We've picked 36 fishing trips -- three for each month of the year -- that represent good or excellent fishing anytime you want to go. (February 2007)
Everybody needs a planner these days especially if you're going to make every angling appointment on time every time. Time can be both your friend and adversary on a daily basis. You can't be two places at one time, but with a little planning and some key tips, maybe you can fit more fishing into your schedule this year.
Tennessee is where the smallmouth bass is king and there's plenty of mention of them in this planner, but you'll also find key times to find other species like largemouth bass, crappie, stripers, walleyes and more. With that hope in mind, we've taken a little time to build this angling planner to help you deal with your complicated schedule -- a schedule that should include some great fishing on a monthly basis. Go ahead and tear out these pages, fold them up and put them in your pocket -- you're guaranteed to refer to them repeatedly.
Pickwick Lake Tailwaters
Coldwater saugers call for deep tactics and a steady patience. Below Pickwick Lake, the two go hand in hand. Ever notice when you're working outside in the dead of winter you can't seem to get warm enough? Put yourself in a boat with saugers biting and you'll hardly notice the cold.
The time for sauger action is now below Pickwick Dam, and you can put the hefty ones as well as strong numbers in the boat. Finding success for Pickwick saugers is all about location. In the wintertime, that key location is from the dam downstream to the Duck River.
This is where you'll find that 80 percent of Pickwick's saugers will spawn. Saugers will start their annual migration to these waters as early as December or at least when water temperatures fall to 54 degrees. Once they're on the move toward the dam, they're more vulnerable to your angling tactics. Keep in mind the best bite will occur with a water temperature around 48 degrees.
Dale Hollow and many of the other Middle Tennessee lakes (along with South Holston in the northeast) get most of the smallmouth attention in the Volunteer State. What most people don't realize is Norris Lake north of Knoxville is a diamond in the rough, especially when it comes to winter smallmouth tactics.
Decent numbers yes, big smallies for sure. If you're looking for a brown fish to fight, look no farther than Norris Lake. Once thought to be decimated, the smallmouth population at Norris Lake is alive and well. From the Loyston Sea area down to the dam and up Cove Creek, you'll find plenty of smallmouth bass waiting for coldwater finesse techniques like the Float-N-Fly. Count on 4-pound-test for more numbers and a pure fight.
Typical fly depths are around the 10-foot mark in February. The clear waters near the dam are inviting for you to throw duck flies, as well as other craft hair versions that mimic baitfish. In February, seek out pockets beyond points for smallies staging just inside these openings. Position your boat in 35 to 40 feet of water to take advantage. And by all means, don't overlook bluffs up and down Cove Creek for smallies still associated to main channel structure.
Talk about a comeback: Douglas Lake is back on the crappie destination map. A few years ago, the unthinkable happened when Douglas had to be stocked with a fresh supply of crappie fingerlings. That move, coupled with the TWRA's placement of a 15-fish creel limit, has the lake on the comeback trail and anglers smiling again.
When it happens, and you'll know by the number of boats on the water, the crappie fishing in March is as good as anywhere around. There are days you can literally walk across the boats in Muddy Creek and Indian Creek. Sometime in March, depending on water temperatures, crappie will make a shallow-water move. You'd better move with them and count on finding plenty of numbers and consistent limits.
Anglers here count on a double fly-rig often tipped with minnows fished shallow under a float. A simple jigging of the float will draw papermouth strikes. As things develop in March, they can be in water depths from 5 to 15 feet. And when it's right, trips can be very short with livewells brimming with eating-sized crappie. Key areas include Indian Creek, McGuire Creek and Muddy Creek.
It's that time of year -- hard to get crappie off your mind. A look at the parking lots around Reelfoot Lake will be your barometer for when the real deal is on. Let's say word spreads quickly when they're biting. Don't be surprised to see trucks with license plates from Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and of course, Tennessee. It's just that good in early April.
Unless times change, you can still catch 30 crappie per day at Reelfoot with no size limit, and that draws the crowds. The basins, with their deeper waters around 10 feet and then the shallow waters around stumps and other cover, provide the drawing cards for both crappie and anglers.
The lake's famed Reelfoot double-hook rig tipped with minnows is the most deadly of combinations. But everyone from old-timers to the up-and-coming crappie chasers will tell you it's hard to beat rosy-red minnows when targeting Reelfoot's crappie. You can fish with or without a float, but in the spring, many anglers count on a small cork for a strike indicator.
It's been said walleyes are the next big thing in Tennessee fishing circles. The next big thing may already be here. Often overlooked by even serious anglers, these hefty fighters and hardy eaters are gaining not only in reputation but also in respect. And there's no better way to bring both situations together than at night on Watauga Lake in May in search of walleyes.
You won't have to search hard after dark; just listen for the sound of them busting the surface on the main lake as they feed on bountiful shad. It takes patience and a warm-blooded soul to stand the cold, frosty nights that still happen in May in northeast Tennessee. It's all about surface plugs after dark and good sharp hooks. Not only are walleyes good fighters in the dark of night, they're also very crafty at throwing lures.
When you put everything together, the more than a handful of walleyes that you can boat per nighttime trip will keep you coming back for more punishment. This is the first nighttime action of the season, and it features healthy walleyes. Lon
ger topwater plugs worked on top after dark and way into the night are very productive. Dress warm -- it's still cold at night in May.
The bluegill and shellcracker fishing is so good on Kentucky Lake that you'll want to borrow your neighbor's kids for an excuse to go. Well, you don't really need kids as an excuse, because these bream aren't just for kids. As matter of fact, when the fish get on beds before the full moon, they'll have you thinking you were young again. It'll make you remember the last time you actually laughed aloud because you were catching so many fish.
The action cranks up for bream in May, and bluegills are still on beds and ready for the taking now. Casting a small 1/32-ounce jig with a cricket either under a float or on the bottom will fill your creel with some of the finest eating fish around. And did we mention how much fun it is?
Fun or sport, Kentucky Lake anglers take their bluegill and shellcracker fishing very seriously. For many fishermen, this is a key time of year. Time to boat a bunch and stock the freezer with sweet fish as well. As bream get on beds, you'll find them in very shallow depths. The shellcrackers and bluegills can get in as little 2 to 3 feet of water. The key is to locate beds and try to stay just off of them, not fishing right on top of them.
South Holston Lake
Nighttime is the right time now. It's all about after-dark smallies. Spinnerbaits and jigs, as well as grubs, are top weapons in your arsenal for smallies that are no longer lethargic but ready for a fight.
There's something special about a big brown fish busting through a calm surface at night to splash back down for a big run. Places like Jacobs Creek and the main channel bluffs and points near the Hwy. 421 bridge offer plenty of after-dark options on South Holston Lake.
Smallmouths do suspend in the summer and one of the best weapons for finding them is a slow-falling spinnerbait. Jigs are as ever reliable after dark with many brown fish enthusiasts preferring hair to rubber for smallies. And don't overlook the grub aspect, as South Holston is one of those lakes where back-to-basics tactics still work at night in the summertime.
Late-night smallies move up on flats next to deep-water escape routes. They'll move shallow to feed sometime during the night. Key depths are often 10 to 15 feet, and you just have to be there to get your shot at boating a trophy in the dark of night.
Strap on your seat belt, as there's about to be a topwater explosion. Sure, you can catch river smallies on the Holston with jigs, tubes and spinnerbaits in August. And yes, the best topwater action all year occurs in the fall, but it starts in August and often with a fury.
Chug plugs will serve you well and a Tiny Torpedo can be deadly on a given day (along with a Long A). However, the single best topwater plug in the last couple of years is the Pop-N-Image Jr. The "bloop" sound that it makes when you pop it across the surface is a calling card for hungry smallies.
From the Holston Army Ammunition marker all the way down to Beech Creek is fine for tending the water with topwater plugs. Throw in a Fluke and a jerkbait from time to time after the sun gets up and plenty of numbers can happen on the Holston River. Plus, the streamlined 3- to 4-pound bronzebacks put up a fight like a runaway freight train in the current.
Center Hill Lake
Catfish have been caught and filleted in a zillion ways since anglers began prizing them centuries back. From modern stink baits to limblines and rod and reels to trotlines, there are definitely plenty of ways to skin a cat.
For now, with all those aspects on the backburner, let's talk about the time-honored art of jugging for catfish with a modern twist. If you have not tried turning nocturnal for cats, you need to make the move.
Jugging for catfish is a basic technique that utilizes anything from old milk jugs to other watertight bottles to target catfish at select depths all night long. You can also forgo the old jug method and use swimming noodles like those found at pools all across the country.
The rig is a simple setup designed to make jugging easier. Cut a piece of 12-inch foam noodle from the standard section and rig it with an 18-inch piece of coat hanger wire to set the trap. The noodle is the flotation portion of the rig and the wire acts as the foundation for the hook and line. Jugging isn't a lost art, just underutilized.
The world doesn't get much prettier than Reelfoot in the fall, and you can mix in the color of green with autumn colors. Green, that is, as in largemouth bass. Lily pads and stumps hold plenty of largemouth bass eager to feed up for the fall. If you like numbers and some chunky largemouths, this lake is the ticket. Spinnerbaits, jigs and buzzbaits become very attractive around structures found over much of the lake.
The cypress knees are things of beauty and so are the bass that hang around them in October. You can swim a jig at the base of the knees or work a spinnerbait across the structure for a heart-stopping strike in shallow water. Underwater stumps shouldn't be overlooked either. Buzzbaits pulled across this type of cover entice bass to hit, and spinnerbaits worked along the pods of lily pads are just as good.
The lily pads, stumps and cypress knees make up most of the visible cover and structure. But anglers need to be sure to hit the mouths of the various ditches scattered throughout the basins, too.
Tailwaters And Creeks
Just because it's November doesn't mean trout hibernate for the winter. Tailwaters and your favorite summer creeks are still alive with rainbows waiting to be caught, especially on fly tackle. And now there's far less of a crowd on streams than in the summer months.
Thanks to delayed harvest measures on streams like Paint Creek in East Tennessee, November is a fine time to find yourself wading for trout. After Oct. 1, trout have to be released until March. It's worth your efforts: There are some behemoths being stocked in these mountain runoff streams.
Other key areas include the tailwaters of Watauga Lake and South Holston Lake. The fall is not so much a dry-fly time as it is a time for nymphs and Woolly Buggers. Anglers drive in from Virginia and North Carolina, as well as other surrounding states, to take advantage. The rainbow trout fishing
can be very good in the winter and is undoubtedly overlooked.
Dale Hollow Lake
Everybody waits until the first of the year to break out the Float-N-Fly rods. Little do they know that some of the best, if not the best of the year, bobber action occurs just as the water temperature hits 50 degrees at Dale Hollow. The better news is you can find them up and down the lake now.
In the late winter and early spring, boats beat the banks with Float-N-Fly rigs from First Island all the way to the lower end of the lake. In December, the fish are much more widespread as water temperatures fall through the 50s. You can catch quality, and I mean quality, smallies from within the Kentucky waters all the way to the dam in December.
Average depths for your fly setup will be from 8 to 12 feet and deeper at times. You haven't lived until you've boated a big 21-inch-plus keeper on 4-pound-test. Forget your drag and learn to back reel to put the biggest brown fish in the boat.
Key colors are any craft hair flies that mimic shad or rainbow trout fingerlings. Take it from me, the duck fly was born for Dale Hollow smallies. Yes, the springtime fishing is hard to beat at Dale Hollow, but the December fishing is hardcore.
Find more about Tennessee fishing and hunting at: