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10 Hotspots For Close-To-Home Crappie

10 Hotspots For Close-To-Home Crappie

Want solid crappie fishing close to home? Here are 10 great fishing spots close to the 10 biggest cities in Tennessee. (April 2009)

The grass is not always greener on the other side, and the best fishing is not always found somewhere else. In fact, the finest opportunities often are close to home. With that thought in mind, for this article, we looked at the highest-population cities and towns in Tennessee and then we handpicked a close-to-home crappie fishing hotspot for each. So, unless you just like spending more time driving and less time fishing or spending extra money on gas, these are the waters you'll want to consider this month.

Mississippi River Backwaters
Dozens of oxbows and sloughs flank the Mighty Mississippi, which forms Tennessee's entire western border, and many of those backwaters offer very good crappie fishing. Unlike the big river, with its strong currents and a generally muddy flow, these waters tend to be tannin stained but fairly clear and sometimes devoid of current. They are almost invariably rich with cover, and during April, the crappie will be up among the willows and close to the shallowest laydowns, stumps and brushpiles.

Individual backwaters are somewhat difficult to define as they change continually and vary dramatically in character and accessibility according to the level of the river, which can fluctuate as much as 50 feet in a year. Oxbows that are easily accessible through a cut off the main channel at certain river levels are totally separated from the main river at lower water levels.

Closest to home and most easily accessible for Memphis anglers is McKellar Lake, which covers 3,000 acres just southwest of town within a big bend in the main river and has direct bank access to its fishing. The downside here is that crappie fishing is strictly for the fun of catching them. Consumption advisories warn against eating any fish from McKellar Lake. Three oxbows in Lauderdale County, Wardlow Pocket, Wardlow Pocket Chute and Crutcher Lake are also accessible from the banks on public lands.

Because the crappie will tend to be tight to dense cover this time of year, a good approach for fishing any of the Mississippi River backwaters is to fish a jig directly below the tip of a long pole, which can be put right against the cover. Bright colors, like chartreuse and pink and dark colors like blue and black work best because of the normally dark color of the water.

Old Hickory
Music City anglers need not stray far from home to find their share of slabs, because some of Tennessee's hottest crappie fishing is found right at the edge of town in Old Hickory Lake.


"Crappie populations tend to be cyclical, and Old Hickory is at a high point in the cycle right now," said Doug Markham, public information officer for the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency's Region II office. "The crappie fishing has been absolutely fabulous there for the past couple of years."

An impoundment of the Cumberland River, Old Hickory is essentially a run-of-the-river lake. Still, several creeks create significant backwaters off the main channel, and those creek arms provide the most predictable crappie fishing during the spring. Markham suggested that docks, brushpiles, stumps and laydowns all were potentially good crappie structure in the creeks.

"There are many, many docks around Old Hickory, and they can produce really good crappie fishing. Not all docks are good, but if you do some searching and find the ones with brush around them and at the right depths, you'll often find really good fishing," he said.

Along with being close to home for Nashville anglers, Old Hickory is also extremely accessible, whether or not an angler has a boat. Markham pointed toward the Drakes Creek Access Area near Davidson as an example of an area that provides really good shoreline access to good crappie fishing, but he noted that anglers ought not to limit their ideas because there are so many good areas. He suggested checking the TWRA Web site for detailed access information.

The crappie limit on Old Hickory is 30 fish, with a 10-inch minimum size.

Watts Bar
Picking one place to fish for crappie around Knoxville is a tough proposition because Fort Loudoun and neighboring Tellico both offer fine fishing opportunities. Nevertheless, a glance at the records of the Tennessee Angler Recognition Program (TARP) makes it clear that Watts Bar Lake outshines its upstream neighbors and is the place to go in this part of the state. Since the inception of the TARP program, Watts Bar has produced 32 award-winning crappie, putting in third on the statewide list of slab factories. Twenty of those trophies (which have to at least 14 inches long to gain recognition) were white crappie. The 12 blacks that form the balance represent the highest total in the state for black crappie.

The second lake along the Tennessee River, Watts Bar impounds 39,000 acres and is more than 70 miles long. Its upper end is fairly riverine, with heavy current and fluctuating water levels. The lower end is much broader and more open, with numerous islands and vast impounded creeks. It's highly fertile and loaded with baitfish, so the crappie generally stay fat and happy.

In the upper end of the lake, virtually all crappie fishing will be in backwaters off the main channel, where current is less of a factor, and during April anglers can do well casting around visible cover. Farther down the lake, a better strategy is to troll or drift in creeks and in cuts off of major creeks and rivers. More than 35 boat ramps provide excellent access to all parts of Watts Bar.

Lake Chickamauga
Where Watts Bar ends, Chickamauga begins, and there is certainly no break in the quality crappie fishing. Chickamauga leads all Tennessee waterways in TARP trophy-crappie production with 39 award-earning fish. Beyond big fish, this 34,500-acre impoundment also supports big numbers, and its countless creeks and coves consistently serve up fast action during the spring.

For folks who call Chattanooga home, it couldn't get much more convenient, as Chickamauga Dam is located just northeast of the city and several big creeks and major bays, such as Dallas and Harrison, are just a short drive from town. While good spring crappie fishing can be found in creeks, coves and bays in all parts of the lake, quality crappie habitat is more abundant in the lower lake, closer to Chattanooga.

Similar to Watts Bar, Chickamauga is very riverine in its upper end and much more open farther down the lake. During the spring, most crappie will be in the creeks, coves and bays, and during April, they will generally be quite shallow. Casting jigs around riprap, laydowns and other shoreline cover works well i

f the fish have moved extremely shallow. An alternative though much of spring is to drift the bays' open waters with minnows or jigs under floats.

Access to Lake Chickamauga is very good, with boat ramps at more than 30 parks, marinas and Tennessee Valley Authority access areas.

Kentucky Lake
"If you asked anyone in Clarksville where to go crappie fishing, they'd point toward Kentucky Lake," said Markham, who can state that with authority because he calls Clarksville home. "The fact is that Kentucky Lake is one of the finest crappie lakes in the world, and it produces well year after year."

Beyond producing big numbers of crappie, Kentucky Lake yields more than its share of genuine slabs, and it is second only to Chickamauga in TARP crappie production. Kentucky Lake supports both black and white crappie, and both species grow to large sizes, but whites are more abundant in the Tennessee portion of the lake. Spring is prime time for the average angler to get in on the best fishing because the fish move up the creek arms and stack up on cover.

Markham suggested the Big Sandy River would be a good area for anglers to try, noting that an angler could easily spend all day (or all week) fishing that big arm of the lake. However, he was quick to note that creeks all along Kentucky Lake and on both sides of the river offer good spring opportunities

Markham suggested that anglers look for brushpiles and stakebeds, of which other anglers have put out thousands, and to experiment with a variety of depths until they hone in on the fish. "Cover isn't difficult to find because there is so much, but if an angler does have trouble, TWRA fish attractor sites, which are well marked, offer good fishing during the spring," he said.

A reciprocal agreement between Tennessee and Kentucky allows anglers to fish anywhere South of the U.S. Highway 68 bridge in Kentucky with a Tennessee fishing license. The crappie limit on Kentucky Lake is 30 fish, with a 10-inch minimum size.

Woods Reservoir
Woods Reservoir does not produce an enormous number of really huge crappie, according to Markham, but it does support large numbers of crappie, and the spring fishing can be terrific. Plus, because Woods is fairly small at 3,940 acres and offers an abundance of easily recognizable cover, it's a great place even for anglers who are not familiar with the lake to find good fishing action.

During April, when the crappie move shallow, one of the best ways to fish Woods is simply to work along its banks with either a jig or a minnow dangled under a cork and cast around deadfalls. Tangles of timber line the lake's banks. Some will hold fish, and others won't, so an angler needs to keep moving until the bobber starts going under. When the fish do strike, it's important to slow down because where there is one crappie, there often are several.

A good alternative this time of the year is to work up the shallow, winding channel of the Elk River in the upper end of the lake, and fish the endless stumps that bound the river channel. The fish generally hold tight to the wood in the often-stained water up the river, and they can be quite shallow.

Reelfoot Lake
Tennessee's earthquake lake is well known for its crappie fishing -- and rightly so. Crappie absolutely abound in this generally shallow, stump-filled lake, and they sometimes grow to very large sizes. Ten crappie have earned anglers recognition through the TARP program.

A series of depression or basins, Reelfoot Lake is unlike any other major waterway in Tennessee. Its waters are mostly shallow and loaded with stumps and vegetation, and many areas feature thick stands of cypress trees. Through most of the year, the best way to load up on crappie is to troll very slowly with multiple lines out pulling minnows and jigs over endless stands of brush and stumps. During April, though, many fish will move shallower, and anglers can simply work the lake's cypress trees and knees and other visible cover by fishing live minnows under corks.

Reelfoot's stumps can be extremely hard on boats, so many anglers opt to leave personal crafts at home and rent resort boats. Consequently, resorts sometimes offer package stays, where boat use comes with lodging.

A Reelfoot Preservation Permit is required in addition to a Tennessee fishing license for fishing on this lake. The crappie limit on Reelfoot Lake is 30 fish, with no minimum size. For updated fishing information and complete fisherman's supplies, call Bluebank Resort at (877) 258-3226, or visit www.bluebankresort. com.

Watauga Lake
Deep, clear and bounded by mountains, Watauga is best known for its trout and smallmouth offerings. However, this lake ought not to be overlooked as a place to catch crappie. Watauga's crappie population has improved in recent years, according to reports published by the TWRA, with the 15-fish daily limit and 10-inch minimum size put into place in the 1990s likely having really benefited the lake.

When Watauga is at full pool, which it should be during April, the best fishing is around flooded black willows and brushpiles in the backs of coves. Although Watauga is steep sided and quite riverine, dozens of pockets and coves break up main-lake banks. At lower levels, flooded timber along creek channels will produce the most fish. Roan Creek is traditionally productive for crappie fishing.

Quite a bit of national forest land bounds Watauga, and bank-fishing access is very good. A new handicapped-accessible fishing pier at the Rat Branch access area provides additional opportunities for non-boating anglers. Along with maintaining good fishing access, TWRA keeps up numerous fish attractors and has planted bald cypress and other trees in the backs of coves.

Cherokee Lake
Unlike most of the steep-sided tributary reservoirs in the eastern part of Tennessee, Cherokee Lake is highly fertile and supports big numbers of game fish and baitfish alike. Crappie are no exception, and crappie numbers are also enhanced by annual stockings of juvenile fish. Research has shown that where there is ample food and cover to support adult crappie, stocking young fish can augment natural reproduction nicely.

Crappie fishing is very popular on Cherokee, which spreads over 30,000 acres at normal pool. In fact, close to 20 percent of all fishing effort on the lake is done with crappie in mind. Success rates are generally good, as are average sizes. More than 82 percent of the crappie captured in last spring's electro-shocking surveys were more than 10 inches long.

The TWRA maintains many fish attractors in Cherokee, which spreads over 30,300 acres, and has planted water-loving trees such as water willows, swamp oaks, bald cypress and river birch in shallow areas. Fish will heavily utilize both, along with laydowns and other shallow cover, during April.

J. Percy Priest Reservoir
Highly fertile, J. Percy Priest Reservoir serves

up outstanding crappie action year after year, despite fairly heavy fishing pressure. Priest tends to be mostly a "numbers" lake, but it also produces some large fish, as evidenced by its 20 awards crappie in the TARP program.

Along with producing big numbers of fish, Priest is very crappie-fisherman friendly because the TWRA maintains dozens of stakebeds and brushpiles throughout the lake, and the fish attractors are all marked on a lake map that can be downloaded from the agency's Web site. During April, a great strategy is simply to run the fish attractors, fishing them with minnows or jigs, according to Doug Markham.

Adding even more appeal, bank-fishing access is excellent around Percy Priest, with several public access points providing fine opportunities. In fact, one crappie hotspot, Stewart Creek Recreation Area, is accessible only from the shores. No boats are permitted in the cove that the recreation bounds, and it's absolutely loaded with brush and various types of manmade fish attractors. Docks, fishing platforms and a bank-access trail create fabulous opportunities for non-boating anglers.

Although exceptions do apply, Tennessee's statewide crappie limit is 15 fish, with a 10-inch minimum size. For details about access, complete regulations and a host of other information, visit the TWRA Web site at

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