J. Percy Priest Lake


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An impoundment of the Stones River completed in 1969. Other inlets include Stewart, Suggs, Hamilton, Hurricane, Spring, and Fall creeks, and the West Fork Stones River.

Water is very fertile. High nutrient levels cause heavy algae blooms during summer. The thermocline extends to about 10 feet in the upper part of the lake and to 25 feet near the dam.

Size and Depth: 14,200 acres with a maximum depth of 100 feet at normal pool.

Shoreline: Steep bluffs exist, especially on the lake's lower end. Moderately rolling hills dominate much of the surrounding landscape. The 265 miles of shoreline are controlled by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Cover: Riprap areas are present near the dam and bridges. Stumps and brush are found in the creek arms above Fate Sanders. Fish attractors have been placed by the TWRA. Timber was cleared above 475 msl, but is present below that level.

Featured Species: Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Cherokee Bass (hybrid striped bass), Crappie.

Other Species: Striped Bass (Rock-fish), White Bass(Stripes), Spotted Bass, Saugeye, Flathead Catfish, Channel Catfish, Blue Catfish, Sunfish, Bluegill, Carp, Gar, Smallmouth Buffalo.

The fertile waters of Percy Priest sustain one of the state's most productive and diverse fisheries. Quality populations of several types of sportfish are available to fishermen, including three species of black bass, striped bass, Cherokee bass and catfish. Crappie and bluegill provide plenty of action for panfish anglers. Located only 10 miles from downtown Nashville, Priest is considered one of the finest smallmouth bass lakes in Tennessee. Despite intense angler pressure, the 15-inch size limit insures an ample supply of 11-to 14-inch smallmouth for catch-and-release action. There are also good numbers of fish over 15 inches, including 4-to 6-pound trophies. Largemouth bass are also very popular with anglers. Catches of trophy largemouth approaching the coveted 10-pound mark have occurred in recent years, demonstrating the lake's ability to produce big fish. Most bass caught by anglers measure around 13 to 14 inches. According to TWRA survey results, growth rates for largemouth have been slightly higher than the region's average. Trophy striped bass over 30 pounds are caught annually from Priest. However, the relatively shallow thermocline limits the amount of deep, cool water that striped bass need to survive during summer. Because of the less-than-ideal striper habitat, the TWRA has emphasized stocking Cherokee bass which are more tolerant of warm water. Saugeye, a walleye and sauger hybrid, have been stocked on an experimental basis and appear to be doing well. Although saugeye survival has been good, they are difficult to catch. Most are taken incidentally by bass anglers. Crappie are the lake's most popular panfish. The normally cyclic population is currently on an upswing. Several strong year classes in the early 1990's should produce good fishing in future years. The average crappie caught by anglers measures 8 to 10 inches.

Forage: Threadfin shad, gizzard shad, brook silverside, bullhead minnow, juvenile panfish and various shiners.

Smallmouth Bass: Smallmouth bass anglers should focus on the portion of the lake from Poole Knobs down to the dam. This area has clearer water and an abundance of rock/gravel shorelines with patches of woody cover - top-notch smallie habitat. During winter, smallmouth anglers work jig n' pigs or jig n' craws along the channel edges and bluffs. In March, start tossing small crankbaits (the No. 5 Shad Rap is a local favorite) or swim a jig/grub combo over the 5-to 15-foot flats. Conceding daytime use of Percy Priest to the pleasure boaters and water skiers, most bass anglers avoid the heat and activity of summer and begin fishing at night. Jig n' pig combos and spinnerbaits, both in black or purple color patterns, are the preferred presentations for smallmouth (and largemouth) after dark. Nighttime action usually lasts through September, and by October, activity shifts to back to daylight hours on rocky, long-tapering points and rock-covered flats. Crankbaits and jig and plastic combinations are favored again for smallmouth.

Largemouth Bass: Although they are found throughout the lake, most experts consider the upper portion of the lake(above Fate Sanders) the best largemouth bass water. During the cool-water period of winter, slowly work the deep-water shelves and ledges along the drop-offs of the old creek beds. On warm, sunny days in early March, largemouth are found in shallow, rock-bottomed coves. Casting small-to-medium crankbaits is productive at this time. Spawning usually starts in early-to-mid April, after which largemouth move to deeper water and respond best to plastic worms, jig n' pigs or jig n' craws.

Cherokee Bass: Springtime action for Cherokee bass is best in the lower part of the lake within 5 miles of the dam. Look for surface activity during low-light periods such as early morning and evening hours or overcast days. If a jump is observed, quietly approach the school and cast a Zara Spook or Cordell Redfin. During summer, hybrids suspend in the cooler water of the thermocline, typically in depths of about 25 to 30 feet. Prime locations are deeper areas in the upper ends of larger creek arms. Action can be good throughout the day using a variety of methods. Jig/Sassy Shad combos(1/4 ounce) and bucktail jigs are frequently used. Live bait anglers have good results running flatline rigs baited with shiners. Once the water cools in fall, Cherokee bass are caught in similar areas and on similar presentations as they were during spring. Again, low-light periods are best, and finding water temperatures of 50 degrees can be key.

Crappie: Crappie begin to school tightly during February on the edges of large creeks in depths of 10 to 22 feet. Small jigs or minnows are widely used at this time. As spring arrives and water temperatures rise, crappie move shallower to depths of 6 to 15 feet. Higher water temperatures increase the action, and crappie will readily hit 1/8-ounce jigs dressed with 2-inch grubs. Green colors seems to produce the best. Expect this bite to peak around the third week of April. During the warm months of summer, crappie fishing becomes a nighttime activity. Bridge crossings, such as Hobson Pike and the Jefferson Springs Pike are popular locations at this time. Another good night spot is the bluff directly across from Elm Hill Marina.


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