walking around it, giving you the shout out. Telling you where you can catch some fish. And, I caught one really nice rainbow trout in the park, at a certain hole near the Post Office. A local woman, walking along the path, even told me it was one nice fish. Now how cool is that?

Doe River fly fishing yields a nice rainbow trout near the town of Roan Mountain.
Rainbow trout landed fly fishing the Doe River near Roan Mountain.

Doe River Fly Fishing: The Doe River Fishing Trail

The next section of the Doe River that I’ve enjoyed fishing is the bulk of the Doe River Fishing Trail. This is primarily a roadside section along Highway 19E from the town of Roan Mountain all the way downstream to Hershel Julian Landing off 19E.

Now the Doe River Fishing Trail isn’t actually a trail. Rather, it’s a series of public parks and legal pullovers where you can fish. Most of the access areas are marked with signs, reading: Doe River Fishing Trail. My understanding is that this trail was established by the Overmountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited in 2018. Also, the TWRA does stock parts of the Doe River Fishing Trail. But there’s also some wild trout.

I’d say the only downside to fishing certain parts of the Doe River Fishing Trail is that you get some highway noise from 19E. But you can find a few places to get away from it. Also, I did catch my biggest Doe River fish here. A fat 18-19 inch rainbow trout, pulled from a deep hole! Maybe not the biggest fish in the world. But who’s going to complain about that?

A nice fly fishing hole along the Doe River Fishing Trail.
You can find nice holes, like this one, along the Doe River Fishing Trail.

Get to know the Doe River Fishing Trail

Anyway, your best bet to get to know the Doe River Fishing Trail is to use your favorite internet map. And, of course, drive along Highway 19E. Exploring some of the obvious side roads that look inviting to fishermen and aren’t posted like you’ll be shot.

There are just too many access areas along the trail to cover here. At least 12, the last time I counted. And, according to the guys at the Overmountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited, they might add a few more. So it should only get better. However, if you’re looking for a sure place to fish along it. You should look for the Roan Mountain Frisbee Golf Course along Highway 19E. There’s a hole at the bridge there that’s deep. And, sometimes, there’s a few fish in it. Oh, and I did also want to mention that the Roan Mountain Community Park, mentioned above, is the second stop along the Doe River Fishing Trail. A happy trail, indeed, since I’ve caught a lot of rainbows along it.

Doe River Gorge Fishing: Doe River Gorge

The last section of the fine trout fishing along the Doe River is the Doe River Gorge, which I haven’t fished yet. Why? Well, first, you need permission to hike in there from the Doe River Ministries. And second, the locals have told me that the gorge is quite rugged.

Also, rumor has it that it’s too dangerous to fish in that gorge. There’s poisonous snakes galore. Rabid bobcat, coon, and fox. And yes, cougars stalking you at dusk. So don’t go in there. You won’t come out.

Seriously, though, I’m looking forward to fishing it. Heard there’s big brown trout in there. It’s just that there’s so many great fly fishing opportunities in NE TN and SW VA that I don’t always get the chance to explore areas that are difficult to access and rugged.

Anyway, that’s about all that I know about fly fishing on the Doe River in a nutshell. So if you’re in the area and wanna catch some fish. And can drag yourself away from the great tailwaters in the area. Have a serious hunger to fly fish a small to medium-sized stream that flows through some nice scenery. Well then, you might just have to drive up Highway19E and take Highway 143 south. And take a good look at the fine fishing you might find on the Doe River in Northeast Tennessee. I know I just love fly fishing on the Doe River and following the Doe River Fishing Trail. And you might, too.


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Doe River Camping:

One of your best bets for camping and fly fishing on the Doe River is Roan Mountain State Park. This is a well-groomed and scenic campground, some of it along the banks of the Doe River. So you can camp and fish. I’ve seen people camping in their RVs and tents. Yes, you can do both. There’s a hiking trail along the Doe River, as well. And biking trails in the park. A swimming pool, too. There are even some tennis courts. All in all, it’s a great place for a family to enjoy!

Local Areas of Interest:

One of the best day hikes in the United States can be found around Roan Mountain. That’s just up the road from Roan Mountain State Park and the Doe River. I’ve covered hiking Roan Mountain and the balds north of it here. It’s truly one of the best day hikes that I’ve ever done in my life. And, if you happen to get up there around mid-June, you might just catch the famous and magnificent annual blooms of Rhododendrons and Flame Azaleas.

Doe River Fly Fishing: Tennessee Fishing Regulations

Doe River: Roan Mountain State Park boundaries.
Catch-and-release season is Nov. 1–last day of Feb.
Otherwise, Limit 7 fish. Any size, except for brook trout.
Brook trout must be at least 6 inches to keep.
Personally, I recommend releasing all wild fish.


Please note, as well, that this post contains affiliate links, meaning, I recommended products and services I’ve used or know well and I may receive a commission if you purchase them too (at no additional cost to you). As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

After a long career in the publishing industry, Gary Alan left his corporate job to pursue his next adventures in life as a blogger, writer, investor, fly fisherman, hiker, and traveler. He is the author of the adventure fiction book, 'Big Thunder-Hearted River'.

4 thoughts on “Doe River Fishing: Doe River Fishing Trail”

  1. Great post. Very well explained and detailed. Can’t wait to fish there. Have any suggestions for flies in october?

    • Hello Jack, in general, I use nymphs on the Doe and not dries. Unless I see them rising. I don’t think the pattern matters as long as you get it in front of the fish’s face. Tight lines.

  2. Hi Gary,
    I have read your post as I have moved from South Africa to America and is residing in Johnson City where we are staying with my son and would like to start doing some Trout Fishing. I found your post very interesting. Now I need to go and start finding places and fish.

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