Photo by Bill Banaszewski.
People travel many miles each summer to get to amusement parks, resorts and the sun. But for many, a vacation means getting outdoors, and getting outdoors in the summer means fishing. From mountain trout streams to flowing smallmouth rivers and family-friendly lakes scattered in much of the state, opportunities exist for outgoing families, including those with kids of all ages.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) and others have put an emphasis on family fishing waters, and there’s at least one near you. Let’s take a look at some of these across the state.
TENNESSEE’S CROWN JEWEL OF FAMILY FISHING
It’s no secret that most of the state’s fishing can be found in Middle and especially East Tennessee when it comes to lake and stream options. West Tennessee anglers need not worry because the TWRA has put a major emphasis on creating family fishing opportunities in the western reaches as well as the middle portion of the state.
The agency said its Family Fishing Lakes were built for solitude and relaxation and the chance to catch bass, sunfish, crappie and catfish, as well as spend quality family time together.
There are 18 lakes managed by the TWRA that are open year ’round for fishing and outdoor recreation. Designed and regulated especially for family fishing, these lakes prohibit alcoholic beverages, houseboats, inboard motors, water skiing, personal watercraft and swimming. Most lakes have wheelchair-accessible fishing piers, easy access to bank-fishing, boat rentals, launching ramps and picnic areas. Some lakes offer conveniences such as bait, tackle, snacks and drinks.
These lakes are managed to provide fishing opportunities while producing the best quality fishing possible at a minimal cost. Ten of the lakes are located in West Tennessee and range from 87 acres to 560 acres in size. The newest and largest lake, Gibson County Lake, was impounded in September 1999 and opened to the public April 1, 2003. This lake also has a recreational zone that allows water skiing, personal watercraft, and swimming. The remaining eight lakes are located in Middle Tennessee and range from 12 acres to 325 acres in size.
One of the four lakes at Williamsport (known locally as Whippoorwill) is for youth-adult fishing only, and an embayment of Laurel Hill Lake is designated for youth-only fishing. In addition to these, there are a couple of ponds totaling approximately 15 acres designated as youth fishing ponds. These ponds are located on the Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness WMA in White County.
If your family wants to get away from it all, then consider one of these 18 Family Fishing Lakes. There are also state parks scattered around the region and many of them are close to these lakes. Whether you’re into camping or like the comforts of a park resort or hotel, lodging isn’t an issue and you won’t be far from some really good fishing.
Information & Regulations
• A $5 daily or $40 annual permit is required to fish most of these lakes. These permits may be purchased at most of the individual lake offices.
• Boats may be rented for $8 per day at most lakes. This permit may be purchased at the individual lake office.
• Fishing is permitted seven days per week from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset (except at Garrett Lake, which is open 24 hours a day).
• Commercial gear, trotlines and limblines are prohibited.
• Anglers under the age of 13, holders of a Lifetime Sportsman license, and those with an Annual Sportsman license do not need a lake permit.
• Anglers born before March 1, 1926, do not need a license or lake permit.
• Anglers who are age 65 and older need only a Permanent Senior Citizen license (type 166) and do not need a lake permit.
• Anglers age 16 through 64 must have a Tennessee fishing license and an annual or daily lake permit.
• Anglers ages 13-15 need only a Jr. Hunt/Fish/Trap license.
• Other rules for fishing that apply to many of the TWRA’s family lakes include the following: Boats may not exceed the no-wake speed, motors (except trolling motors) are prohibited on some lakes, and personal boats may not be left overnight. Motorized vehicles are permitted only on designated roads.
Creel and size limits vary, but you can find almost any warmwater species at these destinations. From channel and blue cats, bluegills, Florida-strain largemouth bass, redear sunfish, and both black and white crappie, the opportunities are almost limitless.
In addition, restrooms, concessions, grills and picnic areas, playgrounds, vending machines, bait and tackle, and primitive camping areas abound at many of the family lakes. Again, more than a few of them have “youth-only” fishing areas where only youths 16 and under may fish.
For residents within our borders and for visitors coming in from other states, the best informational site is the TWRA’s official Web site at www.tnwildlife.org. You can find the answers to any fishing regulation questions that you have, but more important, it also has links that beginning or vacationing anglers can use.
On the TWRA Web site, there are also sections that include a guide to bank-fishing, a complete list of the mentioned TWRA Family Fishing Lakes and all the Tennessee state park fishing lakes. The TWRA’s site also has links to other organizations that can help you get started.
From the agency’s Web site, you can also access the “Take Me Fishing” link at www.takemefishing.org. This site lists all the free fishing days for states across the country, and also has a search engine to help you locate fishing spots in urban areas. Tennessee’s Free Fishing Day is normally the first or second Saturday in June each year. On that day, all license requirements are waived for that special event.
IN THE TOURIST MODE?
The tourist meccas of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville have more to offer than outlet shopping and mountain air. This area of East Tennessee also features great trout fishing, not to mention the smallmouth stream action.
From Pigeon Forge down through Sevierville is where you’ll find the Little Pigeon River. This little stream is often as good as the major smallmouth fishing found at more noted rivers like the nearby Pigeon and Nolichucky. It’s not overly deep and therefore is suited for wading even by youngsters who are accompanied by adults.
Roostertails, spinnerbaits, grubs and small crankbaits will serve you well and are also easy baits for k
ids to fish. You’ll also get a good laugh looking at the folks sitting in the backed-up summer traffic along Highway 66 on the hottest of summer days as you stand in the cool water catching fish.
On up into Gatlinburg among all the tourist trap shops is where you’ll find one of the best trout stocking programs going. The cooler mountain air is even more satisfying when you’re walking along the stream looking at and casting to rainbow trout. Of all the millions of people that visit Gatlinburg each season, few of them are aware of the excellent trout fishing within the city’s boundaries and as well as outside the city limits.
Gatlinburg is very proud of its very active stocking and breeding program. This program, by the way, does require of anglers who fish in these streams a special licensing permit. Their “Catch-and-Release” program is in effect from Dec. 1 through March 31 every year. Possession of any trout is prohibited. Fishing in Gatlinburg is permitted with single hook only and with no more than one hand-held rod.
In summer months, you can use bait such as corn, bread, minnows, worms, or the PowerBait and similar manufactured trout baits. These are all good options and easy baits for getting kids involved in the action. But the spinner-type baits and small spoons aren’t difficult for youngsters to cast and retrieve either. Plus, the extra flash provided by the blade or spoon often yields more strikes.
Keep in mind that you still must have a city of Gatlinburg permit in addition to regular state licenses. Also, fishing is closed every Thursday year ’round. The best news is that there are three or four stream sections in the Gatlinburg area that are designated as children-only streams. They may be only fished by children age 12 and under.
A Gatlinburg fishing permit is $2.50 per day or $6.50 for a three-day permit. For more information on fishing in the Gatlinburg area, contact the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce toll free at (800) 568-4748.
THE STATE PARK OPTION
Tennessee has 54 state parks that offer a wide array of outstanding recreational opportunities, and yes, most have fishing for the entire family. We don’t have space to hit on them all, but there are two — one in Middle Tennessee and one in East Tennessee — that have some associated fishing worth the drive. You can research all of Tennessee’s state parks on the official state Web site at State.Tn.us/environment/parks/.
Here are some details on a select few, however:
Fall Creek Falls — Middle Tennessee
If you’re going on a family vacation that features fishing, you might as well have options. Fall Creek Falls State Park features 20 two-bedroom cabins that can sleep eight, and 10 three-bedroom villas, which can sleep 10. All cabins are fully furnished, have central heat/air and are fully equipped for housekeeping with linens, cooking and serving utensils, telephone, cable TV with VCRs provided. Each has either a wood-burning fireplace (with firewood provided during the months of October through May) or gas logs.
Here’s where it gets very interesting. The 10 fishermen cabins are two-story cabins located directly on Fall Creek Lake. The 350-acre lake has reportedly yielded state-record bluegills and channel catfish. Also, fishermen cabin guests enjoy outdoor cooking, sunbathing, and fishing from their private porches situated out over the lake. There are also 10 landside cabins located on a hill overlooking the lake, each complete with patio, picnic table and a grill for cooking and dining outdoors. One landside cabin is accessible to persons with disabilities.
No privately owned boats are allowed on the lake, but pedal boats, canoes and aluminum fishing boats may be rented through the park office. Trolling motors are no longer available for rent, so you’ll have to bring your own trolling motor and battery.
For those not used to roughing it so to speak, Fall Creek Falls Inn and Restaurant are both situated on scenic Fall Creek Lake. The inn is popular for its comfortable family vacation accommodations. There are 144 rooms featuring both single and double accommodations, as well as a large suite with kitchenette. Most rooms open onto a private patio or balcony overlooking the lake, and each has a phone and color cable TV. The inn also features an outside swimming pool, game room and fitness room.
Fall Creek Falls does have 12 picnic areas scattered throughout the park with individual picnic tables. Grills are provided and water spigots are located nearby. Backcountry camping is allowed, and there are three backcountry campsites (a permit is required). The backcountry also includes some hiking trails for breaks in between fishing outings. Horseback riding can also be enjoyed on two miles of trails.
The park is located in Bledsoe and Van Buren counties, 11 miles east of Spencer and 18 miles west of Pikeville. It may be entered from Highway 111 or Highway 30.
Davy Crockett Birthplace — East Tennessee
Davy Crockett’s Birthplace has been preserved by the State of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation as a historic site within the state park system. The site consists of 105 partially wooded acres of land along the Nolichucky River in Greene County. The key as far as we’re concerned at this moment is that it’s alongside the Nolichucky River.
The museum at the park contains exhibits that tell of the different aspects of the life of Davy Crockett, but the Nolichucky River will bring you face to face with smallmouths. In addition to the museum, a cabin replica is a short walking distance from the museum and along the banks of the river.
The park has 88 campground sites that have water and electricity hookups with 40 of the sites having sewer hookups. The RV campsites can accommodate any size RV, and small tents may be put up beside them. The campground is located not far from streamside. A swimming pool and a playground are adjacent to the camping area. Campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and the maximum stay is 14 days. A large picnic pavilion is located in the campground and is used exclusively by registered campers.
The Nolichucky River flows from mountain streams in western North Carolina and northeast Tennessee. Fishing is one of the recreational opportunities offered by the Nolichucky River at Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park. Several species, such as smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappie, bluegills, redeyes and catfish, are regularly taken using a variety of artificial lures and natural bait.
This area on the Nolichucky River is not altogether suited for wading, especially by kids, but there is a public boat-launching ramp. Small boats may be carried or pulled by trailer through the park to access the river. Good fishing is found along the banks for bluegills and crappie around brush, while smallies can be found in and around the shoals in this stretch of river.
The picnic area at Davy Crockett Birthplace is also located on the banks of the Nolichucky River. Visitors can picnic and enjoy fishin
g for the abundant species found in the Nolichucky.
The park is located just a few miles off Highway 11-E in eastern Greene County between Greeneville and Limestone.
Before you load the rods and grill into the family vacation vehicle, know your limits — not just physically, but legally as well. Every piece of water across the Volunteer State, whether an impounded lake or moving stream, features different regulations for each species from size lengths to creel limits. The best resource for Tennessee fishing regulations is the TWRA’s 2006 Tennessee Fishing Regulations or the fishing link on their Web site at TnWildlife.org.
Most importantly, know your kids’ limits as well as your own. Kids aren’t like adults, and their attention spans can be limited. The last thing you want to do is burn them out on their first day on the water. Basically, know when to say “Uncle.” You have the whole week off and you have plenty of time, so hit the playground or hike a trail in between fishing trips.
For a successful family fishing trip with younger children, simply listen to them — they get hungry and they get thirsty quicker than you do. Frogs, bugs, minnows and rocks that go splash may be more interesting to them at times than waiting for a bite is. If your kids are having fun while “fishing,” then they are having fun, period. They’ll want to come back for more, and as they get older, they’ll fish harder.
Carry a cooler with snacks and plenty of drinks to fill in the voids in the fishing action. Fish don’t bite all day and sometimes not at all, but you’ll be prepared and ready to catch them when they do. Remember, it’s not fun for anyone when they’re not having a good time — know when it’s time to take a break. l
Find more about Tennessee fishing and hunting at: TennesseeSportsmanMag.com