Dale Hollow Reservoir in Tennessee
Dale Hollow Reservoir was created in 1943 by the completion of Dale Hollow Dam on the Obey River near Celina, TN.
Dale Hollow has 27,700 surface acres of water with 620 miles of shoreline. The operating authority is the U.S. Corps of Engineers. Dale Hollow Reservoir encompasses Clay, Pickett, Overton, and Fentress counties in Tennessee and Clinton and Cumberland counties in Kentucky.
Nearby towns include Celina, Byrdstown, and Cookeville. Dale Hollow is known for its beauty, clear water, and great fishing opportunities for a multitude of species.
Dale Hollow has long been home to the famous state and world record smallmouth bass caught in 1955 by Mr. D. L. Hayes (pictured above), which weighed 11lbs. and 15 ounces. This world-class smallmouth bass continues to captivate anglers with the possibilities offered by the outstanding smallmouth bass fishery that exists at Dale Hollow.
- All Species: No more than 4 rods and reels per angler may be used.
- Largemouth/Smallmouth/Spotted Bass: 5 per day in combination, only 2 may be smallmouth bass.
- Largemouth Bass: 15 inch minimum length limit.
- Smallmouth Bass: 2 per day, 16–21 inch PLR.One fish may be under 16 inches and one may be over 21 inches. Includes Wolf River upstream to South Ford Road bridge.
- Spotted Bass: no length limit.
- Crappie (all species): 15 per day in combination, 10 inch minimum length limit
- Catfish (all species): No creel limit for fish 34 inches and less in length; only one fish over 34 inches in length may be harvested per day.
- White Bass: 15 per day, no length limit.
- Yellow Bass: no creel or length limit.
- Walleye: 5 per day, 16 inch minimum length limit.
- Rock Bass: 20 per day, no length limit.
- Redear Sunfish: 20 per day, no length limit.
- Muskellunge: 1 per day, 50 inch minimum length limit.
- Bluegill/Warmouth and other sunfishes: no creel or length limit.
- Trout: 7 per day, no length limit.
January 1–April 15: On the east fork of the Obey from Compton boat ramp upstream to Hwy. 52 bridge, anglers are restricted to the use of one hook having a single point, or one lure with a single hook with one point. Walleye creel limit is 5 per day, 16 inch minimum length limit. Only one walleye over 20 inches may be harvested. No more than 3 rods and reels or poles per angler may be used.
Fishing success for largemouth bass has remained stable in recent years at Dale Hollow and is currently experiencing higher rates of success according to TWRA’s data. The presence of various species of aquatic vegetation and available forage (ex. shad, alewives) have greatly contributed to promoting and sustaining this fishery. Dale Hollow offers several types of habitat that are desired by largemouth basses, such as rocky shorelines, laydowns, stumps, and gravel substrates. According to the TWRA roving creel surveys conducted at Dale Hollow, the average largemouth bass caught weighs around 2.5 lbs., although larger fish are caught as well. Largemouth bass typically spawns when water temperatures are between 68-72 degrees, which also signals peak fishing opportunities.
Target Areas and Techniques (Largemouth Bass)
Fishing opportunities for largemouth bass can be pursued year-round. The largemouth bass is highly targeted by anglers in the spring when water temperatures reach the 60’s. Concentrate on the backs of creeks near woody debris and vegetation beds in shallow water during spawning season. Largemouth bass can be caught using artificial lures such as spinnerbaits, crankbaits, jigs, and worms. Natural baits such as bluegill and shad are attractive to largemouth bass as well. Artificial baits will vary from season to season depending on desired forage and availability. As water temperatures begin to rise and approach the lower 80’s, fishing will be often more productive during nighttime hours. During the summer months, concentrate on fishing vegetation and points in 15 to 25 feet of water. During the fall, the bass begins to move back into creeks and feed on schooling shad in the same areas that were productive during the spawning season. Focus on shad-colored baits and spinnerbaits during this time. Throughout the wintertime, largemouth bass school up under shad on the lower end of the lake. Jigging spoons and A-rigs are great baits to choose from. Dragging football jigs on tapering points in 20 to 40 feet of water is another good way to catch wintertime bass.
Decades after Dale Hollow Reservoir was created, it continues to be a national destination for anglers in pursuit of great SMB fishing opportunities. The state/world record smallmouth bass, caught in 1955 at Dale Hollow by David Hayes and weighing 11lb. 15oz., still stands today. Dale Hollow promotes a great smallmouth bass fishery largely because of the abundance of habitat (ex. rocky banks), forage bases (shad, alewives), and positive environmental influences.
The current smallmouth bass regulation reads, “2 per day, 16-21 inch Protected Length Limit. One fish may be under 16 inches and one may be over 21 inches.” This limit continues to accomplish its goal of protecting SMB between 16 and 21 inches from harvest while still allowing these fish to be caught by anglers and released. It is not uncommon for an angler pursuing smallmouth bass at Dale Hollow to catch multiple 15-25 smallmouth bass in one outing.
Smallmouth bass fishing on Dale Hollow Reservoir continues to offer some of the best opportunities anywhere. According to current roving creel surveys, catch rates by anglers targetting smallmouth bass are above average with the average weight being around 3 pounds. Smallmouth bass typically spawns when water temps are in the 59-60 degree range, which also signals some of the best opportunities to fish for smallmouth.
Target Areas and Techniques (Smallmouth Bass)
Smallmouth bass can be caught on a variety of baits such as crankbaits, jerkbaits, and jigs that mimic the forage bases (ex. crayfish, shad, alewives) at Dale Hollow. During peak spawning time, in early spring, focus on points and gravel flats. After smallmouth spawn, shift your bait of choice to topwater lures and swimbaits. During the summertime, most anglers are successful at nighttime fishing with jigs, spinnerbaits, and soft plastics while concentrating on areas with vegetation and points in 15 to 25 ft of water. Live shad will be a good choice of bait for smallmouth bass during the wintertime. The use of circle hooks instead of straight shank hooks while fishing with live bait will reduce the chances of mortality due to hook swallowing.
Dale Hollow Reservoir provides great habitat for spotted bass, which have a long history of abundance and good size there. However, the spotted bass population has steadily declined in recent years for unknown reasons. Other reservoirs, such as impoundments on the TN River in the eastern part of the state, have experienced this same decline. Fishing opportunities for spotted bass are still fair at Dale Hollow. Spotted bass inhabits many of the same locations as smallmouth bass and shares the same diet. For this reason, the spotted bass is often caught by anglers targeting smallmouth bass. Spotted bass typically spawns when water temperatures are in the 63- to 68-degree range, which is a great time to catch them.
Target Areas and Techniques (Spotted Bass):
Focus fishing around rocky substrate areas. Spotted bass like to feed on crayfish, shad, and aquatic insects. Recently, anglers often report catching spotted bass in the upper portions of the Wolf River. Tactics that work for smallmouth bass will be equally effective for spotted bass, so concentrate on those tactics ranging from artificial baits to live baits.
Crappie (Black and White)
White crappie is not as prevalent in Dale Hollow Reservoir as black crappie populations, including black nose crappie (black crappie with a genetic black mark on their forehead). Black and black nose crappie fingerlings are stocked annually by TWRA into Dale Hollow due to inconsistent spawning success by crappie there. According to annual roving creel surveys at Dale Hollow, catch rates for crappie are currently on average compared to the past 10 years. Dale Hollow offers a wide range of habitat and forage that are conducive to crappie inhabitation year around. Crappie spawn in the peak of spring season: white crappie spawn when water temps are in the 60-65-degree range and black crappie spawn when water temps are in the 62-68-degree range. The peak period for this activity usually occurs in April.
Target Areas and Techniques (Crappie)
During spawning season, search for crappie in the backs of creeks around willow trees as well as submerged trees in 2 to 5 feet of water. Artificial baits such as jigs and live minnows are the bait of choice for catching crappie this time of year. After spawning, crappie move toward deeper water, and fishing becomes more of a challenge. Because of the clear water, crappie may be caught deeper than expected. Look for schools of crappie and present baits vertically for increased opportunities. Fishing picks back up in the fall around grass beds in 15 feet of water. During the fall, minnows on slip bobbers work well when fishing around submerged trees in the main rivers in 20 feet of water.
Walleye fishing at Dale Hollow is very promising thanks in large part to annual stockings of walleye fingerlings by TWRA. In addition, walleye also spawn naturally in Dale Hollow. Their preferred spawning areas are in both river tributaries (East Fork of the Obey river) and within the reservoir. Walleye typically spawn when water temps are between 45-50 degrees. Spawning success is limited, however, which is why annual stockings continue. The average weight of harvested walleye is currently around 3.5 lbs. according to TWRA’s annual roving creel surveys. Ample forage bases comprised of threadfin shad, gizzard shad, and alewife contribute to the walleye fishery. Walleye support a very important fishery at Dale Hollow which is utilized throughout the year by anglers using varying methods.
Target Areas and Techniques (Walleye)
Walleye begin making their spawning run up the East Fork of the Obey River in late February and early March. This is the biggest concerted effort by walleye in Dale Hollow regarding spawning. Fishing for walleye in the Obey River should include baits that represent the small baitfish and crayfish that one would find in small stream settings. After the spawn, these walleye migrate back into the reservoir. In addition, several walleye will spawn on the lower end of Dale Hollow along rocky banks in 6-12 feet of water. Alewife and shad species are the main source of food for walleye within the reservoir. During the summer months, angling efforts for walleye occur mainly at night while fishing with stick baits in the main body of the lake in 10 feet of water. As alewives and shad spawn in shallow water, walleye will chase them into these areas in search of food. Walleye fishing is during April and May under the bright moon at night, using jerk baits near points and edges of aquatic vegetation. Beginning in June through August, the best method of fishing for “quality” walleye is trolling with nightcrawler rigs in 15 to 30 feet of water in large creek channels or near flats at night. During the fall, fishermen will begin to “spoon” for walleye using jigs on river breaks in 30 feet of water.
Panfish (Bluegill and Redear)
Fishing success for redear sunfish on Dale Hollow Reservoir remains good, with some very nice fish being caught around the month of May. This correlates with spawning times for redear, when the water reached 68-72 degrees. Reports from fishermen confirm the quality of the redear fishery at Dale Hollow, often catching redear sunfish around and exceeding the one-pound size. According to creel surveys, catch rates and mean weights associated with redear sunfish remain near average when compared to the last ten years at Dale Hollow.
Fishing success for bluegill continues to be promising in Dale Hollow Reservoir as well. Bluegill is widely distributed throughout Dale Hollow Reservoir and inhabit varying types of habitat like aquatic vegetation, laydowns, and bluffs. Bluegill offer lots of opportunity for anglers of all ages, especially during the warmer months. Recent surveys show that bluegill is doing well regarding reproduction and catch rates remain consistent according to annual roving creel surveys at Dale Hollow.
Target Areas and Techniques (Panfish)
Redear sunfish (shellcrackers) and bluegill will begin to move into shallow water to spawn in late April through May. Natural baits such as various kinds of worms (ex. nightcrawlers, mill worms, and catawba worms) as well as crickets work great. Artificial baits such as 1/32 oz. Beetle Spin on lightweight tackle can be fun when catching these species. Concentrate around bushes and gravel pockets in 5 to 10 feet of water during spawning. Redear will spawn days earlier than bluegill. Preferred redear spawning sites are often in shallow areas with deep water nearby, and can sometimes be observed because they are small craters lined with light-colored shell casings. These redear bedding areas will provide the best angling opportunities.
TWRA records show that TWRA personnel stocked “several” muskie into Dale Hollow Reservoir between1952-1965 that were relocated from naturally occurring streams in Tennessee and later from Wisconsin. Despite the lack of other records of muskie being stocked into Dale Hollow muskie still exists in Dale Hollow today, indicating a limited population that exists by natural reproduction. Reports of anglers catching muskie are ongoing, typically caught while fishing for other species (i.e. trolling for walleye), and TWRA fisheries personnel encounter muskie via electrofishing from time to time. Due to the small representation of muskie at Dale Hollow, very little is known about population size, habitat preference, and preferred spawning locations. Muskie spawns when water temperatures are in the 49- to 59-degree range.
Target Areas and Techniques (Muskellunge)
Fishermen often target muskies in the winter months from December to March. Big lures and big baitfish seem to the choice of bait when fishing for muskie. Some incidental muskies are caught by anglers trolling for walleye and trout. TWRA has observed muskie while conducting electrofishing surveys in Ashburn Creek.
Anglers in pursuit of catfish comprise a smaller percentage of anglers on Dale Hollow. Both channel and flathead catfish inhabit the reservoir. The overall success for catfish harvest remains consistent at Dale Hollow. The average weight of catfish captured in recent creel surveys was near 4.5 lbs., which is the average size over the past ten years. Angling pressure for catfish is low when compared to other game fish within this reservoir. Channel catfish typically spawn when water temps are in the 75- to 80-degree range.
Target Areas and Techniques (Catfish)
Beginning in June, catfish become very active and fun to catch because of spawning activity. Catfish baits range from cut bluegill and shad to raw chicken livers. Other baits such as catawba worms and doughballs have been used to catch catfish. Catfish can be caught during the day or night while fishing on the bottom of the lake. Other techniques that fishermen use to catch catfish include jug fishing, limb line, and trotline fishing. Flathead catfish will be oriented to rock shelf areas, especially where coupled with laydowns and overhanging bank areas. Check fishing regulations per method (i.e. limb lines, jugs, trotlines) to be used.
Rainbow trout are typically stocked annually into Dale Hollow Reservoir during the wintertime. These trout are found along rocky banks and on points. Several trout can be found on the lower end of Dale Hollow Reservoir in these preferred habitat areas.
Target Areas and Techniques (Rainbow Trout)
Fishermen begin trolling for trout in deeper water near the dam in May. June seems to be the best time to fish for trout using downriggers with spoons in 30 to 50 feet of water. Anglers are also successful in fishing for trout in the summer months at night while using floating lights to attract them, typically in deeper sections of the lower end of the reservoir.