Center Hill Lake


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An Army Corps of Engineers' impoundment of the Caney Fork River created in 1949. Major tributaries include the Falling Water, Collins and Rocky rivers. Flow from the Caney Fork is controlled by the discharge dam at the Great Falls Dam Hydroelectric Plant.

Water is fertile and fairly clear. Visibility throughout the year ranges from 3 1/2 to 6 feet. During the summer months, a band of water between 30 and 90 feet deep can be lacking sufficient dissolved oxygen to maintain fish activity.

Size and Depth: 18,220 acres at a normal summer pool elevation of 648 feet above mean sea level. The maximum depth is 190 feet.

Shoreline: Many rocky bluffs slope into the water. Narrow ridges and rolling hills are common. Development is minimal since the shoreline is controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers. There is a total of 415 miles of shoreline

Cover: The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and local anglers have placed fish attractors and brush piles throughout the reservoir. During periods of high water, flooded shoreline wood brush can be found in many of the creek arms. Center Hill's abundant rock structure is a favorite haunt of many species. Areas of limestone rock are extensive. There is little flooded timber, as the land was cleared prior to impoundment. Aquatic vegetation is also lacking.

Featured Species: Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, White Bass (Stripe), Bluegill (Bream), Walleye, Catfish.

Other Species: Spotted Bass, Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, Paddlefish, Blacknose Crappie, Black Crappie, White Crappie, Longear Sunfish, Warmouth.

Center Hill has an extremely popular black bass fishery offering quality populations of spotted, smallmouth and largemouth. Size ranges are generally good and angler catch rates for black bass are considered average. The Tennessee state record spotted bass (5 pounds, 8 ounces) was caught from Center Hill in 1989. Smallmouth receive the majority of bass angling attention, as they accounted for an estimated 40% of the total black bass harvest during a recent TWRA survey. Although the smallmouth population is dominated by 9- to 13-inch fish, the lake has a reputation for yielding many 3- to 4-pounders as well as a fair number of 5- to 6-pound trophies. TWRA biologists suspect there may be slight overharvest of this species. Center Hill's black bass release rate of 45% is low compared to other area reservoirs. Many experts consider Center Hill the best walleye lake in the state. Growth rates are excellent with a walleye reaching 9 to 12 inches during its first year of growth and 16 inches in the third year. Walleye abundance has increased since the mid-1980's due to good natural reproduction and the implementation of a 16-inch minimum size limit. There are solid numbers of fish in the 16- to 18-range as well good numbers of larger fish. The low numbers of white and black crappie caused by the drought of the late 1980's prompted the TWRA to implement an intensive stocking program to re-establish the fishery. About 250,000 to 500,000 blacknose crappie(4- to 6-inch) have been stocked in recent years. These fish display outstanding growth rates, achieving lengths of 8 to 10 inches at age two and 10 to 12 inches at age three. Blacknose as large as 3 pounds have been reported by TWRA officials. Rainbow and brown trout are stocked between April and September in the tailwaters of the Center Hill Dam. A 20-mile stretch of river below the dam is considered trout water. Most rainbows measure between 8 and 14 inches, although 8- and 9-pound fish have been caught. Brown trout have similar average sizes, but reach even larger sizes as fish over 10 pounds have been taken in the tailwaters.

Forage: Shad, brook silverside, bullhead minnow, stoneroller, bluntnose minnow and various shiners.

Smallmouth Bass: The most productive time of year for smallmouth bass is between February and May, when fish can be found in relatively shallow water. The mid-section of the lake from Hurricane Bridge to Sligo Marina is a good place to begin, once water temperatures hit the 50-degree mark. For action, work depths of 3 to 10 feet on rock/gravel shoals and long, tapering points; but move deeper if specifically targeting big fish. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits and various jig and grub combos are all good springtime producers. The locally made Zorro Ninny Fly dressed with a 2-inch Ninny Craw is a particularly deadly combo for Center Hill smallmouth. Smoke, bluegill and pumpkinseed are the top-producing colors. Medium-light spinning gear with 8-pound line is favored, due to the clear water and general lack of heavy cover. By mid-to-late May, rising water temperatures push bass to deeper water along channel areas and into a nighttime feeding pattern. Dark-colored Ninny Flies and spinnerbaits are effective at night. Hit depths of 10 to 12 feet early in the summer, then move deeper into 20 to 30 feet as the season progresses.

Largemouth Bass: Any of the larger creek arms in the middle portion of the lake can offer good opportunities for springtime bass. The Falling Water River is considered by some local experts as the best area on the lake for largemouth, especially during spring and fall. Pre-spawn and spawning bass relate to flats that offer some type of cover, typically flooded willows or cottonwood roots. Casting crankbaits in depths of 4 to 5 feet is the preferred approach. As water temperatures warm into summer, largemouth relate to deeper water on the lower end of the lake. Night fishing is popular during this period. Concentrate on steep drop-offs, ledges and bluffs adjacent to deep water. Depths of 10 to 18 feet hold the most fish. Spinnerbaits and jigs with dark color patterns are the best bet at this time.

Walleye: Spring walleye action is outstanding in the upper reaches of the Caney Fork River in the tailwaters of the Great Falls Dam near Rock Island State Park. Known locally as "Blue Hole," this is a popular area for both shore and boat anglers. A variety of walleye presentations work, including jigs, slip sinker rigs, spinner rigs, and minnow-imitating crankbaits. Nightcrawlers and minnows are the favored live bait. Walleye are also caught along sand/gravel shorelines and rocky points of the main lake. They relate to these areas before and during the spawning period. Casting jig and minnow combos is suggested. Night fishing is popular with walleye anglers, especially in summer. Trolling deep-water structure such as points, humps and ledges is the key to success. Deep-running crankbaits and heavily weighted spinner/live bait rigs are used to reach these deep-dwelling fish. During summer when the lake is stratified, focus on the top 25 feet of the water column, since oxygen content is poor and fish activity is relatively low below that level.

Crappie: Except for a brief movement into shallow water to spawn, crappie spend most of their time in relatively deep water. Submergent tree tops, brush piles and fish attractors are the primary forms of cover to work throughout the year. Small tube jigs and minnows are the most effective presentations.

Trout: Trout action is good throughout the season, but the best tailwater catches are taken during March by anglers using spinners, salmon eggs and spoons. During summer, fly fishermen also do extremely well on this stretch.

 

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