Water is fertile and moderately clear. Seasonal changes in water clarity occur due to runoff during rainy periods. Clarity is highest during summer and fall. Thermal stratification occurs during warm weather but does not seem to have a negative impact on the fishery. High levels of PCB's were found in Woods in the 1980's. As a result, the Tennessee Department of Public Health issued advisories concerning the consumption of catfish. Since then, PCB levels appear to be slowly dropping but the consumption advisory remains.
Largemouth bass are the most popular gamefish on Woods. Natural reproduction sustains a quality fishery that is known throughout the state for its ability to produce trophy fish. The population displays good size distribution as several good-to-strong year classes are usually present. A large portion (40 percent) of the population is 12 inches or longer. During a recent creel survey conducted by the TWRA, largemouth up to 22 inches in length were reported caught by anglers. The crappie fishery is considered excellent and supports substantial angler pressure. In fact, TWRA biologists rate Woods as one of the top three crappie lakes in Tennessee based on per-acre production. Natural reproduction is generally good and can be outstanding when conditions are favorable. While numbers of crappie are considered exceptional, sizes are rated as average. Most angler-caught crappie are in the 9.5- to 10-inch range. An 11- to 12-incher is considered big. Although largemouth are clearly the dominant black bass, smallmouth fishing on Woods is also highly rated. Natural reproduction is good and the average size is excellent. A TWRA creel study in the early 1990's showed the average harvested smallmouth weighed about 2 pounds. Prime smallmouth habitat is limited to the lower section of the lake where rock structure is more abundant. There are three varieties of catfish on Woods; flathead, blue and channel. The Tennessee Department of Public Health has issued an advisory that recommends no consumption of catfish caught from Woods Reservoir. A walleye stocking program has been in progress for a number of years. Results have been slow in coming, and unfortunately it appears natural reproduction has not occurred. Walleye currently receive little fishing pressure, and biologists are re-examining the role of walleye in Woods. Muskellunge have been stocked periodically during the last 10 years, thus adding a unique predator to the fishery. Their impact has been small, however, muskie have provided some anglers with big surprises. Most are incidental catches by bass fishermen.
Size and Depth: 3,980 acres at a normal pool elevation of 960 feet msl. A maximum depth of 50 feet is found in the lower portion of the lake close to the dam. There is a winter draw-down of 3 feet, but fluctuations depend on inflow from the Elk River.
Shoreline: Many rock bluffs exist on the lake's lower end, starting at the Morris Ferry Bridge and extending to the dam. The upper end has a few steep banks, but flat areas and sloping hills dominate. Shoreline development is minimal, limited to one marina and the Arnold Engineering Development Center. There are 65 miles of shoreline.
Cover: Fish attractors have been placed and are maintained by the TWRA. Other state projects include the planting of bald cypress trees. Some stumps remain from cutting done prior to flooding the reservoir.
Other Species: Walleye, Muskellunge, Blue Catfish, Channel Catfish, Flathead Catfish, Bluegill, Shellcracker (Redear sunfish), Longear Sunfish, Green Sunfish, Carp, Golden Redhorse.
Forage: Threadfin shad, sunfish, common shiner, stoneroller, brook silversides, whitetail shiner, whitefin shiner, logperch and bullhead minnow.
Largemouth Bass: Shallow water bass fishing usually begins to pick up in February as water temperatures start to warm. Early spring action is best in the upper end of the lake from the Morris Ferry Bridge up to the Bradley Creek area. The shallow coves in this stretch, particularly those on the north side, warm early and attract good numbers of pre-spawn fish. Coves located closest to the Elk River channel tend to produce bigger bass. Casting crankbaits is the recommended approach. Bass activity spreads to the lower portion of the reservoir by early March. During this period, the stretch of river channel between Brumalow Creek and Camp Arrowhead is considered prime. Summer brings clear warmer water that drives bass to deeper structure and prompts many anglers to fish after dark. Points, channel edges, and adjacent flats are all key spots. The mouth of Brumalow Creek and the steep-dropping shoreline from River mile 175 down to Brumalow Creek are two worthwhile spots for summer largemouth. Plus, be sure to spend time working the broad flats along the channel from Morris Ferry Bridge to river mile 175. Lipless crankbaits, spinnerbaits, jigs and plastic worms are all effective during summer. This pattern lasts until water temperatures fall below 53 degrees and shad move from the river channel into the creeks. In the fall, bass can be caught during daylight hours due to the cooler water often stained by autumn rains. Cover within shallow coves will hold fish this time of year. October is one of the best months in the fall to take a trophy from Woods. The junction of the Elk River and Bradley Creek is the primary holding area for winter (November to February) bass. The meandering river channel, steep shoreline drop-offs, and the cover around Jail Island make this area a bass magnet. The riprap along the Morris Ferry Bridge is also good winter largemouth habitat. Slow, deliberate presentations are required during the cold-water period. Try vertically jigging a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce shad-colored Crippled Herring spoon or 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig dressed with either a crawfish-colored pork strip or plastic shad.
Crappie: Crappie anglers need few presentations to successfully catch fish on Woods. Small jigs (1/16-ounce) tipped with minnows are commonly used throughout the season. Some of the best spring crappie fishing can be found in the shallow wood cover of the Camp Arrowhead area, as well as Brumalow and Rollins creeks. March and April are known for producing the most action. Summer crappie are found in the deeper water of the Elk River channel, at times as far down as 40 to 50 feet. Before fishing a spot, spend some time scanning the area with a depthfinder to locate a school of crappie. During summer, fishing after dark with the aid of a floating light is effective. Schools of baitfish drawn to the lights attract feeding crappie. Stay close to the river channel and position your bait just below the schools of swarming baitfish.
Smallmouth Bass: The best smallmouth activity is found on the lower end of the lake near the dam. Look for rocky points and areas with irregular bottoms. The points at the pumping station on Brumalow creek, the riprap at the bridge, and the region between the dam and Camp Arrowhead are all considered top-rated smallmouth water. Jigs in the 1/8- to 1/4-ounce range dressed with green, orange or black grubs work well for smallmouth. Crawfish-pattern crankbaits and dark colored spinnerbaits are effective once water temperatures reach the mid-50's in spring.
Bluegill/Shellcracker: May and June are the best months to fish bluegill and shellcracker. Bluegill bed in sand and gravel areas, while shellcracker prefer shoreline weeds. Use crickets for bluegill and worms for shellcracker.