JANUARY – OLD HICKORY MIXED CREEL
The water temperature in winter pushes many fish to search for the warmest spots in the lake. At Old Hickory, that means near the steam plant discharge. Anglers have an opportunity to catch a mixed creel, but panfishing is especially good.
Crappie and bluegills are in play, but one of the best things going is tilapia. This non-native fish was introduced to the lake some time back and while considered an invasive species, it adds to the winter catch. Tilapia cannot withstand cold water, so they congregate in large numbers near the plant.
Use a soft-tipped rod with 8-pound line and a small bait hook on the end. Add a small split shot about a foot above the bait and a weighted float two foot above the hook. A small piece of worm is all that is needed for bait.
Other Options: Chickamauga Catfish: Use cutbait in the tailwater below Chickamauga Dam for winter catfish. Cheatham Dam Sauger: Sauger are biting good on minnows and jigs below Cheatham Dam.
FEBRUARY – CENTER HILL SMALLMOUTHS
February is usually one of the best months to catch big smallies at Center Hill, but it can also be one of the toughest, depending upon water temperature. The magic time is when water temperature is between 48 and 55 degrees. The big females are in prespawn and nearing their heaviest weights of the year.
On cloudy days, concentrate on main points major creeks. Throw a Smithwick Suspending Rogue in clown color on a 4-foot leader of 10-pound fluorocarbon. Cast into about 5 feet of water, reel down and give it a sharp jerk, then let it rest for about two minutes. Vary the retrieve until a pattern develops.
Change to a Smithwick Perfect 10 Suspending Rogue for sunny days. Use natural colors such as Ayu. This bait runs about 10 to 12 feet and is perfect for when the sun pushes bass down.
Other Options: Reelfoot Crappie: Jumbo papermouths are biting at Reelfoot. Tims Ford Smallmouths: Tims Ford Lake is one of the best spots in the state for winter smallies.
MARCH – LAKE BARKLEY CRAPPIE
Lots of folks wait until April for the annual crappie run, but on Lake Barkley that means missing a lot of the action. Crappie start turning on in March and depending upon water temperature, the action is fantastic. This is especially true for black crappie, which move shallower earlier than white crappie.
Cast Road Runners or curly-tailed jigs along sloping shorelines with pea gravel. Both species may be found in submerged brush, around fish attractors or near buck brush in coves. Live minnows or tube jigs and Berkley Crappie Nibbles are great choices.
Other Options: Chickamauga Largemouths: Bass are moving from deeper water so look for action along tapering points and other transition areas. Watauga Walleyes: Plenty of quality-size walleyes are waiting to stretch a line at Watauga Lake.
APRIL – DALE HOLLOW WALLEYES
Smallmouths take center stage at Dale Hollow, so walleyes get overlooked by some anglers. However, local anglers know Dale Hollow holds a great population of walleyes.
The best action comes early and late or on days that are overcast or rainy. Walleyes avoid sunlight, so aside from peak times and conditions, fish are deeper and more reluctant to bite.
Nightcrawlers on bottom bouncing rigs are great options along drop-offs and long tapering points. Casting crankbaits and minnow-imitating baits is also good at times. Night fishing is also very popular this month.
Other Options: Percy Priest Crappie: Try minnows on a tight line or beneath a float to load the boat with papermouths. Kentucky Lake White Bass: Cast crankbaits or small rattle baits in shallow water for white and yellow bass.
MAY – PERCY PRIEST BASS
It is topwater time on Percy Priest and the surface action is usually good all month. At the first of the month, a Rebel Pop-R is hard to beat. Throw it next to the bank and let it settle. Then give it three pops and let it rest for 10 seconds.
Toward the end of the month, it is time to switch to a Zara Spook or a Zara Spook Jr. Alternate between the two until finding what the bass prefer on a given day. Best color is bone with a little orange under the chin. Simply throw the bait out and let it settle. Then walk the dog all the way back to the boat. When fishing topwater this month on Priest, there is a high probability of also catching stripers and hybrids.
Other Options: Lake Barkley Shellcrackers: Jumbo redears are biting on natural baits fished on or near the bottom in spawning locations. Norris Lake Striped Bass: Troll with live bait for huge stripers this month.
JUNE – REELFOOT BLUEGILLS
Late spring and early summer is prime time for panfish and Reelfoot Lake offers some of the best in the state. Plenty of eating-size bluegills are in Reelfoot and the action is fast and furious around cypress trees and cover.
There are numerous ways to catch bluegills, including casting, bobbers or fly-fishing, and all are possible at Reelfoot. However, one of the most used methods involves using a long rod and live bait. Simply place a cricket, red worm or meal worm right into the cover. Baits may be fished below a float or simply with a tight line.
Other Options: Stocked Stream Trout: For great trout action, head to one of the many streams stocked by the TWRA. Family Fishing Lakes Mixed Creel: There is a wide variety of fishing opportunities at the TWRA Family Fishing Lakes.
JULY – PICKWICK LARGEMOUTH BASS
Several years ago, the largemouth fishery at Pickwick Lake was decent, but overshadowed by smallmouth action. Now the tables have turned and anglers are enjoying some great largemouth fishing. Plenty of quality fish are available and catches of 5-pound bigmouths have become the norm.
This time of year means fishing deeper water and Pickwick has some awesome ledge fishing. Look for ledges with an irregularity, such as a turn in or out, a creek running in or a hump. Use big baits, such as 10- to 11-inch worms, big crankbaits or a Big Hammer swimbait. Hit main lake ledges first, then try secondary ledges or creek ledges.
Other Options: Caney Fork Trout: Beat the heat with some exciting trout fishing in the cool water of Caney Fork. Old Hickory Channel Catfish: There is a great population of channel cats at Old Hickory.
AUGUST – MISSISSIPPI RIVER CATFISH
The Mississippi River is loaded with catfish, but the big river is often difficult to fish. However, late summer is when the weather becomes more stable and the river gets a lot easier.
For blue catfish, use cutbait and troll slowly, keeping baits in contact with the bottom with a lift and drop technique. It takes some practice to master, but it is deadly on big blues. Anchoring in shallow water and using lighter tackle is great for putting numbers of smaller channel and blue catfish in the boat. Huge flatheads are also present, but they are harder to locate and best targeted with shad or other live fish.
Other Options: Reservoir Night Bass: The night bite for bass is heating up at reservoirs across the state. Stream Mixed Creel: Most streams are very stable this time of year and offer great wading or floating for a variety of fish.
SEPTEMBER – KENTUCKY LAKE CRAPPIE
The first part of September is usually quite warm, but good catches of crappie are possible targeting deep brush piles and fish attractors. Later in the month, cooler nights begin dropping water temperatures and crappie start moving shallow. Plus, after Labor Day recreational traffic and angler pressure on the lake drops off.
The fall crappie bite gets overlooked to some degree and admittedly it probably is not as good as in spring. However, fall fishing is very productive.
A minnow on a tight line over brush or other cover is a great choice, but a tube jig with a Berkley Crappie Nibble is also good.
Other Options: Watts Barr Blue Catfish: Blue catfish are putting on the feed bag in preparation for winter. Percy Priest White Bass: Head over to Priest at night for white bass fishing.
OCTOBER – STATEWIDE BASS
Cooling water means shad are moving into bays and other shallow areas, and bass follow their favorite food source. Largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass are all in play and the action gets better over the coming weeks. Kentucky reservoirs and lakes offer superb bass fishing throughout the month.
Bass are feeding heavily on shad and other forage fish, so baits resembling these produce best. Crankbaits in shad colors are great options, as are stick baits and other minnow-imitating baits.
Topwater fishing is also in play using a Pop-R or Zara Spook Jr. at first light. On days with cloud cover, the surface bite may last all day.
Other Options: Great Falls Lake Muskies: Look for muskies feeding in shallow water at Great Falls Lake. Holston River Smallmouths: Winter is almost here, but there is still time for some great stream smallie action.
NOVEMBER – MELTON HILL MUSKIES
The TWRA has stocked muskies at Melton Hill for many years and there are some jumbo-size fish available. Muskies grow well at Melton Hill, bolstered by an excellent forage base, even though the lake is somewhat infertile.
Falling water temperature pushes forage fish into shallow water and the big toothy predators move shallow to take advantage of the smorgasbord. Muskies may be tough to catch, but this time of year they are feeding heavier and the catch rate improves exponentially over summer.
Big spinnerbaits are favorite baits, but large crankbaits and inline spinners are also excellent options. Large swimbaits and other specialized muskie lures also produce well at times.
Other Options: Reelfoot Lake Largemouths: The earthquake lake is not only good for catfish and panfish; there are plenty of largemouth bass waiting to stretch a line. Normandy Lake Walleyes: Walleyes are in good numbers and of quality size at Normandy Lake.
DECEMBER – DALE HOLLOW SMALLMOUTHS
This lake is known as one of the top smallmouth destinations in the country. However, the clear water makes it difficult to fish much of the year. Winter brings a different set of challenges, but smallmouth fishing is often very productive.
Smallmouths suspend in the cold months and the float-n-fly technique is very popular and productive. Specialized rods, floats and hair jigs help anglers keep baits in the strike zone long enough to trigger strikes. Another great option is working a Smithwick Suspending Rogue along main and secondary lake points.
Other Options: Center Hill Crappie: December weather is usually stable and good catches of crappie are possible on deep brush piles. Reservoir Trout: Look to some of the reservoirs stocked with rainbow trout for good winter action.