Before you read any more, grab your calendar. Too many would-be fishing trips turn into good intentions lost to other plans. Pick the trips you really want to take this year and make your plans now. Don’t write in pencil, either. Use a permanent marker!
Here we go with a month-by-month look at outstanding fishing options in all parts of the Volunteer State.
Striped Bass – Cumberland River
When water temperatures are extra low, baitfish and game fish pile up in warm areas. Along the Cumberland River, that means the river section affected by the Cumberland Steam Plant. Jumbo striped bass feast on gizzard shad and skipjack herring during the winter, providing outstanding opportunities for anglers to catch a really big fish.
Fishermen who favor artificial lures do well by waking Red Fins on the surface with a slow steady retrieve or swimming big bucktails or swimbaits just beneath the surface. Arguably the most dependable way to hook up with a heavyweight striper is to fish a big live skipjack on a free-line or under a balloon.
January is also the time to break out your float-and-fly rods and head for South Holston Lake in search of a heavyweight smallmouth bass.
If you want to catch walleyes, visit Cherokee Lake and focus on the upper end of the impoundment.
Smallmouth Bass – Pickwick Lake
February bass fishing on Pickwick typically does not yield fast action; however, this is an excellent time to catch really big smallmouth bass. Pickwick is best known for its jumbo smallmouths, but there are also some very big largemouths in this section of the Tennessee River. Both use some of the same structural features during February.
Most of the best fishing will be along the main river channel this month, with the fish commonly holding behind current-breaking points and humps or over the deep ends of gradually sloping flats on the lee side of the river.
Suspending jerkbaits fished with painfully long pauses or chartreuse grubs also account for a lot of big bass during February.
For more information, visit www.fishpickwick.com.
Moving well to the east, an outstanding trout fishery has developed in the tailwater of Cherokee Lake over the past decade or so. February is a good time to catch a big rainbow trout from the cold water.
If you want to catch a mess of big crappie, steer your truck toward Old Hickory Lake and work protected waters off the main channel or in the far lower ends of creek arms.
Crappie – Reelfoot Lake
Tennessee’s earthquake lake may be the most consistent crappie producer in the state. Year after year, Reelfoot serves up an outstanding combination of quantity and quality, and the entire month of March tends to be good. The fish pile up on big stumpy flats, straying shallower and deeper with every change in weather, but staying in the same general areas.
The best way to hone in on the fish is spider-rig trolling very slowly with several rods spread out off the front of the boat and the lines going straight down. Plain jigs will work, but most locals use live minnows, whether on bare hooks or to tip jigs. For more information, visit www.bluebankresort.com.
March is also an outstanding time to target walleyes in the headwaters of Center Hill Lake. Vertical presentations of minnow-tipped jigs work well in the Blue Hole area.
If you’d rather catch bass, you can catch chunky largemouths at Fort Loudoun Lake.
Largemouth Bass – Old Hickory Lake
April is a prime time for serious bass fishing in all parts of Tennessee, and Old Hickory yields some of the state’s best largemouth action year after year. A main-stem impoundment of the Cumberland River with fairly extensive backwaters, Old Hickory offers an outstanding variety of habitat types for bass.
The most predictable April fishing will be in the creeks and in major coves. Fish brush, docks and other visible cover with spinnerbaits, plastic worms and shallow-running crankbaits.
When current is pushing through the lake, bass feed actively over humps and points and other structure and will become susceptible to a well-placed crankbait.
April also pushes crappie extra shallow in the creeks that feed Watts Bar Lake, and in coves off the main body. Rig a jig or a minnow a couple feet under a float and focus on visible cover.
Meanwhile, the Little Pigeon River produces some extra large smallmouths during the spring.
Shellcrackers – Kentucky Lake
Shellcrackers (officially redear sunfish) grow to big sizes on Kentucky Lake, and during May the ‘crackers serve up fast action to those anglers who are able to locate their beds. The shellcrackers spawn on shallow flats over sand or small gravel, ideally in the vicinity of some vegetation.
The most efficient way to find shellcracker beds it to hang a cricket or red worm under a float. Set the float to suspend the bait just off the bottom and then to work areas fairly quickly. Cast to a potentially productive spot, let the rig rest a moment, reel it a few cranks and let it rest again. When you do catch a fish make another cast to the exact same spot. You might be about to catch a bunch of fish.
It’s worth noting that bluegills, which also grow big on Kentucky Lake, use similar areas and are subject to the same strategies.
For information, visit www.buchananresort.com
May days are perfect for family fishing trips, and the 20 or so small lakes that the TWRA manages specifically for fishing in the central and western parts of the state offer easy access to excellent channel catfishing.
If you’re look
ing for exciting largemouth bass fishing, tie on a topwater lure and visit Chickamuaga Lake.