Tennessee is home to some amazing catfish waters and holds three species, channel, flathead, and blue catfish. There are a lot of 20-40lb cats in the rivers and lakes of Tennessee but most anglers are looking for a triple-digit fish that only the blues and flatheads will reach. In fact, the world record catfish of 116lb was caught just on the Arkansas side of the Mississippi River.
Fishing for catfish can be done all year round in Tennessee and you don’t even need a boat for most fisheries and you can happily throw a line from the bank and be in a chance of catching a giant catfish. There are a lot of catfishing options in Tennessee so here I am going to narrow it down for you and tell you about the best catfishing in Tennessee.
The Mississippi River
The Mississippi River runs down the border of Tennessee for 167 miles, that is a lot of water and most of it has great catfishing. It’s known as the best place for catfishing in the whole of Tennessee. The river is home to all three species of catfish and if you want to catch a big cat, this is the place to do it.
The river isn’t just about giant cats though, there is a lot of smaller channel catfish that love to hang out in the smaller channels. In the deeper areas and occasionally in the shallows, you’ll also come across some giant flatheads too. The best time to fish is in summer when all 3 species are there in quantity. But they don’t all eat the same bait or hang out together and you’ll need a different approach for each.
Blues are best caught by slowly drifting a piece of cut skipjack whereas bottom fishing with shad is the best for the channel catfish. Flathead cats like hanging out near cover and they love a live gizzard shard. The catfish in the river don’t move around much and are predictable. The same spot will work season after season and if you know your game you’ll catch a lot of fish. If you’re new to the area, grab a guide to get you started.
This is one of the most popular lakes for catfishing in Tennessee. The lake is big and open with quite a few smaller channels around its sides too. There are a lot of fallen tree’s in the lake and bottom fishing isn’t recommended as you’ll get snagged up a lot and the best tactic is using bait on a bobber.
The lake is full of big flathead catfish and lots of bream too. The bream tend to hang out in the deepest area of the lake while the catfish are pretty much anywhere but they love to hang out in the narrower and shallower channels.
Live bait is the bait of choice in this lake, nightcrawlers, in particular, seem to work very well as these cats prefer worms and similar live baits for some reason. Simply attach your bait to a bobber, let it drift and a cat will pick it up soon enough. Using a bobber is particularly useful to avoid the abundance of fallen trees in the lake as I already mentioned but it’s also useful to keep from hooking the bottom in the narrow, shallow channels the catfish like to sit in.
You can choose to rent a boat at the lake or fish from shore, both are just as effective. It’s not recommended to bring your own boat though due to the obstacle in the water and the boats available are specially designed to deal with them. There is a lot of prime accommodation around then lake too and it’s a perfect spot for a weekend break or fishing holiday.
Kentucky Lake begins near the Alabama border and goes all the way don to the Tennesse line. It’s the biggest lake in Tennessee and you’ll find everything from giant blues to flathead and channel catfish here. If you’re using a boat then a great place to start is by the dam wall. Big blue cats like to hang out there and they love to feed on cut bait. It’s best to use a three-way rig in this part to increase your chances.
If you don’t have a boat to use, then do not worry as there is some great fishing from the bank too. Just downstream of the dam you’ll find a lot of channel catfish and small blues too, plus some giants sometimes hang out there. The best tactic here is to use surfcast gear to bounce a cut shad along the bottom. You’ll probably end up losing some tackle but you’ll catch some big ones too. Further downstream there is a bit of a wild and remote area with a lot of deep pockets and meanders where big cats come together. These are not fished very often and some huge blues call this place home. You can access it by boat and from the bank and suspended rigs and bottom bouncing are your best bets to get into a monster.
The Cumberland River has a lot of big cats in it and there are loads of them too. If you’re after consistent big fish, this is the place for you. Channel, blue and flathead catfish call this place home and some grow to be in the triple-digit marker all catfisherman are looking for.
The Cumberland River flows through Lake Barkley and Lake Cheatham. The state record of a 112lb blue was caught in Lake Barkley and similar sized fish call the Cumberland home too.
You can fish in the Cumberland all year round and the best bait to use for the big blues in cut skipjack, cut like in the Mississippi River. Flatheads love a live bream or shad and the channel cats go for chicken livers and minnows. If you happen to be fishing in June or July, the cats will mate and spawn in the rocks below both the dams in strong current. They gather there in large numbers and it’s a great spot during that time.
The Woods Reservoir is home to a lot of small cats and if you get it right, you’ll be hooking a fish ever two minutes. It’s a perfect place to take kids and teach them the joy of fishing, as they will never get bored pulling in fish after fish.
The reservoir is mostly full of channel cats but there are not good to eat. There is a warning in place that states they shouldn’t be eaten. This has helped the fishery be less busy and improved the catfish population.
If you’re fishing here, use half threadfin shad or gizzard shad and fish along the banks at various depths. You’ll be hooking up all day. It’s not a bad idea to throw a live bream out either as there are some big flatheads in the area.