Packing up and heading out for vacation or even just getting away for the weekend brings a much needed break from the daily grind. Trips to places far away are great sometimes, but even trips close to home bring many rewards, plus are usually less costly. They are even more fun when the main ingredient is fishing. Fortunately, the Volunteer State is chocked full of great destinations for family fishing getaways.
Dad may dream of far off waters with jumbo peacock bass or perhaps a trophy sailfish for the den wall, but trips like that are not always family friendly. However, right here in Tennessee there are great fishing opportunities for the whole family and plenty of side trips to make any vacation memorable.
EDGAR EVANS STATE PARK
Center Hill Lake is aptly named as it is pretty much in the middle of the state and easily accessible from most anywhere in Tennessee. This 18,000-acre lake, east of Nashville and south of I-40, also offers some great fishing. Adults may want to tangle with some of the quality largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. Plentiful catfish and jumbo bluegills are fun for the whole family.
Staying at the Edgar Evans State Park (SP) provides great access to the lake with three boat ramps, boat rentals and a full service marina. Lodging is available in a variety of cabins that were completely remodeled not long ago. A campground is also available with 60 sites accommodating tents or RVs. Plenty of activities are available at the park including hiking, birding, swimming and more.
Bluegills are plentiful at Center Hill and some measure out at hand size. Anglers catch a lot of bluegills simply by fishing from the bank with live bait suspended below a bobber. Red worms and crickets are the most popular bluegill baits at Center Hill.
However, if sampling larger panfish specimens is the goal, it is usually necessary to fish from a boat in order to reach some of the deeper haunts where the bigger fish roam. Bull bluegills are often deeper at Center Hill than most anglers realize. Obviously they are up shallower during spawning time, but later they may be as deep as 25 to 30 feet.
To get to these jumbo ’gills it is necessary to use a heavy enough weight to drop the bait quickly or the hook will be picked clean by smaller fish before it ever reaches an adequate depth. Again, red worms and crickets are the best bets, but some of the locals prefer the latter. To enhance the offering, try adding the cricket or worm to a small artificial bait, often referred to as a bluegill bug.
Center Hill also has a great channel catfish population and these fish may be caught day or night from boat or shore. Most anglers opt for a slip rig and fish on the bottom. Some of the best baits include nightcrawlers, chicken liver, commercial stink baits or dip baits.
Late evening and night generally provide better catfish action. Another popular method at Center Hill Lake is jug fishing at night. Jugs may be purchased, but making them at home prior to the trip can be a fun project for the family to do together.
Along The Way
There is plenty enough to do at the lake and Edgar Evans Park to spend an entire week without ever leaving. However, the state park is not far from Nashville, so there are plenty of other activities available, such as shopping and dining, taking in a sporting or music event, visiting the zoo or a museum.
Another option is a day trip southeast of the lake to Fall Creek Falls State park, the largest and most visited state park in Tennessee. It is 26,000 acres of scenic wonder including several waterfalls, not the least of which is the namesake Fall Creek Falls, which drops 256 feet, one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States. Not far away, near McMinnville, is Cumberland Caverns, one of the best cave experiences anywhere. Spelunkers in the family will love it.
Family fishing may not be the first thing that comes to mind when this city on the border of Tennessee and Georgia is mentioned, but don’t be fooled. There is plenty of available fishing action to be had in Chattanooga. Whether it is a trip for fast action on panfish, great catfishing, or even hefty bass or massive stripers; it is all nearby.
The Tennessee River flows right through Chattanooga and so do plenty of hungry catfish. Richard Simms of Scenic City Fishing (www.sceniccityfishing.com) primarily targets jumbo blues inhabiting the river, but he says the river has plenty of smaller blues and channel cats to provide excellent family fun. Simms says he has caught numerous huge catfish right in the shadow of downtown.
While there are places to fish the river from the bank, a boat provides access to some of the better locations. Channel edges, holes or depressions on the bottom, rip rap areas, brushy shorelines and log jams all make good spots to try. Smelly baits work best for channel catfish, while both channel and blue cats may be taken on cut bait. Of course, safety on the river should always be observed, especially with the family along.
Chickamauga Lake is an impoundment of the Tennessee River and there are plenty of big bluegills and redears ready and waiting in the coves and standing water areas of the lake. The season for catching these panfish peaks in May with catches of over 100 fish per day common. However, panfishing remains good all summer long on Chickamauga Lake.
Bluegills are caught easily by baiting a small hook with a cricket or red worm and dropping it down suspended beneath a bobber. Bluegills often school by size, so if caught fish are too small, move out farther and drop the baits deeper. Redears are a little harder to target as they feed mostly on the bottom. A slip bobber is perfect for getting baits where they need to be for the shellcrackers and bigger ‘gills, but are a little harder to use by youngsters.
Along The Way
Chattanooga has more fun stuff to do than can be crammed into one week of vacation. One of the best of the best day trips is to the Tennessee Aquarium. Visitors may follow the path of a single drop of rain as it falls in mountain forest, trickles down into creeks leading to the river, and then as the river flows down and joins the ocean. Walking along this miraculous journey, visitors see the fish and aquatic life inhabiting the waters along the way plus birds, reptiles and animals.
There are lots of critters to see, plus there is a saltwater exhibit with lots of reef fish, sharks and more. Special exhibits and educational programs are also fun. Other fun stuff to do is a trip to the nearby IMAX theater or the Chattanooga Zoo.
A trip over to western Tennessee to the big twin lakes is hard to beat anywhere in the country for the diversity of fishing available. Anglers have lodging options in Dover or Paris Landing SP and there is unlimited camping at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area (LBL). Kentucky and Barkley lakes provide good fishing for numerous species of fish including largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappies, stripers, saugers and more. Huge bull bluegills, massive redears, catfish, yellow bass and white bass all provide excellent family fishing targets.
Anglers cannot go wrong targeting panfish here. Some of the largest bluegills in the state are found at these two lakes and shellcrackers often go over a pound. There is ample bank access in LBL and numerous boat ramps are available in LBL and the outside shorelines of both lakes. Bluegills are found fairly shallow all summer long, but bigger fish are found deeper than the bait robbers near shore. Target redears on or near the bottom along the tapering banks with pea gravel or holding tight to buckbrush or deeper fish attractors.
Channel catfish are abundant and present in all size ranges and are caught readily from bank or boat. Jumbo blue and flathead catfish are also present, but typically require different baits and tactics to catch. Use cut shad for blues and live minnows, shad or bluegills for flatheads.
Yellow bass are very abundant in Kentucky Lake and fairly easy to catch. They are also surprisingly tasty on the table. At Lake Barkley, white bass offer plenty of action by casting crankbaits, small white twister tails or Blakemore Road Runners.
Along The Way
LBL has a lot to offer vacationing families that is both fun and educational. The Woodlands Nature Station has live animals, snakes and more; up close and personal. See the universe at the planetarium and observatory. There is also an elk and bison prairie and the Homeplace; an 1850s-era farm complete with workers in period clothing working the fields, caring for animals, making leather goods, weaving, sewing and more. Other options include hiking, biking or horseback riding. There is even a designated area for riding ATVs and off-road vehicles.
Another great day trip is to Fort Donelson at the southern fringe of LBL. Tour the park by car and on foot to learn about this pivotal site in Civil War history. Clarksville is also not far away if a day trip to the city is in the plans.
Across the state, east of Knoxville, is Douglas Lake with 555 miles of shoreline and some 30,600 surface acres. This big reservoir offers plenty of opportunity for a variety of species including channel catfish, white bass and bluegills, all of which are great options for family fishing. There are some 16 boat ramps and 12 marinas located on the lake, so access and supplies are not a problem.
There are plenty of channel catfish available in a wide range of sizes. Also present are blue and flathead catfish, which can be targeted in a variety of ways.
Bluegills are not something for which Douglas Lake is well known, but there are plenty of panfish available and they provide countless hours of fun fishing from shore or by boat. Most of the bluegills caught are going to be 7 inches or less, but bigger ’gills turn up in creels on occasion. Youngsters may enjoy simply casting baits from shore and enjoying the fast non-stop action.
However, if bigger bluegills are the goal, use a boat to get out over some of the deeper brush piles and fish structure placed in the lake.
Another excellent fish for the family to target is white bass. These fish are numerous and although they do not reach huge size, their fight certainly makes up for that fact. They are caught in the summer months by casting white twister-tail grubs or small crankbaits. Find them schooling throughout the lake by watching for boils of herded baitfish or by watching gulls circling and diving at the surface.
Along The Way
There is so much to do in this area; there is not room to include it all. The Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville area is one of the most popular vacation spots in the eastern U.S. Numerous shows and attractions are found there as well as unlimited shopping. The family might enjoy one of the river tubing or whitewater-rafting trips offered and the Smoky Mountains National Park should be on the must-see list.