August 31, 2011
From the Mississippi River to the Tellico Basin, the Volunteer State holds a wealth of fishing options. Here's a look at three-dozen of the best!
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Before you read any more, grab your calendar. Too many would-be fishing trips turn into good intentions lost to other plans. Pick the trips you really want to take this year and make your plans now. Don't write in pencil, either. Use a permanent marker!
Here we go with a month-by-month look at outstanding fishing options in all parts of the Volunteer State.
Striped Bass - Cumberland River
When water temperatures are extra low, baitfish and game fish pile up in warm areas. Along the Cumberland River, that means the river section affected by the Cumberland Steam Plant. Jumbo striped bass feast on gizzard shad and skipjack herring during the winter, providing outstanding opportunities for anglers to catch a really big fish.
Fishermen who favor artificial lures do well by waking Red Fins on the surface with a slow steady retrieve or swimming big bucktails or swimbaits just beneath the surface. Arguably the most dependable way to hook up with a heavyweight striper is to fish a big live skipjack on a free-line or under a balloon.
January is also the time to break out your float-and-fly rods and head for South Holston Lake in search of a heavyweight smallmouth bass.
If you want to catch walleyes, visit Cherokee Lake and focus on the upper end of the impoundment.
Smallmouth Bass - Pickwick Lake
February bass fishing on Pickwick typically does not yield fast action; however, this is an excellent time to catch really big smallmouth bass. Pickwick is best known for its jumbo smallmouths, but there are also some very big largemouths in this section of the Tennessee River. Both use some of the same structural features during February.
Most of the best fishing will be along the main river channel this month, with the fish commonly holding behind current-breaking points and humps or over the deep ends of gradually sloping flats on the lee side of the river.
Suspending jerkbaits fished with painfully long pauses or chartreuse grubs also account for a lot of big bass during February.
For more information, visit www.fishpickwick.com.
Moving well to the east, an outstanding trout fishery has developed in the tailwater of Cherokee Lake over the past decade or so. February is a good time to catch a big rainbow trout from the cold water.
If you want to catch a mess of big crappie, steer your truck toward Old Hickory Lake and work protected waters off the main channel or in the far lower ends of creek arms.
Crappie - Reelfoot Lake
Tennessee's earthquake lake may be the most consistent crappie producer in the state. Year after year, Reelfoot serves up an outstanding combination of quantity and quality, and the entire month of March tends to be good. The fish pile up on big stumpy flats, straying shallower and deeper with every change in weather, but staying in the same general areas.
The best way to hone in on the fish is spider-rig trolling very slowly with several rods spread out off the front of the boat and the lines going straight down. Plain jigs will work, but most locals use live minnows, whether on bare hooks or to tip jigs. For more information, visit www.bluebankresort.com.
March is also an outstanding time to target walleyes in the headwaters of Center Hill Lake. Vertical presentations of minnow-tipped jigs work well in the Blue Hole area.
If you'd rather catch bass, you can catch chunky largemouths at Fort Loudoun Lake.
Largemouth Bass - Old Hickory Lake
April is a prime time for serious bass fishing in all parts of Tennessee, and Old Hickory yields some of the state's best largemouth action year after year. A main-stem impoundment of the Cumberland River with fairly extensive backwaters, Old Hickory offers an outstanding variety of habitat types for bass.
The most predictable April fishing will be in the creeks and in major coves. Fish brush, docks and other visible cover with spinnerbaits, plastic worms and shallow-running crankbaits.
When current is pushing through the lake, bass feed actively over humps and points and other structure and will become susceptible to a well-placed crankbait.
April also pushes crappie extra shallow in the creeks that feed Watts Bar Lake, and in coves off the main body. Rig a jig or a minnow a couple feet under a float and focus on visible cover.
Meanwhile, the Little Pigeon River produces some extra large smallmouths during the spring.
Shellcrackers - Kentucky Lake
Shellcrackers (officially redear sunfish) grow to big sizes on Kentucky Lake, and during May the 'crackers serve up fast action to those anglers who are able to locate their beds. The shellcrackers spawn on shallow flats over sand or small gravel, ideally in the vicinity of some vegetation.
The most efficient way to find shellcracker beds it to hang a cricket or red worm under a float. Set the float to suspend the bait just off the bottom and then to work areas fairly quickly. Cast to a potentially productive spot, let the rig rest a moment, reel it a few cranks and let it rest again. When you do catch a fish make another cast to the exact same spot. You might be about to catch a bunch of fish.
It's worth noting that bluegills, which also grow big on Kentucky Lake, use similar areas and are subject to the same strategies.
For information, visit www.buchananresort.com
May days are perfect for family fishing trips, and the 20 or so small lakes that the TWRA manages specifically for fishing in the central and western parts of the state offer easy access to excellent channel catfishing.
If you're look
ing for exciting largemouth bass fishing, tie on a topwater lure and visit Chickamuaga Lake.
Crappie - Percy Priest Reservoir
Spring having passed doesn't mean that you have to give up crappie fishing. J. Percy Priest Reservoir offers steady June action to anglers who don't mind looking for fish over brush in middle depths and fishing vertically. Prime areas to look for brush are on long points near the mouths of creek or the edges of flats near the main river channel.
Trolling and drifting work nicely for finding the fish, but once you locate them it's often better to set up directly overhead. Several fish might be stacked up on the same brush pile. Use the trolling motor to keep the boat over the brush and use measured "pulls" off your reel to count your bait down the proper depth.
Jigs typically out-produce minnows for this style of fishing.
One of the nicest ways to spend a June day is to wade or float a cool-water stream for smallmouths and a mix of other species, the there's nowhere better for such a plan than the Clinch River upstream of Norris Lake.
June is also a great time to catch big bluegill from flats at Dale Hollow Lake
Lake Trout - Watauga LakeDeep, clear and bounded by steep terrain, Watauga Lake offers a unique opportunity to anglers because its cold waters are stocked not only with rainbows and brown trout, but with lake trout. Lakers perform well in Watauga, both because of the cool, well-aerated waters and because of the alewives that are part of the lake's forage offerings.
During mid-summer, the trout follow schools of baitfish over very deep water. Controlled-depth trolling, whether with downriggers or lead-core lines, works well for finding the trout and for getting them to bite. The lakers might easily be 100 or more feet deep.
If you want to catch largemouth bass during the dog days, some of the best waters located right at Nashville in Cheatham Lake.
If you are seeking something substantially larger, you'll find huge stripers, which stay well fed on stocked trout, in the cool waters of the Hiwassee River.
Black Bass - Boone Lake
When the pleasure boaters are pulling their boats out for the afternoon, it's time for fishermen to be launching on Boone Lake. This small East Tennessee reservoir supports an excellent black bass population, with quality largemouths and smallmouths both in the mix. The fish get a lot of pressure, though, and they can get fairly fussy, especially during the day.
After hours, the smallmouth move up points and onto the tops of humps that are close to much deeper water. Largemouths cruise flats that are close to deeper water, feeding on anything that roams too close. A dark-colored jig works well for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, as does a big black spinnerbait with a single oversized Colorado blade.
If you prefer the daylight approach, the Elk River below Tims Ford Dam offers a refreshing option even during the hottest days of summer. Rainbow trout are the main attraction to waders and floaters alike, but the river also offers good opportunities to catch smallmouths and assorted panfish.
For blue catfish, including some very big cats, head west for Barkley Lake.
Brook Trout - Caney Fork River
A combination of factors, including changes in water flow regimes, the stocking of brook trout and new regulations, have caused the Caney Fork below Center Hill Lake to emerge as one of the South's elite tailwaters. Caney Fork anglers enjoy a legitimate opportunity to catch quality-sized browns, rainbows and brook trout in a day.
The 28-mile-long tailwater offers a tremendous amount of opportunity to fishermen, with multiple access points creating a host of wading and float-fishing possibilities.
Small dry flies and nymphs or in-line spinners typically yield the fastest action, but stripping a streamer or twitching a minnow-imitating lure increases your likelihood of encountering big fish.
September is also excellent for catching channel catfish from the French Broad River upstream of Douglas Lake.
At other end of the state, striped bass can't resist properly presented jerkbaits in the Pickwick tailwater on he Tennessee River this time of year.
Spotted Bass - Tims Ford Reservoir
As the days and nights get cooler, bass begin to move shallower and to feed more actively. Anglers who cast to Tims Fords banks catch spotted, largemouth, and smallmouth bass, with the largemouths and smallmouths regularly growing to large sizes.
Assuming clear water, which is the most common condition during the fall, a medium-running crankbait or a jerkbait fished against wind-beaten rocky banks or over windy points can be extremely effective. If the water is high and stained, as it was last October, a better bet is to position the boat very close to the bank and pitch a jig to specific pieces of shallow cover.
For information, visit www.tennesseebassguides.com.
October is one of the best months of the year for catching really big flathead catfish, and the Mississippi River has plenty.
If you want to combine fabulous fall scenery with fine rainbow trout fishing, visit the Tellico River and its tributaries.
Blue Catfish - Tennessee River
As water temperatures fall during November, the big blue catfish that call lower Tennessee River home grow increasingly active. They also get concentrated as they move into deep holes where they will spend the bulk of their time during the winter. Good holes extend from just below Pickwick Dam through Kentucky Lake all the way to the Kentucky border.
The best holes are long deep runs, often along major river bends, which offer the fish extensive areas of deep water. A good way to find the fish that are most prone to feed within these areas is to drift big holes from top to bottom, with big chunks of cut bait on three-way rigs fished almost straight beneath the boat.
For information, visit www.tourhardincounty.com.
Looking east to the high country, November is a great time to visit the Great Smoky Mountains National Park because the leaf peepers have gone home and the park's biggest brown trout tend to be less cautious than normal.
If you have largemouth bass on your mind, late fall is a fine time to fish Reelfoot Lake.
Muskellunge - Melton Hill Reservoir
Riverine in character and impacted by the cooling influence of the Norris Lake tailwater, Melton Hill offers excellent habitat for muskellunge. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has stocked muskies annually since the late 1990s. The fish grow well in Melton Hill, which supports a surprisingly good forage base for a fairly infertile reservoir.
Winter serves up some of the best fishing of the year because many fish stack up in the warm water that's kicked out by the Bull Run Steam Plant. Use extra big baits and gear up with heavy tackle when you're after these very large and extra toothy fish.
Meanwhile, the TWRA stocks rainbow trout in the Percy Priest Lake tailwater throughout the winter, creating a fun and unique opportunity to catch trout where they don't normally live.
Meanwhile, sauger serve up excellent winter opportunities below virtually every big dam along the Cumberland River, and the more miserable the weather, the better the fishing tends to be.