J. Percy Priest Reservoir—more commonly known as Percy Priest Lake—is one of the most popular fishing lakes in Tennessee. There are two good reasons for that.
One: the fishing here is phenomenal. Percy Priest offers some of the best largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing in Tennessee, along with populations of crappie, catfish, hybrid stripers and more.
Two: the lake is a stone’s throw from Nashville, putting it right in the backyard of about 2 million people living in the metro area. If you live in Tennessee’s capital, Percy Priest Lake is your neighborhood fishing hole.
Spanning 14,200 acres and stretching 42 miles from end to end, Percy Priest Lake was created in 1969 with the completion of the J. Percy Priest Dam on the Stones River. The dam was built just 6.8 miles above the Stone’s River’s confluence with the Cumberland River.
Percy Priest Lake is fertile and, for the most part, relatively shallow. Though the lake is 100 feet deep at its deepest point, the average depth is about 29 feet. The water is generally stained at the upper end and clearer near the dam.
Fed by several major creeks in addition to the East and West Forks of the Stones River, Percy Priest Lake has numerous coves, pockets and creek arms for anglers to explore.
Percy Priest Lake is one of the best bass lakes in Middle Tennessee. Despite the tremendous fishing pressure aimed at this Nashville-adjacent reservoir, it remains one of the most consistent.
Largemouth bass and smallmouth bass offer truly excellent fishing here, and spotted bass are also available. Pretty much every season offers some compelling bass fishing opportunities, but early spring is the best bet for a trophy.
Big largemouths will be on their way toward the shallows with spawning on their minds in March. Most of them won’t bed down for another month, but March provides prime pre-spawn fishing.
Rising water levels that inundate shoreline brush are typical this month. Percy Priest Lake has never been known for its water clarity, but you can expect it to be quite stained in spring.
Focus on little coves and pockets at the upper end of the lake and throw white/silver spinnerbaits close to brushy banks. Depending on the weather and timing, the best bite might be inside or on the points outside each pocket.
April offers great fishing for spawning largemouths as well as smallmouths. Both species make nests close to the bank, with smallmouths favoring rocky areas, whereas largemouths bed down around laydowns and protected weedy areas.
Bass feed heavily after spawning, and late spring/early summer offers a great mix of shallow and deep fishing. Percy Priest Lake has some excellent submerged humps, points, and ledge structure.
Try throwing shad-imitating crankbaits this time of year or beat the banks with soft plastics. Ned rigs, shaky-head worms and wacky rigs are great along stretches with steep bluff banks.
By the dog days of summer, the best bass fishing on Percy Priest is often after dark. Try working your way shallow-to-deep on sloping main lake points using a plastic craw or a Colorado-blade spinnerbait. Points with some rock and gravel seem to be best.
Fall also brings about some great bass fishing, with both largemouths and smallmouths keying in on shad as the lake starts to cool. Good areas include coves off the main river channel and spots where the channel swings close to the bank.
Rock piles are also good for smallmouths this season. Diving crankbaits and tube jigs in natural colors can just as easily be mistaken for a crayfish or minnow, and both work wonders on hungry smallies.
Most anglers who target largemouths favor the upper end of the lake, particularly the Fall Creek and Spring Creek areas. Smallmouth fishing tends to be better in Siggs Creek, Hamilton Creek and around Bear Island.
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Crappie are the second most popular target for anglers on Percy Priest Lake. The reservoir is consistently ranked among the best crappie lakes in Tennessee and offers ample populations of both black and white crappies.
As is the case in virtually every lake that crappies call home, the best time to catch them is spring. Crappies are in pre-spawn mode when the water temperature is in the upper 50s, and they’ll start to spawn soon after it crosses the 60-degree mark.
That usually happens in April here, but if the weather is agreeable, anglers can take advantage of the spring crappie bite from March through May.
During that period, crappies work their way toward bush, reeds and woody cover on spawning flats in the backs of creeks and coves. Early in the season, look for them at the edges of flats in 8 to 10 feet of water.
By the time the spawn is in full swing, they might be in just a foot or two of water. A good search tactic is to start at the mouth of a creek or cove and gradually work your way in.
That being said, local anglers use a lot of different tactics to tempt spring crappies, some more traditional than others. One of the more unique approaches is trolling downsized crankbaits—Bandit 200 Series cranks are the local favorite—over the flats.
Longlining and suspending minnows and jigs under a float will do the trick, too. Roadrunner jigs provide some flash, which is helpful in the often-stained spring waters. Areas like Spring Creek and Fall Creek at the upper end of the lake are usually productive.
Stewart Creek is great, too, particularly for bank fishing. The TWRA has placed dozens of brush piles and stake beds throughout the lake. These are some of the most reliable crappie hangouts.
Though crappies are notoriously hard to find in summer, fall brings about another opportunity to catch them on Percy Priest Lake. As the lake cools, crappies follow shad into creeks and coves, and many of the same areas that were productive in spring will once again offer good fishing.
Crappie populations tend to be cyclical, and Percy Priest is like most reservoirs in that it has “up” years and “down” years. Even so, it’s a fairly consistent numbers lake. The real variable is the availability of larger fish over 14 inches, which can be hit-or-miss.
Stripers & Hybrid Stripers
Percy Priest Lake offers good striped bass fishing, though it’s not as well known for producing big fish as nearby Cumberland River impoundments like Cordell Hull and Old Hickory Lake. But catch rates are solid, and anglers catch plenty of healthy 5- to 10-pound fish.
The TWRA stocks striped bass annually in Percy Priest Lake, but it actually stocks hybrid stripers in much greater numbers. And while most pure stripers here are modest in size, Percy Priest kicks out some of the biggest hybrids in Tennessee. Some may top 12 pounds.
Hatchery-raised crosses between striped bass and white bass, hybrid stripers—also known as Cherokee bass—are similar to pure stripers except that they run a little smaller and have a more stout body shape.
The striper and hybrid striper fishery offers year-round options. Summer is a popular time to target hybrids, which are more tolerant of warm temperatures than true stripers.
Starting in May, anglers will find packs of hybrids cruising the main river channel and major creek channels following schools of shad.
Depths between 14 and 18 feet are usually ideal as the thermocline sets up, and any lure that looks like shad is likely to turn some heads.
Channels of both forks of the Stones River are productive, along with Suggs Creek, Hamilton Creek, Long Hunter Creek, Stewarts Creek, Fall Creek and Spring Creek.
Fall is a great time, too. This is the season to watch for circling gulls and topwater commotion that signals a school of shad on the surface. Find shad high in the water column this time of year, and it’s almost certain that stripers and hybrids will be right below them.
Rigging up a 1/4-ounce jig head with a curly tail grub, swimbait or soft jerkbait is a sure bet for hybrids, which favor slightly smaller lures than true stripers. Roadrunner jig heads are local favorites, and the extra flash created by the blade seems irresistible.
Winter is also a great and often-overlooked season. Stripers and hybrids are more likely to hit a live bait this time of year, and many anglers freeline or slow-troll baitfish in the upper third of the water column over the main channel.
Threadfin and gizzard shad are the baits of choice, but they aren’t always easy to come by. The best bet is to catch your own, but minnows from local bait shops (usually Arkansas shiners) are also effective, as stripers are less likely to be picky in winter.
Other Fish Species
Percy Priest Lake offers a well-rounded fishery. In addition to the species listed above and below, non-game species like freshwater drum, carp and buffalo are also abundant. An angler caught a state-record bigmouth buffalo weighing 62 pounds here in 2010.
One of the best catfish lakes in Middle Tennessee, Percy Priest is a solid lake for both numbers and size. Channel catfish are the dominant species in this lake, but there are some hefty blue cats and flatheads as well.
Expect to catch mostly channel cats in the 1- to 5-pound range. Typical blues and flatheads weigh 5 to 10 pounds, and giants weighing over 40 pounds are occasionally caught, but fish much larger than that are rare.
You can catch catfish year-round, but summer is prime time. The month of June is the peak of the catfish spawn, and catfish head to riprap and chunk rock shorelines, which include areas near the dam and along major bridge crossings.
The area right around the Hobson Pike Bridge, which spans the lake’s midsection, is popular, as is the Four Corners area. After catfish have spawned, look for them along channel edges and drop-offs to deep holes. They often emerge after dark to spawn on nearby flats.
Cut shad, dip baits and chicken livers are common offerings on slip-sinker rigs. Jug fishing is also popular here. When the reservoir stratifies in summer, target areas where the thermocline meets the bottom, usually around 15 to 18 feet.
White Bass & Yellow Bass
Closely related to striped bass, both white bass and yellow bass are abundant in Percy Priest Lake. Though they usually weigh a pound or less, these species have a devoted following among a core group of local anglers.
The time to go after them is March and April, when they congregate at the lake’s headwaters in huge numbers, pushing up the Stones River on their annual spawning run.
White curly tail grubs and spinners are the most popular lures, and you’re likely to find white bass and yellow bass around riffles and eddies in both the East Fork and West Fork Stones River and in Stewart Creek.
During other times of the year, white bass and yellow bass roam the open lake, often following patterns similar to hybrid stripers. They feed on shad along the river channel and mouths of creeks. They will strike shad-imitating jigs, spinners, crankbaits and spoons.
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Several sunfish species inhabit Percy Priest Lake, with bluegill being the most abundant. They also reach respectable sizes here, and when the bite is really good, it’s not difficult to fill a pail with 8-inch gills.
Bluegill, a.k.a. bream, inhabit areas all over the lake. They favor weedy flats, with smaller bluegill usually hanging out in shallows within casting distance of shore while bigger ones congregate a little deeper, typically around stake beds and brush piles.
The best time to catch big bluegill near shore is when they spawn in early summer. Bluegill nest from May through June, digging saucer-shaped beds in just a few feet of water.
Worms, small jigs and popper flies tempt many a bluegill on Percy Priest Lake.
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Planning Your Trip
Percy Priest Lake is one of the most-fished lakes in Tennessee. Summer is the season to avoid if you don’t want to have to fight for a spot. Winter, on the other hand, often finds the lake nearly deserted except for a few hardy anglers.
Thanks to its proximity to Nashville, there is no shortage of amenities nearby. Several recreation areas around the lakeshore offer camping and cabins, and there are also many hotels, motels, RV parks and resorts within a 10-mile radius.
Getting to Percy Priest Lake
Percy Priest Lake lies between I-40 and I-24, making it easy to get to from virtually any direction. TN State Route 171, also known as the Hobson Pike, crosses the lake at its midsection.
The lower end of Percy Priest Lake is closest to Nashville and tends to be busiest. The dam is about a 15-minute drive from Downtown and less than 10 minutes from the Nashville International Airport. The upper end is 40-45 minutes from the city.
Bank & Boat Access
Almost all of Percy Priest’s Lake’s 213-mile shoreline is managed for public access. The lake is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees many public access sites and boat ramps.
Between 17 Corps recreation areas, five privately owned marinas, and a handful of city and county parks, there’s no shortage of access to Percy Priest Lake. Some of the best places to get on the water include:
- Damsite Visitor Center & Overlook – Located at the west end of the J. Percy Priest Dam, the Damsite Overlook provides excellent fishing access. The area offers a fishing platform and an ample stretch of open shoreline for fishing, including the chunk-rock face of the dam itself.
- Seven Points Campground – A Corps-operated campground on the north shore of the lake, the Seven Points Campground has its own boat ramp and plenty of bank access in addition to camping for tents and RVs.
- Hamilton Creek Park – Hamilton Creek Park is a city park on the west side of Percy Priest Lake. The park features hiking trails, bank access, boat ramps, and the Hamilton Creek Marina.
- Anderson Road – A popular day-use area with boat ramps and fishing access is at the end of Anderson Road on the west side of the lake. The adjacent Anderson Road Campground offers tent and RV sites.
- Long Hunter State Park – The only state park on Percy Priest Lake, Long Hunter State Park spans 2,600 acres on the east side of the lake just off the Hobson Pike bridge. The park includes excellent boat launch facilities and ample bank access.
- Poole Knobs – The Poole Knobs Campground and day-use area provides some of the best facilities on the upper end of Percy Priest Lake. In addition to campgrounds, Poole Knobs includes two separate boat ramps on opposite sides of a long peninsula.
Many additional boat ramps and bank access sites are available in addition to the places listed above. Free public launch sites are at Vivrett Creek, Hurricane Creek, Lamar Hill, Stewart Creek and Fall Creek, among others. For a comprehensive list, check out the Corps of Engineers Map and Guide.