Top Tips for Winter Warm Water Angling in Tennessee
Thermal pollution is the solution for wintertime fishing. So cozy up to a TVA power plant and cast in the warm water discharge. This byproduct of generating electricity is a magnet for fish and, of course, you, the angler.
You know how you love to hunker around a heater in winter. Baitfish feel the same way. The warmth benefits anglers who brave the cold to pursue top predator game fish because predators love to find millions of shad concentrating around the warm outflows for their dining pleasure.
The places to fish this winter are at the Gallatin Fossil Plant on Old Hickory Lake, Johnsonville Fossil Plant on Kentucky Lake, Cumberland City Fossil Plant on Barkley Lake, Bull Run Fossil Plant on Melton Hill Lake, Kingston Fossil Plant on Watts Bar Lake, and the two nuclear plants, Watts Bar and Sequoyah, on Chickamauga Lake.
Jim Allen with TVA Media Relations in Knoxville says, “Overall, the plants are very reliable and continuously release warm water. The water temperature in the discharge areas are usually 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the water source.”
You’ll find the same game fish species in these outflow areas as you’ll find in the surrounding rivers. White bass, black bass, stripers and catfish are commonly found close to the discharge area while some species like bream and crappie will seek quieter currents in the warm water.
Gallatin has four coal-fired generating units. “The steam plant provides a sanctuary for the shad in winter,” says guide Jim Duckworth (www.fishingtennessee.com) from Lebanon who plies the waters at the Gallatin plant for winter stripers. “At the mouth of the steam plant channel the water will be about 64 degrees and the warmth lasts as far as three miles downstream, to below the Gallatin Bridge. A lot of anglers miss this boat because they don’t fish that far. This warmer water allows top predator game fish to continue feeding through the winter, not like they would in the summer, but it gives the angler a good chance of catching a fish.”
Duckworth likes to set out a couple of six-inch shad and a couple of 12-inch skipjacks. He’s found that the 12-inchers will attract the 40-pound stripers.
“The water coming from the steam plant enters the Cumberland River at a 90-degree angle,” Duckworth notes. “If there is little current in the Cumberland, the warm water will flow across the river to the bluffs. If there is current, it will be swept downstream.”
Johnsonville Fossil Plant, my favorite wintertime hot spot, is located on the east bank of the Tennessee River at New Johnsonville. Construction of this plant with 10 coal-fired generating units began in 1949 and it is the oldest fossil plant in the TVA system.
Guide Bob Latendresse (731-220-0582) from Camden guides on Kentucky Lake. He introduced me to the warm outflow more than two decades ago. Since then he and I have caught oodles of fish there including crappies, stripes, stripers and largemouth bass.
Latendresse says, “You’ll usually catch fish casting a shallow running crankbait. The warmer water will flow south between the bank and island if the wind is out of the north and fish will concentrate there too.”
Cumberland Fossil Plant, on the shores of Barkley Reservoir at Cumberland City, operates two coal-fired units to produce more power than any other plant in the TVA system. It consumes about 20,000 tons of coal a day – that puts a lot of warm water into the river and attracts an abundance of fish species.
Anglers can fish from both sides of the outflow canal but boats are not allowed in the canal. When I was there a month ago there were no signs stating this prohibition but I’ve heard tickets have been issued to those caught boating in there.
David Woodward of Nashville says, “This is probably the best place to catch white bass in Middle Tennessee during the winter. I cast a white curlytail jig but people use a wide variety of baits including crankbaits and minnows. The banks can get crowded but there are plenty of fish to go around.”
Bull Run Plant on Melton Hill Reservoir is a single coal-fired unit with limited access but anglers have caught a number of large stripers here. Gary Helms of Knoxville landed an at the time world record 60-pound, 8-ounce striper in February of 1988 (that record has since been surpassed). He was using a 22-inch skipjack for bait.
Downstream from Bull Run on Watts Bar Lake is the Kingston Fossil Plant at the mouth of the Clinch River. Kingston was the largest coal-burning power plant in the world when completed in 1955.
J.D. Campbell from Harriman has fished the Kingston Plant area for nearly 50 years and he knows his stuff.
“Most of the hybrid and large stripers that we catch hit large creek minnows, skipjack and large white jigs. Stripers up to 40 pounds are caught here through March,” Campbell says. “Fishing is fantastic from the I-40 Bridge up to the steam plant. There are often 30 to 50 large stripers or hybrids caught per day fishing from the bank.”
Largemouth bass are usually overshadowed by the large stripers but they are present as are crappies, white bass and catfish.
Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City below Watts Bar Dam is TVA’s third nuclear power plant. Browns Ferry in Alabama was first followed by Sequoyah Nuclear Plant at Soddy-Daisy. The plant was named for a sandbar at Watts Island that hampered navigation on the Tennessee River until the bar was flooded forming Watts Bar Lake.
TWRA Region III creel clerk Tim Poole says, “Anglers catch a lot of shellcracker there in winter. But the best place for stripers is going to be the boils at Sequoyah.
“At the Sequoyah Nuclear Plant anglers don’t catch a lot of stripers but the ones they catch are big,” adds Poole. “I’ve seen catches in the 40-plus-pound range but I’ve heard of some weighing 60 pounds. I measured the water’s effect for about a mile downstream, but most anglers fish within 200 yards of the boils.”
Other Fossil Plants: John Sevier Fossil Plant, on the Holston River near Rogersville, operates a public campground on the plant site and excellent fishing is available at the warm water discharge. Allen Fossil Plant on the Mississippi River five miles southwest of downtown Memphis is known for terrific cat fishing in winter.
While access to some of the thermally enhanced waters may be limited, keep in mind that the warm water influence lasts for a mile or more downstream where access may be easier. You can find more info about TVA power plants at http://www.tva.gov/sites/sites_ie.htm.