11 Best Striper Fishing Spots in Tennessee

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In a sense, striped bass have no business in Tennessee. Native to the Atlantic Ocean, where they inhabit coastal waters from Georgia to Maine, stripers are anadromous by nature. That means they live much of their lives in saltwater and migrate into freshwater rivers to spawn.

But stripers have been stocked in large reservoirs all over the United States, creating landlocked populations that offer unique opportunities for anglers. 

Perhaps nowhere have inland striper fisheries been more successful than in Tennessee. While neighboring states offer solid numbers of striped bass and occasional giants, many Tennessee waters produce genuine trophy stripers on a regular basis.

Striped bass weighing 10 to 20 pounds are quite common, and many lakes routinely grow stripers weighing 35 pounds or more. The current state record, weighing 65 pounds and 6 ounces, was caught at Cordell Hull Reservoir in 2000. 

Where to Catch Tennessee Stripers

Almost all of the lakes where stripers thrive in Tennessee are part of the state’s two largest river systems: the Cumberland and the Tennessee. 

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) has heavily impounded these two rivers and their tributaries, creating many of the state’s largest reservoirs. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) regularly stocks stripers in about a dozen of them. 

Each lake in which TWRA stocks striped bass offers the potential for excellent fishing. But in many cases, the best fishing isn’t at the main body of the lakes themselves but at the tailwaters below the dam at each lake’s head. 

When to Catch Stripers

Stripers provide year-round fishing opportunities in Tennessee, but keeping tabs on their seasonal movements is essential if you want to catch them with any regularity. In general, stripers migrate around lakes and rivers based on four factors: 

  • Water Temperature – The ideal water temperature for striped bass is in the mid to upper 50s. All other things being equal, they’ll seek out that range whenever possible but tolerate water temps as low as the 40s and as high as the 70s. They tend to get stressed above 70 degrees.
  • Oxygen Availability – The amount of dissolved oxygen in the water affects striper movements, especially in summer when many large reservoirs stratify, leaving the cold layer of water below the thermocline devoid of oxygen.
  • Forage – Stripers often follow schools of shad, herring and other bait fish. As long as doing so doesn’t take them too far from their temperature/oxygenation comfort zones, stripers usually go where the forage goes.
  • Spawning – Lack of suitable habitat limits stripers’ ability to spawn successfully in Tennessee waters, but they are still driven by the urge to spawn. Every spring, as the days get longer and the waters warm, striped bass head upstream to attempt breeding from mid-April to June. 

Anglers can often use a combination of these four factors to determine where to find stripers in any given season. 

In summer, for example, striped bass are usually attracted to tailwaters below dams because these areas offer cool, oxygen-rich water. In winter, warm water discharges from power plants are literal “hot spots” that provide more comfortable temperatures and abundant forage.

Cumberland River System

The Cumberland River system is known for producing some of Tennessee’s largest stripers. There’s no place in the state where you’re more likely to encounter a striped bass in the 40-pound class. 

Impoundments of the Cumberland River—Cordell Hull Lake, Old Hickory Lake and Cheatham Lake—each offer great fishing.

Another underrated option is Percy Priest Lake, an impoundment of the Stones River, which feeds the Cumberland River just east of Nashville. 

Cordell Hull Lake

The Cumberland River flows from Kentucky into Tennessee’s Clay and Jackson counties, and Cordell Hull Lake is its first major impoundment in the Volunteer State. Long and meandering, the reservoir spans 11,960 acres. 

Since producing the state record striper in 2000, fishing pressure greatly increased on Cordell Hull Lake. It can be a tough lake to catch stripers consistently, but while there may be better numbers lake in Tennessee, it still has real trophy potential.

The winter months are prime time to catch stripers on Cordell Hull. Stripers start to follow bait into the creek arms as the lake cools in November, and some of the best action happens in February and March.

Cordell Hull Lake supports ample forage in the form of gizzard shad, threadfin shad and skipjack herring, all of which make excellent striper bait. Trolling with fresh bait on downriggers and planer boards is the method of choice. 

Most anglers find big stripers on the lower end of the lake in winter, including at the mouths of major creek arms like Defeated Creek and Martin Creek.

As the lake starts to warm up in spring, creeks farther up between Granville and Gainesboro may be better. 

Old Hickory Lake + Cordell Hull Dam Tailwater

Next in line on the Cumberland River below Cordell Hull Lake is Old Hickory Lake.

This 22,500-acre impoundment gets a lot of fishing pressure and boat traffic due to its proximity to Nashville. Yet it still produces more trophy stripers than just about anywhere in Tennessee.

The best time to fish Old Hickory is during the spring spawn, when stripers make their way up the lake and stack up in the tailwater below the Cordell Hull Dam. The spawn action peaks in May when water temperatures approach the 60-degree mark. 

There’s excellent tailwater fishing from the base of the Cordell Hull Dam down to around the mouth of the Caney Fork in Carthage. Some stripers make their way up into the lower part of the Caney Fork as well. 

Though spring offers peak tailwater fishing, stripers can be found below the dam year-round, especially in summer, when the cool, oxygenated water is a major attraction.

Bank access is available directly below the dam, and boat ramps are located in Carthage. Large, live skipjacks are the preferred bait for trophy stripers, but anglers land plenty of fish below the dam using bucktails, jerkbaits, and shad-imitating swimbaits.

During the colder months, many find it more productive to fish the main lake. The warm water discharge from the Gallatin Steam Plant attracts schools of shad, and the stripers that hunt them, during cold weather. Creeks like Drakes and Station Camp can also be productive.

Cheatham Lake + Old Hickory Dam Tailwater

Cheatham Lake is an exceptionally long, riverine reservoir that stretches 67 miles from the below Old Hickory Dam to the upper side of the Cheatham Dam on the Cumberland River. Despite its great length, its surface area is just 7,450 acres. 

Although the TWRA stocks Cheatham Lake regularly with striped bass, this lake tends to be overshadowed by its upstream neighbors. Cheatham Lake is so river-like in character that it is often simply referred to as the Cumberland River.

Nevertheless, the fishing can be excellent, particularly at the upper end of the lake. Most anglers focus on the tailwater below the Old Hickory Dam. 

Stripers pack into the Old Hickory Tailwater from late April to early June as they attempt to spawn, but anglers can catch fish in the area virtually any time.

In summer, the fishing peaks when water is released for generation by the hydroelectric plant at the dam. 

There is excellent public fishing access on either side of the tailwater and a boat ramp not far downstream, though be aware that rocks below the dam make boating treacherous.

Stripers hang out in the “boils” or eddies below the Old Hickory Dam, along seams and below current breaks. Large live skipjack and shad tend to catch the biggest ones, but spoons and jigs do well, too.

Try netting bait at the mouths of creeks downriver from the dam.

Percy Priest Lake

You might call Percy Priest Lake a “side lake” of the Cumberland River. It was created in 1968 with the completion of the J. Percy Priest Dam on the Stones River, a Cumberland River tributary in the Nashville area. 

A broad reservoir of 14,200 acres, Percy Priest has numerous islands and points and a clearly defined river channel that swings back and forth between banks. The best striper fishing is often along the channel edges and on nearby submerged humps.

Percy Priest Lake is less known for trophy stripers but has one of the best catch rates in Tennessee. Expect a lot of 8- to 10-pound fish. The TWRA stocks both stripers and hybrid stripers here, with the latter being more abundant but smaller.

In summer, focus your efforts on the lower end, between the dam and the Hobson Pike Bridge. During the cooler months, stripers and hybrids can be anywhere in the lake.

Winter is the best time to fish here, and with the summer recreational boat traffic gone, striper anglers nearly have the lake to themselves.

The go-to tactic is slow trolling and free-lining live bait—store-bought 3- to 4-inch Arkansas shiners work just fine—close to the surface.

If you see gulls feeding on the surface, that’s a sure sign that stripers are in the area.

The lake’s midsection is often best in winter, and there are convenient launch ramps at Four Corners and Poole’s Knob Recreation Area.

Percy Priest Lake also can be great for crappie fishing, and it produced a Tennessee record for white crappie.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing at Percy Priest Lake

Tennessee River System

The Tennessee River and its tributaries form the largest watershed in Tennessee. Much like the Cumberland, the Tennessee River has been impounded to a significant degree, and its lakes and tailwaters offer extraordinary striper fishing. 

Tennessee River striper fishing opportunities are available throughout East Tennessee and are not restricted to the main river. Dams along Tennessee River tributaries like the Clinch River and Holston River are just as good.

Norris Lake

The first major reservoir on the Clinch River in Northeast Tennessee, Norris Lake is a huge, sprawling impoundment that spans 33,850 acres and includes multiple long creek arms. The TWRA stocks over 100,000 striper fingerlings here annually.

Norris Lake is a potential trophy striper fishery, but it’s a numbers lake, too. It’s not unusual to catch 20 to 30 stripers per day, many of them weighing 10 to 15 pounds. They grow fast in Norris Lake thanks to ample forage, especially threadfin shad and alewives. 

Winter is the best season, and the best places to start are the mouths of creeks and shallow coves, which tend to attract bait fish because these areas are just a little bit warmer than the rest of the lake. Creeks along the north shore of Norris Lake are typically best. 

Lost Creek is a sure bet in winter, and the stretch of the lake from the TN-33 bridge to Hickory Star Marina is usually productive.

Rather than looking for stripers, look for shad. In all likelihood, stripers will be right below them and willing to bite a bucktail or swimbait. 

There’s often good topwater action during the winter months.

In summer, stripers will be a little lower in the water column, where it’s cooler, usually right around the thermocline.

More: Complete Guide to Norris Lake Fishing

Melton Hill Lake + Norris Dam Tailwater

Melton Hill Lake begins directly below Norris Lake on the Clinch River, extending from the Norris Dam nearly 57 miles downriver to the Melton Hill Dam. It’s a long, snakelike reservoir with several excellent parks providing bank access and public launch facilities. 

It’s also a great striper lake, with opportunities to fish both the main lake and the tailwater at its upper end. Stripers are stocked abundantly, and Melton Hill Lake has produced former state record stripers over 60 pounds. 

In spring and summer, the Norris Dam tailwater is the place to be. Public fishing access is available immediately below the dam, and there is also a boat ramp shortly downstream at Miller Island.

Drift fishing by boat with live bait works best when the dam is actively generating, but the river is often wadeable when it’s not, providing great opportunities to fly fish for tailwater stripers. The TVA website includes up-to-date generating schedules.

Another key area is around the Bull Run Fossil Plant, farther down the lake. The warm water discharge from the plant is a magnet for both stripers and bait during the colder months, and anglers catch some of the biggest stripers in Melton Hill Lake here. 

Boone Lake

The Holston River is a major Tennessee River tributary, and Boone Lake is the first major striper reservoir along its length. Boone Lake is a relatively small reservoir of 4,520 acres, with two main arms formed by the Watauga River and South Holston River

Though perhaps not held in high regard as some other Tennessee reservoirs, Boone Lake provides some excellent striper fishing. The TWRA stocks both pure stripers and hybrid stripers in the reservoir, and the latter are more often caught.

Hybrids around 5 pounds are common, but monsters in the 15-pound class are possible. Fishing live bait 10 to 20 feet below the surface near the dam is usually effective. With smaller mouths, hybrids favor smaller live herring and shad than pure stripers.

Stripers and hybrids both make an attempted spawning run in spring, and areas above Devault Bridge on the South Holston Arm and Pickens Bridge on the Watauga Arm are excellent in April, May and June.

Cherokee Reservoir + John Sevier Tailwater

Cherokee Reservoir is the next major Holston River impoundment below Boone Lake, though there are a couple of additional dams in between. For all intents and purposes, Cherokee Reservoir begins at the dam adjacent to the John Sevier Steam Plant.

Unsurprisingly, the tailwater below the John Sevier Dam is ground zero for the lake’s striper fishery. TWRA stocks both pure and hybrid stripers in the 30,300-acre Cherokee Reservoir. 

And while the lake regularly puts out great numbers, it’s not really a trophy striper lake. Though Cherokee Reservoir is highly fertile and supports abundant forage, it suffers from oxygen depletion in the summer, which limits its ability to support giant fish. 

Still, 10-pound stripers and 5-pound hybrids are abundant, and the fishing in the John Sevier Tailwater is often phenomenal.

This dam is unique in that it’s not hydroelectric but instead supplies cooling water to the nearby steam plant, and warm water is pumped back in return. 

That makes the tailwater an especially good winter spot, as well as during the spring spawning run. Typical lures like bucktails and swimbaits will nab a few fish in the tailwater, but forage is so abundant that lures seldom perform as well as live bait. 

In summer, the lower end of the lake from Macedonia Hollow to the dam is the best place to find stripers and hybrids, and trolling with umbrella rigs is a good tactic.

A section of the lake closest to the dam is closed to fishing from July 15 to September 15.

Watts Bar Lake + Melton Hill & Fort Loudoun Tailwaters

Not far below Cherokee Reservoir, the Holston River merges with the French Broad River to form the Tennessee River. After being impounded to form Fort Loudoun Lake—which is not stocked with stripers—it passes through the Fort Loudoun Dam and into Watts Bar Lake. 

A massive, sprawling reservoir at 39,600 acres, Watts Bar is also the final destination of the Clinch River below Melton Hill Lake. That means Watts Bar Lake has not just one, but two significant tailwaters, one at the upper end of each of its two major river arms. 

Unsurprisingly, that makes it something of a striped bass mecca in East Tennessee. The TDWA stocks around 150,000 striper fingerlings here annually, and trophy-size fish are not unusual.

Let’s start with the main body of Watts Bar Lake, which is where most stripers are found from mid-summer to early fall. Trolling along the mouth of creeks like Rockwood and Whites Creek produces a lot of quality fish. 

Throughout most of the rest of the year, the upper ends of Watts Bar Lake are best. The winning tactic is trolling along the Tennessee and Holston River channels with Alabama rigs or live bait on planer boards. 

As for Watts Bar Lake’s two tailwaters, they can yield good catches any time. Some stripers stay here year-round, while others join them from the main lake in springtime. Both the Fort Loudoun Dam and the Melton Hill Dam have excellent bank access. 

Live shad and herring are the most effective baits. Most anglers suspend them beneath a float or simply cast them out and let them swim freely.

There’s a lot of rocky structure below both dams, where anglers often catch stripers along current seams and holding tight to riprap banks.

Another hot spot (literally, in this case) is the Kingston Steam Plant, which discharges warm water into the Emory River just above where it feeds the Holston River Arm of Watts Bar Lake. Don’t overlook this area in the winter.

Chickamauga Lake + Watts Bar Dam Tailwater

Extending from the Watts Bar Dam to the Chickamauga Dam in the heart of Chattanooga, 36,200-acre Chickamauga Lake is the last major Tennessee River striper fishery before the river crosses over the state line into Alabama. 

Chickamauga Lake’s striper action is mostly centered around the tailwater at its upper end. Anglers catch some truly massive striped bass in the Watts Bar Dam tailwater, and fish are available here year-round. 

The tailwater is especially good in spring and fall. The Tennessee River is a massive waterway at this point, so the Watts Bar Dam is a much larger structure than any of the dams farther upriver. At least one of the turbines should be running at any given time, creating fairly consistent current. 

The turbines are on the west side of the dam, while bank fishing access is on the east. The best fishing is usually a little way downstream, where the current swings within casting distance of the east bank. 

Boat anglers typically drift live bait in the current, while shore-bound anglers hurl hefty spoons and bucktails toward the current seam. Skipjack herring are the preferred live bait, but threadfin and gizzard shad will do just fine when skipjacks aren’t available. 

Another tributary of Chickamauga Lake is the Hiwassee River, and some stripers make their way up this river in summer to the Apalachia Powerhouse, where cool water provides a thermal refuge for both stripers and good numbers of trout during the hottest part of the year.

Chickamauga Lake is also among Tennessee’s premier largemouth bass lakes, producing lunkers to 15 pounds.

More: Complete Guide to Fishing at Chickamauga Lake

Pickwick Dam Tailwater

After crossing the state line, the Tennessee River flows westward through Alabama for over 100 miles before swinging back north into Western Tennessee. The river is dammed to form several large reservoirs in Alabama, the last of which, Pickwick Lake, just barely peeks across into Tennessee. 

The tailwater below the Pickwick Dam is unique in that stripers have not been stocked here for decades, but they continue to thrive, making it perhaps the only place in Tennessee where they’re known to spawn successfully.

The Pickwick Tailwater doesn’t often produce trophies—a 20-pound striper is a very good fish here—but it’s not unusual to catch 15 or 20 stripers in a day. The season typically starts in March and stays strong until November. 

A boat ramp and bank access is available just below the dam on the north side.

Swimbaits and jerkbaits work well early in the season, with live threadfin shad being better once they show up in the tailwater in April and May. Come summer, skipjacks become the preferred striper bait.