Norris Reservoir in Tennessee

General Description

Norris was the first reservoir to be constructed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). When the dam was completed in 1936, its closing impounded the Clinch and Powell rivers, flooding 34,200 acres of mostly farmland, timber, and small village sites.  Norris Reservoir’s primary purposes are flood control and hydroelectric power production. TVA also uses Norris water to maintain minimum navigational channel depths on reservoirs farther downstream. Its multiple demands subject the reservoir to wide fluctuations in water elevation.

Annual water elevation fluctuations can exceed 45 feet. The fluctuation, coupled with the detrimental effects of wave action, has severely eroded Norris’ 800 miles of shoreline, washing away fish habitat, topsoil, and much of the associated nutrients needed to support aquatic life. Most of the nutrient supply comes from the inflow of the Clinch and Powell rivers. Since its beginning, Norris has experienced a progressively diminishing nutrient base and a corresponding reduction in its ability to support as many fish as in more fertile reservoirs.

During the summer months, the lake is subject to vertical stratification. With rare exceptions, dissolved oxygen and water temperatures related to the stratification do not cause problems with respect to fish survival.

 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 and bald cypress have been planted in draw-down areas to create additional, long-lasting habitats. Information about locations and types of structures for fish habitats can be found on TWRA’s website.

Extends from the dam upstream to the Hwy. 25E bridge on the Clinch River arm and upstream to Gap Creek on the Powell River arm.
  • Largemouth/Smallmouth Bass:  5 per day in combination. Only one smallmouth bass June 1 through Oct. 15
  • Largemouth Bass: 14 inch minimum length limit.
  • Smallmouth Bass:
    • 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/Alabama Bass: no creel, no length limit
  • Crappie (all species): 10 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 perday in combination, including Clinch River upstream to Highway 61 bridge in Clinton.
  • Striped Bass: 
    • April 1–Oct.31: 2 per day, 15 inch minimum length limit.
    • Nov.1–March 31: 1 per day, 36 inch minimum length limit. 
  • White Bass: 15 per day, no length limit. 
  • Yellow Bass: no creel or length limit.
  • Walleye/Sauger: 5 per day in combination, 15 inch minimum length limit (upstream to Grissom Island on the Clinch River). 
  • Paddlefish: 2 per day; season is open from April 24 through May 31. Culling is prohibited.
  • Rock Bass: 20 per day, no length limit. 
  • Redear Sunfish: 20 per day, no length limit. 
  • Muskellunge: 1 per day, 36 inch minimum length limit. 
  • Bluegill/Warmouth and other sunfishes: 30 per day,  No length limit.


Black Bass

Norris is noted for its Smallmouth Bass fishing. The best fishing is from November to April. The current Smallmouth Bass creel limit is 5 per day in combination with Largemouth Bass.  Only one Smallmouth Bass may be kept between June 1 and October 15.  Length limits for smallmouth are a 20-inch minimum length limit from June 1 to October 15 and an 18-inch minimum length limit from October 16 to May 31.   

Largemouth Bass is the second most abundant black bass species in the reservoir.  Anglers frequently catch them in association with smallmouth.  Fishing for largemouth is best in the spring through early summer and then picks up again in the fall.  The creel limit is 5 per day in combination and there is a 14-inch minimum length limit.

Spotted (Kentucky) Bass historically comprised a good percentage of the black bass population in Norris.  Recently, the number of Spotted Bass has declined. Unlike largemouth and smallmouth, this species rarely reaches quality size in any East Tennessee reservoir. They also utilize the same habitat and compete with the more quality-sized Smallmouth Bass. As a result, anglers are encouraged to keep these fish on the table. There is no size restriction or creel limit.

Fishing Tips:

Largemouth Bass - Crankbaits, topwater lures, Flukes, Bass Assassins, spinners, and Carolina-rigged lizards all work during April, May, and early June.

Smallmouth Bass - Good lures for Norris smallmouth are Silver Buddies, 1/4 oz (or smaller) doll flies, doll flies tipped with minnows, float-and-fly rigs, and large shiners.  On windy days in late winter, cast small crankbaits  to wind-swept, rocky banks. Early spring smallmouth spawn on gravel points which reach out into the main channels. Spinners or pig’n jigs fished at night on steep, boulder-strewn banks catch good smallmouth year-round.

Spotted Bass  - Small white spinners, plastic grubs on leadhead jigs, doll flies, and crawfish crankbaits are excellent.

Striped Bass

Norris yielded a 49.5 lb state record striped bass in April 1978. Norris receives about 103,000 Striped Bass fingerlings every year.  The reservoir is one of the least fertile in the region and has a lower forage base than some of the other reservoirs in east Tennessee.  This results in a sustainable fishery and balances well with the amount of forage available in Norris.  Regulations for Striped Bass are April 1 – October 31, two fish per day, 15-inch minimum length limit, and November 1 – March 31, one fish per day, 36-inch minimum length limit.

Fishing Tips:

Striped Bass can be caught year-round in Norris but the best fishing will coincide with water quality and forage fish availability.  Anglers should look for schools of baitfish in areas that have cooler temperatures in the summer months and concentrate on location schools of forage during other times of the year.  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.  Trolling umbrella rigs have proven an effective technique for Norris stripers.


The natural reproduction of crappie is typically low in Norris Reservoir.  The fishery is a hatchery supported by stocking about 103,000 crappies into the reservoir every year.  Sufficient structure is a key component in sustaining a crappie fishery and managers have been placing various habitats in the reservoir since the early 1990s.  This effort also increases angler success as these habitat structures will congregate fish.    The daily creel limit for all crappie species in Norris is 10 and there is a 10 in minimum size limit.     

Fishing Tips:

Quality angling is best in the back of major embayments such as Big Sycamore Creek, Davis Creek, and Big Creek. Upper river sections above Point 15 (Powell R.) and Point 31 (Clinch R.) are also good. Fish brush piles or downed trees in the winter, early spring, or late fall months. Small minnows, plastic grubs, flies tipped with minnows, and small crankbaits work best.


Norris Reservoir contains one of the better Walleye populations in the region.  The greatest fishing pressure for this species is in the early spring during the annual spawning runs, but many are also caught throughout the reservoir during all seasons.  Norris Reservoir is a hatchery supported with Walleye that are stocked there annually.  About 240,000 fish are released with the majority of these being Lake Erie strain Walleye.  In recent years, a river strain (Rockcastle) of Walleye has been introduced to try and establish more consistent and robust spring spawning runs in the headwaters of the reservoir. Regulations for Walleye in Norris are five fish per day creel limit and a 15-inch minimum length limit.

Fishing Tips:

During river runs, troll or jig with minnow-tipped doll flies, Sparkle Tails, AC Shiners, Rapalas, or Shad Raps. In late spring, night anglers cast crankbaits into flooded weeds. Trolling with Jet Lures tipped with night crawlers, spinner-and-night crawler rigs, or with deep-running Long-Billed Rebels and Model 911 RedFins is popular by the end of May on the lower end. Night fishing with jigging spoons, alewife, or shad accounts for good catches in the summer.

AGE (years)














Largemouth bass*







Smallmouth bass*







Spotted bass*







Striped bass*














Black Crappie*







  (* Norris specific)

Contact Information

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

Interactive Map of Norris Reservoir
Fishing Regulations
Buy a license link