36 Great Fishing Trips In Tennessee

We've picked three fishing hotspots for every month of the year to help you plan to hit the best fishing at the peak times in Tennessee (Feb 2009)

Time is not always on an angler's side. Most anglers in Tennessee do not have nearly as many days that are free for fishing as they'd like. For those anglers, maximizing the fishing they do get to do is very important. One of the best ways to get the most out of your fishing days is to plan as well as possible where you're going to go fishing and what you'll be fishing for throughout the year.

With that in mind, we've again compiled a year's worth of fishing data for you to help plan those times that you can get away from your otherwise hectic life. You shouldn't have to spend that time trying to figure out what fish are doing at certain times of the year.

We've broken this plan down to feature monthly options all year with different key species noted each month. After reading this, it's our hope that all you have to do is get away from the real world and just fish.

Norris Lake
Smallmouth Bass

Norris Lake is a fine wintertime smallmouth destination. One of my favorite smallmouth memories came at Norris Lake on a cold and frosty morning on a 30-foot stretch of bank that provided 16 strikes in a matter of minutes. We boated two 5-pounders in that stretch in the Loyston area and broke another off.

In the wintertime, the lower to mid-section of the lake is best. Several trips to those areas have proved that the lake will produce smallies in the 4- to 5-pound range with a good deal of consistently. That doesn't mean you'll catch 5-pounder every trip, of course, but the opportunity does exist. Norris can also provide decent days for numbers of strikes in the winter. Catches of a dozen or more smallmouth bass on a cold day can be a common occurrence.

If you access the lake at the public ramp at Norris Dam, you can easily target and catch smallmouths up the Cove Creek arm to the left coming away from the dam. There are some hollows and very good smallmouth points in this area. The fish in these waters are susceptible to a Float-N-Fly all winter long, and the reliable hair jig can also be a deadly producer.

Old Hickory Lake
Striped Bass

Legendary striper guide Ralph Dallas said you'll find Old Hickory's late-winter monster stripers around the warmwater discharge at the steam plant, in the main channel, up in creeks and traveling alongside main channel islands.

At first light, it's topwater time on Old Hickory. Dallas said you have to be ready when the stripers are surface feeding on skipjack herring in the warmwater discharge. It happens fast, doesn't last long, but could produce that fish of a lifetime on a Red Fin.

After the sun comes up, it's all about live bait. Dallas will use live bait on down-lines but said you can just cover so much more water with planer boards. In the warmwater discharge, he'll pull boards mainly with skipjack on lines about 20 feet behind his boards. Dallas said the stripers won't look at a 6-inch gizzard shad but will readily take a 12-inch skipjack.

The cold weather associated with this period is big-fish time on Old Hickory Lake. Dallas likes to fish the nastiest day he can find right before a big cold front. On the edges of these fronts, he's boated as many as 15 stripers over 40 pounds in a single day.

Reelfoot Lake

Guide Billy Blakely at Blue Bank Resort on Reelfoot Lake said the bigger crappie seem to come up from February and on into March. March and April, though, are when the parking lots along the ramps at Reelfoot really fill up. This is the time to boat 60 to 70 fish per angler before lunch.

Blakely's strategy for success isn't overly complicated, but it does come from experience. He said you want to hit the thicker underwater cypress stumps early in the spring for the big papermouths. Later, the numbers will start to come in on stumps of all sizes. The action begins on Reelfoot after water temperatures get above 40 degrees. After the 50-degree mark is breached, Blakely said the numbers start to pile onto the stumps.

Blakely said that in March, if baitfish move into 6 to 8 feet of water, the crappie will come with them. The Reelfoot Double Hook System also plays an important tackle role. Blakely uses the Reelfoot double hook rig with a cork and plain minnows to boat springtime and fall crappie. Early in the spring, the famous rosy-red minnows do the damage on Reelfoot crappie.

Kentucky Lake

There's a five-week period on Kentucky Lake that guide Garry Mason terms as prime time. It typically falls the last two weeks of March and the first three weeks of April. It's those first three weeks in April Mason calls the "real good" period. During the five-week prime time, crappie are migrating into established spawning areas. They're migrating from around 12-foot depths in late March to as shallow as 2 feet in mid-April. The first part of April may find them along a bank halfway back in a creek.

"There's no doubt," said Mason about his top spring bait choice for Kentucky Lake crappie, "the only thing to do is to decide which color of Charlie Brewer Slider Grub to throw." Mason relies on Tennessee shad, June bug with a chartreuse tail, and chartreuse with multi-glitter colored Slider Grubs in the 2-inch version. They're good to cast around stakebeds along drops to catch a multitude of crappie. This is a lake where 2-pound crappie are expected.

Mason said the best area on the lake for quality fish is the Big Sandy River section of Kentucky Lake. It's always been noted for its number of quality fish. Eagle Creek is another good option for quality crappie.

Chickamauga Lake Tailwaters

Guide Richard Simms uses spinning tackle with light line in the form of 8-pound-test and 3/0 Eagle Claw Kahle hooks in the tailwaters below Chickamauga Lake. The hooks are rigged with Simms' favorite bait -- cut chicken. Yep, chicken.

The chicken tactic in the tailwaters is probably not on most cat men's lists of baits, but it sure isn't complicated. You maneuver the boat just below the churning water at the turbine and drift downstream until the current slows to a moderate level. Simms said you're basically making one long 100-yard cast and then cranking back up to do it all over again.

The catfish here thump the chicken offering like a smallmouth bass tagging a jig. Big cats plus heavy current and light tackle -- a perfect combo. Using the chicken drift method, Simms often boats big blues. On one trip I took with him, Simms hooked up with two hefty blue cats. The first tipped the scales at 19 pounds and was followed by an 18-pounder. On the last drift of the day, he quickly hooked up again and bore down on a bigger cat. Some 20 minutes or so later, we hoisted a 38-pound behemoth aboard.

West Tennessee Family

Fishing Lakes
Largemouth Bass

It's no secret that most of Tennessee's moving water and reservoirs lay east of the state capitol. When the TWRA decided to create a series of family fishing lakes in Middle and West Tennessee, they were onto a very good thing.

There are now 18 Family Fishing Lakes, with 10 of the 18 lying in West Tennessee. The lakes, which are managed by the TWRA, are open year 'round for fishing and outdoor recreation. The agency said they are designed and regulated especially for family fishing.

The 10 lakes located in West Tennessee range from 87 acres to 560 acres in size. To find a wealth of information about TWRA Family Fishing Lakes.

In West Tennessee, Brown's Creek Lake is located in Henderson County. Here spinnerbaits are highly favored bass lures. Carroll Lake lies between McKenzie and Huntington. The largemouth bass fishing success here is found with plastic worms and Rat-L-Traps.

Garrett Lake is outside of Dresden in Weakley County where topwater baits, spinnerbaits, plastic worms and plastic lizards are noted bass baits. Glenn Springs Lake, located in Tipton County, is where crankbaits draw a lot of attention from largemouth bass. Lake Graham is in Madison County near Jackson and offers good topwater fishing for largemouths.

Dale Hollow Lake
Nighttime Smallmouth Bass

After-dark fishing is always special, but when it's accompanied by a smallmouth bass coming out of a grassbed to hammer a jig or spinnerbait, it's unforgettable. That's Dale Hollow at night.

Dale's crawfish population spawns in the rocks with every full moon. On a bright moon, fish rocky points and bluffs. During the dark of the moon, you'll find smallies over grassbeds.

You'll find the majority of rocky points and bluffs on the lower half of the lake and most of the grassbeds from the midsection up. Early on, key nighttime depths are 5 to 15 feet. As things heat up later in July, concentrate on the 12- to 24-foot depth ranges.

Early in the month, work structure with spinnerbaits and jigs. In late June, stick with 1/8-ounce jigs but quickly switch to 1/4-ounce baits as the bass ease deeper in July. On nights with bright moons, throw lighter colored lures like jigs in green and orange. Dark nights require employing darker colored lures, such as blacks and blues.

Expect to catch as many as 12 bass per night -- sometimes more, sometimes less. In that mix of 12 or so fish, most nights you can expect to boat a couple of 4-pounders. Just like with winter fishing, the occasional 5- or 6-pounder will show up.

Gatlinburg Streams

People travel to Gatlinburg for many reasons ranging from the cool mountain air to the scenic overlooks. Few of them arrive knowing of the great trout fishing both within the city's boundaries and just outside the city limits.

Gatlinburg should be proud of its very active stocking and breeding program that requires a special licensing permit. The "Catch-and-Release" program is in effect from Dec. 1 through March 31 every year. Possession of any trout is prohibited. Fishing in Gatlinburg is permitted with single hook only and with no more than one hand-held rod.

In the summer months, you can use bait such as corn, bread, minnows, worms or PowerBait. These are all good options for getting kids involved. However, keep in mind that casting a spinner-type trout bait isn't difficult, and the flash provided by the blade often provides more strikes.

Make note that you still must have a city of Gatlinburg permit in addition to regular state licenses. Also, fishing is closed every Thursday year 'round. There are three or four stream sections in the Gatlinburg area that are designated children-only streams.

A Gatlinburg fishing permit is $2.50 per day or $6.50 for a three-day permit.

For more information on fishing in the Gatlinburg area, contact the Gatlinburg Chamber of Commerce toll-free at (800) 568-4748.

East Tennessee Rivers
Smallmouth Bass

There are three lures that will get it done for smallies on the French Broad, the Holston, the Nolichucky, the Pigeon and Little Pigeon rivers in the early fall.

Without a doubt, the 3-inch grub is one of the top producers of smallies in moving water. Fished on a 1/8-ounce jighead, this smallmouth getter is productive because it's versatile. You can bounce, it, you can swim it, or just let it drift. Natural colors like smoke and pumpkinseed or green pumpkin grubs tend to get a lot of attention from angry smallmouths.

For topwater, the Tiny Torpedo will always be rated as the best topwater bait ever created for river smallmouths. You'll want to jerk the life out of it to make the smallies mad. Smallmouths are predators, and they prey on the weak, but they also take out a lot of stress on baits that appear aggressive or seem to be running for cover.

The Yum Dinger is a bona fide river finesse worm. For current like that found in smallmouth streams, rig the Dinger straight up, Texas-style on a 2/0 hook without a weight. You'll want to place this finesse jewel in eddy pockets and along the edges of current where smallies stage -- drift it naturally.

Reelfoot Lake
Largemouth Bass

Spend some time on Reelfoot in October with professional angler Shaw Grigsby, and you'll learn to dissect a largemouth lake. Lakes with vegetation like Reelfoot's lily pads call for plastic worms and other weedless presentations, and of course, spinnerbaits. Many times, it's the Premier 3/8-ounce Pro Model he'll have tied on. Grigsby also likes the Compact spinnerbait and the Rocket Shad for long casts.

"Reelfoot's an incredible lake," grinned Grigsby. "It's just so chock-full of cover." Reelfoot's infamous cover comes in the form of stumps, laydowns, pads and grass-lined banks. Grigsby said it's not difficult to analyze Reelfoot with a Denny Brauer Flippin' Tube or a 3X Craw around the abundant cypress cover. He also said to employ a spinnerbait and crankbait along tree bases.

At Reelfoot, Grigsby starts with his ever-reliable spinnerbait, moves on to a jig or tube and then a crankbait. "You can kill the bass here on any type of cover that's not vertical," laughed Grigsby. "You'll catch fish." The beauty of Reelfoot is with the availability of enough different cover, that it's like fishing four lakes in one.

Tailwaters And Creeks

Trout don't hibernate for the winter -- in fact, brown trout spawn in the late fall. Tailwaters and your favorite summer creeks are also 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 until March, trout have

to be released. It's worth your efforts with some of the 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 winter rainbow trout fishing can be very good in the winter and is undoubtedly overlooked.

Dale Hollow Lake
Smallmouth Bass

It's no secret the last few years of smallmouth success on Dale Hollow have come mostly on the Float-N-Fly -- the patented coldwater finesse technique. Smallmouths can't resist the small baitfish imitation in the wintertime.

Eddie Nuckols notes that the last time he checked, smallmouths have eyes on the top of their heads. When they're suspended, they're looking up, and they can't resist that small fly imitating an injured or dying baitfish dancing above them.

Nuckols' choice for best wintertime conditions involve the cold, miserable days most people avoid. Overcast skies with a light wind are the right prescription and a water temperature of 48 to 52 degrees is the perfect range.

Key depths for placing your fly under the float at Dale Hollow are from 8 to 12 feet. Nuckols suggests your boat had better be sitting in more than 30 feet of water. December Float-N-Fly fishing at Dale Hollow means targeting main-lake structure, mouths of coves and two-thirds of the way back in creek arms.

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

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