SULLIVAN COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) — As fall commences, the temperatures drop and crowds of recreational anglers pack up their tackleboxes.
However, fishery biologists with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) say fall and winter are some of the best times to catch certain species of fish.
TWRA biologists John Hammonds, Shaun Ramsey and Alan Beach told News 2’s sister station, WJHL, that Northeast Tennessee’s lakes, reservoirs and rivers offer a variety of fish that are best caught in cool weather.
“Basically all your reservoirs, and smallmouth and largemouth fishing gets better after the summer months into the fall and winter,” Beach said. “It can be feast or famine, you follow the shad back into the creek starting now. They’re starting to gradually move back into the creeks. The colder the water gets, the more the shad will push into the creeks and the bass will follow that.”
Beach said as long as an angler can find those schools of shad, there is a great opportunity to catch bass, who become more active in the creeks during cold weather.
Striped bass are another good target for the winter, according to Hammonds. Like the largemouth and smallmouth, anglers need only follow the shad to have luck catching them.
“You’re either gonna catch several or none, it can be frustrating,” Hammonds said.
In addition to bass, crappie is another species that are ripe for catching during the winter, according to Beach.
“The crappie fishing is good as well in the winter, around the 50-degree water temperature is really a prime time for crappie,” he said. “They turn on around that 50-degree mark, and you’ll catch a lot of crappie in that cooler water.”
Hammonds added that walleye and sauger, both of which are stocked in Cherokee, Loudon and Douglas reservoirs, are extremely active in the headwaters during cooler weather when they start their spawning runs.
Close to Kingsport, the walleye are easily found congregating in the winter just down the Holston River from Eastman Chemical Company.
For those looking for a real winter challenge who don’t mind a bit of a drive, winter also provides an opportunity to catch the fish of a thousand casts: muskellunge, or muskie, the largest member of the pike freshwater fish family.
Beach said a small congregation can be found at Bull Run Creek on the other side of Knoxville and are more apt to be caught in the winter months. While they are difficult to land, the area is small and could raise the chances for an angler to catch one.
Muskie are also stocked into the French Broad, Pigeon and Nolichucky rivers, according to Hammonds. Their numbers are small, but Hammonds said the Nolichucky, in particular, offers a chance at reeling them in.
In addition to the heightened fish activity, Beach said there is another benefit to fishing during the fall and winter: less competition from other anglers.
“You got less recreational boaters out there, it’s more peaceful and the fishing’s actually really good in the fall and winter around here,” Beach said.
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The TWRA also takes advantage of the cooler months to conduct habitat work. Ramsey said the habitat program entails adding brush piles and reef balls to lakes and reservoirs, improving fisheries and providing more fishing opportunities.
“Maybe even fishing from the bank you can get to some of that but for sure from boats, you can get to all the habitat that we put out in the winter,” Ramsey said. “And we did a lot of work out on Douglas Reservoir this past winter.”
Those winter habitat hotspots can be found on the TWRA’s website, which features GPS layouts of all the agency-maintained reservoirs and lakes.