Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
Have you been wondering where to go for that one last fishing trip this fall? Even though many anglers have traded in their fishing poles for hunting gear by now, fall fishing can be some of the best of the year. Water temperatures have cooled to comfortable levels and game fish are packing on a little weight to get ready for the colder months ahead. For game fish across the state, the bite is on.
The fall of the year can produce plenty of fine fishing if you know where to look for it, said Bobby Wilson, the Assistant Chief of Fisheries for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. Here are a few spots that he and other biologists are recommending.
GIBSON COUNTY LARGEMOUTH BASS
“We’ve been experimenting with the Florida-strain largemouth bass in a few lakes over the past few years with good results,” Wilson said. “Gibson Lake is an excellent fishery and is one of our best big-bass waters. It produces outstanding largemouth bass.”
If you’re going to toss a few baits for largemouth bass this fall it may as well be for bass that are worth catching.
According to Wilson, Gibson County Lake has been churning out bass in the 8- to 13-pound range. In 2006, two phenomenal bucketmouths were taken, one being 13.4 and the other 13.25 pounds.
“There could very well be some bigger ones in there,” Wilson said.
It’s not only their nearly unbelievable sizes that get anglers’ attention, but the fact that these fish aren’t even 6 years old.
Gibson has been one of the experimental lakes in which half the bass stocked are the northern-strain largemouths commonly found in Tennessee and the other half are the Florida strain. So far, the trophy-class fish have all been Florida-strain bass.
In the late fall, the water temperatures start nosing down to more comfortable levels and these bass start hitting the shallow cover pretty hard. Low-light conditions are ideal for shallow crankbaits, spinnerbaits and plastic worms.
Buoys mark the no-wake section of the lake. Trees, brush and stakebeds were left in the lake during its construction.
The boat ramp is located at the end of County Lake Road off Vaughns Grove Road on the northwestern side of the lake.
Gibson County Lake covers 560 acres and is located five miles northeast of Trenton in Gibson County. There is shoreline access for bank-fishermen and boat rentals are available. A day-use pass is required. The lake has had an 18-inch minimum length restriction in place.
Information on area lodging and tourism is available from the Gibson County Chamber of Commerce at (731) 855-0973 or online at www.gibsoncountytn.com.
Contact the TWRA’s Region I at (800) 372-3928 for more information.
FORT LOUDON CATFISH
If you’re looking for catfish this fall, Fort Loudon Lake is the place to go. There are some monsters in the depths and anglers have a good chance of hooking a 30- to 40-pound flathead or blue catfish.
“There are a couple of reasons the lake is such a good catfish lake,” Wilson said. “The first is that we stock it every year. The second is that there’s a fish consumption advisory on the lake, so people don’t go there to catch fish to eat — they release them.”
Fort Loudon is a popular trophy fishery with blues leading the way. Cats in the 30-pound range will barely turn a head on Fort Loudon. The bigger fish will lie in water as deep as 100 feet, but if you can find a flat or a point with a steep dropoff into water at least 40 to 50 feet deep, try coming back in the evening with skipjack or shad on a No. 8 hook. The trophies come up to feed on the shallow flats after dark. During the daytime, drop your bait into the depths with a 2- to 3-ounce egg sinker to keep it in place.
Live shad or bullheads on a three-way rig with an egg sinker will take both the blues and flatheads.
Fisheries biologist Doug Peterson remembers well when he watched a 130-pound blue weighed in. Flatheads can top the 40-pound mark and blues get a whole lot bigger.
“The record still stands,” Peterson said.
The channel cats get big, too. Channels can run up to 30 pounds, according to Peterson. Look for the cats right up along shoreline riprap, weeds, laydowns and logs. Any rocks, depressions or other submerged structure can hold channel catfish in the late evening and after dark. They’ll often move up out of deep water past points and into bays to feed on the flats. Earthworms, cut bait, traditional stink baits and doughballs all work well.
Fort Loudon is located right in Knoxville and is perfect for an autumn day on the water. Handicapped-accessible fishing piers are available around the lake and open to the public. Brushpiles have been dropped near the piers to serve as fish attractors for panfish and bass if the catfishing is slow.
The lake covers 14,600 acres of water and stretches for 60 miles. It lies in Blount, Loudon and Knox counties.
Call the TWRA’s Region IV at (800) 332-0900 for additional information.
Contact the Loudon County Tourist Bureau at (888) LOUDONC for assistance in finding accommodations.
CENTER HILL WALLEYES
“Center Hill is one of our best walleye lakes,” Wilson said. “The walleyes concentrate in the upper end of the lake in the spring, but in the fall, they can be just about anywhere. Trolling is about the only way to go.”
According to Wilson, the locals tackle walleyes with a night crawler and spinner rig. You’ll just have to look for the fish and not be afraid to experiment with depths. Walleyes will sometimes move up into surprisingly shallow water in the fall to chase minnows, and quite often anglers out plying the deeper water miss them entirely.
Fall is also a time to try some of those oversized bass crankbaits. Most anglers are fixated on jigs and smaller crankbaits and spinners, but when the water cools off, walleyes start to prefer a meal rather than a mouthful. Big crankbaits are ideal for low-light or windy-day options and can be cast
to the outside edges of shallow weedbeds, windswept shorelines or trolled along breaks and dropoffs.
Jim Muzynoski is an angler with a lifetime of walleye experience. He’s been on the professional walleye trail for eight years and placed well.
“The main reason you’ll want to use bigger crankbaits in the fall is that the baitfish, such as perch, shad and minnows, are bigger than they were earlier in the year,” Muzynoski said. “It’s a universal rule of thumb that you want to match the hatch, match the crankbait to the size and coloration of the baitfish the walleyes are eating. The biggest deep-diving Rapala Tail Dancers are good baits in the fall along with the big Reef Runners. Thundersticks are among my personal favorites.”
Muzynoski pointed out that in the cooling waters of fall and early winter, anglers should tie on crankbaits that have a wider wobble. The smaller Rapalas, Thundersticks and Reef Runners all have tighter wobbles and are good baits in the spring and summer, but as colder weather arrives, it’s the larger baits that will be taking the fish.
Center Hill covers 18,000 acres of water and is 64 miles long, so there’s plenty of room to roam.
Travel information is available from the Upper Cumberland Tourism Association at (800) 868-7237, or online at www.uppercumberland.org.
Contact the TWRA’s Region III at (800) 262-6704 for more information.
DOUGLAS RESERVOIR CRAPPIE
“Douglas Reservoir has traditionally been known as a crappie factory,” Wilson said. “There were a couple of years when we had poor spawning success and poor year-classes as a result. We lowered the bag limit to 15 along with the state 10-inch minimum length limit and the population is coming back. The lake is probably the best crappie lake in East Tennessee for crappie right now.”
Many anglers overlook crappie in the fall because they think they’re only a spring bite, Wilson said. As the water temperatures start cooling in the fall, the fish start feeding heavily to store up energy for the winter and to help in egg development. These big slabs are hungry and will be a handful for anglers on light tackle.
Look for fall crappie in shallow cover just about anywhere in Douglas. The fish are chasing minnows and other small forage and accessible to anglers fishing just a few feet deep.
Finding crappie in the fall is one thing. Tempting these careful, sometimes paranoid fish into biting is another. It’s hard to beat live natural bait like a minnow, but hair jigs are sometimes met with success, as well.
Traditional leadhead jigs tipped with minnows or tiny soft plastics also take plenty of papermouths. Tiny spinners work wonders around shallow brush, stumps, docks and other shoreline cover. Feathered jigs in white, yellow or chartreuse fished a foot off the bottom in shallow water can be consistent producers, with or without a bobber. Peterson recommends targeting slabs in 2- to 5-foot depths on 1/16- to 1/32-ounce jig sizes. White, chartreuse or green grub trailers are the ticket.
When the sun is high, think shadows. Although they’re not as shy as bass, crappie will hold just out of the sun under docks, boats, overhanging trees and shoreline weeds. At times, they’ll be found tight up along the shoreline.
To cover more depths, tie on a second jig a foot or two above the first one. Crappie tend to move up to strike the bait and fish may take the higher jig while ignoring the lower one.
Douglas Reservoir covers a 43-mile stretch upstream from the dam on the French Broad River in East Tennessee.
For additional information, contact the TWRA’s Region IV at (800) 332-0900.
Contact the Cocke County Tourism Office at (423) 625-9675 for information on lodging.
NORRIS LAKE STRIPERS
Norris is a lake that appeared to be in decline for a while, but the stripers are back in force, Wilson said. Fall fishing can be good, but it’s more of a challenge to find them in the fall.
“During the summer, the stripers in Norris Lake were somewhat concentrated around the cooler, well-oxygenated water near the dam,” Wilson said. “There’s a device that adds oxygen to the water in that area and the stripers really need that cooler, oxygenated water.”
Once the temperatures drop off in the lake, the stripers are free to roam and that’s what they’ll do. About mid-October, they move back out into the open water and can be downright tough to find.
Stripers are aggressive feeders from start to finish, and though spring is the time normally associated with slamming them, fall can be a great time on the water with these burly fighters as well.
The key to locating stripers is in finding the dense schools of shad. Look around inflowing creeks, off points and throughout the open water. Shad will sometimes loosely relate to structure, such as bottom contours, points and inflowing creeks, but they’re not particularly structure oriented.
When shad break the water’s surface, it means that game fish — often stripers — have herded them upward and trapped them. Shad will jump across the water in a frantic attempt to escape only to fall prey to birds that are willing to take full advantage of their hopeless position. This happens quite often in the summer but can be a dead giveaway of active stripers even in the fall. Motor up to within casting range and start tossing shallow crankbaits into the fray. At times, the feeding frenzy can result in a fish on nearly every cast.
Stripers in Norris don’t attain the trophy-class sizes that their Cordell Hull cousins do and there aren’t many fish that are going to challenge the 65-pound state record. You can reasonably expect to catch fish from 20 to 30 pounds, though.
Numbers are good. A fishery survey conducted a couple of years ago showed that among the anglers surveyed, a total of 10,879 stripers were caught that year with only 1,731 being kept. The kept fish averaged over 9 pounds each.
Trolling medium-sized crankbaits at varying depths is another way to find these striped bruisers. Criss-crossing the lake and exploring outside of bays and inflowing creeks, over humps and bottom structure can lead to a nice surprise.
Norris Lake extends upstream on the Powell River for 72 miles and on the Clinch River for 56 miles. All total, there are 34,000 fishable acres of prime striper water. Nearly 40 ramps are available around the lake.
For information on the area’s lodging call the Anderson County Tennessee Communty Welcome Center at (800) 524-3602 or visit www.yallcome.org.
Contact East Tennessee’s Region IV at (800) 33
2-0900 for additional information.
PIGEON RIVER SMALLMOUTHS
“The smallmouth fishing from Newport upstream to the state line has developed into a trophy fishery,” said Rick Bevins, the Regional Streams and Rivers biologist.
“The Pigeon River is essentially a catch-and-release fishery because of the special regulation which allows an angler to keep only one fish 21 inches or over. All the other bass go back in.”
According to Bivens, trophy-class fish are definitely in the river and make for a great fall fishing trip. The Pigeon River enters from North Carolina below the Walters Powerhouse and then runs through Tennessee for about 25 river miles to where it meets the French Broad River. The special trophy regulations are in effect on all of it and anglers can expect to find some quality fish. Though, of course, most of the bass are under the 21-inch mark, they’re generally hefty-sized and full of spunk.
Spinners and crankbaits work, Bevins said, but for the largest smallmouths, a 4- or 5-inch live minnow beats everything else an angler can toss. Crankbaits imitating minnows in this size range come in as a close second.
There isn’t much developed access on the Pigeon River. Most of it is just a trail from a country road leading down to the river. In the Cherokee National Forest, there are take-outs where rafters pull their rafts and unofficial put-in spots at bridges. A canoe or small johnboat can be carried down to the water’s edge and will make for a great float trip.
The Hartford Road exit on Interstate 40 leads to Hartford Road that follows along the river for several miles. This section has several spots where anglers can wade in or launch a small boat.
Gravel, rock and boulder substrate makes up the river bottom, much of which can be waded. Pools are scattered along the river that can reach from 8 to 10 feet deep.
The power plant releases water as part of the power-producing grid and increases the river flow dramatically. At times, the Pigeon River is classified as a whitewater river.
For additional information, contact TWRA’s Region 4 at (423) 587-7037.
To locate tourism information, call the Gatlinburg Department of Tourism at (800) 343-1475, or visit online at www.gatlinburg-tn.com.