February 22, 2012
You can't be in more than one place at any given time. Applied to Tennessee fishing, that's a tough truth because at any given moment, several good bites are apt to be happening.
Add the reality that most folks have real life concerns limiting the number of days they can actually spend fishing, and prioritizing becomes important. With that in mind, we've picked three of the best bites in Tennessee for every month of the year. Here's a look at our 2012 Tennessee Fishing Calendar.
Dale Hollow Lake
January typically brings Tennessee's coldest temperature, and to smallmouth fanatics, that means float-and-fly time at Dale Hollow. The smallies suspend, eating winter-slowed shad, and cannot resist a tiny hair jig dangled beneath a bobber and worked with jiggles and pauses.
Points at the mouths of coves and transition areas between bluff banks and broken rock banks in the lower ends of major creeks tend to be good. The float needs to suspend the fly 7 or 8 feet deep, so a long, light rod is very helpful for casting. Veteran float-and-fly fishermen use 4-pound-test line and play fish carefully!
Dale Hollow's smallmouth slot limit protects all fish between 16 and 21 inches. A two-fish daily limit may include one under and one over the slot size.
Near Nashville, Marrowbone Lake provides easy access to rainbow trout, which are stocked every winter. Managed for fishing, this little lake offers good shoreline access and inexpensive rental boats.
January is also a prime time for catching sauger from Tennessee River tailwaters.
Tennessee's biggest brown trout on record came from the cold waters of the Clinch River below Norris Dam. Although that was nearly four decades ago, the Clinch remains one of Tennessee's premier destinations for jumbo-sized trout, and late winter is prime time for catching big fish.
The best opportunities for a trophy trout occur when the Tennessee Valley Authority runs one generator. The big fish become more aggressive, and they ambush jerkbaits or big streamers cast tight to shoreline cover and worked with aggressive jerks or strips and long pauses.
A protected 14- to 20-inch slot limit applies to all trout in the Norris Tailwater, and only one fish in a seven-fish limit may be more than 20 inches long.
For lodging and guided fishing, visit www.clinchriverhouse.com.
Late winter is prime time for walleye action at Center Hill Lake as the fish move toward spawning areas in the lake's headwaters to congregate in holes along bends in the river. A seasonal single-hook restriction applies.
If you prefer catching bass, try Old Hickory Lake, focusing on wood and rock structure with a flipping jig.
March warm spells push crappie shallow, making it easier to find and catch them. Even during cold snaps, the fish are normally nearby — just a little deeper. Chickamauga offers excellent crappie fishing every spring, and March is prime time to work the edges of the lake's creeks and coves.
One great thing about spring crappie fishing is that much of the best action can be accessed from the bank, and dozens of Tennessee Valley Authority recreation areas, parks and road rights-of-way provide places to bank-fish. Riprap, bridge pilings, downed trees and manmade fish attractors hold crappie during March. A minnow or jig fished under a float is tough to top.
Chickamauga's crappie limit is 15 fish, with a 10-inch minimum size. For guided fishing, visit www.sceniccityfishing.com.
The headwaters of the Caney Fork River, upstream of Great Falls Dam, support one of Tennessee's best muskellunge populations. Early in the year, while the water remains cool, is prime time for catching a muskie.
For spring rainbow trout, visit Wilbur Reservoir, a tiny cold-water impoundment of the Watauga River just below Watauga Lake.
Gibson County Lake
April begs the serious pursuit of lunker largemouths, and Gibson County Lake is arguably Tennessee's hottest lake for trophy bass. In fact, biologists say they wouldn't be surprised to see the next state record largemouth come this 540-acre West Tennessee lake.
The lake was stocked with a mix of Florida-strain and northern largemouths when it was built. A combination of low stocking rates and great forage resulted in fast fish growth.
When Gibson County was built, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency created several "dozer piles" of downed timber in the lake's open water Those piles rank among the best places to throw a plastic worm.
Gibson County Lake is managed with an 18- to 24-inch largemouth slot. Only one fish in a daily limit may be larger than 24 inches. For more information, visit www.tnwildlife.org.
Moving east, fertile Boone Lake is a perennial hotspot for both stripers and hybrids. During the spring the fish hit well on live bait and artificial lures alike.
If you're looking for a nice mess of crappie, make plans to fish Percy Priest Lake this month.
Visit page two for May, June, July, August
The disclaimer with this destination is that the largest river in the nation varies enormously in volume. May can bring enough water to blow out the fishing. Assuming you can get on the river, though, now is arguably the best time of the year to catch enormous blue and flathead catfish and to get into furious channel cat action.
Spring fishing lends itself nicely to anchoring and casting bottom rigs downstream, with the bait of choice varying according to the targeted species. Trophy blues favor big chunks of cut skipjack, while flatheads prefer live fish. For channel cats, shad guts are tough to top.
Only one catfish in a day's harvest may be more than 34 inches long. For more information and guided trips, visit www.bigcatfishing.com.
May is also a terrific time to visit Fort Loudoun Lake, where largemouths and smallmouths find abundant forage and grow big. Good fishing can occur by day or by night.
If you want to catch jumbo bluegills this month, head for Reelfoot Lake in the northwestern corner of the state.
Bass fishermen from across the nation flock to Kentucky Lake every summer to get in on amazing ledge fishing. No serious Tennessee basser should miss out on the bite.
Kentucky Lake always supports a fine bass population, and currently there are extra high numbers of 18-inch-plus fish in the mix because of good spawns a few years ago.
Large numbers of Kentucky Lake bass relate to main-channel ledges during the summer, keying on hard bends, creek confluences, channel slope changes and other subtleties. The amount of water running can be a big factor, with more current normally being better. Best baits include deep-diving crankbaits and big Texas-rigged plastic worms.
The combined black bass limit for Kentucky Lake is five fish. Minimum size for largemouths and smallmouths is 15 inches. For information visit www.buchananresort.com.
If you want to catch rainbow trout but don't necessarily want to wade, the Obey River below Dale Hollow Lake is a perfect destination. Most anglers fish from the bank at the Obey, which is stocked year-round.
A great way to cool down on a summer afternoon is to wade the Nolichucky River for smallmouth bass.
Hot temperatures equal sizzling catfish action at Reelfoot Lake. Channel cats up to about 10 pounds absolutely abound in Tennessee's "earthquake" lake. During the summer the fish pile up around deadfalls on big open flats and around the edges of cypress clusters. Finding the cats sometimes requires a few stops, but where there is one, there usually are many.
Night crawlers and cut shad work great as catfish bait at Reelfoot. Catfish relating to cypress trees are among the knees and tight to the trunks.
A sliding bottom rig works well for these fish. For areas littered with downed trees, adding a float and suspending the bait just off the bottom spares a lot of snags.
A Reelfoot Preservation permit is required in addition to a fishing license. For details, visit www.bluebankresort.com
Anglers sometimes overlook Tims Ford Lake. However, if you enjoy nightfishing for jumbo-sized stripers, this deep clear reservoir is where you want to be after dark.
Meanwhile, Watauga Lake offers excellent opportunities for lake trout to deep-water trollers.
Summer morning smallmouth action can be furious at Center Hill Lake, but it's important to start early because the activity usually ends once the sun
gets high enough above the bluffs to begin beating the water. The smallies herd shad over main-lake points and into adjacent pockets.
Longtime guide Jim Duckworth uses his handmade wooden topwater plugs at first light and then switches to Bandit 200 crankbaits. An alternative approach for Center Hill's summer smallies is to go out after the sun goes down and work jigs and soft-plastic lures over points and offshore humps that are adjacent to deeper water.
The combined black bass limit at Center Hill is five fish. The minimum size for largemouths is 15 inches; smallmouths must be 18 inches. For more information, visit www.jimduckworth.com.
The Little River rises high in and runs many miles through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Within park boundaries, anglers can cast single-hook artificial lures for stream-bred brook, rainbow and brown trout.
Meanwhile, the Cumberland River below Old Hickory Dam serves up sizzling blue catfish action on summer days.
Visit page three for September, October, November and December
Fort Loudoun Lake
Fort Loudoun beckons catfish anglers who don't care about table fare, but want to put their tackle to a serious test. With no commercial fishing permitted and a recommendation against eating all catfish that weigh more than 2 pounds, targeted cat pressure remains modest at Loudoun. At the same time, plentiful current, shallow or deep-water habitat and super abundant food sources create ideal conditions for big numbers of flathead catfish to grow to large sizes.
The best action generally occurs when water is being pulled through Loudoun Dam. Summer fish spend a lot of time in big holes along outside bends. Drifting a three-way rig baited with a big chunk of skipjack herring works nicely for finding and catching jumbo blues.
Down on the Tennessee River, the lower end of Pickwick Lake offers excellent night fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass during September.
For anglers who favor smaller water, bream fishing can be excellent on almost all of TWRA's family fishing lakes this time of year.
October's cool days draw crappie shallow to feed, making them easier to catch than during the dog days. Most Pickwick crappie stay in the creeks and the bays because the main river has more current than crappie generally prefer. That helps "shorten the playing field" and makes the fish easier to locate.
Trolling with jigs or minnows is a good fall approach. A trolling angler can cover a lot of water, moving up and down flats to explore various depths and look for fish and cover on the graph as he fishes. Of course, it's always good to keep a marker buoy handy and to remain ready to stop and fish an area more thoroughly!
The Pickwick crappie limit is 30 fish, with a 9-inch minimum size. For information, visit www.tourhardincounty.org.
October is also when Reelfoot Lake's chunky largemouths begin to feed. Swimming soft-plastic rats over the top of the pads and other vegetation can produce heart-stopping action!
Fall is also when flathead catfish get extra active in the fertile waters of Cherokee Lake.
As November spreads ever-cooler temperatures across Tennessee, sauger begin moving up the pools along the Cumberland River and concentrating in the tailwaters. Fishing action can be fast, especially on dark days and when plenty of water pours through the dams.
Veteran sauger fishermen position their boats along seams between fast and eddies waters. They then drop heavy jigs tipped with minnows straight below them. Work the baits barely off the bottom and feel for slight taps. Three-way rigs can also be effective.
The sauger limit all along the Cumberland River is 10 fish, with a 15-inch minimum size.
The Hiwassee River below Apalachia Powerhouse gets heavy recreational use during summer and fall. The boating and tubing crowds fall off with the leaves in November, though, and the rainbow trout action heats up with the cooling temperatures.
In West Tennessee, November is prime time to catch big channel catfish from Kentucky Lake.
Walleyes, which have been stocked regularly in Watauga's cool waters since the mid 1980s, thrive in this mountain lake. Growth rates are excellent, and catches of 7- to 8-pound walleyes are not at all uncommon.
During the winter the fish begin congregating and working their way up the Watauga and Elk rivers, moving toward eventual spawning grounds.
Minnow-tipped jigs, jigging spoons and live bait dragged on Lindy rigs are good December options. Concentrations of deep-water baitfish offer good clues about likely walleye locations.
The walleye limit is five fish, with an 18-inch minimum size. On Jan. 1, special spawning run regulations go into effect. For more information, visit johnsoncitytnchamber.com.
If you want to catch muskellunge and don't want to make 10,000 casts, visit Melton Hill Lake near Oak Ridge this month. Melton Hill supports an outstanding muskie population that has been enhanced by special regulations, and during the winter the fish congregate in the warm water around the steam plant.
At Percy Priest Lake, hybrid bass serve up fast action on cold days.