Tims Ford Lake


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A TVA impoundment of the Elk River created in the early 1970's. Other major tributaries include Rock, Boiling Fork, Dry, Hurricane, Little Hurricane, and Lost creeks.

Water is very fertile with a greenish color. Visibility generally extends to depths of about 8 feet. Thermal stratification occurs during the summer months. Dissolved oxygen is usually insufficient for gamefish (particularly striped bass) below the thermocline. Low oxygen levels are typically found below depths of about 21 to 27 feet. |Low oxygen levels cause periodic problems for the tailwater trout fishery below the Tims Ford Dam.

Tims Ford is well known for its excellent striper and black bass fisheries. These species account for over 80% of the total angler interest on the reservoir. Good reproduction and survival of young bass have bolstered the largemouth fishery. In addition, shad abundance has increased and provides an ample forage base for bass. This has produced healthier and heavier bass than those seen in creel studies of the early 1990's. |Growth rates for largemouth are above average for the region. A Tims Ford largemouth reaches the 15-inch minimum size limit after 3 to 4 years of growth. There are excellent numbers of bass in the 11- to 15-inch size range expected to provide good fishing in the future. Trophy fish as large as 21 inches have been captured recently, indicating the lake's ability to produce quality largemouth. |Even though smallmouth numbers are not as high as largemouth, the quality of the fishery is considered outstanding. A combination of excellent year classes and a solid forage base has made Tims Ford a top choice for smallmouth anglers. |Growth rates for Tims Ford smallmouth are average compared to other waters in the region. A smallmouth in Tims usually reaches the 15-inch minimum size limit during its fourth year. Trophy smallmouth up to 21 inches have been observed in TWRA creel surveys. |Heavy angler pressure and harvest have hurt the quality of the Tims Ford striper fishery in recent years. Although the lake has produced fish up to 50 pounds in the past, current catches are mainly 9 to 12 pounders. A few over 20 pounds are still caught. In response, TWRA biologists have considered implementing a minimum size limit. Unfortunately, studies showing high mortality of released stripers suggest a size limit may not be the answer. Mortality rates as high as 60 to 70% were evident during the study. These figures also indicate that anglers catching and releasing fish after filling their limits is very harmful to the fishery. |The TWRA currently maintains an intensive striped bass stocking program. The lake is stocked annually at a rate of 5 fingerling per surface acre of water. |Crappie numbers had declined for several years, but the population now seems to be showing slight improvement. Hopefully, the recovery of the crappie fishery is underway. A good portion of the population is in the 10- to 12-inch class.

Size and Depth: 10,700 acres with a maximum depth of 150 feet at a summer pool elevation of 888 feet MSL.

Shoreline: Mostly hills and steep upland. Bank fishing opportunities are limited to areas near launching ramps and the state park. There are 241 miles of shoreline.

Cover: Some submergent stumps and timber remain from trees cut prior to impoundment. There are also scattered areas of flooded trees, the tops of which are about 30 feet deep at normal pool. They are below the thermocline where there is often insufficient oxygen for gamefish. |The TVA has a program for constructing new fish attractors as well as maintaining old ones. Currently, there are about 20 attractors, mainly on the east and west ends of the lake. Bald cypress trees and rye grass are planted by the TWRA on a continuing basis.

Bottom: Mainly gravel and rock mixed with clay.

Featured Species: Striped Bass (Rockfish), Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, White Crappie, Black Crappie.

Other Species: Spotted Bass, White Bass, Walleye, Blue Catfish, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Bluegill, Freshwater Drum.

Forage: Gizzard shad, threadfin shad, brook silverside, stoneroller, mosquitofish, bullhead minnow, various shiners and darters.

Striped Bass: Striped bass are caught year-round on Tims Ford. Early spring activity starts in February and March when pre-spawn stripers move up the Elk River, with some going as far as the Woods Dam during years of high water. The stretch from the Estill Springs park up to the Beth Page Bridge is a prime location. Since the river in this stretch is too shallow for most boats, the bulk of the fishing is done from shore. Fishing early and late in the day and casting lures like the Cordell Red Fin is recommended. |After the spawn, stripers begin moving back downstream and often relate to gravel points and creek mouths along the main channel. The junction of the Elk River and Boiling Creek is one of the better spots at this time. Because the fish are often sluggish, a slow presentation with live bait (usually a 5- to 8-inch shad) works best. |Summer striped bass are found in the deep, cooler water in the lower portion of the lake. Lost Creek, The Narrows, Mansford Bridge, Jollys Rock and Wiseman Bend are good areas for stripers both day and night. Trolling with downriggers for suspended fish is favored by many anglers. Commonly used lures include white bucktail jigs and a wide range of minnow-imitating crankbaits, like the locally popular Bomber Long A with the fire-tiger color pattern. |Live bait fished on downlines is also used during summer. It's best to scan an area with a depthfinder before fishing to locate schools of baitfish as well as stripers lurking nearby. When fish are found, set the downlines at the same level or slightly above the depth fish were shown on the sonar. |Fall striper activity is considered excellent and is the primary season when jump fishing occurs. Stripers can be found just about anywhere around the lake, but always near schools of shad. If surface feeding is observed, approach the school quietly, and make long casts with large lures like a Red Fin, Thunderstick or Bomber. In winter, stripers relate to the middle section of the lake between the Mansford Bridge up to Boiling Fork Creek.

Smallmouth Bass: The many miles of rocky shoreline offer prime smallmouth habitat and countless casting spots for anglers. By late February, smallies move into the shallows and respond to 1/8-ounce jigs dressed with crawfish-imitating plastics like the Berkley Power Craw. Focus on shoreline stretches that have gravel or red clay banks. |By mid-March smallmouth activity is in high gear, especially for big fish. Try retrieving crankbaits like Bass Magnets, Rebel Deep Wee-R's or Shad Raps over and along rocky points. Also work in-line spinners over gravel and rock-covered flats. |The clear, warm water of summer drives bass to deep water during daylight hours and encourages most bass enthusiasts to fish after dark. The shift to nocturnal angling can happen as early in the season as May. Spinnerbaits, crankbaits, plus Texas and Carolina-rigged plastics produce after dark. |Smallmouth move back into the shallows during fall and are taken by casting crankbaits and spinnerbaits. Working rock and gravel points with crayfish-patterned jigs or crankbaits can also yield some nice catches.

Largemouth Bass: Coves on the lake's upper end that offer rock and woody cover are favorite haunts for springtime largemouth bass. Look for the best activity from March through June in the shallow backs of creeks and hollows. Toss crankbaits that match the color and size of the available forage. Hurricane Creek from Graves Branch up to Turkey Creek is known for yielding good numbers of big fish early in the season. |Summer bass relate to deep structure, mainly points and humps. Probe the deep water on the sides of these structures during the day, then move up and hit the shallower tops after the sun goes down.

Spotted Bass: Spotted bass inhabit rock and gravel bottomed stretches along the main river channel and major feeder creek channels. Effective presentations include 1/8-ounce jigs with 3- or 4-inch white plastic grubs. Live minnows and small shad work as well.

Crappie: Crappie action begins in February and peaks during the month of April when spawning fish move into the shallows. Cast or vertically work small jigs or minnows on plain wire hooks in the backs of coves. Be certain to fish close to any available cover. |Summer crappie fishing is best at night when using lights to attract baitfish. Suspend a minnow or small jig at the same depth as the schooling forage. |Winter crappie relate to depths of 20 to 30 feet along channel drop-offs. The use of electronics and marker buoys are essential in locating and maintaining contact with deep-schooling fish. Vertical jigging minnows is a good bet during the cold-water period.

Bluegill: Bluegill are active in April and May in the backs of coves and creeks. They respond to crickets and worms rigged on a No. 6 hook. During May and June, fly fishermen do well using a variety of offerings - rubber-legged spiders, terrestrials, dry flies, and popping bugs can produce fun bluegill action. |Move to deep water for summertime bluegill, and work crickets in depths of 20 to 30 feet. If all the action seems to be from small fish, just fish deeper. Larger gills generally seek the greatest depths.

Tailwaters: The tailwaters of the Tims Ford Dam offer opportunities for both channel and flathead catfish. This action improves during periods of power generation. In addition, both rainbow and brown trout are taken in the 14-mile stretch below the Tims Ford Dam. Walleye are caught during winter and spring, including fish up to 10 pounds.


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