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Tennessee's 12-Month Angling Planner

Tennessee's 12-Month Angling Planner

We've picked 36 top fishing spots in Tennessee -- three for each month -- to help you plan for some great year-round fishing in 2008. (February 2008.)

Larry Self.

February is on the horizon, and by now you received the usual complimentary calendars from everything to drug stores to other business acquaintances. Well, now you can add one more to your list -- the only one that comes complete with year-round fishing tips in Tennessee from January to December.

Smallmouth bass rule in Tennessee as king, but here you'll also find tips and how-to pointers on everything from bass and crappie to trout and walleyes and more. Whether you're a fair weather angler or prefer the good fishing found during Tennessee's colder months, we have you covered.

Everyone knows the fishing can be best in the spring and fall, but this 12-month planner will help you during those in between times as well. We've ranked the destinations from excellent to good in that order for you.


Cherokee Lake


Cold weather calls for deep tactics, and Cherokee Lake has

the long winter points and humps to fit the bill in January. There are baits that come and go, and there are those that stand the test of time. At Cherokee Lake, January and Silver Buddies go hand in hand in the wintertime for largemouths. This lake has always been what anglers call a good "Buddy" lake and January is one of the best times to test the cold waters by jigging the long winter points with a Silver Buddy.


Many anglers work the points by casting to them and then hopping the bait back to the boat. You can also find success by vertically jigging a Buddy in deep water. Sunny days aren't bad either with the added flash that it puts on the bait. Good Silver Buddy points can be found above and below the Hwy. 25-E bridge and beyond.


South Holston Lake

Smallmouth Bass

Big smallmouth bass start to make a move in February, and that includes the heavier females. We're a little while away from spawning time, but ask any veteran brown fish angler and he'll tell the bigger smallies start to show up this month. South Holston is a great starting place and the Float-N-Fly will get you out of the gate on time.

South Holston can either make you look like the best bobber fisherman or the worst. Keep in mind that this lake is not only deep and clear but has a light-colored bottom. What all that means is you have to use a deeper leader between your float and your duck or craft hair fly.

The lake's long, tapering winter points and pockets with deep water located above and below the Hwy. 321 bridge hold some quality smallmouth bass. You'll want to employ at least a 12- to 15-foot leader on many days and expect to have to go to an 18- to 20-foot leader on most days. Cloudy days with low clouds are best for bobber fishermen, and don't be surprised to see over 25 pounds of brown fish weighed in at February tournaments on South Holston.


Reelfoot Lake


There are many fishing traditions in Tennessee, and the springtime crappie action found at Reelfoot Lake is one of them. A scan of the parking lots at ramps around Reelfoot Lake will be your barometer for when the real deal is happening. 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 the early spring.

Unless times change, you can still keep 30 crappie per day

at Reelfoot with no size limit, and that (and the good fishing) draws the crowds. The biggest crappie will run up to around 2 pounds, but it's nothing to boat 50 to 70 per trip in this time frame. The basins with their deeper waters around 10 feet and then the shallow waters around shoreline stumps 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. However, everyone from old-timers to the up-and-coming anglers 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.

Larry Self.


Kentucky Lake


Yes, it's that time of year, and it's hard to get crappie off our minds. Without a doubt, the time to be on Kentucky Lake for superb crappie fishing is from mid-March through mid-April for the pre-spawn run. The most productive crappie days are those with sunny or partly sunny conditions.

During this time, crappie can move from the 12- to 18-foot depths on up to as shallow as 2 feet. Find them first in deeper areas off brushpiles and manmade stakebeds. As they move in, search out staging crappie off points and submerged stumps. Anglers shouldn't expect limits of 30 crappie every day on Kentucky Lake. Numbers aren't necessarily a factor when you're catching crappie over 2 pounds and better consistently.

Take advantage of spring crappie with 2-inch Charlie Brewer Slider Grubs fished on 1/16-ounce, ball-type jigheads. Anglers can catch the crappie by casting to structure and counting the grub down to where the fish are holding. Bring the lure back with a slow retrieve just above the stakebed or other structure because crappie will come up to take bait but won't go down for it.


Kentucky Lake


Not to beat a dead horse, but May is also the time to find yourself on Kentucky Lake but for a different species -- the bluegill. The bluegill fishing is so good there in May that you'll want to beg your kids to get in the boat for an excuse to go. Forget that because these bluegills aren't just for kids. As matter of fact, when these fish get on beds before the full moon, they'll have you thinking you were a kid again.

The action cranks up in May when bluegills move onto beds and are ready for the taking. 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.

Kentucky Lake anglers take their bluegill fishing very seriously. For many fishermen, this is a key time of year. It's the time to boat a bunch and stock the freezer with sweet-tasting fish as well. As bluegills get on beds, you'll find them in very shallow depths. They can be in as little 2 to 3 feet of water. The key is to lo

cate beds and try to stay just off them and not fish right on top of them.


Fort Loudoun Lake


Fort Loudoun Lake has built a decent reputation on smallmouths, but the big fish here are green in June. It's deep crankbait time, and lures like DD-22s and Mann's 30+ are in order.

Slow cranking humps and deep points with these big plugs may not pay off dividends in numbers, but the opportunity to hook up with 4-, 5- and even 6-pound largemouths will have you on the lake and sweating for the first time this summer.

This isn't simply an early morning deal at all. Forget about having to be on the water at first light -- it won't hurt but isn't a necessity. As the air temperature warms, the bass will move out to these deeper haunts, and that's where you'll find them with deep-running crankbaits. The action isn't fast until you hook up. You'll want to slowly crank the big lures across the humps and points and hang on when you get that telltale bump. There are many options, but don't overlook the Concord area of the lake.

Larry Self.


Kentucky Lake


For those who thought catfishing was also a process of sitting and waiting on one to come by, forget it. When it turns July hot at Kentucky Lake, the channel cats move along the river channel where you can find them and find them in a big way.

This is far from slow fishing and you catch plenty of them along with the big ones to boot. With sweat running in your eyes during the hot mid-day temperatures, you can put as many as 40 or more channel catfish in your boat from the quality eating size all the way up to 30-pounders and bigger.

Cut bait will work here like other lakes, but the best catfish action seems to come on rigs set up with a heavy split-shot and a small bait hook with a dead tuffie minnow onboard. And if you thought catfishing was lazy, you've never hung into a 20-pound-plus bull of a cat that simply doesn't want to be in the boat with you.


Center Hill Lake


Catfish have been caught and filleted in a zillion ways since anglers began prizing them centuries back. From the now modern stink baits to limblines and rod and reels to trotlines, there's definitely a variety of ways to skin a cat and Center Hill Lake is a good starting point with the dog days of summer on us.

For Center Hill catfish in August, it's time to wait for the sun to go down. If you haven't 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.


Old Hickory Lake


This lake offers some of the best topwater striper opportunities in the state. And then there's the potential of boating a "real nice striped bass." Real nice to the tune of 40 pounds or better. A 40-pound fall rockfish is the same fish in the spring that weighed 55 pounds. They're just more slender and longer appearing without the big springtime girth they carry.

Striped bass tend to eat smaller baits in the fall. Their outlook on survival differs slightly, and they're not as apt to hit a big bait like a 15-inch skipjack or even rainbow trout. The fall is when the gizzard shad steps into the spotlight on Old Hickory for foraging stripers.

A striper is a different animal in the fall compared with the spring. In the spring, they're mad and hungry and hit vigorously. That means you usually get one shot at hooking them and then they're gone. Fall fishing may not have the impact strike of the spring, but it offers more opportunities for hooking up. They almost play with the bait. They'll smack it around, knock it sideways, and then come back a few minutes later. That leads to two or three chances of hooking him when he hits the bait. Stripers will even exhibit the same behavior of leaving and then returning to take a fall topwater bait.

It's nothing for a striper to come up to take a dangling shad in even a 20-foot-deep hole in the headwaters of the lake. They use areas with bars as ambush points -- that's the nature of the beast. That nature makes breaks, bars and humps key structure along the Cumberland River that feeds Old Hickory.

Larry Self.


Topwater Rivers

Smallmouth Bass

The list could go on and on from the Buffalo and Duck rivers from Nashville on the west, or all the streams in the eastern reaches of the state. Some of the best topwater action all year is going to occur for smallmouth bass on the Holston and Nolichucky rivers.

As far as the Nolichucky River goes, you cannot go wrong with a Tiny Torpedo. You'll want to work it fast and with plenty of action to make the bigger smallies angry. You'll catch a bunch from the river dingers on up to 4 pounds plus in size. Don't overlook the fast water beneath shoals for staging bass. Smallies forage in the fall, and the top is the best way to attack the Nolichucky.

Likewise, the topwater bite on the Holston River is fabulous in the fall. You can literally boat smallies all day long with black buzzbaits and Pop-N-Image Jr's in the waters above the steam plant on the headwaters of Cherokee Lake. It's nothing to catch over 30 brown fish on topwater lures, and many of them will be in the 3-pound-or-better range.


Tailwaters And Creeks


Just because it's November doesn't mean trout can't be found. Tailwaters and your favorite summer creeks are still alive with rainbows waiting to be caught, especially on fly tackle. Plus, 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 with some of the big trout stocked in mountain runoff streams.

Other key areas include the tailwaters of Watauga La

ke 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.


Dale Hollow Lake


Most anglers wait until the first of the year to break out the Float-N-Fly rods. If you do, you might just miss some of the best bobber action that 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 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. The hallmark of smallmouth bass fishing is boating a big 21-inch-plus keeper on 4-pound-test. Forget your drag and learn to back reel to put the biggest smallmouths in the boat.

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