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Tennessee's Best Bets For Bream

Tennessee's Best Bets For Bream

It's time to find bream bedding in the Volunteer State. Here are some top places to fish for 'em this spring. (May 2010)

It's bream fishing time in Tennessee and while there's no shortage of great places to go, some will certainly be better than others.

Excellent bream fishing encompasses a combination of both big bream as well as fast-paced action. While most lakes will require some culling of fish, the listed lakes generally have an excellent average size of fish, and lots of them -- and these lakes are scattered across the state.

A few local tips are provided for catching bream on some of the lakes are also included, but generally bream are not that hard to catch. You just need to get on the right lake are start fishing.

Most bream fishermen don't usually think of Nickajack when considering good bream fisheries around the state. But they're missing an extremely good bet by overlooking this body of water. While the lower end of the lake near Nickajack Dam widens and has more of the big lake look, much of the lake is a series of small feeder creeks and opens up into small bays and flats that empty into the Tennessee River.

Many of these creeks actually deepen as you wind back into them -- and they open into some of the best bream fishing areas in the state.

This is particularly true during May, when the bream really get on the beds.


I grew up bream fishing several lakes in east Tennessee and while I spent a lot of time on Chickamauga Lake, another awesome bream factory just up the river from Nickajack, this lake was always as consistently productive as any lake I fished. In addition to being chock full of big bluegill, the lake is full of hefty shellcrackers.

The easiest way to find a big bed of bream on Nickajack Lake is to slip a boat into the quiet coves and pockets off the main lake. Simply use light tackle and cast in front of the boat toward the shallow water as you slowly move along with an electric kicker or even a sculling paddle.

Look for gravel and sandy bottoms and when you catch the first big bream or shellcracker, stop the forward progress of the boat and slowly fish your way back. If you work the process just right, you can find the edge of a big bed of bream and slowly work right through the area without spooking the fish, catching them as fast as you can cast a cricket into the bream bed.

When the action slows, continue the searching process and when you finish that area, move to another creek or cove.

Wade fishing for bream during May is also a great technique. Simply slip into the water and start slowly wading along the shoreline, casting in front of you as you wade. Usually you'll only need to be knee-deep or so in the water to effectively fish, but the fish may be very shallow, or in out to 3 to 4 feet of water. I've used this technique many times on Nickajack to fish from a public access point and cover a good stretch of water without having to rely on a boat

The bream fishing pressure is usually not heavy on this lake, even during the spring. But at the peak of the bream bedding season you may encounter a high use weekend. If so, you can take your boat and motor upriver and get back into the aforementioned areas and you will likely have entire creeks to yourself. Don't linger long at any given place if you are not getting bites quickly.

Crickets are best for the big bream and worms seem to produce more shellcracker bites. If you want to target the big shellcrackers, then I'd recommend you stick with redworms as your primary bait.

One other very useful bit of information on Nickajack is there is outstanding bream fishing in the tailwaters of Chickamauga Lake. While this is the extreme upper end of Nickajack Lake, bream will bed in huge numbers immediately below the dam and spillways, when water conditions allow. Obviously, when heavy rains create floodwater release, it's not a happening thing. But when water conditions are normal, a lot of big bream are caught directly below the dam.

When the bedding action is not producing, you can drift fish with tightlines below the dam, drifting down for a couple of miles and then do it again. The action below the Chickamauga Dam will be good for most of the summer with bedding action during the full moon phases and drift fishing productive at other times.

Access to the lake is good at numerous places around the lake, including the upper end of the lake in the Chickamauga Dam tailwater.

If there's one identifiable problem with bream fishing in Cherokee Lake it would be that there are so many potentially good-looking areas to fish. The rocky shoreline on the main lake, coupled with the myriad of creeks, coves and pockets make it an absolute bream haven.

Cherokee Lake is one of the older TVA projects, completed back in 1941. However, the size of the lake, covering 30,300 surface acres along with 463 mile of shoreline give bream fishermen an absolutely huge area to fish. The lake lies in portions of Hawkins, Grainger, Hamblen and Jefferson counties.

The key to finding spawning fish is to go to the back of the creeks and coves, particularly those with small channels running through them, and final the gravel and sand bedding areas preferred by bream. Often it is simply a matter of spending enough time working an area until you get on a good bed of fish.

When not bedding, the prolific numbers of bream will not be difficult to find, but you will have to spend more time culling smaller fish. Most fishermen will work the shoreline and focus on fallen trees and logs. In many areas, a change in bottom substrate from mud and rock to gravel and chunk rock will suffice to hold big numbers of bream.

There are also a good number of public fish attractors in the lake that do concentrate good numbers of bream. However, if you can find some isolated brush piles in 3 to 8 feet of water that may have been placed by crappie fishermen, you may find a real bream hotspot.

Access to the lake is very good with numerous public use areas and launching ramps around the lake.

Cordell Hull Lake is an often-overlooked bream fishery. One reason is likely that is a bit out-of-the-way from the larger population areas. Local anglers, however, have long taken advantage of this lake and the excellent bream fishing.

While not as large as Cherokee Lake, Cordell Hull is essentially a mainstream Cumberland River lake and encompasses 12,210 surf

ace acres of water. The lake does have numerous creeks that enter along the way and they are the primary focal points for bream fishing, especially during May and June. Later in the summer, the fishing action heats up in the main river channel as well.

Defeated Creek is one of the larger tributaries on the lake and is certainly a prime place for bream during the spring. Look for bedding fish in the coves and pockets along the creek.

Other excellent bream fishing creeks include Indian Creek and Martin's Creek, both located further uplake. In addition, there are some excellent pockets and sloughs for shallow water bream fishing in the Holliman Bend and Whites Bend areas of the lake. In some of these places, the entrance to the area will be small at the channel junction, but opens up into a wider, fish-filled bay as you wind back in. Some of these are really overlooked for springtime bream fishing potential.

Water temperature and water color can influence your success during early May, so if you have a water temperature gauge, use it to find any slightly warmer water. By the middle of the month, the water temperature is usually plenty warm for bedding bream.

Access around the lake is excellent with numerous Corps of Engineers access areas.

Sometimes this lake is amazing in that it can produce enough fish to remain a reliable fishery with the fishing pressure the lake receives. But the bream population seems to thrive on the pressure and the lake does produce lots of bream and fish of a quality size.

This Corps of Engineers lake is located on the Stones River near Nashville, and has a huge diversity of water, structure and depths for bream fishermen to fish.

There are large open water expanses in the lower part of the lake, with numerous coves and pockets that hold bream. In the upper end of the lake where Spring, Fall and Stewart's creeks are located, the lake has more characteristics of a shallow water impoundment, compared to the deeper, rocky area in the lower end of the lake.

Make no mistake, the bream fishing is good throughout the lake and the Hamilton Creek area in the lower end of the lake offers almost unlimited bream fishing potential. A lot of bream fishermen will wade fish this area, casting small spinners or ultra-light jigs tipped with worms to get bream bites.

In the upper end of the lake there are lots of small coves and pockets where bream will bed around the full moon periods in May and June.

Light tackle spinning gear, small corks and either crickets or worms will also produce all the bream action most anglers will care to handle.

As is the case in most lakes, you'll need to plan to begin culling if you want to keep a bunch of quality fish. Generally catching plenty of fish will not be a problem.

Another big plus for this lake, in addition to its location near Nashville, is the numerous Corps of Engineers access areas around the lake. During this specific time of the year, a lot of outstanding bream fishing can be enjoyed from the shoreline in these areas. Granted, a boat will enable you to have more opportunity to seek out the fish. But walking the shoreline on many of these areas will be enough for you to get into some excellent bream action throughout the month.

Further to the west, another outstanding bream hotspot is Kentucky Lake. With the headwaters beginning at the Pickwick Dam tailwaters, the lake continues northward through the state to the Kentucky state line. Literally from Pickwick Dam to Paris Landing, the bream fishing opportunities are far too numerous to mention.

The key is similar to most mainstream Tennessee River lakes in May: get into the major creek tributaries and follow those areas upstream. The lake has bream-producing tributaries all along the course of the river. Specific areas that produce big bream near the I-40 Bridge are Morgan and Blue creeks. Further down the main river is the Duck River confluence, which provides a huge bream-fishing expanse of water. Further along is Birdsong Creek, then the area around the New Johnsonville steam plant and then Richland, White Oak and a myriad of smaller creeks and bays.

As you near the Tennessee-Kentucky state line, you reach one of my favorite places on the lake: where the Big Sandy River junctions the Tennessee River. In addition to the Tennessee and Big Sandy rivers, there's Eagle Creek, another large tributary. All offer a great diversity of shallow-water fishing opportunities for May bream fishing in one localized area.

Another key factor is that even with a good bit of spring-time rain, with such a diversity of area and tributaries you can usually find fishable water somewhere along the river. Even if one or the other waterways is muddy or in less than "prime" condition, odds are one of the others will be in good shape. The shallow-water action is typically great throughout the May and through June and into July as a rule.

The final destination on this listing of bream fishing lakes certainly ranks among the best in the state, or anywhere else, for that matter. Reelfoot Lake has long had a well-deserved reputation for producing both quality and quantity of bream.

This lake is so prolific in producing bream that there are local fishermen who serve as guides for bream, black bass and crappie fishing. Billy Blakely, a lifelong resident and professional guide for bass and bream, has shared many of the secrets of this fishery with me and how, when and where to fish for shallow water bream fishing.

"The biggest hurdle for many bream fishermen who fish the lake for the first time is knowing where to begin, and actually where to go period," Blakely said. "The problem is almost all of the lake looks like a bream fishing paradise. While the lake is awesome for bream fishing, not all of the places are created equal in terms of producing big bream."

With the cypress trees, grassy shorelines, pads and logs and stumps everywhere, it all looks perfect for bream. Blakely said that fishermen can catch scattered fish throughout the lake. The key, however, is to look for specific kinds of places that may hold a lot of fish in a small area.

"For example, in a group of cypress trees, you may have water that's a fairly consistent depth, but there will the occasional deeper or shallower spots," Blakeley said. "These are often the type of places the bream will target."

A lot of fishermen simply work the shoreline, especially the lily-pad choked areas that look like ideal bream fishing water. Blakeley said these areas are potentially very good; however, he can bypass most of the areas that look basically the same.

"Look for something different in the pads or weeds such as a small pocket in the growth, or a hole in a thick mat of pads," he said. "Even something very small, but different, will often be an area where bream will congregate. On

e of my favorite areas is the simple combination of a log lying in the water in conjunction with a weed line in three or four feet of water."

Local fishermen will use both light spincast and spinning rigs and some will employ the 10- to 12-foot bream busters as well. Typically crickets will be the number one bait, but worms will work just fine -- they just take longer to re-bait when the action is fast.

Because of the heavy cover with cypress trees, weeds, pads and logs, accurate presentation of your bait can be essential. Not only is it important to put it on target where the fish are located, but to ensure you don't stay tangled in the trees and other weedy growth.

According to Blakely, the entire month of May is great for bream fishing, but superb fishing will be found in June as well.

You can book Billy Blakely for a day of fishing, and arrange lodging if needed, through Blue Bank Resort in Samburg, by calling 731-253-7878. Blue Bank Resort also has a restaurant, bait and tackle, boat rental and according to Blakely, everything you'll need for a successful fishing trip to Reelfoot Lake.

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