Norris Lake


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An impoundment of the Clinch and Powell rivers built in 1936 by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Smaller tributaries include Cove, Big, Mill, Cedar, Davis, Lost, and Big Sycamore creeks. Norris has the distinction of being the first TVA impoundment ever built and was designed to provide hydroelectric power, flood control and recreation.

The water is typically moderately fertile and greenish in color. Water clarity is greater on the lower end of the lake. The lower lake is oligotrophic, while the upper end has greater fertility and is considered mesotrophic. Thermal stratification occurs throughout the lake, with the thermocline developing at about 31 to 35 feet deep in the upper lake, and between 30 to 50 feet on the lower end.

Size and Depth: 34,200 acres at a full pool elevation of 1,020 MSL. Maximum depth is 210 feet.

Shoreline: The 600 miles of shoreline are mostly wooded and controlled by the TVA. A continuous shoreline strip is dedicated to public recreation, and portions are maintained as wildlife areas. Steep bluffs exist close to the Norris Dam.

Cover: There is little aquatic vegetation. Some stumps remain from cutting done prior to creation of the reservoir. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has a fish attractor program for the installation of new sites and the renovation of old sites. Attractors are typically made up of several thousand Christmas trees. The TWRA has installed half-log nesting devices to improve natural reproduction of smallmouth bass. Since this program began in 1992, reproduction has increased significantly.

Featured Species: Striped Bass (Rockfish), Walleye, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass.

Other Species: White Bass, Spotted Bass, Sauger, Lake Trout, Muskellunge, White Crappie, Black Crappie, Blacknose Crappie, Bluegill, Rock Bass, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish.

The black bass fishery attracts the most angler interest on Norris, as quality populations of both smallmouth and largemouth bass are available. Largemouth numbers have been increasing since 1990. Several good spawning years have supplied a solid group of fish between 10 and 15 inches that should provide excellent fishing in future years. A recent TWRA creel survey revealed the average largemouth harvested by anglers measured just over 15 inches. Trophy fish up to 21 inches were caught during the survey. Smallmouth bass numbers have increased sharply since 1992. Prior to this, smallmouth catch rates were lower, although some quality fish existed. Currently, smallmouth comprise about 41 percent of the total black bass catch. As this population continues to expand, catch rates and angler interest are expected to increase. Recent TWRA surveys showed a healthy 16.3-inch average for creeled smallmouth. A monster 25-inch smallie was observed during the survey. The striped bass population has suffered during the past few years. A combination of heavy fishing pressure and competition for forage has reduced the quality of the fishery. In response, the TWRA has developed special creel and length regulations to reduce striper harvest, especially of larger fish. In addition, the striped bass stocking program has been changed in hopes of improving the quality of the fishery and reducing the competition for alewife, the main striper forage. Previously, stripers were stocked annually at a rate of 5 fish per acre. Currently, TWRA officials are stocking 6 fish per acre on an alternate year basis. The stocking rate may increase to 7 fish per acre if annual angling pressure directed at striped bass exceeds 185,000 hours. A recent survey indicated the average creeled striper measured just under 28.5 inches, and that trophy fish up to 43 inches are present. The Norris walleye population is considered good and generates moderate angler interest. The competition for food with alewife is a concern of state biologists. Relative weight values(an index of condition) for walleye have decreased because juvenile walleye and alewife compete for the same food(zooplankton). During a recent creel survey, the average harvested walleye was 17.5 inches long and weighed 1.75 pounds. Walleye up to 26 inches were measured during the study. Crappie numbers are down and TWRA biologists are taking drastic measures to improve this part of the fishery. Adequate crappie habitat is lacking in Norris due to the old age of the reservoir. After 60 years, much of the sunken timber, brush and shallow-water crappie habitat has deteriorated. Natural reproduction has been insignificant lately, causing poor recruitment of new fish. With the cooperative efforts of private individuals and fishing clubs, the TWRA is implementing a program to improve crappie abundance through stocking. Four different areas have been identified as providing good crappie habitat. They are Big and Cove creeks in the lower part of the lake, Lost Creek embayment, and Big Sycamore Creek. These areas have been chosen as crappie stocking sites.

Forage: Threadfin shad, gizzard shad, alewife, brook silverside, bullhead minnow, mooneye, logperch, bluntnose minnow, northern hogsucker and various shiners.

Striped Bass: Striped bass activity during winter is focused in the headwater sections of the Clinch and Powell rivers. Depths of 8 to 15 feet seem to provide the most action. Although a variety of presentations work, including jigging spoons, crankbaits and jigs, live gizzard shad are the most popular, especially for bigger fish. Large (7-to 12-inch) shad are recommended. Rigging is relatively simple, with most local experts favoring to lip hook a lively shad on a 2/0 or 4/0 hook tied to a 3- to 4-foot leader. Attach the leader to one eye of a 3-way swivel, and run a dropper line with 1/4- to 1/2-ounce of lead off the other eye. Some anglers use a balloon rig to get the shad away from the boat. Decent striper action is also available during the month of May, when post-spawn fish move down the various creeks back to the main lake. Lost Creek, Crooked Creek, Fall Creek, and the Clinch and Powell rivers are all worth trying during this period. By May, thermal stratification begins to develop and stripers are drawn to the deep, cool water near the thermocline. Many are caught on live shad and large hair or feather jigs. Summer striper anglers use trolling tactics, usually with downriggers, to target fish suspended near the thermocline. The use of electronic depthfinders to locate schools of baitfish and suspended stripers is vital. A wide range of lures are used, including Bombers, Rebels, Rapalas, and Grandmas. Select large models in the 6- to 10-inch size range. During fall and again in spring, stripers can be seen gorging on schools of shad at the surface. This action usually occurs during the low-light periods of early morning and evening. Casting topwater baits such as the Zara Spook or Red Fin is the favored technique.

Largemouth Bass: In the early spring, largemouth bass are drawn to areas that offer the warmest water, typically in coves on the lake's upper end. Focus on creek arms with stained water and work tight to any available cover. While weeds are scarce overall, limited areas of growth can be found in some of the creeks and sloughs. If weeds are found, be certain to work for bass. Tossing crankbaits such as the Bomber Fat "A", Rat-L-Trap or Storm Thinfin work well for early season bass. During the daytime hours of summer, look for largemouth in deep brush and along drop-offs and creek channels. Casting deep-running crankbaits is a good way to reach these fish. Summer bass fishing, however, is best done after dark due to the warm, clear water and increased boat traffic. A movement toward shallower water occurs during low-light periods. Spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, or any topwater lure can produce exciting action at this time.

Smallmouth Bass: Smallmouth bass are caught throughout the year, but respond best during the months of February, March and April. Work the stained water in the upper reaches of the lake, concentrating on gravelly main-lake points or rock outcroppings. Retrieving crankbaits parallel to rocky ledges is a good bet. Although plenty of smallmouth are taken on artificials between October and April, live bait generally out-produces artificials by a 3-to-1 margin. The best live bait is the shiner. They are highly effective when free-lined on a No. 3 hook with a BB-size splitshot crimped 18 to 20 inches up the line. Start with 2-inch shiners in late fall, then switch to 3- to 31/2-inchers in December. After the spawning period, many smallmouth are caught on fly n' rind combos worked amongst heavy rock structure in depths of 15 feet or more. During summer and fall, fish deep rocky structure, bluffs and drop-offs on the lake's lower end. Some smallmouth are found as deep as the thermocline. Jigs, minnows and spinnerbaits are all productive. Summertime boat traffic can be quite intense, forcing anglers to fish early or late in the day.

Walleye: Walleye fishing during February and March is best on the gravel shoals in the upper reaches of the two major arms and on rocky main-lake points. Hair jigs, crankbaits, and spoons will all catch fish. In mid-to-late May, walleye anglers take decent catches along shorelines of the main lake by throwing small crankbaits such as Hot N' Tots and No. 7 Rapalas. In summer and early fall, walleye relate to long tapering points in the main lake. Daytime activity can be exceptional for anglers trolling spinner rigs tipped with crawlers across the points. These fish often relate to transition zones, so always look for any changes in bottom content. Nighttime walleye anglers work jigging spoons for fish suspended over deep water. Before fishing a spot, check the area first with a depthfinder to make sure fish are present.

Sauger: Sauger fishing on Norris is very seasonal and peaks in late winter when fish are concentrated in the upper stretches of the Clinch and Powell rivers. They are usually found close to walleye on gravel or rock shoals during February and March, but expect to find sauger deeper due to their increased sensitivity to light. Small spoons, crawlers and crankbaits all produce.

White Bass: February and March are the top months to pursue white bass, which also move to the upper part of the reservoir in late winter. Minnows, jigs, grubs, and crankbaits are suggested during this period. Later, during June, July, and August, white bass are found throughout the main lake and are taken by trolling small crankbaits or spinners.

Crappie: From February through May, crappie fishermen make their best catches around brush piles or any other type of submerged wood cover. Small coves with slightly warmer water tend to attract the greatest numbers fish. Still fishing with minnows, grubs and tube jigs is popular, but some anglers also do quite well trolling small crankbaits and Beetle Spins. From June through October, warm water forces crappie into deeper cover near brush piles and fish attractors. Fishing after dark under lantern light is a good way to improve success.