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36 Great Fishing Spots in Tennessee

36 Great Fishing Spots in Tennessee

The Volunteer State has great fishing all year 'round. These 36 destinations -- 3 for each month -- promise topflight fishing for Tennessee anglers.


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By Jeff Samsel

With a few springlike days sneaking in between cold snaps, it would be tough to not spend some time daydreaming about fishing. Of course, with thoughts about a new season always come visions of exploring new places.

Don't just dream about trips to new waters, though. Start planning them and then make the trips. We'll help by giving you a few new things to dream about. We'll look at every month of the year, for each exploring some of the best fishing opportunities that exist in Tennessee. Picks will stretch from the mountains to the Mississippi River and look at fish of every shape and size.

Tellico River
Heavy stocking and catch-and-release requirements keep trout numbers high in the delayed-harvest section of the Tellico River from Oct. 1 to March 15. High catch rates are common throughout the winter for those anglers who don't mind toughing it out in the cold and putting their fish back.

Flyfishermen generally do best with nymphs, dead drifted to run right along the bottom. In fact the area's namesake fly, a Tellico Nymph, is as good a fly to tie on as any. Strikes are generally subtle and quick, so fishermen must pay close attention and make quick hooksets.

Spin-fishermen find similar success by fishing small spinners or micro-jigs slowly, keeping their offerings very close to the bottom. Trout generally stay fairly active through the winter, but most of their forage stays on or near the bottom this time of the year.

Delayed-harvest waters, which run from the mouth of Turkey Creek downstream to Oosterneck Creek Recreation Area, add opportunity to more than a dozen miles of the Tellico River that are heavily stocked and open year 'round under a special permit system and have long provided fine winter fishing. Beyond serving up steady action, the Tellico surrenders some really big trout every year.


Photo by Ron Sinfelt

The pre-spawn period is the time of the year an angler is most likely to hook an absolutely gigantic smallmouth, and there are few places in the world for doing just that than Pickwick Lake.

During late winter and early spring, most of the best action occurs on the lake's main body, either over gravel bars or over the tops of points that are close to spawning areas. Popular lures include suspending jerkbaits, big-bladed spinnerbaits and grubs fished on leadheads. At times, it's easy to believe that on this lake anyway, chartreuse is every serious smallmouth fisherman's No. 1 color.

Continually rising and falling water levels create an ever-changing lake and add to the angling challenge. Smallies relate differently to various structural features according to how much water is pushing across them. Pickwick can be a very difficult lake. It can seem like it doesn't have a fish in it, or it may yield several 5-pound-plus smallmouths in an afternoon.

The very proposition of the latter, along with the legitimate opportunity for an angler to lock horns with a 7-pound-class smallmouth, makes those slow days on the lake well worth enduring.

Tims Ford
Everyone can catch crappie during the spring. A lot of fish move shallow and hang tight to very obvious shoreline cover. Woods Reservoir, which is among the best crappie lakes in the state, has abundant blowdowns along its edges and stumps through its upper end, giving anglers plenty of targets to cast toward.

The easiest way to catch crappie during March is simply to put minnows under corks and move from one tree to another, casting the float rigs around them and waiting for the corks to dart under. By adjusting depths periodically and paying attention to where strikes come, it's usually not difficult to find the best depth and the best type of cover for the day.

Many anglers also fish jigs, either casting them under corks, slow-trolling several lines along the lake's edge or casting to slightly deeper cover and counting the baits down to the fish. Pressure gets heavy during prime crappie time, but there are plenty of fish for everyone. Woods supports high numbers of crappie from well up the Elk River all the way to the dam.

Family Fishing Lakes
For any angler who does not own a boat, there may be no better time or place in Tennessee to enjoy fine bass fishing than during April on the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's 20 or so "Family Fishing Lakes," which are owned by the agency and managed specifically for fishing. Virtually all of these lakes support good largemouth populations, and April pushes the fish shallow and turns them active.

Rental boats, which are available at most of the lakes for a very modest cost, allow anglers to get out to explore and fish the lakes thoroughly. In addition, virtually all the lakes in this program have very good bank access around them.

Spinnerbaits, crankbaits and plastic worms are all good baits during April. Depending on the lake, fish should be around some type of fairly obvious cover. Blown down trees, grass lines and rockpiles are all apt to hold bass. Some fish will also hold on offshore structure, but the beauty of April is that anglers can catch fish without knowing specific spots and without knowing a lot about structure fishing.

Watts Bar
For fast action and the potential for big fish, nothing can top striped bass fishing in Tennessee's premier striper waters, and Watts Bar clearly ranks among the finest fisheries in the state. Fish abound throughout the lake, and 20-pound-plus stripers are common catches.

Good fishing actually begins where the lake begins, in the Fort Loudoun tailwater. Anglers working from boats commonly find good action during the summer by drifting in the tailwater. Most bump shad-baited three-way rigs right along the bottom. Shoreline anglers, meanwhile, cast live or cut shad or big white bucktails into the swift currents and catch a fair number of stripers.

Farther down the lake, anglers do well with a number of tactics during May. Among the most fun ways to target stripers are to wobble huge Red-Fins over major points and to watch for schooling fish to cast to with topwater plugs or bucktails.

If the fish won't come up, anglers go down to them, often drifting over open-water areas where they mark baitfish. Most anglers look for baitfish, more so than they seek stripers on the graph, figuring if the shad are around, the stripers shouldn't be far away.

Clinch River
The Clinch River below Norris Dam yielded Tennessee's state-record brown trout several years ago, and it produces good numbers of big fish every year. The river is heavily stocked year 'round, and also gets a good dose of fingerling trout, which grow up in the tailwater and look and act a lot like wild fish.

Like most tailwaters, the Clinch can be two completely different rivers according to whether the water is or is not being released from the dam. On low water, wading is easy and fishing tends to be good, although the fish get quite spooky. One generator turning makes the trout more aggressive, but it knocks wading out of the equation. If both generators are running or any spill gates are open, fishing the Clinch is best saved for another day.

The Clinch is a fairly large river, by Southern trout stream standards and provides plenty of room for fishermen. Fly-fishing, spin-fishing with plug and spinners, and fishing with natural bait are all popular, and all three sets of anglers catch a lot of trout from the Clinch. Tennessee Valley Authority provides good access below the dam.

White Bass
Kentucky Lake
When high power demands keep water running through Kentucky Dam, anglers enjoy consistently great white bass fishing on the open waters of Kentucky Lake. The white bass pile up over ditches that lead to the main-river channel, the tops of humps and river channel edges, especially around big channel bends.

While white bass come to the surface to feed fairly often during summer, most fishing is done with baits fished right on the bottom. Anglers blind-cast across areas where the fish should be, either based on what the graph shows or on historical patterns. Instead of looking for schools to chase and cast to, most anglers consider fish that happen to surface within casting distance to be a bonus.

In-line spinners are probably the most popular midsummer baits for white bass on Kentucky Lake. Other commonly used offerings include bucktails, small lipless crankbaits and white curlytail grubs. With all, anglers cast them out, let them sink to the bottom and then work them along the bottom.

One very good thing about white bass is that they tend to swim in big schools. Therefore, once an angler finds one, he often has found a bunch of them. Anglers also should be aware that changes in the operation of Kentucky Dam can turn white bass on and off like a light switch.

Dale Hollow
Summer nights bring out the best in Dale Hollow's super-sized smallmouths, with most anglers doing their damage by fishing hair jigs slowly across the bottom. Night-fishermen commonly catch a dozen or more smallmouths in half a night, with most of them weighing more than 3 pounds and a 5-pounder or two in the mix.

Most anglers think only about steep rock when they think about Dale Hollow smallmouths. Some of the best locations for night-fishing with jigs, however, are actually fairly gently sloping areas that have grass growing over them. The smallmouths hide in the vegetation and pounce out on crawfish or baitfish that stray too close. Beyond providing good cover for the bass, the vegetation supports a host of tiny critters that get the food chain going.

Most anglers use black lights and fluorescent line for night-fishing so they can spot any tick in the line. Smallmouths commonly grab jigs lightly and then figure out that something doesn't feel or taste right before anglers ever set the hook. A variety of slow retrieves on or near the bottom are apt to draw strikes, and fishermen need to pay close attention to which retrieves draw the most strikes any given night. If your retrieve isn't drawing strikes, by far the most likely problem with it is that it's too fast.

Old Hickory
Old Hickory has been a hot bass lake over the past couple years, and during September the fishing action can sizzle. Unlocking the bass' code any given day can be somewhat of a challenge, but anglers who do succeed in figuring it out earn great rewards.

Two patterns stand out for September bass fishing. One is to stay along the Cumberland River channel, and fish brush or other cover that stretches into the main channel and actually breaks the current. For this pattern to shine, some current typically needs to be running though the lake.

The other pattern is to fish grass, most of which is found up the lake's creeks. Rat or frog fishing has grown immensely popular around Old Hickory over the past decade or so, and the fish serve up huge thrills anytime they bust frogs in the grass.

The bass will be in the grass, whether they will come up to feed or not. If frogs do not produce, then flipping is probably the best way to go down and get them. Because Old Hickory's bass grow big and the grass is sometimes thick, flipping calls for heavy line and stout tackle.

Brown Trout
Smoky Mountains
For a few weeks every autumn, large brown trout stray out of their deep, dark lairs and abandon much of their normal wariness. Just before and after the spawn, which always occurs in October or early November, the browns become more susceptible to being caught than they will be any other time of year.

Most major streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park support good brown trout populations through their lower reaches, along with high numbers of feisty wild rainbows. All fish are stream bred, as no trout have been stocked in park waters for many years.

Only single-hook artificial lures may be used in park waters, and a lot of anglers fly-fish. Fishing pressure on

most streams is quite light. Prime flies include small but bright dry flies, terrestrial patterns and brown or olive Woolly Buggers. More important than the right fly, though, is a highly stealthy approach coupled with careful presentations of flies.

Anglers may fish anywhere in the GSMNP with a Tennessee or North Carolina fishing license, which provides trout fishermen with numerous fine choices.

Blue Catfish
Mississippi River
Big blues strap on the feedbag during the fall, creating an outstanding opportunity for anglers who desire to do battle with a giant catfish. The river tends to be stable during November, which makes the cats quite predictable. Prime areas to fish include deep runs along riprap banks, edges of scour holes below wing dams and holes formed in big bends in the river.

While blues are the main attraction, heavyweight flatheads also serve up some big thrills during November. Anglers who want a good chance at a flathead should rig at least one line with a fairly large, live gizzard shad. For blues, cut skipjack typically is the bait of choice. At times, though, the cats favor shad over skipjack.

Because of the enormous size that Mississippi River cats can reach (the world-record blue came from just across the river from Memphis), anglers need to gear up with seriously stout tackle. Powerful rods should be matched with geared-down baitcasting reels and spooled up with at least 50-pound-test line.

Also, the Mississippi is one of the most powerful rivers in the world. Its currents are easy to underestimate, and they routinely push large, boat-killing debris through the water. You should have a boat that is up to the task of navigating this river.

Pickwick Tailwater
If it seems like a good day for ducks to fly, it's probably a good day for saugers to bite. December is prime time for these members of the perch family, which abound on the lower Tennessee River, and boat ramps fill up when the sauger bite is happening.

Most anglers fish for saugers by using fairly heavy jigheads to fish straight down in tailwater currents within the first several miles of Pickwick Dam. Often tipping their jigs with minnows, anglers fish over mussel beds and gravel bars, either drifting down the structures or setting up over very specific spots.

Depending upon conditions, the fish can be right up on the bars, along their slopes or down in the channel beside them. Anglers need to pay close attention to where every fish hits, because if one is on a slope between a hump and a channel in 25 feet of water, several more are probably in exactly the same type of place. Sunny days, generally speaking, tend to push the fish a bit deeper.

Saugers hit lightly and let go quickly, so anglers must pay attention at all times and be ready to set the hook.

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