In the Volunteer State, anglers are very fortunate to have year-round fishing opportunities. In some states, there are times of the year when fishing is very limited due to ice cover or closed seasons. In Tennessee though, fishing is always pretty good, though some months are better than others. Here are 36 fishing options, broken out by month, for anglers to consider this year.
JANUARY – Tennessee River Blue Catfish
Catfish are not always a first thought for winter fishing, but the cold months are one of the best times of the entire year to pattern huge trophy blue catfish on the Tennessee River below the Chickamauga Dam.
Blue cats are very predictable at this time of year. In the warmer months, they tend to roam more and finding them is most of the battle. But now in cold weather, they find deep holes and other locations to ride out the winter. Near the dam there are plenty of scour holes, deep depressions and other locations big catfish desire. A little work with quality electronics is all it takes to locate some of these spots.
Use heavy tackle and fish with cut shad, big chunks of chicken or other baits on down rods near the bottom. Patience is the key. Bites might be infrequent or not at all some days, but when the rod bends, it could possibly be the next state record. But remember, it takes a long time for catfish to reach trophy size and they are very vulnerable at this time of year, so please take a few photos and release the big ones back for another day.
OTHER OPTIONS: Saugers are biting aggressively on the Cumberland River this month. If a big fish is on the wish list, try Cordell Hull for some jumbo striped bass.
FEBRUARY – Dale Hollow Lake Smallmouths
There are some huge bronzebacks in Dale Hollow and February is a great time to target them with the float-and-fly technique. Although smallies bite well in the cold months, they often suspend in the water column in wintertime making them difficult to catch with typical baits and tactics. Their metabolism is slower and it is nearly impossible to slow most baits down to keep them in the strike zone long enough to attract a bite. The float-and-fly solves this problem.
A bait, often a hair jig, is suspended below a specially designed float and cast with a long rod to suspended smallmouths. Then the angler twitches the rod to give the bait a little action and simply waits for the bait to do its job. Smallmouths often hit the bait lightly and lift it rather than pull the float under. The special float used is designed to detect this lift, thereby alerting the angler to a fish on the line.
OTHER OPTIONS: Head to Cherokee Lake for some of the biggest largemouths of the year or over to Tellico Lake for smallmouths.
MARCH – Kentucky Lake Black Crappies
April is traditionally known as the “crappie run” at Kentucky Lake, but since the population is comprised of many more black crappie than in the past, March is when the action really begins. Black crappie move shallow sooner than their white cousins.
Cast twister-tail grubs or Blakemore Road Runners for black crappie along sloping banks with gravel. Throw the same baits, jigs or minnows at fish attractors, downed trees or brush piles. Remember black crappie are spookier than white crappies, so stay back and make longer casts.
OTHER OPTIONS: Look for the walleye bite to be on at Watauga Lake, while at Old Hickory anglers are targeting striped bass.
APRIL – Pickwick Lake Largemouth Bass
The largemouth fishery at Pickwick has been nothing short of phenomenal over the past few years and just seems to be getting better every year. The bigmouths are moving shallower and this is a great time of year to catch them in a feeding mood prior to the spawn.
Look for largemouths on secondary points and creek points, as well as along the shoreline on wood or other structure. A crankbait makes a great search bait and helps cover water quickly. If the bite is slow, target structure more deliberately with a jig or plastic bait. Anglers may also pick up some dandy smallmouths or spotted bass along the way.
OTHER OPTIONS: Huge crappies are waiting among the cypress trees at Reelfoot Lake this month. Look for a great night bite for walleyes along the shoreline at Dale Hollow Lake.
MAY – Kentucky Lake Redear Sunfish
If a person is looking to catch some of the biggest redear sunfish of the year, then Kentucky Lake is the place to be as the shellcrackers are shallow and in spawn mode. Big redears over 1 pound are not all that uncommon and fish approaching 2 pounds are not impossible.
Look for redears on gravel bottoms and near submerged vegetation, such as pondweed or yellow mustard flowers. Present live bait, such as red worms or crickets on the bottom with a slip float.
OTHER OPTIONS: Late spring is a great time to float or wade streams to catch a mixed bag of smallmouths, rock bass and more. Head to the Clinch River and enjoy some great trout action.
JUNE – Statewide Bluegills
Bluegills are biting all over the state this month from farm ponds to the largest reservoirs. On many waters, bluegills are on nests and spawning, so dropping baits near the nests brings immediate reaction bites. When spawning concludes, look for bluegills to be close spawning areas, just perhaps a little deeper and on structure, around wood, brush piles or fish attractors.
The traditional setup of a bobber with live bait is hard to beat, but like fishing for redears, a slip float is very useful. Crickets are a top choice for bluegills of all sizes, but when targeting bigger fish, try a bluegill bug lure tipped with a cricket, piece of red worm, meal worm or wax worm. Bigger bluegills are usually found deeper than the small bait-stealers found close to shore.
OTHER OPTIONS: Cast crankbaits or other lures resembling shad or baitfish to catch white bass at Center Hill Lake. Plenty of jumbo largemouths are waiting at Lake Chickamauga.
JULY – Kentucky Lake Black Bass
The ledge bite is on at Kentucky Lake, so move offshore to enjoy some of the best bass action of the summer. Largemouths, smallmouths and spots are all positioned on offshore ledges looking to cash in on the ample forage available. Use maps, software and on-board electronics to find ledges, then search for the “sweet spots” holding the most fish.
Ledges with hard bottoms, such as shell beds, are highly productive. Throw crankbaits, plastic worms or swimbaits to catch largemouths and smallmouths. Look to deeper water for spotted bass, which sometimes are better caught with a drop-shot rig.
OTHER OPTIONS: Farm ponds offer up a lot of summertime opportunity for a variety of fish, especially various species of sunfish. Hit the mighty Mississippi River to catch channel, flathead and blue catfish.
AUGUST – Family Fishing Lakes Channel Catfish
There are 18 family fishing lakes scattered throughout western and middle Tennessee and all offer tremendous fishing opportunities year ‘round, especially for channel catfish. Of course, anglers may want to also sample the great bass and sunfish populations, too.
Channel cats are the easiest of the three main species to catch. They bite readily on anything from live bait to commercial bait and from homemade stinkbaits to dough balls. Dip baits are also a great choice. Many anglers tight-line a simple bottom rig or employ a slip sinker rig. However a basic float and bait setup catches plenty of catfish at these lakes.
OTHER OPTIONS: Bluegills are often tight against trees and other cover, but still biting well at Reelfoot Lake. The heat is on and many bass anglers are waiting until nighttime to target black bass all across the state.
SEPTEMBER – Pickwick Tailwater Striped Bass
The striped bass grow mighty big in the water below Pickwick Dam and hooking into one quenches most any angler’s thirst for excitement. Although fishing the tailwaters is great most all year long, September is a good time to pursue some of the big stripers in this section of the river.
Most people target stripers with live bait, such as shad or big shiners, casting into the boiling water near the dam and drifting the bait as the current takes the boat downriver. After floating the desired distance, the boat is restarted and motored back up near the dam to start over. Although stripers may be the primary target, this technique may yield a mixed creel, including some jumbo catfish.
OTHER OPTIONS: Float the Caney Fork for some great fall trout action or hit the Pigeon River to target some of the hefty smallmouths lurking there.
OCTOBER – Lake Barkley Largemouths
Lots of people fish the twin lakes for black bass, but many are unaware Lake Barkley actually has a larger population of largemouths than Kentucky Lake. As the lake cools in fall, look for large numbers of bass to congregate in the shallow bays to gorge on shad that have migrated there with the cooling water.
Swimbaits are really popular for fall fishing, but many baits resembling shad are highly effective. Crankbaits, minnow baits and others all make great choices when the bass are feeding up for winter. Look for actively feeding fish, and present baits resembling what they are feeding.
OTHER OPTIONS: The Smoky Mountains are jammed with tourists enjoying the fall colors, but getting away from the crowds yields lots of trout action on mountain streams. Crappie are also feeding up and preparing for winter, so hit Cherokee Lake for some papermouth fishing.
NOVEMBER – Center Hill Black Bass
There are plenty of fat, healthly black bass at Center Hill Lake. All three species are great targets this month.
Look for the largemouths to be in the shallow coves and smallmouths on rocky banks. Both species are found along tapering points. Spotted bass are sometimes found in the same locations, but generally they are found in a little deeper water.
OTHER OPTIONS: Muskie bites are sometimes hard to come by, but fall is one of the best times of the year to put a quality fish in the boat at Melton Hill Lake. The Hiwassee River is a good bet for a pre-winter trout bite.
DECEMBER – Percy Priest Lake Crappie
Springtime may be the right time for crappie, but so is right now. Crappie are unpredictable in the fall, but after the weather stabilizes in early winter, they become more easily patterned. Plus, there are very few other anglers on the water.
Crappie often suspend on deep brush in the winter and sometimes stay in the same pattern for a few days at a time or until the weather changes. Probe this deep brush with live minnows on a tight line. Jigs work too, but patience is the key with either bait.
OTHER OPTIONS: Hefty smallmouths are swimming at Tims Ford Lake and they are more than willing to bite this month, just fish slow and experiment until fish are found. Other options are the hard fighting hybrid striped bass at Boone Lake.
These are but a few of the top picks for this year and there are certainly many other great choices for fishing in Tennessee. Regardless of the season, there is always something biting here in the Volunteer State, so there is really no part of the year that anglers cannot get out and get a line stretched.