Tennessee offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
There is nothing like Paris in spring. Paris, Tenn., located on the west bank of the meandering Tennessee River, is a vacation paradise for fishing, camping, hiking, wildlife-watching and other outdoor activities.
Paris Landing State Park is typical of the 32 family friendly state parks scattered across the state, along with numerous natural areas, impoundments and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fishing lakes that offer something for anglers of all ages, aptitudes and aspirations.
Spring and early summer is prime vacation time at these outdoors getaways. Bluegill, crappie, catfish and shellcrackers are especially active, and perfect for youngsters to pursue. They also attract veteran anglers from across the country — some come from as far as California to fish for crappie around Paris Landing and other Kentucky Lake hotspots.
Fishing in Tennessee is as diverse as the state's geography — from the cool, mist-shrouded Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee to the rolling hills of middle Tennessee and the swampy deltas of west Tennessee.
With so much to choose from, some planning is require, as well as deciding on what to do, such as trout in the Smokies, crappie in Percy Priest or bluegill and cats in Reelfoot. Consideration must also be taken on the ages and abilities of anglers. Little tykes might be content to perch on a fishing pier and dunk worms under a bobber for bluegill, while others might prefer something a bit more challenging, such as slab crappie, chunky channel cats or even rainbow trout. In addition, other family activities need to be considered, such as camping, hiking and sight seeing, as well as whether to take a day trip or spend a few days at a lodge or campsite.
If making all these decisions sounds daunting, it's because it is. A good starting point is the Tennessee State Parks Guide, available at most parks and visitors centers. Individual parks also have websites that go into detail about available activities, from camping and fishing to golf and horseback riding.
Water recreation may include fishing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, rafting, boat cruises and water skiing. The "Get Hooked on Tennessee State Parks" guide deals specifically with fishing opportunities at the various parks. The Tennessee Fishing Guide also lists all the major lakes in the state, along with regulations and license requirements.
Some trout streams tumble through remote, rugged areas and contain native trout. Others gurgle through downtown Gatlinburg with its teeming tourist attractions, which are stocked with hatchery fish.
The TWRA partners with the city of Gatlinburg to offer a wide range of trout fishing opportunities. A special permit is required, and the streams are closed one day a week. Some of the waters are designated "children's streams" and may be fished only by youngsters 12 and under.
The TWRA Fishing Guide details the maze of rules and regulations that govern not just Gatlinburg's trout fishing, but trout fishing statewide.
Along The Way
When trout fishing the Smokies, there is no end of entertainment options. Dollywood, in nearby Pigeon Forge, is a premier amusement park with a dizzying array of rides, shows and entertainment for the whole family.
For a more tranquil getaway, hike some of the trails through the scenic foothills of the Smokies, noted for their breath-taking views and wildlife watching.
In Middle Tennessee there's no end to great fishing lakes, considering it contains Old Hickory, Percy Priest, Dale Hollow, Cordell Hull, Tims Ford, Cheatham and several others. Veteran guide Jim Duckworth, who has fished them all, says if he had to pick just one, his choice would be Center Hill Lake, with Edgar Evans State Park as his headquarters.
"That's my favorite destination to fish," Duckworth said. "With this lake you have the most scenic views, and wildlife abounds around every corner — deer, turkeys, eagles, loons and many other species. The lake has excellent bass fishing when the bite is on, and the new 18-inch limit on smallmouth has really brought the smallmouth back."
The park has rental cabins, with flat-screen TVs and grills. There are also hiking trails and a tower that provides an excellent view of the area. It also has a marina for docks boats of various size, and visitors can rent various size boats from aluminum fishing boats up to big houseboats.
In addition to its famous bass fishing, Center Hill Lake also is known for big springtime bluegill, which can be caught from the bank or by easing a boat into a shallow cove and tossing out a worm or cricket under a bobber. This deep, clear lake is also water skiers and personal watercraft riders.
The Caney Fork River winds below the Center Hill dam to the Cumberland River, offering some of the finest trout fishing in the Southeast along the way.
Edgar Evans State Park is located about an hour's drive east of Nashville on I-40, and features the nearby Appalachian Center for Craft, with galleries for viewing and shopping.
Another park just down the road from Edgar Evans is Fall Creek Falls, which produced the state-record bluegill, and is famous for its restaurant, which draws diners from a 50-mile radius. Fall Creek Falls also has boat rentals and scenic hiking trails.
Moving west, it's hard to beat Kentucky Lake in the late spring/early summer.
"It has something for everybody," said guide Steve McCadams. "My customers range from serious bass and crappie fishermen to moms and dads taking their kids out for the first time."
While most anglers target more glamorous species, Kentucky Lake is a great place to pursue bluegills, as well as catfish, both species that are simple to catch and tasty to eat. For bluegill, thread a cricket or worm on small hook under a bobber and cast into likely locations, such as around docks, stumps or lay-downs. For bigger fish, consider using a slip-bobber to get further down. Catfish will hit almost anything that is smelly, such as worms, liver and dough baits, dropped on the bottom around cover.
Paris Landing State Park offers a host of activities, including camping and hiking, and the park has a restaurant. Tent campsites are available, along with RV spots. Resorts such as Buchannan's offer lodging, docks, ramps, ice and bait and a wide range of other services.
Along The Way
In addition to its outdoors activities, the town of Paris is famous for its "World's Biggest Fish Fry." It started in 1938 as a charity fundraiser and over the years has grown into several days of fun and festivities, including parades, rodeos, carnivals, dances, and arts and crafts — and fried catfish. Last year 15,500 crispy pounds were served, along with trimmings.
Further west is one of Tennessee's natural treasures — Reelfoot Lake. With its acres of lily pads, submerged stumps and logs, and stands of cypress trees, Reelfoot is an angler's dream.
May and June are the peak times to catch the huge bluegill for which the lake is famous. Crappie also school around submerged timber and catfish lurk in the roots of cypress trees.
Reelfoot Lake State Park offers campgrounds and RV hookups, and several first-rate resorts are located along the lakeshore. Most of the resorts offer three- and four-day fishing packages that include lodging, boat and motor, ice and bait. Resort operators can hook fishermen up with a guide, and hiring one is not a bad idea for first timers because the shallow lake can be hard to navigate. Guides also know the bluegill and catfish hot spots, which allows for more fishing and less searching.
Along The Way
To take a break from the lake, Discovery Park of America is a short drive from Reelfoot in Union City. The park offers a vast array entertainments and educational exhibits.
TWRA FISHING LAKES
For a one-day trip especially designed for kids, it is hard to beat one of the 15 TWRA Fishing Lakes, which contain bluegill, shellcrackers, crappie and catfish, along with some good-size bass.
Marrowbone Lake, located 30 miles north of Nashville, is typical of the lakes. The 60-acre impoundment has a fishing pier and docks, and fishing can also be conducted from the bank. It has a bait shop, in which licenses and lake permits can be purchased. Anyone 13 and older must have a fishing license to fish in Tennessee, but there is a wide choice of licenses available, including a junior license (ages 13-15), daily license and resident and non-resident licenses. TWRA Fishing Lake also requires a permit except for holders of a Sportsman's License or Lifetime License.
The Marrowbone shop sells baits and tackle, drinks and snacks. Boats and trolling motors can be rented, or personal boats can be launched at the ramp. Electric motors are permitted, but not gas motors. Boat rentals include life jackets (mandatory for kids) and paddles. There are restrooms and shaded picnic areas. If a youngster gets tuckered out, taking a break in the shade with a picnic basket and cold drinks is just a few steps away.
Along The Way
With Nashville's Music City less than an hour's drive from Marrowbone, finding something to do after a fishing trip is easy — from the kids-themed Adventure Science Center to the State Museum, and the Country Music Hall of Fame to the Grand Ole Opry.
There's lots of information to help narrow choices for an outdoors excursion designed to suit. State park and tourism guides, TWRA booklets, and a myriad of Internet sites detail specific activities and entertainments. The hard part is settling on just one. Then the fun begins.