Old Hickory Lake


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An Army Corps of Engineers impoundment of the Cumberland River. Completed in 1954, Old Hickory was designed for navigation, hydroelectric power generation and flood control. The Caney Fork River is the major tributary. There are numerous small inlets, including Round Lick, Peyton, Dixon, Goose, Second, Cedar, Spring, Bartons, Bledsoe, Spencer, Station Camp, Big Cedar, and Drakes creeks. The drainage area above the dam covers 11,674 square miles.

Water is moderately fertile and fairly clear. Thermal stratification occurs to a minor degree on the main channel of the Cumberland River, while extreme stratification can occur in the creeks and embayments.

Old Hickory produced the world record walleye in 1960. Caught by Mabry Harper, it weighed 25 pounds and measured 41 inches.

Size and Depth: 22,500 acres and a maximum depth of 65 feet at the normal pool elevation of 445 feet above mean sea level. The lake extends over 97 miles from the Old Hickory Dam at Hendersonville to the Cordell Hull Dam at Carthage.

Shoreline: The lower end is privately owned and heavily developed. The topography is hilly with many rocky bluffs. Total shoreline length is 440 miles. There are 12 Army Corps of Engineers recreation areas on the lake.

Cover: Over 1,000 acres of milfoil exists, mostly in creeks and embayments on the lake's lower third. Weeds grow to a depth of about 10 feet in some areas and often mat on the surface in depths of 5 feet and less. Some stumps remain from trees cut before the lake was flooded. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has a program for the installation and maintenance of fish attractors. In addition, private individuals have also placed brush piles.

Bottom: Primarily clay with extensive areas of rock.

Featured Species: Largemouth Bass, White Crappie, Striped Bass, White Bass (Stripe).

Other Species: Spotted Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Cherokee Bass, Yellow Bass, Walleye, Sauger, Rainbow Trout, Paddlefish, Bullhead, Carp, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Blue Catfish, Bluegill, Redear Sunfish, Rock Bass, Warmouth.

Largemouth bass are the premier gamefish on Old Hickory. The bass fishery has improved significantly since milfoil invaded the lake in the early 1990's. There are now excellent numbers of fish available to anglers. Natural reproduction is strong and an ample supply of forage sustains good growth rates. The average Old Hickory largemouth reaches a length of 12 inches during its third year of growth. A recent TWRA creel survey estimated that over 92,000 largemouth were caught (about half were released) during a one-year period. Most of the population is comprised of 10- to 13-inch fish, but bass up to 21 inches were reported during the survey. The Caney Fork and Cumberland rivers provide cold, well-oxygenated water that is required for a quality striper fishery. But despite a solid population of excellent size fish, the striped bass fishery seems underfished. Although the lake has produced lunkers up to 56 pounds, the average striper caught according to TWRA survey results weighs 6.5 pounds. Some experts believe that the next Tennessee record striped bass will come from Old Hickory, breaking the current mark of 60 pounds, 8 ounces. Although still quite high, white bass abundance is down a bit from the early 1990's. TWRA surveys have shown that Old Hickory stripes display good average size, as almost half the fish caught by anglers measured 10 to 11 inches in length. Some slabs were as large as 16 inches. Angler interest in sauger remains low, despite a modest but stable population. This fishery is sustained by periodic stocking in addition to fair levels of natural reproduction. Crappie numbers tend to be cyclic, but big fish are always available. Crappie crave gizzard shad as forage, and when shad experience a good hatch crappie benefit greatly. The tailwaters of the Old Hickory dam offer striped bass, Cherokee bass, white bass, yellow bass, sauger, and occasionally a rainbow trout.

Forage: Threadfin shad, gizzard shad, skipjack herring, brook silverside, bullhead minnow, silver chub, blackstripe topminnow, and various shiners.

Largemouth Bass: Bass fishing potential is good throughout the lake, but the section between Spencer Creek and Drakes Creek has the most weed growth and seems to produce the greatest numbers of fish. The period between March and the first week of June offers some of the best catches of the year, with peak activity typically occurring in May. Successful anglers target coves that contain milfoil. During the heat of summer, bass move to the deep water of the main river channel. Most are found in depths of 20 to 25 feet. Concentrate on areas that contain old stumps that remain from cutting done prior to impoundment. Fish attractors don't tend to hold many bass during summer, as they are placed in too shallow of water. Once fall arrives and water temperatures cool, largemouth move into areas of milfoil and shallow-water cover in the back ends of creek arms. This pattern generally begins around the first week of September and lasts until water temperatures drop below 50 degrees. Largemouth remain close to the deep water of the main river channel for the bulk of the winter season.

Striped Bass: Striped bass are growing in popularity on Old Hickory, as the lake's reputation as outstanding striper water continues to expand. Pursuing these tough fighters requires heavy tackle, especially when fishing near shoreline cover and areas with flooded timber. Local guides recommend 7-foot, medium-heavy baitcasting rods with large-capacity, level-wind reels spooled with 40- or 50-pound test line. The Gallatin Steam Plant becomes a striper and white bass magnet in fall after main-lake water temperatures drop beginning in November. Action can last through March or as long as colder winter weather remains. Vast schools of baitfish are drawn to the warmwater discharge, and both striped bass and stripe follow to feed on the abundant forage. River herring are the top bait to use here. Some guides use bait as large as 20 inches long in hopes of hooking a 50-pound plus striper. Usually after the first of April, striper action moves downstream from the steam plant to the cool waters of the Cumberland and Caney Fork rivers. Concentrate on the edges of shallow bars and steep banks where stripers hold waiting to attack schools of shad. During periods of power generation at the upriver dams, expect to find striped bass on the tops of bars in surprisingly shallow water. The use of heavy tackle is especially important in this region due to the abundance of brush and submerged wood. Trolling crankbaits along drop-offs and creek mouths near the main river channel is the favored approach for summer stripers. Main channel areas do not stratify as much as some of the smaller tributaries, so stripers can be found at just about any depth throughout the water column. Crankbaits such as the Red Fin or Storm's ThunderSticks are productive. Some anglers use planer boards to run lures away from the boat to avoid spooking stripers. The region extending 10 miles down from the Cordell Hull Dam is considered top striped bass water. When trolling or casting in this region, use baits that resemble gizzard shad. Summer striper fishermen also use 3-way swivel rigs to troll 8- to 10-inch shad near schools areas of baitfish. Concentrate on shallower areas early and late in the day, and work deep holes and pockets during mid-day periods. Jump fishing peaks in September and October as cooler water brings stripers to the surface to feed. If surface activity is evident, approach quietly and cast body baits that resemble gizzard shad. Red Fins and Super Shad Raps are perennial favorites. Another popular artificial is the 1/2-ounce banana jig. Hard-fighting striped bass can often straighten or break off weak hooks, so select jigs that have an extra strong 7/0 hook. Most jigs are dressed with white or yellow hair and either a white or chartreuse twister tail is used for added attraction.

Stripe: Early season stripe congregate in the headwater areas and major creek arms in February and March. Working brightly colored jigs along bottom while drifting is the most popular technique. From May through early September stripe are found throughout the lake. Jump fishing is popular during this period and catches of over 90 fish a day have been reported. Most fishermen cast Pop N' Floats or small spinners like Mepps or Roostertails. Once jump fishing fades in early fall, trolling along the main river channel and adjacent bars is productive. Creek mouths are key locations at this time.

Crappie: The prime time for crappie fishing begins in spring, with the best catches coming in April. Most anglers target areas near boat docks, fish attractors and brush piles. Minnows and small plastic grubs are preferred baits. Summer crappie are found deeper and are tougher to catch. These fish relate to ditches, sloughs and channels in depths of 20 to 28 feet. The use of electronic depthfinders is important to finding deep-water summer slabs.


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