See Tennessee’s best bass lakes

Tennessee’s state flag features three stars that represent the three geographical divisions of the state, those being west, middle and east. In bass fishing terms, each represents a diverse lineup of top fisheries having been listed in the Bassmaster 100 Best Bass Lakes. From Kentucky Lake, a lowland impoundment, to the highland lakes in east Tennessee, each offers superb fishing for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. Check out the lineup and plan your trip.  
Cherokee Lake 
If you are looking for a lake full of 3-pound smallmouth, this is your huckleberry. Yes, the smallmouth here grow bigger than that, but fish an entire day on its 28,780 acres and you’ll likely end with your five biggest weighing 15 pounds. What makes a trip here even better is only a half-hour drive, from ramp to ramp, is Douglas Lake, another hit maker on the Bassmaster Top 100 list.
B.A.S.S. has visited Cherokee four times for its pro-level events, dating back to 1981. Canadian Cooper Gallant won the most recent tournament, a St. Croix Bassmaster Open in March 2022, catching a whopping 18 pounds of smallmouth on the final day, as a testimony to the east Tennessee fishery’s potential. 
Chickamauga Lake
If Chickamauga Lake has one standout attribute, it’s a big one. The Tennessee state record bass weighing 15.20 pounds got that heavy from its Florida largemouth genes. The record was not a biological oddity, as quality matters over quantity in the state’s management plan to stock and maintain the predominant Florida largemouth gene base. 
Florida largemouth can and do grow big on the 26,240-acre lake because of the Chickamauga’s conducive climate zone, high nutrient fertility, healthy shad population, abundant vegetation and a vast network of feeder creeks and tributaries offering ideal spawning habitat. This 10-pound 5-ounce largemouth caught by Bassmaster Elite pro Pat Schlapper was the biggest bass caught in the 2022 event. 
Dale Hollow Reservoir
The legendary lake producing the word-record smallmouth (David L. Hayes, 11 pounds, 15 ounces), and the lake is still known for its trophy potential. In recent years, the state committed to preserving the legacy of the lake by implementing an 18-24-inch slot limit to protect female brood fish from harvest. (The current slot is 16-21 inches).
The fisheries management policy worked, and a reason why it ranks on the Bassmaster Top 100 list. Come any time to enjoy the scenic beauty of this highland lake spanning 27,000 acres, or visit between December through April for the greatest potential of catching quality smallmouth. 
Douglas Lake 
When asked to rank the bass lakes in their state, we found it interesting that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency named this fishery among the state’s best. 
Most of the one-day winning weights hover around the 17-pound mark. But, the 28,000-acre lake is very fertile, and the population of largemouth and smallmouth here is tremendous. So, if you want to catch a bunch, with your surroundings being very easy on the eyes, this is the place for you. And as an angling bonus, just a short drive away is Cherokee Lake, another Bassmaster Top 100 lake. 
Fort Loudoun Lake 
A prerequisite for choosing a fishery for the world’s championship of bass fishing is its fertility for great bass fishing. Twice, in 2019 and 2023, Fort Loudoun was chosen the playing field for the Bassmaster Classic. Fort Loudoun begins at the headwaters of the Tennessee River, flowing through downtown Knoxville and then broadening out into a classic lake.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Jeff Gustafson tapped into Loudoun’s potential to win a tour-level event in 2017; his winning weight anchored by over 17 pounds of smallmouth in the February event. But you don’t have to be a pro to take advantage of the plentiful bass here. During March and into April, you can catch quality smallmouth and largemouth as both species become active for spawning.
In late March of 2023, Gustafson returned to the upper Tennessee River with smallmouth on his mind. The Canadian won the Bassmaster Classic on Tellico, a neighboring impoundment accessible from Loudoun, with an all smallmouth catch weighing 42 pounds, 7 ounces. Meanwhile, other top finishers challenged Gustafson by targeting prespawn largemouth beginning to move into the creeks.
Pickwick Lake
Smallmouth get all the attention at Pickwick Lake and they deserve it. The lake is legendary for producing the best smallmouth fishing on the Tennessee River system. Not to be ignored, a healthy population of largemouth also lives in the southwest Tennessee lake. Pickwick’s pedigree for both species makes it worthy of a high ranking in the Bassmaster Top 100 Lakes list. 
In spring, the hydrilla provides nursery habitat for baitfish, and spawning habitat and ambush cover for the largemouth. Those areas are what attract the staging and feeding bass, which like to be concealed from other fish.
Watts Bar Lake 
Watts Bar lake is located on the Tennessee River about midway between Knoxville and Chattanooga. The lake begins at Fort Loudon Dam and stretches 72 miles to Watts Bar Dam. The Clinch River connects to the main channel of the lake. Watts Bar covers 39,000 acres of surface water. 
On the chain of Tennessee River lakes spanning east Tennessee, Watts Bar gets less fishing pressure, even though it supports a vibrant largemouth and smallmouth fishery. Watts Bar is literally between Fort Loudoun and Chickamauga lakes, and the fishing is superb in spring and fall, less the pressure from tournaments that favor both its neighbors. 
Kentucky Lake
Sport fisheries undergo highs and lows as part of the natural biological cycle of aquatic ecosystems, and Kentucky Lake is no exception. The 160,309-acre lake (largest manmade lake east of the Mississippi River) with a storied past of more than a dozen B.A.S.S. pro-level events is on a comeback, and its previous reputation speaks for itself. In the late 2000s, 30-pound limits set the benchmark for winning Bassmaster events. 
Last in the chain of Tennessee River impoundments, what makes Kentucky Lake a stand-alone legend are its myriad nutrient-charged tributary creeks that feed the food chain, while providing an abundance of spawning areas and nursery habitat. What is more, the sharply defined river channel ledges provide that same combination of habitat and food for bass during the hot summer months, making Kentucky Lake a year-round paradise for bass fishing.