Barkley Crappie 0002

The flow of the Tennessee River northwest across western Tennessee just does not seem logical.  Rivers do not flow north they flow south.  Or at least that is what we learn in grade school.

Flowing north out of Pickwick Lake through the western portion of the volunteer state, the Tennessee River provides a variety of angling experiences for fishermen before it empties into the Ohio River near Paducah, Kentucky.

We find excellent areas for fishing on the map but seldom fish them.  Any number of creeks feed into the river as it winds across the state.  Other areas, such as the tailwaters below Pickwick Dam, at Paris Landing and again in Kentucky Lake are very popular.  The fishing is so good that it supports the angling pressure without damage to the resource.

The fluctuating waters levels influence the fishing success on this river.  As Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) stops releasing water at a dam, the water levels drop along the river and back in the creeks.  When they resume releasing water again, the level rises.  As the water rises the fish actively feed again.

Down river of the Pickwick Dam are Indian Creek and Hardin Creek.  Indian Creek is about five miles below the Saltillo ram and Hardin Creek is about another five miles down river.  Both enter the river from the east.  The water from Indian Creek is usually clear, while that from Hardin Creek tends to be somewhat colored.  There is access to each of these rivers from the main channel. It is, however, somewhat narrow.  Both open up more once one is into the creeks.

Kentucky bass and Largemouth bass like these creeks and can be taken with a jig and pig or a spinnerbait.

Continuing on, the 25-mile stretch between Perryville and Clifton does not get a lot of angling pressure.  It is a good choice for anglers at this time of year.  The main channel is great for Kentuckies while the larger creeks hold good populations of largemouth and crappies.

One of the better locations can be Beech Creek, which opens into a large lake as it runs back about seven miles from the main river channel.  Spinner baits, plastic worms or crankbaits are fished near channel stumps and buck brush in 2 to 4 feet of water to find largemouth and crappie up to two pounds.

Generally, bass stage in the river current until water levels reach about 359 at the Perryville gauge.  At that point they begin to move back into the creeks.  Sometimes large numbers of bass will stage at the mouth of a creek and later move in to spawn.

Locals usually begin at the creek mouth with crankbaits or a Texas-rigged worm.  They work back up the creek until they find fish.  Once you establish a pattern on one creek, it will be the same in most of them.

Crappie angles usually find fish near laydown brush piles close to steep banks.  Vertical jigging or casting produces steady action.

Kentucky bass are usually along the west bank of the river across from Powell Branch Creek.  Anglers make long casts toward the rock walls from out in the river.  Lures work off the rock ledges all the way to the bottom will find fish that hit on the fall.  Quarter to 3/8 ounce jigs with chartreuse/glitter or chartreuse with red tail grubs work well.

Continuing down river one comes to Kentucky Lake with all of its structure and creeks that enter the waterway.  It also contains a lot of artificial structures along the banks.

Brush structures congregate fish and are an important in impoundments with little bottom features.  The best locations for them are on drop offs, underwater stream channels or points that extend out into the lake.  All of these are available in Kentucky Lake.  They may be made of concrete blocks, old tires, clay flue tiles, stake beds, logs or other materials.  The most productive seem to be those made of hardwood brush.

Usually they are a bunch of tree branches tied together and weighed down with concrete blocks.  The branches provide small fish refuge and food.  Fishermen who know where these structures are, has a jump on the field.  It is doubtful that anyone knows the locations of all the structures in the lake.

At this time of year, bass migrate into the shallows.  Early in the day shallow running baits are best.  As the water warms, fish move to areas near blow downs, brush piles, treetops, stumps and other structure.  Following any rain, the water tends to have a little color which draws the bass from deeper water into the shallows.  Lures with sound are good in these conditions.  On the lower end of the lake, good concentrations of fish are near the main river channel.

Good locations to fish are Harmon’s Creek, Cypress Creek, Trace Creek, Big Richard Creek, Sulphur Creek, Turkey Creek, Bass Bay and Bennett Creek.

Kentucky lake crappie start the spawn as soon as the water temperatures begins rise into the low 50’s.  They are usually catchable with jigs and minnows in the brush, trees, and stick ups along the shoreline.  Catfish are usually in 15 to 20 feet of water near the rip rap close to Danville Bridge the later part of April.  Locals use bottom bouncers with night crawlers and cut shiners.

The Tennessee River is a good fishery all year.  In the spring fishing is excellent it’s entire length.  There are many resorts, tackle shops and public access areas all along the river.  Anyone who does not take advantage of this opportunity is missing a good bet.



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  1. The wide open areas of Big Sandy and the main river are ideal spots to use these maps. Drop-offs abound in this part of the lake and many are difficult if not impossible to find without a good map.

    Delmer C. Underwood

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