July 24, 2020
After holing up at home for months, many families are seeking a way to enjoy the outdoors this summer. Fortunately, the South has an abundance of summertime travel destinations, including these two charmers.
Norris Lake, Tennessee
Sitting where the ranges of northern and southern fish species overlap, Tennessee’s Norris Lake offers anglers a wide diversity of fish to catch. The 33,840-acre impoundment snakes through the northeastern Tennessee mountains north of Knoxville.
Fed by the Clinch and Powell rivers, the turquoise waters of the serpentine lake hold good bass, catfish, crappie, walleye and sunfish populations. Anglers commonly catch largemouths, spotted bass, smallmouths and sometimes even walleyes on the same lures in the same places. Some smallmouth bass run in the 3- to 5-pound range. While anglers can catch many different species in a day, many sportsmen visit Norris Lake for its fantastic striped bass fishing.
"Norris Lake is well-known for its striper fishing," says Jay Girardot of Jay’s Striper Guide Service (865-745-9060; tnstriperfishing.com), who runs out of Hickory Star Marina (hickorystar.com) near Maynardville. "People can expect to catch stripers weighing between 10 and 30 pounds, but we catch many fish in the 35-pound range. Some stripers in the lake weigh more than 50 or 60 pounds."
Striped bass like cooler water, which they find in the deep, mountainous lake. During scorching days, use electronics to find the thermocline. It divides the water column into a warmer, well-oxygenated upper layer and a cold, poorly oxygenated lower layer. Stripers typically hover just above the thermocline and frequently dip into the refreshing cold layer like a person jumping into a pool to escape the summer heat. Troll baits just above the thermocline.
"In the summer, we usually troll for stripers," says Rod McCarty of Fishin’Rod Striper Charters (423-566-1328), who fishes out of Sugar Hollow Marina (sugarhollowdock.com) near LaFollette. "After the live bait disappears by mid-July, I use downriggers with artificial baits. During hot weather, I use a 2- to 3-ounce egg sinker about 30 feet down. In late summer, I might fish as deep as 43 feet."
Most people troll or freeline with live baitfish, such as shad or alewives. However, stripers also hit various artificial temptations. Some popular lineside enticements include Cotton Cordell Redfin plugs, bucktails, twisty tail grubs or swimbaits. Anglers can also throw topwaters or jerkbaits at night near the shorelines. As temperatures cool in the fall, stripers often chase shad to the surface.
Visitors to Norris Lake can rent cabins or houseboats from several establishments. Need a break? Dock the boat at one of the lakeside restaurants for lunch.
While in the area, explore the attractions in nearby Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, including Dollywood, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. You can also visit the Museum of Appalachia (museumofappalachia.org) in Clinton, a living history museum that displays and interprets life in Southern Appalachia. Near LaFollette, observe elk from the Hatfield Knob Elk Viewing Tower on the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area.
For area information, visit norrislakeinfo.com. For sporting information and licenses, visit tn.gov/twra.html.
Calcasieu Lake, Louisiana
Known locally as Big Lake, Calcasieu Lake, south of the town of Lake Charles, has earned a reputation for producing monster speckled trout. It has put several fish in the state record book, including one exceeding 11 pounds. Jeff Poe holds the state record for specks on fly tackle with a 9.31-pounder.
Big Lake dominates the southern end of the Calcasieu Estuary. The Calcasieu Ship Channel, a 40-mile-long deeper, wider and straighter version of the old Calcasieu River, flows through the estuary, connecting Big Lake and several smaller waterbodies to the Gulf of Mexico. Besides trout, the estuary also offers excellent action for redfish, flounder, black drum, sheepshead and other species. While fishing, anglers might spot Pinky, the famed pink bottlenose dolphin.
"There’s always a possibility of catching a big trout," says Poe. "People can catch redfish along just about any grassy shoreline. Sometimes we see big schools of reds in the middle of the lake. When the wind blows too hard, we fish more protected waters in the northern part of the system and catch redfish. We had a really good flounder run in 2019."
For the best flounder and redfish action, fish the marshes and associated bayous surrounding the lake, particularly in Sabine National Wildlife Refuge on the western side of the estuary. Flounder exit the marshes in the fall to spawn and spend the winter in the gulf, but head inshore during the spring.
Do-it-yourselfers can launch boats at multiple places. Anglers without boats can fish the Cameron Jetties Fishing Pier near Calcasieu Pass or off the seawall in Lake Charles. Many people fish the beaches along the gulf shoreline.
Looking for a change of pace? Try your hand at catching a monster largemouths. Grosse Savanne Lodge (337-598-2357; grossesavanne.com) manages several private lakes stocked with giant bass. Lacassine Pool on Lacassine NWR near Hayes offers seasonal public fishing for bass, crappies and bream.
Grosse Savanne Lodge and several other services offer food and lodging all year long and waterfowl hunting on private leases during the season. Many people book "cast and blast" trips—hunting ducks in the morning and fishing in the afternoon. Sportsmen can also hunt waterfowl on Lacassine and Sabine NWRs.
While in the area, take a nature walk through one of the refuges or motor along the Pintail Wildlife Drive at Cameron Prairie NWR. You’ll spot countless bird species and other wildlife, including maybe even an alligator or two.
Visitors can find lodging ranging from the luxurious L’Auberge Casino Resort and other resorts to more affordable accommodations in Lake Charles and surrounding towns. You’ll find delicious Cajun cooking practically anywhere in southwestern Louisiana, and you can sample local spirts at Bayou Rum (bayourum.com), Crying Eagle Brewing (cryingeagle.com) or Rikenjaks Brewing (rikenjaks.com) in Lake Charles.
Other area guide services include Calcasieu Charter Service (337-598-4700; calcasieucharters.com) and Hackberry Rod and Gun (888-762-3391; hackberryrodandgun.com). For area information, visit visitlakecharles.org. For seasons, limits and licensing information, visit wlf.louisiana.gov.