October 04, 2010
Whether you're after giant stripers, blue catfish, feisty smallmouths or plentiful crappie, they are all biting in the summer. Here are the places to find the fish right now. (July 2010)
When the summer sun sizzles, too many anglers start singing the Dog Days Blues, usually from home -- in an air conditioned room -- and assuming it must be too hot for any fish to want to bite. Although it's true that some fish can become tough customers during mid-summer and that some styles of fishing really aren't even worth trying, other types of angling actually get better as the days get hotter.
Jerry Uhrine (center) and fishing buddies Ted Boozer and Gary Hathcock show off Uhrine's 75-pound Tennessee River blue cat.
Photo courtesy of Scenic City Fishing Charters (www.ScenicCityFishing.com).
We've handpicked 10 Tennessee places where fishing tends to be extra good for a variety of species through the hottest part of the summer. The hotspots are scattered through all parts of the state, so we'll begin in West Tennessee and work our way east.
REELFOOT LAKE CATFISH
"Look for the whitewashed trees," Billy Blakely advised.
The unattractive staining is a sure sign that cormorants roost in a specific group of cypress trees and it comes from the same source as the "chum" that causes the channel cats to pile up around the bases of the same tree. Not a very appealing pattern, but a highly effective one, especially during summer when the trees also lend shade.
The best bait, according to Blakely, a long-time guide out of Blue Bank Lodge, is the same shad that the birds are eating. He cuts the shad into chunks and pitches his offering around the bases of the cypress trees with bass tackle. If the cats are nearby, they typically latch on pretty quickly.
Alternative patterns are to fish night crawlers over stump fields or along the edges of groups of trees in the Blue Basin, or to fish at night along the edges of the lake with 'crawlers, red worms or cut shad. Whatever approach an angler opts for, Reelfoot is absolutely loaded with channel catfish up to about 10 pounds and can yield excellent summer action. The lake also produces an occasional big flathead, but these are usually bonuses for anglers targeting other species.
For more on Reelfoot lodging, boat rentals, guided fishing or lake information visit www.bluebankresort.com.
KENTUCKY LAKE BASS
Summer puts the big largemouths along the edges of the old river main channel and produces some of the finest action of the year. Anglers who understand river currents and how fish relate to current breaks caused by channel ledges and other structural features commonly find chunky bass congregated in key spots.
Good fishing sometimes occurs by day, especially when the Tennessee Valley Authority is pulling plenty of water through Kentucky and Pickwick dams to create good current over the structure. However, the most consistent action occurs after the sun goes down.
At night the bass feed aggressively along the tops of the ledges and over adjacent humps. Night fishermen arm themselves with Texas-rigged 10-inch plastic worms or lizards, spinnerbaits with grossly oversize single Colorado blades, or bushy jigs dressed with crawfish trailers. Most prefer dark colors and slow presentations for nighttime bass fishing on Kentucky Lake. Largemouths will dominate, but chunky smallmouths also show up in the catch some nights.
The lower northern end of Kentucky Lake's Tennessee portion and some of the reciprocal-license waters just into Kentucky offer much of the best summer fishing along the main river channel. Key areas tend to be close to creek and ditch confluences with the main river channel, and flats adjacent to hard channel bends.
For handy lodging, guided fishing or simply more information about Kentucky Lake, visit www.buchananresort.com.
Plentiful current, structure and food combine to provide striped bass with everything they need in the downstream shadows of Pickwick Dam, so the fish have no reason to go anywhere else. That's good news for anglers who don't mind battling strong currents and have the boating skills to do so. As long as the TVA is running at least a little bit of water though the dam, the stripers are apt to be present and feeding.
Tailwater specialist Clagett Talley does the bulk of his striper guiding with a Strike King Wild Shiner, a baitfish-imitating jerkbait that Pickwick tailwater stripers can't seem to resist. Holding his boat just downstream of the "boils," where discharged water rises to the surface, he has clients cast past a boil, into eddies running back toward the dam. Then they just hold the rod, with the line tight so the bait can dash and dart against the current. Usually an angler won't be holding the rod long before the bait gets pummeled.
Alternative approaches are to drift with bucktails, spoons or live shad on three-way or spit shot rigs, or to cast the same types of offerings from the tailwater's rocky shoreline. No other technique is nearly as exciting as throwing a jerkbait, though, and at times nothing is more effective.
To learn more about the fishing or to book a trip with Talley, visit www.pickwickareaguide.com.
OLD HICKORY BASS
Nashville anglers don't need to travel far to find explosive mid-summer action. July and August mornings and serious excitement go together perfectly when the grass mats up in Old Hickory Lake backwaters and the bass get under the mats. A frog or a rat dragged over the grass often sends grass flying in every direction when a largemouth attacks.
If the bass don't want to bust though the grass or if the vegetation doesn't grow enough to mat up significantly, good alternatives for catching the same bass are pitching Texas-rigged soft plastics lures into what grass does exist, or fishing Flukes or similar baits over the top of the vegetation. If significant water is being pulled though the lake, a crankbait fished over structure along the Cumberland River channel can also be very effective.
Old Hickory gets plenty of fishing pressure, but it cranks out excellent bass year after. The best action typically occurs during the first few hours of the morning, so Nashville anglers can get out early, stay close to home, enjoy fine fishing and get back home before the day really gets hot.
CANEY FORK TROUT
When many other waters turn toasty and the fish get lazy, tailwaters continue to kick out the cool flows that keep trout happy. Few places in Tennessee support happier trout or trout fishermen than the
Caney Fork River below Center Hill Dam. Altered water-flow regimes in recent years have resulted in improved water temperatures, dissolved oxygen levels and food supplies in the Caney Fork, and this stretch of river has emerged as one of the state's premier destinations for big trout.
In addition to rainbows and browns, both of which exhibit excellent growth rates, brook trout provide a bonus to anglers in the Caney Fork. The brookies, which have been stocked for the past couple of years, have been performing quite well and are also starting to grow large. All trout in Caney Fork are now protected by new special regulations of a five trout combined creel limit, with only one brown trout that must be at least 24-inches, a 14- to 20-inch protected slot for rainbows and brookies, with one fish or those species more than 20 inches permitted in the daily limit.
The Caney Fork is nicely suited for a summer float trip in a canoe, with access points scattered along the way, and also can be waded in several places. Fly fishermen often do especially well with terrestrial patterns this time of year.
If anyone needs a good reason to spend a summer day fishing on the Tennessee River near Chattanooga, he needs only to talk with Jerry Uhrine. While fishing with Richard Simms of Scenic City Fishing Charters late last June, Uhrine boated a record-breaking blue catfish. The giant cat stretched the measuring tape to 52 inches, establishing a new catch-and-release record for 10-pound-test with the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. The fish weighed a hair over 75 pounds on Simms' digital scales!
Simms' clients enjoy sizzling action throughout the summer, and any fish that takes a bait (the record fish grabbed a chicken breast) in the Tennessee River could turn out to be a giant. Simms fishes both above and below Chickamauga dam, depending on water-release schedule and on what the fish have been doing.
Tennessee River cats clearly have benefited from the statewide limit of only one catfish daily over 34 inches, and big cats absolutely abound in the big river. Simms catches all three major catfish species, but chunky blue catfish clearly are the main attraction. He encourages catch and release of all big cats. To plan a trip with Richard Simms, visit www.sceniccityfishing.com.
DALE HOLLOW SMALLIES
The home of the all-tackle world-record smallmouth bass is at its best on summer nights, when big bronzebacks prowl grassy flats and feast on crawfish. A 1/4-ounce Punisher hair jig in blue and black or red and black is tough to beat for after-hours smallmouths on Dale Hollow Lake.
Patterning is critical for after-hours smallmouths, according to Dale Hollow veteran Stephen Headrick. Some nights the fish bite best on flats along the main river. Other nights they'll be in the mouths of major creeks or farther up in the hollows. Headrick also experiments with presentations, having found that the best approach any given night can range from a true drag, with no hops whatsoever, to an abrupt "stroking" presentation with sharp rod lifts and drops.
Dale Hollow veterans tend to favor nights when the moon is not super bright over moonlit nights. The fish may still bite when the moon is full and the skies are clear, but they will be surprisingly spooky.
For much more about smallmouth fishing on Dale Hollow, baits to use and guide references, visit www.punisherlures.com or stop by the Dale Hollow 1 Stop in Celina.
TELLICO LAKE CRAPPIE
When pleasure boaters are pulling their crafts out for the evening, Knoxville area crappie fishermen should be slipping their boats into Tellico Lake, which impounds 16,500 acres along the Little Tennessee and Tellico rivers. Although crappie can be caught by day or by night, the after-hours approach clearly produces the most consistent success. Nighttime is also far more pleasant to be on this lake, which may be a little too handy to Knoxville for its own good.
Tellico supports an excellent population of white crappie and yields fine fishing action year after year, despite heavy fishing pressure. The most recent angler surveys revealed that 75 percent of all crappie caught on Tellico Lake were harvested. If one gives consideration to the statewide 10-inch minimum size, that says a great deal about the average quality of the fish in Tellico.
The best summer fishing is generally found around cover that is adjacent to the main river channel, including timber well up the Tellico arm, blown-down trees along river channel bends throughout the lake, and brush piles placed on humps, points or flats near the main channel.
As fine as the trout fishing is in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, anglers shouldn't forget about smallmouth fishing within the park. The lower ends of Little River and Abrams or Cattaloochee creeks all serve up outstanding summer smallmouth fishing in a fabulous mountain setting. There are few finer places to be on a mid-summer day than thigh-deep in a Smokies stream. Cattaloochee is actually in North Carolina, but park waters are reciprocal, regarding licenses.
The heads and tails of deep runs, and eddies beneath drops or behind boulders tend to hold smallmouths during the summer. A lot of different baits produce fish, but it's tough to beat a simple 3- or 4-inch curly-tail grub in a natural color, fished on a 1/8-ounce leadhead and retrieved in the current or bounced on the bottom.
As a bonus, rock bass abound in the best smallmouth waters, and in Little River or Cattaloochee Creek any given cast could yield a giant brown trout instead of a smallmouth.
One important note about smallmouth fishing in the national park is that only single-hook artificial lures are permitted in park waters. Also, smallmouths fall under a unique five fish combined limit, along with rainbow, brown and brook trout. The minimum size is 7 inches.
SOUTH HOLSTON TROUT
Steep, deep and fed by mountain streams, South Holston Lake offers fine habitat for rainbow, brown and lake trout. Mid-summer conditions shrink the lake's quality trout habitat, which becomes an advantage to anglers. The trout congregate at the depths where they find the best combination of water temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels, so anglers who are decent with their electronics and at controlled-depth trolling can easily put spoons or jerkbaits in front of a lot of trout.
Trout typically are in the 30- to 50-foot depth range during mid-summer, usually along the main river channel. They congregate around schools of bait, which are likewise seeking the coolest water with sufficient dissolved oxygen levels. Both baitfish and trout gather over points or humps that intersect the prime depth zone, but at times they suspend over much deeper water.
Although stocking numbers and species ratios vary annually, the TWRA typically releases around 100,000 trout in the lake per year. The combined creel limit for trout is seven fish, only two of which may be lake trout. There is no minimum size. Anglers also need to be aware that a portion of the South Holston i
s located in Virginia, and there is no reciprocal licensing agreement in place.