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Tennessee's Best Family Fishing

Tennessee's Best Family Fishing

In the Volunteer State, there's no better way to spend the summer vacation than fishing with the family. Here are some ideas for great places to go. (June 2006)

The state of Tennessee has a rich history and much of it is built around the outdoors. Each year, thousands of families travel to the Volunteer State for vacation dates with what we have to offer. Sure, there are museums and landmarks to tour and scenic views to see, but all of these visitors may be overlooking what we residents already know: There's also a great opportunity statewide to fish while on your family time away from home.

Vacations were dreamed up with families in mind. In Tennessee, there's no better way to spend the summer than with some fishing for the whole family. While no magazine has room for all the family fishing opportunities available in Tennessee, we'll hit the high spots to help you get started.

From a long list of Tennessee state park opportunities to family fishing lakes managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) as well as other locales, there should be room for your whole family in just about every corner of the state. From the mountains of northeast Tennessee to the flatlands in the west, family fishing opportunities are a short drive from anywhere in the state.


The Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville areas of Tennessee draw millions of people all year long. What many don't know is the bountiful fishing options here are as good as the shopping ones.

I'll never forget standing knee deep in the Little Pigeon River catching smallies when someone yelled off a hotel balcony to me, "What are you doing?" That's why that comedian has done so well with the "Here's Your Sign" line.

From the head of Pigeon Forge down through Sevierville, the Little Pigeon winds its way next to the backed-up cars on Highway 66 all summer long. The shallow waters along the way provide excellent wading opportunities for anyone. The rocks are a little on the slick side, but the moving water holds some big smallmouths. It's not fast and deep like many rivers and is something most youngsters can do alongside a parent.


Topwater baits and jerkbaits like a Rapala are easy choices for kids to make contact with a brown fish. Swimming a grub or drifting a finesse plastic worm is not too high tech for most beginners as well.

People travel to Gatlinburg for a lot of things from the cool mountain air to the scenic overlooks. Few of them arrive knowing of the great trout fishing within the city's boundaries and outside the city limits, too.

Gatlinburg should be proud of its very active stocking and breeding program, which is well worth getting the special licensing permit to fish here. 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 Power Bait. These are all good options for getting kids involved. But 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. They may be only fished by children age 12 and under.

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.

More Mountain Time

Roan Mountain State Park is about as far as you can go in northeast Tennessee and still be within the state's borders. The beautiful park and the Doe River running through its acres are worth any drive.

The Doe River is one of the TWRA's stocked trout streams found in Region IV and is a beautiful wading option for families of all sizes. If you can't get in the water, you can often catch fish from the bank. One of the better chances to take advantage comes usually in June when the park hosts its annual kids' fishing event. The Doe River is stocked heavily by the TWRA with rainbow trout for this event.

Roan Mountain State Park encompasses 2,006 acres of southern Appalachian forest at the base of 6,285-foot Roan Mountain. Park guests have opportunities to hike along creeks and ridges, fish for trout, play tennis, swim, tour a century-old farmhouse and join rangers and naturalists for educational programs. That can make a complete family vacation for sure. Guests who wish to stay overnight have a choice of RV and tent camping or fully equipped AAA cabins.

To get there, take I-26 through Johnson City and get off at the Elizabethton/Roan Mountain State Park exit (Highway 67). Follow Highway 67 through Elizabethton, and then turn right onto Highway 19-E south. In Roan Mountain, turn right on Highway 143 and follow it into the park. The park is open year 'round from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. For more information, contact park officials toll-free at (800) 250-8620.


Edgar Evins State Park

Edgar Evins State Park encompasses approximately 6,000 acres on the shores of Center Hill Reservoir in the rolling hills of middle Tennessee. It provides excellent recreational opportunities and accommodations on one of the most beautiful reservoirs in Tennessee.

This place is a great family destination. Those who rent a cabin get a complimentary boat slip. That should tell you something about what the park has in mind. There's also space for tent camping as well as RVs.

Middle Tennessee fishing guide Jim Duckworth said the park is one of the safest and well maintained facilities around. With miles of scenic trails and an observatory overlooking the park, there's plenty to do in between fishing trips.

The bluegill action here is good all summer long for anglers using redworms and crickets from the bank or from the boat. The bass fishing can be a little tough on young anglers, but they'll have a blast with the catfish option. Duckworth said the nighttime jug-fishing is spectacular with jugs baited with night crawlers.

The park is located in DeKalb County, 20 miles north of Smithville, 20 miles west of Cookeville, and 60 miles east of Nashville. It's easily accessed from I-40 at exit 268 at state Highway 96 and Center Hill Lake. The park

is open from 6 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. daily. For more information on Edgar Evins State Park, call toll-free at (800) 250-8619.


Paris Landing State Park

The 841-acre Paris Landing State Park is named for a steamboat and freight landing on the Tennessee River, dating back to the mid-1800s. The park lies along Kentucky Lake and has a major marina and a dock accessible to the inn.

Sometimes a family fishing vacation needs a little of the extras. The inn at the park, as well as the fine restaurant, takes the edge off roughing it for sure, and the fishing opportunities are endless.

Garry Mason, the new executive director of the Northwest Tennessee Tourism Council, said families can easily fish from shore at the park or put a boat in at the quality ramp located at the marina. The catfishing is very good from the expansive bank in the park using night crawlers, cut bait and livers fished with a hook and weight on the bottom.

Kentucky Lake is a tremendous bream fishery; anglers can catch shellcrackers and bluegills from the bank or a boat in shallow water. Crickets and redworms fished under a float with light tackle will keep kids busy. You and your family shouldn't be surprised if you hook into a quality largemouth bass casting from shore with simple lures like spinnerbaits. The best crappie fishing will be found by boat around the lake's numerous stakebeds. A minnow fished under a float should serve you well.

Besides fishing, the park also offers ample tennis courts, playgrounds and a big-time golf course. The park is 18 miles east of Paris on U.S. Highway 79 or 45 miles west of Clarksville, on Highway 79. Get on Highway 79 between Clarksville and Paris, and I guarantee you can't miss it just on the west side of Land Between The Lakes. Paris Landing State Park is open year 'round, seven days a week, 24 hours a day. For more information, call the park toll-free at (800) 250-8614.

TWRA Family Fishing Lakes

You can expand your family fishing opportunities in Middle and West Tennessee by taking a look at the TWRA family fishing lakes located there. There are 18 fishing lakes managed by the TWRA that are open year 'round for fishing and outdoors recreation. They're designed and regulated especially for family fishing and most prohibit alcoholic beverages, houseboats, inboard motors, water skiing, personal watercraft and swimming. In addition, most of these lakes have wheelchair accessible fishing piers, easy access to bank-fishing, boat rentals, launching ramps and picnic areas. Some lakes also offer conveniences such as bait, tackle, snacks and drinks.

Ten of the family fishing lakes are located in West Tennessee and range from 87 acres to 560 acres in size. The remaining eight lakes are located in Middle Tennessee and range from 12 acres to 325 acres in size. Bluegills, bass, catfish and crappie are highly sought species at these family destinations. One of the four lakes at Williamsport (Whippoorwill) is for youth-adult fishing only and an embayment of Laurel Hill Lake is designated for youth-only fishing.

In addition to these, there are a couple of ponds totaling approximately 15 acres designated as youth fishing ponds. These ponds are located on the Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness WMA in White County. For more information about these ponds, call the Region III TWRA office at (800) 262-6704.

A $5 daily or $40 annual permit is required to fish most of these lakes. These permits may be purchased at most of the individual lake offices. Boats can also be rented for an $8 per day fee at most family lakes. Fishing on these waters is permitted seven days per week from one-half hour before sunrise to one-half hour after sunset (except Garrett Lake is open 24 hours). Commercial gear, trotlines and limblines are prohibited.

You can find specific license and operation information about each of these lakes at the TWRA Web site listed below.


After you've made your family fishing outing, there's a new opportunity provided by the TWRA to further remember your trophy catches. I can tell you first hand, having your kid's catch recognized and then noted in a framed certificate on his wall will keep him fishing for a long time.

The Tennessee Angler Recognition Program (TARP) allows anglers to have their trophy fish recognized by the TWRA. Anglers of any age, who catch large fish that meet or exceed the qualifying lengths, may apply. The TWRA Fisheries Management Division sends those accomplished anglers certificates featuring color reproductions of fish artwork by renowned wildlife artist Joseph R. Tomelleri.

The program is designed to acknowledge anglers for outstanding sport-fishing accomplishments, encourage catch and release of trophy-sized fish, and provide the TWRA with information on large fish caught throughout the state. For more information on the qualifications and applications for TARP, go to the TWRA's Web site listed below.


For most families that are just getting started in fishing, the hardest part is just getting started. The good news is that there is a host of Web sites on the Internet with valuable information about getting the kids and you involved.

For residents within our borders and for visitors coming in from other states, the best informational site is the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's official Web site at Here you can find the answers to any fishing regulation questions that you have, but more important, it also has links that beginning or vacationing anglers can use.

At the TWRA Web site, there are also sections that include a guide to bank-fishing, a list of TWRA family fishing lakes, all the Tennessee state park fishing lakes, and information on the Tennessee Angler Recognition Program. The TWRA's site also has links to other organizations that can help you get started.

The link to the Future Fisherman Foundation at www.futurefisherman.orgprovides a lot of information on the "Hooked On Fishing -- Not On Drugs Program" and "Hooked On Fishing" events. From here, you can also access the Take Me Fishing link at This site lists all the free fishing days for states across the country, and also has a search engine to help you locate fishing spots in urban areas. Tennessee's Free Fishing Day is June 10, 2006 this year, and all license requirements are waived for that special day.

There's also a link to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Web page called "Fishing Is Fun For Everyone." Here you'll find basic but necessary information on how to get started fishing. There are tips on hook sizes, line, rod and reels, and even baits. There are even illustrations on how to tie both the Palomar and improved clinch knots. Once you've mastered the knot section, you can move on to the casting instructions.


If getting kids started in fishing were easy, everybody would be jumping on the bandwagon. The good new

s is there are groups and organizations out there that help each year with kids' fishing events and other angling programs. Kids' fishing events are a good way to get your feet wet before going on an all-out family fishing vacation.

Before you set forth on your family adventure, be sure you know your limitations -- both physically and legally. Every body of water across this great state, whether impounded or moving, has different regulations for each species from size lengths to creel limits. Your best resource for Tennessee fishing regulations is the TWRA's 2006 Tennessee Fishing Regulations or the fishing link on their Web site at

Finally and most important, know your kids' limits. There have been many kids burnt out on fishing on their first outing because somebody didn't know when to quit. Take it from someone who has been fishing with his kids for more than a decade -- listen to your kids. Take along snacks and plenty to drink to fill in the gaps in the action. Remember, it's no longer fun when they're no longer having a good time. Know your kids and know when it's time to quit for the day.

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