Cherokee Reservoir in Tennessee

General Description

Cherokee Reservoir is a fertile, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reservoir containing 30,300 surface acres and 393 miles of shoreline. Fish densities are greater than many other Tennessee reservoirs due to the high fertility level. There is a prolific forage base of Threadfin Shad, Gizzard Shad, and Alewife with Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Striped Bass, Cherokee bass, Crappie, Walleye, and Saugeye as the primary gamefish species. People also target Paddlefish, White Bass, Bluegill, and Catfish.

The reservoir thermally stratifies in the summer when warm oxygenated surface water cannot mix with the cold water below.  As this condition progresses during the summer, respiration by organisms and decay of detritus slowly depletes the cold water of oxygen.  During most summers and in many locations, oxygen levels below 30 ft. can become too low to support most fish species. This is especially true for mature Striped Bass and Walleye which need cool, oxygenated water to survive. These fish seek out refuge areas until the surface water becomes cool enough in the fall to once again mix with the rest of the water in the reservoir.

TVA owns up to the 1,075-ft. elevation mark and control water levels within the reservoir. Drawdowns of up to 40 feet, due to power demands, flood control, and downstream navigational needs, are common in the winter.  Much of the drawdown zone is easily accessible to the public and offers outstanding bank fishing opportunities.  

A variety of fish habitats have been constructed over the years in an attempt to concentrate fish for anglers. These include brush piles, stake beds, smallmouth spawning benches, and reef balls. Natural fish habitat works well but must be continually refurbished in order to maintain their effectiveness. Water-loving trees such as willow, swamp oak, bald cypress, and river birch have been planted in draw-down areas to create additional, long-lasting habitats.


Restrictions extend from Cherokee Dam upstream to John Sevier Dam. 
  • Largemouth/Smallmouth Bass: 5 per day in combination, only one may be smallmouth bass June 1 through Oct. 15. 
  • Largemouth Bass: 15 inch minimum length limit
  • Smallmouth Bass:  15 inch minimum length limit
    • June 1–Oct.15: 1 per day, 18 inch minimum length limit. 
    • Oct.16–May 31: 5 per day, 15 inch minimum length limit. 
  • Spotted Bass: 15 per day, 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. 
  • Striped Bass or Hybrid Striped Bass: 2 per day in combination, 15 inch minimum length limit. 
  • White Bass: 15 per day, no length limit.
  • Walleye/Sauger/Saugeye: 10 per day in combination, 15 inch minimum length limit. 
  • Paddlefish: 1 per day, no length limit. Season is open from April 1–15. Culling is prohibited. Holston River from Malinda Ferry Road (Hwy. 344) bridge upstream to John Sevier Dam is closed to snagging from March 1–31 and April 16–May 31.
  • Rock Bass: 20 per day, no length limit. 
  • Redear Sunfish: 20 per day, no length limit. 
  • Bluegill/Warmouth and other sunfishes: no creel or length limit.


Cherokee Closure


A closed fishing zone will be in effect from July 15 through Sept. 15. This zone is enclosed by lines from the boat ramp at the south end of the dam across the lake to Point 2, from Point 2 to Point 3, and from Point 3 back across the lake to the TWRA boat ramp at the north end of the dam. All bank fishing will be open and the coves along the southeast shoreline will be open to boat fishing, but no fishing for any species will be allowed by boat in the described zone from July 15 through Sept. 15.

What you can catch

Black Bass

Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass are very abundant in Cherokee Reservoir and make up the majority of the Black Bass fishery.  Spotted Bass are present but are not as numerous and have no size restriction with a creel limit of 15. There is a 1-fish creel limit and an 18-inch size limit on Smallmouth Bass while the length and creel limit remains the same for Largemouth Bass year-round.

Fishing Tips:

Largemouth bass - The highest catch occurs in March and April when the water warms and bass moves to shallow water to spawn.  Some popular tackles are Silver Buddies, Carolina-rigged plastic lizards, Texas-rigged 4-inch plastic worms, crankbaits, Shad Raps, Rapalas, Rat-L-Traps, spinnerbaits, buzz baits, and many more.

Smallmouth bass - They move to clay and gravel points in the spring for spawning but can be found in rocky areas as well.  Fish love bait on the bottom, Carolina-rigged lizards, or cast firefighter or shad colored Shad Raps, Rapalas, and Rebels. 

Striped and Cherokee Bass

Striped Bass and Cherokee Bass are numerous but must be maintained by stocking which provides an excellent angling opportunity, year after year. Although some large Striped Bass are caught, they do not normally grow big in Cherokee Reservoir, due to low summer dissolved oxygen levels and high temperatures. The average weight of stripers in netting surveys is about 10 pounds.  Cherokee bass, a hybrid between Striped Bass and White Bass, are more tolerant of warm water and low oxygen levels, offering more opportunities for anglers in the warmer months. The current limit for both Cherokee and Striped Bass is two fish, a 15-inch length limit in any combination.  Stripers congregate in the summer within an oxygen refuge area near the dam and are very susceptible to overexploitation.  A closed fishing zone was established near the dam from July 15 - September 15 to protect the fishery.

Fishing Tips:

During the late fall and early spring many move upstream to the John Sevier Steam Plant.  Year-round, but especially in the summer when dissolved oxygen levels are low, the lower section of the reservoir from Macedonia Hollow to the dam is hard to beat.  Live shad or large shiners with a single hook, sinker, and greater than 15 lb. test monofilament is a well-used method.  One-ounce white doll flies with a 6-inch plastic trailer, Red Fins or Little Mac plugs, Sassy Shads on a 1-oz lead head, Zara Spooks, white Slug-gos, and jigging spoons are also used.


Crappie is a sought-after table fare by many anglers and is typically harvested when they reach the minimum size limit. Therefore, Black and Blacknose crappies have been stocked into the reservoir, due to minimal natural reproduction coupled with high demands by anglers.  There is a 15-fish, 10-inch size limit in place for any combination of Crappie.

Fishing Tips:

Fish in coves near fish attractors, brush piles, or downed trees in the early spring or late fall.  Small minnows, plastic grubs, flies tipped with minnows, and small crankbaits work best. Trolling flies with grubs is also a common method to catch crappies.

Walleye, Sauger, and Saugeye

Saugeye, the hybrid cross of sauger and walleye, can be naturally found in a reservoir where both species are present.  However, they are stocked into Cherokee Reservoir, due to their aggressive nature and fast growth and because Walleye and Sauger tend to not be as successful in Cherokee Reservoir as Saugeye. Sauger is well adapted to the warm, turbid waters of Cherokee but has a hard time reproducing and doesn’t recruit as well to the creel as Saugeye and Walleye. There is very limited Walleye reproduction in the reservoir because of the presence of alewife and Walleye must be stocked in order to maintain that fishery. There is a 15-inch length limit with a creel limit of 10 fish in any combination for the three species.

Fishing Tips:

The best season is from January through May when all three species concentrate upstream near the John Sevier Steam Plant. They are best caught with larger flies tipped with minnows, Rooster Tail or June Bug spinners, plastic grubs, and hair doll flies.


There is a very unique Paddlefish fishery in Cherokee Reservoir.  They are sought after for their meat as well as for the caviar they carry, but anglers also regard them for their incredible sporting opportunity to catch a 100-pound fish in freshwater.  It is illegal to sell Paddlefish eggs (or any part of the fish from Cherokee), but many anglers harvest the roe with the meat to make caviar themselves. Paddlefish can be seen jumping out of the water throughout the year, exposing their entire bodies. They can grow to over 100 pounds and can live up to around 60 years, making their population difficult to manage.  Little is known about the life cycle of Paddlefish in Cherokee Reservoir, due to their reclusive nature and difficulty in collecting.  Paddlefish are limited to 1 fish per day only from April 1-15 with no culling allowed. The season is closed outside of April 1-15 for the entire reservoir.

Fishing Tips:

Paddlefish concentrate in the upper end of the reservoir during early spring as they migrate upstream to spawn.  They feed on plankton and are practically impossible to catch on a lure, therefore snagging is an accepted method for legally harvesting Paddlefish.  Use heavy tackle and at least a 30-pound line to battle a foul-hooked giant and fish in the upper end of the reservoir near Horseshoe Bend.

Common Length at Age  (inches) 

 AGE (years)















Largemouth bass*







Smallmouth bass*







Striped bass




























  (* Cherokee specific)

Contact Information

Region 4 Office: 423-587-7037
Toll-Free:  1-800-332-0900
E-mail the office

Interactive Map of Cherokee Reservoir
Fishing Regulations
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