Mega Blues of Watts Bar Lake
Story and Photos by Captain Scott Manning
May is the time to get yourself some braggin’ rights
Legends, in the form of mega catfish, have flourished along the banks of Watts Bar Lake for more than 150 years. In the mid-1900’s the most popular lake monster was known as Catzilla, a species of catfish the size of a Volkswagen Bug that inhabited the waters around Watts Bar and other area lakes. Modern day stories of monster fish continue to come in all across the region.
On Memorial Day in 2015, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) reported that a state record 100-pound plus flathead catfish was caught near Kingston. Troy Powers, a high school student, caught the “mega catfish” and then ultimately released it back into the water instead of pursuing the record. For many anglers, chasing myths or the quest for behemoth monsters often meet reality when fishing on this majestic body of water.
There are thousands of lakes and rivers in the U.S. that provide a chance at that “once-in-a-lifetime” fish, but none like Watts Bar Lake. Often referred to as the “King of the Southern Lakes,” it is one of the South’s largest lakes and offers visitors a multitude of recreational activities. The lake is 72 miles long, encompasses 39,000 acres and boasts 722 miles of shoreline. The Little Emery, Clinch and the Tennessee Rivers all converge at Kingston to form this impressive and breath-taking waterway.
The lake is surrounded by quaint little cities like Kingston (State Capital for a Day), Spring City, Rockwood, Ten Mile and Harriman. I recommend that visitors stay in Kingston or Harriman, as both cities provide a variety of local and nationally known motels and places to dine.
Without a doubt, Watts Bar Lake and its tributaries have some of the best fishing in the South. Each year, veteran boaters, anglers and vacationers travel hundreds of miles for its world-class hospitality, fishing and water-related activities. Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail holds its annual 2-day Super Event on this lake, as do other major tournament fishing organizations.
Recently, Scott Lee was participating in a local catfish tournament when he landed a 100-pound plus blue catfish near Kingston. Every angler dreams of catching such a monster fish, whether for bragging rights or for simply the enjoyment of the fight. Watts Bar Lake is an unforgettable destination and should be at the top of anyone’s bucket list.
May is one of the best times of the year to target “Mega Catfish” on Watts Bar Lake. The giants will be on an “eating binge” preparing for the annual catfish spawn in early June. An assortment of fishing techniques and baits produce monster blue and flathead catfish with an occasional trophy striper thrown in.
Stripers, which are often referred to as rockfish, because of their preference to congregate around rocky shoals, are very active in May as well. Often times anchor fishing will produce trophy stripers ranging from 15 to 50 pounds throughout the lake; especially in the spring and early fall. The tail waters of Watts Bar Lake below Melton Hill and Ft. Loudon Dams often produce quality stripers and catfish too.
Bait fish like gizzard shad, threadfin shad and skip jack herring, aka Tennessee tarpon, can be found in and around warm water throughout the lake. Using a cast net in three to four feet of water in warm coves will produce large numbers of 6- to 8-inch gizzard or threadfin shad. Skip jack herring can be caught below Ft. Loudon Dam on Foley spoons and white doll flies.
Watts Bar Lake, outside the tail-waters is considered a calm water lake. Current speed is rarely over 2.0 mph and main channel water depths range from 30 to 50 feet.
Specialized fishing boats like the G3 Sportsman 200 is ideal for lake activities and was built for the challenge of finding and landing huge catfish. The G3 Sportsman 200 provides ample space and a 65-gallon livewell. It easily caries 4 anglers comfortably.
Regardless of the boat you choose, always fish safely, have a float plan and wear flotation devices. This advice is especially relevant when fishing near the dam or at night.
Fishing techniques vary depending upon current generation, water temperatures and more important, bait activity. Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), manages the river systems and posts daily online generation schedules for Watts Bar, Melton Hill and Fort Loudon Dams. These dams control the water flow and this daily schedule can be used to determine the best times to anchor or drift fish. (https://www.tva.com/Environment/Lake-Levels).
In May, anchor fishing, drift fishing and dragging techniques are the preferred fishing methods.
Anchor fishing is best upriver from Kingston City Park and down river to Thief Neck Island or Tom Wheeler Park. Outside river bends are monster catfish hot spots along with water seams and natural structure like flooded timber, stump beds and rocky ledges. Fresh cut-bait seems to work best along with live bluegill and night-crawlers.
When anchor fishing, I use between four to six Big Cat Fever rods, rigged with a Carolina rig and a 6-ounce sinker. I prefer to anchor on water seams, or on ledges in the main channel. Keeping it simple, a little patience and using fresh bait are the three important keys to success on Watts Bar Lake.
When catfish are tough to find, I rely on drift and drag fishing techniques. When employing drift and drag fishing techniques in the main channel I prefer to have three down lines right off the bottom and three drag rods out the back. I try to maintain a constant speed between 0.02 and 0.04 mph. I often use my trolling motor or a drift sock to control my speed. I use BackStabber circle hooks on down lines and use Cajun Thunder peg floats on my drag rigs. Green, orange and pink color peg floats seem to produce the most fish.
Tough and durable fishing gear like Avet Reels and Big Cat Fever rods are a must when targeting catfish – especially in heavy cover. I use 40-pound Sunline monofilament as my main line and 60-pound Hi-Seas Grand Slam monofilament as my leader. My hook of choice is BackStabber 8/0 circle hooks.
There are more than two dozen public boats ramps scattered around the lake. Caney Creek Marina in Harriman and Blue Springs Marina in Ten Mile provides cabins, free public boat ramps, boat rentals, bait and easy and safe access to the lake. Tom Fuller Park, also has a free public boat ramp. That’s the best one if you want to explore the lower part of the lake around Rockwood.
Chasing dreams and making memories can be yours by planning a trip to Watts Bar Lake. You will experience unforgettable adventures of chasing the mega blues of Watts Bar Lake.
For more information on Watts Bar Lake, contact Captain Scott Manning (865-680-7672) at Tennessee River Monsters Guide Service.