Watauga Reservoir in Tennessee

General Description

Watauga is a beautiful, 6,430-acre TVA reservoir located in northeast Tennessee near the North Carolina border. The Cherokee National Forest adjoins much of the reservoir and the Appalachian Trail runs along its northwestern edge. The shoreline is farmland, wooded, and mountainous. The reservoir was formed by the impounding of the Watauga River in 1948.

There are approximately 106-miles of shoreline and water levels can fluctuate as much as 44-feet between summer full pool and the winter draw-down period. An abundance of public land makes Watauga an excellent reservoir for bank fishing and camping. There is a new, handicapped-accessible fishing pier at the Rat Branch access area courtesy of the TWRA and USFS.

Smallmouth Bass, Walleye, and trout are the most popular game fish for Watauga anglers. Gizzard shad, alewife, bluegill, and assorted minnows make up the forage base. Access points for the reservoir can be found on TWRA’s website.

A variety of fish attractors have been constructed over the years in an attempt to concentrate fish for anglers.  These include brush piles which are used by many game fish and stake beds that are primarily for concentrating crappie. These attractors work well, but must continually be refurbished to maintain their effectiveness. Bald cypress trees have been planted in several areas of the reservoir and have done especially well in the Roan Creek embayment. 

Both black willow and bald cypress trees provide long-lasting habitats for a variety of gamefish. Benches designed to provide smallmouth bass spawning habitat have been built.  Information about locations and types of structures for fish habitats can be found on TWRA’s website.

Watauga Reservoir Map

Black Bass

Watauga has fantastic Smallmouth and very good Largemouth Bass fishing. The lower section of the reservoir is where some of the best smallmouth action takes place.  The best largemouth densities are in Roan, Doe, and Cobb Creeks and the upper Elk and Watauga Rivers. The daily creel limit is five largemouth or smallmouth in any combination with a 12-inch minimum length limit for largemouth and a 15-inch minimum length limit for smallmouth.

Spotted (Kentucky) bass make up a large percentage of the black bass found in several areas of the reservoir.  Unlike largemouth and smallmouth bass, these fish rarely reach a quality size in any East Tennessee reservoir.  They also utilize the same habitat and may compete with the larger smallmouth bass. As a result, anglers are encouraged to keep these fish for the table. There is no size limit on spotted bass and 15 may be harvested daily.

Fishing Tips:

Largemouth bass – Spring: Spinnerbaits and buzz baits. Lizards, 4- to 6-inch worms, and flukes. Small Shad Raps, Bandit crankbaits, and stickbaits. During the spring, the flooded willows in the creeks and in the backs of coves can be very productive.  Summer:  Good night fishing on worms and lizards.

Smallmouth bass - Spring:  Fish clay and broken shale banks with spinnerbaits, lizards, worms, live bait, small crankbaits, float-n-fly, and suspended Flukes. During this period, secondary points are prime smallmouth holding spots. Summer: Smallmouth move to deeper water. This is the time for night fishing with various worm rigs and pig-n-jig.


Crappie fishing has continued to improve in the reservoir and can provide all year-long opportunities. The upper end of the reservoir seems to have more consistent catches than areas closer to the dam.  The daily creel limit is 15-fish with a minimum length limit of 10-inches.

Fishing Tips:

Fishing around structures of any kind is productive. This may be in the form of brush piles and black willows when the water level is high enough to flood the backs of coves or stump rows in creek channels when the water level is low. Small flies tipped with minnows, grubs, small crankbaits, and spinners are recommended. Roan Creek would be a good place to start any crappie fishing trip.


Walleye were initially stocked in 1954 and have been stocked consistently since 1985.  They are abundant and grow to an exceptionally good size in the reservoir.  Seven to eight-pound walleye are not uncommon.  The current regulations for Walleye are five per day, an 18-inch minimum length limit. Walleye run regulation: from Jan 1–April 30 restricted to the use of one hook having a single point or one lure having no more than one hook with a single point (artificial or bait) on the following waters: Elk River (Hwy 321 bridge downstream to Row Branch), Doe Creek (Old Cabin Private Road downstream to Roan Creek), Roan Creek (Mountain Lake Estates Bridge downstream to Doe Creek), and Watauga River (NC line downstream to the end of Cowanstown Road).

Fishing Tips:

Late winter: As the water temperatures approach 50-degrees, walleye begin spawning runs up the Watauga and Elk Rivers. The confluence of Roan Creek with the Watauga River is a staging point for these fish. Standard river walleye fishing tactics (grubs, flies, and minnows) should work.  In mid to late spring when alewife is in the shallows spawning, fishing at night with any shad-looking crankbait can be productive. This is a good time for floating crankbaits. Flooded treetops and black willows will hold lots of walleye at this time.  From summer to early fall, trolling with crankbaits (Long-Bill Rebels) or spinner rigs  (nightcrawler harnesses) is recommended.


TWRA has stocked rainbow, brown, and lake trout in the reservoir.  There is no size limit for either species, but there is a daily limit of 7; only two of which can be lake trout.  Lake trout, a cousin of the native brook trout, is a non-native species selected for stocking because of the cold, well-oxygenated, habitat present.  The best lake trout fishing takes place between Watauga Point and Butler Bridge.

Fishing Tips:

Rainbow and Brown Trout - Spring:  Bank fish with corn or salmon eggs.  Summer:  Troll spoons in 30 to 50 feet of water.

Lake Trout - Summer:  Troll spoons in 90 to 120 feet of water. The best lake trout fishing takes place between Watauga Point and Butler Bridge.

Common Lenght at Age (inches)

AGE (years)














Largemouth Bass*







Smallmouth Bass*





















Channel Catfish

3 - 6

6 - 9

8 - 11

9 - 13

11 - 14

12 - 16

  (* Watauga specific)

Google Map