By David Lowrie, TWRA Outreach Program Manager
Recently, I asked student anglers and captains involved with high school fishing in Tennessee what the best lakes were. The top five are lakes many would recognize as successful tournament lakes over the last several years.
No. 5: Kentucky Lake – This 160,000-acre Tennessee River impoundment has seen great tournaments over the years. It is the only location the Bassmaster High School series has used for its National Championship. Some may be surprised at the ranking due to issues with Asian carp, but tournament results continue to show quality bags.
“Kentucky Lake is an awesome shallow water fishery if you know where to look. There’s great fishing there and plenty of water to fish,” said Jake Beihoffer, boat captain for the Soddy Daisy High School team.
No. 4: Dale Hollow – Dale Hollow is 27,700 acres of smallmouth heaven. Its biggest claim to fame is the world record smallmouth, an 11-pound, 15-ounce record that has stood since 1955. Anglers from all over the country travel to Dale Hollow in search of the next record.
“Dale Hollow has some of the most beautiful scenery you can see anywhere, and you’re likely to set the hook into a big smallmouth while you’re there, too,” said Jackson Holbert of the Riverside High School team.
No. 3: Pickwick – With water in Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, Pickwick draws anglers from all three states and from across the country. With 43,100 acres, there are ample largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass to catch.
“I love them all, but Pickwick really strikes me different than all the others. All in one day you can catch largemouth on a big flipping stick or run up and dropshot for big smallmouth,” said Nathan Reynolds, of the Backwoods Bassin team.
No. 2: Douglas Lake — On the French Broad River, Douglas Lake has 28,000 acres of water. The Tennessee BASS Nation High School state championship was held there in May 2019, and more fish were weighed than any other state championship in the organization’s history.
Ethan Montgomery of Sullivan East High School likes Douglas because, “There’s a good number of big ones and you can use a variety of fishing styles there.”
No. 1: Chickamauga – No surprise, here. Chickamauga exploded in popularity over the last 10 years as a top tournament lake full of giant bass. During 2019, Fish Dayton recorded 110 bass catches of 10 pounds or more on Chickamauga, and that’s just the catches reported.
Campbell County High School coach Gabe Keen broke the Tennessee State largemouth record on Chickamauga in 2015, with a 15-pound, 3-ounce monster.
Will VanEtten, coach at Anderson County High, points out the popularity of the lake increases its difficulty.
“Chickamauga has always been hit or miss for me through winter and early spring,” he said. “You have potential for a giant bag, but it is incredibly hard to find water that hasn’t already been fished by 8-10 other boats. However, once summer hits, there are spots on the ledges that produce 30-plus fish days if they are pulling water.”