Best Fishing Holes
The onset of summer
means different things to different people, but for many Tennessee
anglers, it means the time for serious catfishing has arrived.
While catfish can be caught all year, as more and more anglers
are figuring out, summer brings stable conditions to river systems
and makes the fishing very predictable this time of year.
A good argument could
be made that Tennessee offers the best catfishing of any state
in the country. If it’s not the best, it certainly ranks
among the best. The Mississippi River, our nation’s largest
and most prolific “catfish stream,” forms Tennessee’s
entire western border, and the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers,
two other nationally renowned catfishing destinations, run the
majority of their miles within Tennessee’s borders. Add
thousands of miles of tributaries to all three major rivers,
plus dozens of impoundments that range from farm-pond size to
the giant Kentucky Lake, and the catfishing opportunities are
The Tennessee River
is full of catfish from its official beginning point near Knoxville
to the end of its Tennessee run under the impounded waters of
Kentucky Lake. The Tennessee River offers great fishing in riverine
and open-reservoir setting for anglers who know how to locate
and set up on the best waters; however, tailwaters concentrate
cats and provide great access to a lot of fish for a lot of
Some of Tennessee’s
best catfishing is accessible from the bank. Catfish also rank
among the best eating fish found in Tennessee waters. Adding
even more appeal this time of year, catfishing stays good throughout
the summer, especially for anglers who enjoy going out after
the sun goes down.
support three major catfish species that together attract 10
percent of all angling effort in Volunteer waters. Blue, flathead
and channel catfish all have some things in common, but each
species is distinctive in the way that it acts, the waters it
inhabits and the food it likes to eat. Blue catfish like a decent
amount of current nearby, and catching big blues consistently
calls for using big pieces of cut skipjack or shad. Channels
prefer a little less current and will bite well on chicken livers.
Flatheads like essentially slack waters and want a big live
shad or bluegill.
With this in mind,
we’ll look at each species separately, examining where
anglers are apt to find the most success and with what types
Blue catfish are big-river cats, and Tennessee definitely has
big rivers. The Tennessee, Cumberland and Mississippi rivers
together offer a tremendous amount of large-river habitat, and
blue cats abound in all three rivers.
For sheer numbers
of blues, tailwaters are tough to top during June. The Old Hickory
and Cheatham tailwaters are always productive this time of year,
as are the Fort Loudoun, Watts Bar, Chickamauga, Nickajack,
and Pickwick tailwater on the Tennessee River. The blues move
up the rivers during late spring to spawn and stick around throughout
the summer because they find plentiful food, current and cover.
Outside of the immediate
tailwaters, the most predictable places for finding and catching
big blues on the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers are in big,
deep holes formed along outside bends in riverine sections of
the pools. The cats hold near the bottoms of the big holes by
day and move to adjacent flats by nights. Some of the best sections
for heavyweight blues include the upper ends of Watts Bar and
Nickajack on the Tennessee River and the end of Cheatham and
the upper end of Barkley on the Cumberland.
For large flatheads,
Tennessee’s biggest river is probably its best. The Mississippi
supports a fabulous population of high-quality flatheads, and
June is a good time to catch them.
Beyond the Mississippi,
the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers’ tailwaters should
not be overlooked. Flathead fishermen look for deep slack areas
of tailwaters and good rocky or concrete cover, sometimes around
spill gates that aren’t running or barriers between areas,
and fish them with big, live bluegills or shad.
The Mississippi River
is best known for the huge catfish it produces, but the big
river also yields outstanding fishing for channel catfish, especially
during spring and early summer. The big holes that produce the
big blues are tough to fish when the river is high, but the
backwaters and other shallow protected areas that channels stack
up on tend to stay in good condition.
Channel catfish prospects
are also good throughout the Tennessee portion of the Mississippi
River. Anglers should begin by looking for good protected waters,
and then they should search with their electronics for concentrations
of fish on the bottom. Among Tennessee’s best channel
cat waters, year after year, are TWRA’s Family Fishing
Lakes. The 18 lakes in this program, all managed specifically
for fishing by TWRA, are heavily stocked with channel catfish
and managed as put-grow-and-take fisheries. Descriptions of
lakes, the offerings of each and special regulations that apply
are detailed on the TWRA’s Web site at www.tnwildlife.org.
Looking at other top channel cat areas, it’s once again
necessary to visit tailwaters along the Tennessee and Cumberland
rivers. Like their cousins, channels pile up in all the tailwaters
during the summer and serve up very good fishing to bank-fishing
and boating anglers alike.
Good catfishing can
be found in parts of virtually all major reservoirs in Tennessee,
but some of the lakes best known for their abundant channels
are Reelfoot, Old Hickory, J. Percy Priest, Woods and Douglas
Aside from the big
rivers, Tennessee has many, many miles of small- to medium-sized
rivers that offer fabulous catfishing prospects to anglers in
all parts of the state. Streams like the Nolichucky and Pigeon
in East Tennessee, the Stones and Sequatchie in Middle Tennessee
and the Obion and Forked Deer River system in West Tennessee
offer hundreds of miles of fine catfishing waters.
The most dependable
catfish holes, almost universally, are along hard outside bends.
Streams of all sizes from the mountains to the Mississippi River
drainage pool up on outside bends, and currents create undercut
banks, usually toppling some trees into the water in the process.
The mix of depths, blend of currents and eddies and abundance
of cover create ideal catfish holes.
As a general rule,
the cats will hold in the deepest parts of the holes through
the day, feeding most actively in the upper parts of those holes,
and will roam to the edges and to flats across the river to
feed hard at night.
All material taken from the following sources:
Jeff. June 2004. “The Best Tennessee Catfish Waters.”
Samsel, Jeff. June 2002. “Tennessee’s Sizzling Summer
Catfish.” Tennessee Sportsman.