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36 Great Fishing Trips in Tennessee

36 Great Fishing Trips in Tennessee

Narrowing down all the great fishing options you have in Tennessee can be a chore. Here are 36 suggestions, three for each month of the year.

By Vernon Summerlin

You've probably heard you can select stocks and bonds as well as anyone by throwing a dart at the list in the newspaper. The same is true when it comes to choosing a place to fish on a map of Tennessee - toss a dart at the map, fish the nearest lake, and you'll probably have better luck than you would if you played the stock market.

While having hundreds of good places to fish is a better problem than having no good places to fish, it can be difficult for anglers with limited recreation time to decide where to go in Tennessee. If you're on the fence about where to fish for a certain species, this report may sway you to visit a lake that ranks high.

We have 24 species of game fish under Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency regulations. You may have a single favorite game fish that you pursue to the exclusion of all others or you may fish for "what's biting." Either way, we hope this calendar can help you decide where to go and when for some happy hooking!

Kentucky Lake
Pickwick's tailwater is probably the best place in the state for saugers during cold-weather months, but downstream at the mouth of the Duck River is another hotspot for saugers.

Jeff Smith of Nashville studied saugers for many years and holds two firm convictions about Tennessee saugers.

First, the best time to catch saugers is after a heavy rain makes the river rise and run muddy with a strong current. After the water level falls and clears, the fish are ready to bite.


Second, mussel beds and gravel bars are the two best structures to fish. Smith says the mouth of the Duck River has two mussel bars; one is about a mile long.

Smith drifts the bars vertically jigging a 1-ounce jig adorned with a 3-inch curlytail grub. The rig he uses for fishing along bluff walls is a 3/4-ounce jig-and-grub with the addition of two 10-inch drop-lines. The first is 8 inches above the jig and the other is 10 inches above the first. These lines get No. 1 size hooks baited with minnows.

Smith says saugers feed mainly on the bottom, so your bait should be within a foot or two of the lake bed.

Doug Markum hoists a striper that weighed nearly 40 pounds. Markum caught the fish below Old Hickory Dam. Photo by Vernon Summerlin

Caney Fork River
Five-pound rainbows and browns seem to make themselves more available in February. At least that's my experience. Anglers mention they hit live minnows, Power Eggs and spoons best. Even if you don't catch many big fish, you should get your limit of seven trout easily.

TWRA stocks thousands of trout in the Caney Fork every year from spring until fall. The stocked trout you catch will have spent the winter eating natural foods, but corn, salmon eggs and marshmallows should still be effective.

The best places to catch them are near the dam, the first set of riffles near the eastern ramp, near the steps to Long Branch Campgrounds, and downstream by the bluffs.

You'll see anglers sitting with a rod resting on the ground waiting for trout to hit their corn. It's a proven method. Another way that speeds up the biting process is to drift commercially produced eggs on a No. 12 salmon egg hook 2 feet under a float. You need to put a BB split shot about 8 inches above your hook to keep the lighter-than-water baits submerged.

Cast your bait upstream, let it drift by you, then feed out line as it goes downstream. Watch your float for a hit. When the float goes under, make a mental note of where the hit took place. You can work that spot with a 1/6-ounce Crippled Herring spoon or Little Cleo. Often a limit of trout hold in a relatively small area.

Douglas Lake
West Tennessee's Kentucky Lake is always a hot crappie spot, but crappie guide Ted Kramer of Morristown says Douglas is the lake in east Tennessee.

After 30-plus years experience on Douglas, Ted says the best places on the lake are from Swan Bridge upstream to Taylor Bend, and he pays special attention to Nina Creek. Muddy Creek and McGuire Creek farther downstream should a get thorough fishing, too.

For spring crappie, think willow bushes. When the lake begins to clear in the spring, crappie move into the bushes to spawn.

Spinning gear with 6-pound-test green line is Ted's choice. He is strictly a tight liner, and not with minnows. He uses 1/16- and 1/8-ounce jigs with 2-inch chartreuse curlytail grubs. He casts to his target, lets the jig hit bottom and reels the bait in very slowly with an occasional hop to give it a little action. He wants the tail to wiggle.

If the fish pecks at the grub, Ted suggests biting a small piece off the grub to make it shorter. Keep reducing the length until you catch the fish. Sometimes, the fish will not allow a grub to hit the bottom before they strike it; the only way you'll know crappie are hitting is by a little tick in your line.

Ted cautions that it's a mistake to park right on top of crappie. He says to back off, ease the anchor down at least 30 feet away. It doesn't take any more than a cloud of mud kicked up by the anchor to send the crappie to another part of the lake.

Contact Ted Kramer at (423) 587-4931.

Largemouth Bass
Tellico/Ft. Loudoun
Pro angler Doug Plemons from Kingston fishes riprap near the dams and along shorelines - right in the back yards of homeowners. He says that when bass are close to the bank this time of year, they're eating crawdads. He relates a story of a friend who had a 26-pound limit of five bass in five minutes by fishing crawdads near the bank.

Many largemouths move shallow when water temperature reaches the low 60s, usually by early to mid-April. The fish will be getting close to spawning and are feeding hard. Plastic lizards, fished on a Carolina or Texas rig, are also among popular artificial baits that catch pre-spawn and bedding largemouths.

Smallmouths are often caught on flats and on gravel or rocky points in April. Lipless rattling crankbaits and small plastic baits fished on light leadhead jigs are among lures that catch many smallmouths.

Shellcrackers And Bluegills
Kentucky Lake
When is comes to catching fun, all you need is a cricket on a 1/24-ounce jig under a small round cork cast by an ultralight outfit. That's the "Mason Method."

Guide Garry Mason of Springville developed the easiest way to catch bluegills and shellcrackers yet devised. Mason's method evolved from observing bream for years.

Kentucky Lake has weedy shorelines, and from the first week in May until mid-June, shellcrackers are using the vegetation as their spawning area. Bluegills prefer sparser weeds and usually spawn a few feet from the shellcrackers, according to Mason.

Mason will pull into some shallow, quiet water and start casting. When he catches a shellcracker, he stays there for a while. Bream spawn close together and where you catch one, you are likely to catch several more.

Contact Garry Mason at (901) 593-5429.

Boone Lake
Boone is one of a handful of lakes in the state stocked with hybrids and stripers. The hardy hybrids are stocked where stripers sometimes have difficulty surviving, but stripers live well in Boone and the hybrids are there by popular demand. The lake has produced two state-record hybrids.

The hybrids will be migrating in three directions in June, according to Tom Richards of Kingsport. One school heads for the deep water near the dam and the two other groups swim upstream into the cool waters of the South Holston and Watauga rivers.

The school of fish at the dam will be at 16 feet or deeper. Vertical jigging, a commonly used technique for stripers and hybrids, can spook the fish. Tom contends that a boat over the fish-holding area tends to decrease the bites. He suggests casting jigs to fish.

After you have marked fish, back off about 40 feet and cast a white bucktail jig to the school. Let it fall nearly to the depth the fish are and twitch it to imitate an injured shad. Bring the jig back just above the fish first. If you don't get any action, retrieve it through the school.

You can also fish live bait by pulling a flatline behind your boat. Put a split shot 2 feet above the shad or shiner letting the speed of boat determine the bait's depth as you use your trolling motor over the school.

Contact Tom Richards at (423) 246-7628.

Lake Barkley
No thermocline, no hot water, just good bassing. Lake Barkley, because it is a Cumberland River impoundment, will have cooler water than tributary reservoirs like Center Hill or Percy Priest in middle Tennessee.

The lake has an abundance of wood cover for bass along the channel and in the backwaters. Where there is wood, you're likely to find bass.

Dave Woodward of Nashville fishes this lake as much as anyone. He and I have been fishing buddies for nearly 20 years. He uses what I call the "Woodward Clock" method.

He starts his day casting topwater baits over wood in shallow water. He says to stay with topwater baits until the sun clears the trees.

Then he suggests anglers back away from the bank into water 6 feet deep to cast shallow-running crankbaits toward the bank and along laydowns. As the sun rises, move to deeper water but stay around wood. The higher the sun, the deeper he fishes. He'll use plastic worms and jigs around dead falls along the channel during midday. Then after 2 p.m., he gradually moves shallow until he's casting topwater baits again when the sun drops behind the trees.

Smallmouth Bass
Buffalo River
Guide Bob Latendresse from Camden floats in the shade of over-hanging trees down a cool river during the heat of August, but you'll certainly work up a sweat pulling in smallies.

Bob fishes a six-mile stretch of the Buffalo using plastics, cranks, live bait netted from the river, and streamers on a fly rod - your choice. Plan on spending most of the day on the river whether you get out and wade-fish some riffles and holes or stay in the boat. The Buffalo has too many excellent holes to cover in a day, but you'll be very pleased with your catch.

Bob recommends using 8- to 12-pound-test line because some 6-pound smallies lurk among the laydowns. You can ask him if you should bring some gear for stripers - he has a secret hole that holds them in summer.

Contact Bob Latendresse at (731) 584-2041 or

Woods Reservoir
Beat the heat by casting for largemouths at night on Woods Reservoir northeast of Chattanooga and just east of Tullahoma. Woods receives moderate fishing pressure and, best of all, the bass cooperate fully. Within a mile up and downstream of Morris Ferry Dock are all the fish you could want.

Angler Tom Waynick of Normandy says a Carolina-rigged lizard dragged across the humps will help you collect your reward. He uses a pumpkin seed or watermelon lizard with the tail dipped in chartreuse. He loads the lizard on a 5/0 hook rigged Texas style. His 3-foot, 10-pound-test leader separates the business end from a barrel swivel holding a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce egg sinker on 15-pound-test line.

Locate humps close to the main channel with your sonar. Move away from the hump 30 to 40 feet, mark your boat position by placing a buoy under your black light and give the hump a thorough going over. Humps are going to hold bass, so if you don't get any hits, change your boat position. Before you move to another spot, make sure you have worked the hump from four angles and from the top down into the nearest, deepest water.

Contact Morris Ferry Dock at (931) 967-5370.

Kentucky (Spotted) Bass
Hatchie River
The Hatchie River is a natural-state Scenic River much the same as it was in the last two centuries: free flowing and clear.

The best fishing is going to be in eddy water. Sometimes Kentuckies hold in the outside of river bends where there is more current. Small spinnerbaits, topwaters, shallow-running crankbaits and 1/8-ounce jigs with brown or white curlytails are top choices for the slack water. Use heavier jigs for fishing in the current. You can expect to catch a largemouth once in a while, but the Kentuckies outnumber them. Canoes or johnboats are the best watercraft for fishing here.

Norris Lake
Ezell Cox fishes for stripers in the Clinch and Powell rivers of Norris Lake and the same techniques work well in both river systems. In November and December, he recommends fishing in several areas between the lake's midsection to the dam for stripers a

t 30 to 40 feet deep. Slow-trolling shad 7 inches long or less on a Carolina rig is a tried-and-true method.

He also recommends using planer boards running a Red Fin or large shad close to shore. At the same time you should have out a flatline or two in case the stripers are away from shore.

Contact Ezell Cox at (423) 626-9547.

Cheatham Dam
Cheatham Dam, near Ashland City, is my favorite cold-weather fishing hole. Using minnow-tipped jigs or a minnow on a modified Carolina rig are the most popular and effective techniques. Anchor at the end and along the lock walls to cast jigs. Drifting in the current to the northeast of the powerhouse is also a good way to pick up fish.

Stripers feed mainly on fish near the bottom, so your bait should be within 2 feet of the bottom. Trolling deep-diving plugs and blade baits is another beneficial technique.

You can be doubly lucky here. Saugers are often with stripers, and you can catch them on the same baits and techniques.

Now rip out this Fishing Calendar, staple the pages together, and put it in your tackle box. Now you can travel all over Tennessee and know where to fish without using your darts.

Editor's Note: Vernon Summerlin has co-written a book called The Compleat Tennessee Angler, with 400 pages, maps and photos. Send $23 to Vernon Summerlin, 5550 Boy Scout Road, Franklin, TN 37064 for each autographed and postpaid copy.

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