2018 Tennessee Family Fishing Destinations

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Some of the best memories are made when the family is in the outdoors, fishing, camping and exploring, away from the electronic cares of the world.

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By Richard Hines

Few things are more enjoyable to a youngster than heading to a pond or lake to catch a string of bluegill. However, these days there are so many events that seem interfere and prevent families from going fishing or doing some other outdoor activity. 

Thankfully, the Volunteer State has many locations where families can get out to hike, camp, bird watch and even fish, often in the same areas.


According to Assistant Park Manager Josh Walsh, Paris Landing State Resort Park, located in Henry County on Kentucky Lake near Paris, has a lot of great bank-fishing opportunities, with banks that are moved and maintained.

Two locations around the park would include the marina and the picnic area. Take along a selection of crickets and nightcrawlers to entice some bluegill, shellcrackers or channel catfish. Youngsters will have plenty of opportunities to fish without being crowded.

"We also have a fishing pier, but one of the best ways to fish on this section of Kentucky Lake is by boat," Walsh said. "By far, crappie is our number one fish for spring and if you don't have a boat, nearby Buchannan Resort does have boat rentals."

In addition to some of the best fishing in west Tennessee, Paris Landing provides great lodging, meals and a swimming pool at the lodge. If the kids are getting a little bored with fishing, the area has many side attractions.

Along the Way: The Land Between the Lakes Home Place provides a feel of what it was like for the first pioneers during the 1850s. Demonstrations are ongoing throughout the day as staff go about in period dress working with farm implements, making quilts and carrying out the chores of pioneers during this period in history.

Only 10 minutes from this stop in Dover is Fort Donelson National Battlefield. Sitting atop a bluff overlooking the Cumberland River, folks can walk in the actual trenches that Confederate soldiers defended during one of the most decisive battles of the Civil War. Walking around the original cannons, kids get a feel for what it might have been like as iron clad gun boats steamed up the river during this battle.

There is also a reproduction cabin where Confederate troops slept in during their time at Fort Donelson. Park Rangers provide routine tours, and an informational film about this pivotal battle is shown at the Park Visitor Center throughout the day. There are also hiking trails where visitors may be able to view an active eagle nest that has been on the park for the past several years.


According to Barry Cross, Region 2 wildlife information specialist, anglers looking for something close to Nashville will find numerous fishing opportunities around Percy Priest Lake and Williamsport Wildlife Management Area in Maury County.

"Whippoorwill Lake is a 25-acre youth fishing lake; adults can fish but only with a youth 16 and younger," Cross said. "Bluegill and channel catfish are especially good."

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There are also two other lakes at Williamsport WMA, Blue Cat which is 80 acres and Goldeneye is 13 acres, while Shellcracker contains 46-acres. All lakes on the WMA are part of the family fishing lakes program and are perfect for a day of for panfish or catfish, as well as largemouth bass. Williamsport WMA Lakes are located 10 miles northwest of Columbia and families will find a picnic area plus concessions that sell bait and tackle. Boat rentals are also available on site.

Along the Way: A short drive west of Williamsport WMA is a section of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The road is operated by the National Park Service and there are numerous access points along the entire 444 miles of road, which stretches across three states following the original Indian trail believed to be over 10,000 years old. Pioneers traveled this route from Nashville to Mississippi and at many locations the original trail can be seen. One stop is the Meriwether Lewis Information Cabin. Plan a picnic here and learn about one of America's famous explorers.


Many folks know about the great fishing in the Smoky Mountains National Park, but overlook the many opportunities available in Gatlinburg itself, especially for younger anglers. Gatlinburg offers access to several streams for young anglers who are 12 years or younger. Permit fees may apply to some, so be sure and check the City of Gatlinburg website.

"These streams are a great way to introduce children to trout fishing," said Bart Carter, Region IV fisheries coordinator. "Several of these children's streams are purposely set aside and are well stocked for young anglers."

Gatlinburg recognized the importance of this resource and developed their own trout farm back in the 1980s. The city continues to maintain a strong trout population by weekly stockings and May is a good time because stockings are keeping the streams loaded with trout.

"Parents who have not taken their kids trout fishing will find these streams perfect for catching a fish," Carter said.

Younger anglers with some previous fishing experience and can cast a small in-line spinner, such as a Panther Martin or a Wordens Rooster Tail.

Trout fishing is a great introduction to fishing because trout can be very cooperative when youngsters are just starting out.

Along the Way: If the kids might get tired of catching fish, let them experience some hands-on time with some exotic species by stoping at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. The aquarium features both local fish and species from all over the world. There are interactive displays, and interpretive specialists will let the kids touch a live horseshoe crab and pet a stingray. These are just a few of fun things Ripley's has in store for young visitors.

Those wanting to get away from the water should consider heading to play in the trees at Anakeesta. This is one of the newest attractions at Gatlinburg. Located near the children and handicap accessible streams, Anakeesta transports folks by chairlift into the tops of trees to play on a series of suspension bridges that allow walking through the forest canopy.


About 100 miles northwest of Gatlinburg sits 950-acre Warriors Path State Park, which has 134 campsites, a swimming pool and lots of fishing opportunities on Fort Patrick Henry Lake. Located near Kingsport the lake is well stocked with bass, bluegill and catfish.

"If you want to go after bluegill and catfish, take a few boxes of nightcrawlers because it seems that the bluegill are really easy to catch on this lake," Carter said.

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Visitors can fish, swim and just enjoy the scenery at this park off  I-81 onto TN State 36; follow signs to the park.

Along the Way: Less than 10 miles from Warriors Path is Bays Mountain Park, a 3,500-acre nature preserve that is the largest city owned park in the state of Tennessee. The Park features a 44-acre lake and a Nature Center with a state-of-the-art Planetarium Theater. If it gets too hot, the Planetarium has programs on the stars and solar system throughout the day. Additionally, there are hands-on programs with park naturalists who describe animals and their habitats, including river otters, snakes and other interesting species folks might spy along a Tennessee stream.


Region 3 has a good mix of parks for families to conduct outings, but one with good fishing is Standing Stone State Park in Overton County near Hilham.

Sitting on the Cumberland Plateau, this park got its name from a 12-foot standing stone that was once the boundary line between two Indian Nations. Standing Stone State Park features a 69-acre lake, with boat and canoe rentals and 36 campsites set up for either tent or trailer hookups. It also has 17 cabins that are fully furnished and supplied with bed linens and cooking supplies.

If the kids get tired of fishing, the park also has a swimming pool and eight miles of hiking trails, which lead through some of the last remaining virgin forests in Tennessee. By May the show of woodland wild flowers in this section of the Cumberland Plateau should be spectacular. 

Along the Way: Check out the Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery, which is only two miles east of Celina off Tennessee Highway 53, where folks will find self-guided tours each day from 7:30 to 3:30. There are also interpretive displays with aquariums in the visitor center. If the kids get excited about seeing all the trout, keep the rods and reels handy because the hatchery also has a public fishing area. The fish available are bluegills caught around a dock or pier, so bring worms and bobbers, along with plenty of sunscreen, and introduce the kids to fishing.

This month is the perfect time to make plans to head out into the Volunteer State. You will find almost unlimited opportunities to take the kids fishing. No matter how it goes, if you take kids fishing it will be a trip they will remember for years.

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