Bass-fishing waters abound around Knoxville, and the variety of offerings is outstanding. (April 2010)
Folks who live near Knoxville could not only fish different water every day, they could fish a different river or lake every day, always with good prospects of catching fish and never straying more than hour from home!
Beginning right in Knoxville, the riverine upper end of Fort Loudoun Lake runs right through downtown. Fertile waters and a very high fish release rate (the latter encouraged by stern fish-consumption warnings) combine to make Loudoun one of the best big-fish lakes in East Tennessee. Both largemouths and smallmouths grow to jumbo proportions in this 14,600-acre reservoir and electro-fishing surveys have shown an upward trend in the number of bass in the lake over the past decade.
The bulk of the best fishing on Fort Loudoun will occur downstream of downtown during April, with many fish available in the creeks and in cuts off the main channel from the U.S. Highway 140 crossing all the way down to dam. An angler can do well in the spring on Fort Loudoun simply by casting to docks, brush, vegetation and other shallow, visible cover with spinnerbaits, square-billed crankbaits, jigs and topwater lures.
Fort Loudoun's smallmouth bite really heats up anytime heavy rains fall in the upper Tennessee River basin during the spring. When the TVA pulls a lot of water, the bass pile up on the lee sides of points and humps and become highly susceptible to red or orange Bandits cranked quickly and kicked off the structure.
Fort Loudoun and Tellico Lake are actually linked by a canal at their far lower ends. In fact, anglers commonly launch at a canal that links the two lakes in order to gain easy access to either lake or both.
At times, some of the best smallmouth fishing is actually in the canal itself. Again, when TVA is running a lot of water through Fort Loudoun Dam, it creates significant current flowing from Tellico to Loudoun, and smallmouths stack up along the canal's riprap banks. If no wind is kicking up a breeze, a waked Bomber Long A can be extremely effective at this time. Otherwise, good choices include Zara Spooks, chartreuse spinnerbaits, and small crankbaits that can be kicked off the rocks.
Although Tellico is linked to Fort Loudoun, the two lakes are surprisingly different. Tellico is less fertile and therefore clearer, and its waters tend to run cooler, especially in the lake's upper end. Largemouths aren't super abundant in Tellico, but it yields some very large fish. Bat, Clear and Island creeks tend to produce well during the spring months.
Tellico also holds both smallmouth and spotted bass, and the spots offer good prospects for an angler who is simply looking for fast bass action, especially if he'd like the opportunity to take some fish home. Spots serve up pretty predictable action around riprap banks and bridge pilings, and biologists would like to see fishermen take more spots out of the lake.
Where Fort Loudoun Lake ends, Watts Bar begins. Second in line along the Tennessee River, Watts Bar covers 39,000 acres. The upper end is highly riverine, and current flows dictate a great deal about how the bass and other fish bite. The lower end of the lake becomes more open and offers abundant coves and islands, but that's getting a little far from Knoxville, with so much fine water closer to town, and it's almost like a separate lake.
Largemouths outnumber smallmouths at the upper end of Watts Bar, which is fairly fertile and has quite a bit of cover along its banks. The bass typically spend their time in cuts and eddies out of the current and on flats that are likewise out of the main flow. Nevertheless, they tend to bite best when plenty of water is pushing through the river channel.
North out of Knoxville, Norris Lake provides a totally different look and type of fishing opportunity than any of the waters that are even closer to town. Norris is a smallmouth lake. Largemouths and spots also call Norris home, but smallmouths are quite large on average and attract the most attention from fishermen.
Bass tend to be shallow in April, holding either over the tops of points or in spawning pockets along one of the rivers or a major creek like Big Creek or Cove Creek. Rouges and other jerkbaits tend to work well in the clear water. Medium-running crankbaits bounced off the cover also produce a lot of spring smallmouths. Generally speaking, the most windblown banks will hold the most active fish at Norris Lake.
Cherokee and Douglas lakes, both east of Knoxville, are in some ways similar. Both are hilly but not truly mountainous, with a good mix of rock and clay banks, and both rank among the most fertile lakes in East Tennessee. Differences lie in their current bass populations. Last year's electro-fishing results showed that while Douglas is loaded with bass right now, the population is dominated by smaller fish. It's a good place to go for fast-action fishing, especially during the spring.
Cherokee's bass population is in excellent condition, with good numbers and good-quality fish in the lake. Cherokee has responded better than biologists anticipated to a 15-inch minimum size for largemouths that went into effect in 2003. Thirty percent of all bass sampled last year were more than 15 inches long and 4 percent were over 18 inches. Before the establishment of the regulation, most of the lake's bass were between 9 and 15 inches long.
Finally, Knoxville-area bass anglers should not forget about the excellent stream smallmouth fishing that occurs just to the south and to the east. Little River, which runs through Townsend, the Little Pigeown through Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, and the Pigeon at Newport all offer very good prospects for bronzebacks, and April ranks among the best times of the year to pull a big fish from these waters.
All the smallmouth streams that flow within reasonable distance of Knoxville can be fished in places by wading, although the Pigeon is actually a tailwater flow and its level and character can vary dramatically. Wading allows anglers to get out on shoals and work shoots and runs more thoroughly than would be possible from the bank. Good stream bait selections during the spring include small jigs with crawfish trailers, grubs on 1/8-ounce jigheads, spinnerbaits, Senko-style soft-plastic baits and Rebel Wee-Crawfish.