Great Falls Reservoir in Tennessee
Great Falls is a small reservoir (2,110 surface acres) that has a longer tenure when compared to other impoundments across the state of Tennessee. The main operations for the Great Falls reservoir are controlled by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).
Great Falls dam was completed in 1916, making this reservoir on the Caney Fork river a reality. Great Falls reservoir continues to offer opportunities for many local anglers seeking black bass and crappie fishing endeavors among other species of fish. Great Falls reservoir is located upstream and adjacent to Center Hill Reservoir and is within Warren, White, and Van Buren counties.
The extreme upper tributaries of the reservoir (i.e. Collins River) provides anglers with excellent opportunities for landing a musky. Some musky, although low in abundance, will be found within the main body of the reservoir as well.
Because Great Falls reservoir is mostly riverine and comprises major drainage of bordering areas it is highly susceptible to dramatic water fluctuations and associated sediment load influences. Successful year reproduction of black bass and crappie are highly impacted many times in the spring due to water level fluctuations.
Spring electrofishing and mid-summer seining surveys help TWRA monitor gamefish populations at Great Falls. Rock Island State Park is near the reservoir and offers a good place for a vacation. Towns that are near great falls are McMinnville, Sparta, and Cookeville. Boating access to Great Falls is limited due to the small number of access areas there.
- Largemouth/Smallmouth/Spotted Bass: 5 per day in combination
- Largemouth Bass: 15 inch minimum length limit.
- Smallmouth Bass: 18 inch minimum length limit.
- 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.
- 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.
Fishing success for largemouth bass at Great Falls continues to be fair. The most recent black bass spring electrofishing by TWRA has shown poor spawning success overall in several of the past years. The major reason for these deficiencies is because major water fluctuations associated with spring rains. Fluctuating water levels during peak spawning times has a negative effect on gamefish that use spawning beds for spawning. Additionally, the turbidity that accompanies the drainage during these times can be significant as well further decreasing conditions for favorable spawning. Both shoreline habitat (woody debris) and ample forage have promoted and sustained the LMB fishery at Great Falls. The 15” minimum length limit (MLL), established in 2011for largemouth bass at Great Falls, will hopefully offset perceived increases in fishing pressure at Great Falls. According to the most recent roving creel survey conducted at Great Falls, the mean weight for largemouth bass caught by anglers was 1.92 lbs. Largemouth bass spawn when water temperatures are in the 68-72-degree range.
Target areas and Techniques (Largemouth bass):
As bass begin to spawn in April, floating worms and soft plastics around shallow wood on clay banks work great. Due to severe water level fluctuations from heavy spring rains, it may become difficult to stay on a fishing pattern from day to day. Check the weather forecast and water elevations from TVA to get a better realization of the magnitude of influential rain events and if fish have had time to stabilize. Beginning in May, TVA will begin to fill Great Falls Reservoir to reach the 800 feet above sea level summer pool. Bass fishing can be great on top water action around docks and flooded bushes during this time. The best areas seem to be within 5 miles from the dam coming from either the Collins River or the Caney Fork River. Beginning in June, most bass fishing is starting to take place at night. Soft plastics fished on points and laydowns in 10 feet of water work well. Top water lures work well early in the morning and late in the evening. Flipping soft plastics under boat docks is also a good choice. As fall begins, TVA begins to draw down the water level so bass will begin chasing schools of shad to feed on as these forage bases become more concentrated. The angler should focus on fishing flats, points, and mouths of creeks while casting buzz baits, square bill crankbaits during this time. Water levels can begin to fluctuate due to heavy rains which can influence fishing patterns as fish orient with changing water levels. Wintertime patterns for bass seem to change to deeper banks while casting jigs, A-rigs, and crankbaits on the main river channel.
Fishing for spotted bass in Great Falls reservoir is probably not an intended species due to small population numbers when compared to largemouth bass population numbers there. Unfortunately, reproductive success, according to TWRA’s most recent spring electrofishing surveys and mid-summer seining surveys, exhibits poor reproductive success at Great Falls for spotted bass. This is due in large part to water fluctuations during peak spawning times. Spotted bass like to spawn when water temperatures are in the 63-68-degree range. Data from the most recent roving creel survey showed that the mean weight of harvested spotted bass from Great Falls was 0.91 lbs.
In April of 2019, spotted bass was collected from the Great Falls reservoir to study the genetic integrity of these fish. Specifically, the objective was to determine if this was the native spotted bass if any hybridization had occurred and to check for Alabama bass genes. Thankfully no Alabama bass genes were represented, and hybridization was almost non-existent.
Target areas and Techniques (Spotted bass)
Springtime is a good time to catch both largemouth and spotted bass in Great Falls. Again, due to severe water level fluctuations, staying on a favorable fishing pattern can be challenging. Spotted bass prefers to spawn in smaller gravel areas. Focus on these areas while casting jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, or soft plastics. After spawning, fish tend to move to bigger rock substates in 10 to 20 feet of water. Other areas of concentration would be points next to drop-offs while slow-rolling spinnerbaits. These areas will last throughout the summer months when nighttime fishing also offers good opportunities. As seasons change into the fall, water levels will begin to drop drastically. Spotted bass will be feeding on schools of shad; so, concentrate on finding those schools of shad while fishing jigging spoons. As winter approaches, jigs, A-rigs, and crankbaits are good choices of bait while fishing steeper banks just off the main river channel.
Crappie fishing success remains stable on Great Falls Reservoir. White crappie are the dominant species of crappie in Great Falls and they spawn when water temperatures are in the 60-65-degree range. The most recent annual roving creel survey at Great Falls showed that on average anglers caught crappie at an average of 1.15 crappie/hour with the mean weight being 0.91 lbs., which is comparable to other crappie reservoirs in Region 3.
Blacknose black crappie (BNC), black crappie with a genetic black stripe on their forehead, were stocked into Great Falls Reservoir during the years of 2011 through 2014 and this project was evaluated in 2014 by electrofishing and a yearlong roving creel survey. The creel survey in 2014 and electrofishing surveys yielded no BNC despite those recent stockings. Therefore, hopes of establishing a BNC fishery at Great Falls were never realized although a few reports of blacknose crappie being caught surface from time to time.
Target areas and Techniques (Crappie):
Crappie can be fun to catch in March and April when the water temperature reaches 60°. Concentrate on shallow water areas with fallen trees that you can cast crappie jigs with plastics or minnows under a bobber. Due to the possibility of heavy spring rains, water levels can drastically change, making it difficult to stay on a crappie pattern. Cool rains and cooler water temperatures coming off the mountains around Great Falls can keep the crappie in shallow water well into the month of May. During the summertime, crappie will move into deeper water, but you can still catch them while using minnows after locating them with electronic devices. Fall time is another great time to catch crappie when they move back to shallow water near woody debris habitat. October is also a good month to land some crappie but keep in mind this is when TVA begins to lower the water levels to winter pool thus changing available habitat and techniques. During the winter, concentrate on brush piles and stumps on the main river channel while trolling using planer boards to get minnows down to the fish.
Most recent TWRA data surveys have shown good spawning success by bluegill at Great Falls reservoir. Bluegills spawn when water temperatures are in the 70-75-degree range. Great Falls has a variety of habitats that bluegill finds favorable for inhabiting (laydowns, stumps, floating debris piles). A catch rate by anglers of 1.76 sunfish/hour with an average weight of 0.34 lb. was realized in the most recent roving creel surveys at Great Falls. Good expectations can be realized for anglers pursuing bluegill here.
Target areas and Techniques (Bluegill):
When water temperatures warm up in May into the 70’s, concentrate on gravel banks or clay banks in 2 to 5 feet of water. Crickets, nightcrawlers, catawba worms are all excellent natural baits to catch bluegill. Bluegill can spawn multiple times during the spawning season. In July and August, some good size bluegill can be caught on channel banks in 10 to 15 feet of water while using crickets. Shaded areas are the best. Bluegill fishing gets tough in the fall and winter due to the water level fluctuations.
Angler effort and catch rates were both low regarding catfish angling success on Great Falls Reservoir according to the most recent creel surveys there. Both channel catfish and flathead catfish can be anticipated for the catch while pursuing catfish at Great Falls. Large flathead catfish have been observed in the Great Falls reservoir. There are lots of favorable catfish habitats within Great Falls in the form of overhanging banks and outcrops of large rocks and rock shelves.
Target areas and Techniques (Catfish)
May through June is the best time to fish for catfish on Great Falls. Most fishermen are fishing for catfish while using cut bluegill, shad, or raw chicken livers around favorable catfish habitat areas.
Musky offers some very exciting fishing opportunities. The highest abundance of musky within Great Falls can be found in the upper reaches of the reservoir, such as the Calfkiller and Collins Rivers. Musky like to inhabit the pool areas of rivers and streams. Musky are top predators and have a reputation for being aggressive. Musky typically spawn when water temperatures are in the 49-59-degree range and like to use shallow areas that are at the end of pool areas.
Target areas and Techniques (Muskellunge)
April and May seem to be the best time to fish for musky on Great Falls. There seems to be a trend for anglers to target the upper reaches of the Caney Fork River around the mouth of the Calfkiller River and up stream of the Caney Fork. Casting spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and jerkbaits around fallen treetops in the water seem to work. Other large baits, designed for musky, can be found in the musky fisherman’s arsenal as well. Most fishermen that target musky use 100 lb. plus fluorocarbon with wire leaders. Anglers that are bass fishing will occasionally catch a musky while focusing on submerged treetops. Musky anglers will also find good success while fishing the Collin’s River, a tributary to Great Falls. As water temperatures rise during the summer, musky fishing is tough. During the fall and winter times, trolling for muskies seems to be a great choice for anglers while casting large stick baits.