Warming air temperatures and the resultant rise in water temperatures are a sure sign of spring fishing action in western Tennessee.

The rising temperatures awaken fish from their winter lethargy.  Anglers too awaken from the cabin fever and winter doldrums.  It is a time when nature comes to life after a long winters nap.

Four of the prime western Tennessee lakes are Barkley, Kentucky, Reelfoot and Graham.  Considered separately, here are some fishing tips for spring fishing action.

Lake Barkley

Crappie fishing is the early season staple on this lake.  Early in the day, fish will hole up in 5 or 6 feet of water near brush and tree tops.  They move to more shallow water as the day warms the water.  Locals tend to fish minnows below a float or tightline jigs in the back of creeks and bays located off the main river channel.

Kentucky Lake bass take medium running crankbaits in about 3 to 5 feet of water near deep water.   When the water temperature warms into the 50’s, they will move up on the flats.  Spinnerbaits, plastic lizards, worms, buzz baits and rattling crankbaits are all productive.  Early in the spring, the downsized versions of these baits are preferred.

There are stripers in these waters.  You will find most of them near the warm water intake in Cumberland City.  They move into the area to spawn and the fishing action is great.  Bucktail jigs account for a large number of fish caught.  Also popular with locals is the use of live bait such as shad or sunfish.

For more information about the area and fishing opportunities check www.lakebarkley.org.

Kentucky Lake

Much of the same fishing found in Barkely Lake will also be found in Kentucky Lake.  For some reason the fish tend to be found a little deeper in this lake.  For instance, the crappie will relate to the deep structure in 15 to 25 feet of water.  The structure takes the form of ledges and drop offs.  As the water warms the crappie will also move back into the creeks and bays.  There they will stage near the banks but not on the banks.  They stay there until spawning time in late March or early April.  As with Barkley Lake crappie, these fish like a minnow below a float or a jig that is tightlined.

Spring is one of the best times to fish bass on this lake.  As water temperatures rise into the 50’s the fish move up on the flats for spawning.  Prior to that, they tend to hold in 3 to 5 feet of water near the edges of the flats.  Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and the jig and pig combination tend to work well at enticing these battling bass.  The major creeks tend to be the best location for finding fish.

Duck River, Cold Branch and Buzzard Cave areas are good locations for finding white bass.  The annual spawn takes place near the gravel bar at the Sycamore access ramp.  Rooster tails and plastic grubs are good baits.

Over near the steam plant at New Johnsonville, the catfish action picks up.  Locals fish nightcrawlers just off the bottom in about 14 feet of water near the discharge area.  Out on the main river channel, one can catch cats fy fishing nightcrawlers just off the bottom in 40 feet of water.

In this same New Johnsonville area there are Sauger.  A jig tipped with a minnow fished deep near the mouth of Duck River and at the bridge can bring some action.  On cloudy days the fish tend to be about 30 feet down while on sunny days they might be 10 to 15 feet deeper.

For more information about the fishing and other items of interest check the website www.parislanding.com.

Reelfoot Lake

Besides the colorful past this area enjoys, this lake is a crappie heaven in the spring.  The best action comes near the stumps on the north end of the lake.  If one gets right up against the tree trunks with a minnow in about 5 feet of water, chances are good he will find fish.  This part of the lake is the first to warm.  Small jigs fished just off the bottom over in the Sportsmen’s and Gray’s Camp areas will also produce.

Buzz baits work well on the Largemouth bass in this lake.  If the action slows, try purple worms or spinnerbaits near some of the new growth on the north end of the lake.  Stumps and dead lily pad stems are good structure to check out too.

This is a word of caution.  This lake is full of submerged logs and stumps that can do damage to a lower unit of an outboard motor.  It is probably wise to go slow and not lock down your outboard motor.  For more information about the lake, fishing and the area surrounding it check out the website www.reelfoot.com.

Lake Graham

This 500-acre lake near Jackson, TN is a sleeper.  Early in spring the crappie in it will stage in about 15 to 25 feet of water depending upon local weather conditions.  As the water warms they move closer to the surface.  After about 10 days of warm weather they move to the surface.  At that point they begin to move to the banks in preparation for spawning action.  Local anglers will try vertical jigging with minnows in about 8 to 10 feet of water off the deeper banks.

Most of the bass action is on the main lake points along the east side of the lake.  The big bass will be in the shallows taking shallow water lures such as spinnerbaits.  Deep diving crankbaits, Carolina rigged lizards, worms and pork rind work well while the fish are still deep.

For more information about this lake check the TWRA website

These four lakes are by far not the only places to fish in western Tennessee, but they are a good place to begin.




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  1. Most inland trout streams in the area are in good fishing shape, however some of the larger creeks are still running a bit high and swift. There is still not much bug activity except for sporadic hatches of blue-winged olives and hendricksons. The majority of action is below the surface on nymphs such as stoneflies, scuds, pheasant tails and caddisflies. Small streamers and buggers work also. Productive offerings for spinning anglers include worms, salted minnows and small inline spinners. If you are a catch-and-release angler and use spinners, it is good practice to outfit your spinners with a single hook rather than a treble hook. The inland trout lakes in Allegany and Cattaraugus Counties are also good options. Case, Harwood, Quaker, Red House, Allen and New Albion Lakes all received generous stockings of yearling and two-year-old trout. For the number of trout stocked in each lake see the Spring Trout Stocking pages for Allegany and Cattaraugus Creeks.

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