CENTER HILL RESERVOIR
The original site of blacknose crappie stockings in Tennessee, Center Hill Reservoir continues to benefit from those plantings and still produces fine fishing year after year. Because of its depth and clarity, this Cumberland Plateau reservoir can be a challenging destination at times. During the spring, though, the fish move shallower and relate to visible cover, creating easier than normal fishing for most anglers.
Early in the spring, the fish will hold on stumps or sunken brush near the mouths of major creeks. Slow-trolling works well for finding deeper fish over open-water structure. As the season progresses, the fish will move into the creeks and hold first around sunken treetops in middle depths. At that point, electronics are very important because some of the best brush piles aren’t visible from above the water. A slip cork works nicely for suspending minnows or jigs directly over the brush at a controlled depth.
Eventually the crappie move to the backs of the creeks and get around deadfalls and other shoreline cover. Center Hill is slower to warm than many other Tennessee reservoirs, so the best shallow fishing typically doesn’t occur until May. By that time the lake normally is at full pool, flooding plenty of cover. Unfortunately, ongoing dam repairs make water levels a little more difficult than normal to predict. When the crappie do move shallow, effective strategies include working the backs of the creeks and probing cover with a long pole and a jig, or using an ultralight rod to cast a float-and-minnow combination close to the edges of the cover.
The Center Hill crappie limit is 15 fish, with a 10-inch minimum size. For guided fishing, visit www.jimduckworth.com.
Despite being in the northeastern corner of Tennessee, where mountain lakes are mostly infertile, 4,500-acre Boone Lake is quite the opposite and supports big numbers of fish. Traditionally, Boone has not been an important crappie lake. However, in recent years the crappie population has improved, a trend biologists attribute in large part to more restrictive harvest regulations.
The most recent electroshocking efforts have shown a higher percentage of 10-inch-plus crappie than has traditionally been the case at Boone.
Boone supports both black and white crappie, with blacks being more prevalent. The TWRA also stocks blacknose crappie every year, but neither angler catch reports nor biologists’ samples have clearly evidenced that the blacknose stockings have substantially added to the crappie population.
Boone’s shoreline is heavily developed, so much of the best crappie fishing cover exists in the form of boat docks and brush piles that have been sunk around those docks. Learning to get baits way up under docks, whether by “shooting,” reaching under docks with a long pole or some other means, provides a big crappie fishing advantage. It’s also important to remember that not all docks are created equal and to pay careful attention to things like dock structure, channel orientation, water depth and nearby cover around any dock that produces fish.
A large fishing pier at Winged Deer Park offers excellent fishing access to boatless anglers. The crappie limit at Boone Lake is 15 fish with a 10-inch minimum size.
Moving even farther east, Watauga Lake lies tucked between mountains near the North Carolina border. This lake is deep, clear, beautiful and is far better known for trout and smallmouth bass than for crappie.
Watauga’s crappie fishing has shown steady improvement in recent years, however, seemingly aided by annual stockings of blacknose crappie. Numerous fish attractors, which are replenished regularly by TWRA or TVA crews and volunteers, help concentrate the crappie, thus providing improved fish-catching opportunities for anglers.
Part of what makes Watauga an extra appealing pick for spring crappie is that an abundance of public land surrounds the lake. There are plenty of good places for camping and for shoreline fishing. Those offerings include a fishing pier at the Rat Branch Access Area.
More so than almost any other kind of fish, crappie lend themselves to a bank-fishing approach when they move shallow to spawn during the spring.
Like most tributary reservoirs, Watauga gets drawn way down during the winter, so spring crappie locations vary according to the level of the water. When the lake is at full pool, the best fishing will found around willows, shallow planted brush and other shallow cover in the backs of creeks. If it remains down, the crappie relate to stumps along creek channel ledges and to deeper brush.
No matter what kind of cover the fish are using, Watauga crappie call for more of a finesse approach than is the case on most other Tennessee reservoirs. The clear water causes the fish to be fussier and to stay a little deeper overall.
Long casts, light line and small subtle offerings like hair jigs under floats or small live minnows tend to out-produce more “in their face” approaches with heavier line and bold-colored jigs and crankbaits.
The TWRA Web site gives GPS coordinates for a dozen fish attractor site at Watauga. The crappie limit for this lake is 15 fish, with a minimum size of 10 inches.
For area information, visit www.johnsoncitytn.org.