All I could do was hope the cat would change its attitude before I ran out of line. I was equipped with seriously stout gear, and my drag was set pretty tight. Still, the blue cat I had just hooked was surging downstream in the strong current, and I wasn’t certain it was ever going to stop. That fish did finally turn its big head, and a buddy eventually slipped his net beneath about 40 pounds of Tennessee River blue — only a “decent catfish” in quite a few East Tennessee waterways.
Tennessee truly offers world-class catfishing, including tremendous opportunities to catch channel, blue and flathead catfish, and prime waters range from relatively small rivers to vast reservoirs. Picking top spots is a tough proposition, in part because different anglers have different ideas about what make a spot catfishing great.
Challenges acknowledged, we’ve chosen half dozen spots in the eastern half of the state that offer outstanding prospects for summer catfish. Whether you seek fish to take home, fast action from quality cats, or a legitimate shot at catching and releasing a trophy catfish, one or more of these spots should fit the bill. Because all the options are good and because they stand out in different ways, ranking them would be pointless. Therefore, picks are listed alphabetically.
Whether due to its fairly small size of 4,520 acres or the fame of its bass and striper fisheries, Boone Lake does not get a lot of acclaim as a catfishing destination. Plenty of area anglers know about the lake’s cats, and they aren’t completely ignored. However, they don’t get nearly as much attention as the big cats in other East Tennessee waterways.
Highly fertile and full of forage fish, Boone has the potential to grow support big numbers of game fish. With that in mind, the TWRA has stocked more than 50,000 blue catfish in the lake since 1992. In addition to the blues, which have potential to reach giant sizes, Boone supports a great population of channel catfish and some heavyweight flatheads.
Boone impounds the South Holston and Watauga rivers, and most of its acreage is contained within two narrow, twisting arms. The catfish make good use of both river arms, with the best summer concentrations normally being in deeper holes, either at creek confluences or along hard outside bends in the channel.
A good fish-finding strategy for any angler who is unfamiliar with the lake is to focus on bluffs, which are normally adjacent to deep channel bends, and to spend some time graphing a few bluff holes before dropping the first line. Along with revealing which holes contain the most fish any given day, graph study reveals whether most fish are concentrated toward the heads of the holes, in the deepest water, along the side slopes or elsewhere.
Chicken livers, minnows or night crawlers offer the best bets for fast action catfishing at Boone. Chunks of cut shad or herring draw fewer strikes, but increase the odds of a heavyweight blue or two adding to the fun.
Anglers should be aware of a precautionary advisory against the consumption of catfish from Boone Lake because of PCB contamination. Children, pregnant women and nursing mothers should not consume any Boone Lake catfish, and other persons should limit consumption to one meal per month.
The Tennessee Aquarium puts jumbo cats in full view of every visitor, but those fish are only a microcosm of the cats that are found close by in the Tennessee River. The river flows through the center of town, with Chickamauga Dam located just upstream of the city. Great fishing exists both above and below the dam.
Chattanooga guide Richard Simms fishes for everything that swims, but he’s best known for connecting anglers with fine catfishing action. Simms likes the diversity offered by Chattanooga cats. Most summer days, he can take clients to the tailwater and show them fast and sometimes furious action for channel catfish and smaller blues by drifting over shallow water. The rig consists of with chicken livers, fairly light tackle for catfish and no weight added to the line. A little farther down in the tailwater, the action isn’t quite as fast, but chances for larger fish increase.