Cheatham Lake in Tennessee

General Description

Cheatham Reservoir is a 7,450-acre riverine impoundment that meanders through Nashville and downstream to Ashland City, Tennessee.  The US Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates Cheatham Reservoir.  Dam completion occurred in 1952.  Full pool elevation is 385 feet-mean sea level and winter pool elevation is 384 feet-mean sea level.  Daily water levels and discharges can be tracked on the TVA Lake website.

Sixteen public boat access sites are available for use with no fees.  Two marinas, Rock Harbor Marina and the Commodore Yacht Club provide services such as gas, food, and boat rentals.  

Bank fishing opportunities are available at the public boat access sites and on the downstream sides of Old Hickory and J. Percy Priest Dams.  There are no fishing piers on Cheatham Reservoir.

The Harpeth River and Lock A Recreation Areas provide camping opportunities and are managed by the USACE.

Fish attractor data for Cheatham Reservoir is available for you to upload into your fishfinder or other GPS devices.   Two fish attractor sites are maintained by TWRA in Cheatham Reservoir.  They are located in Sycamore and Johnson Creek embayments.

The best fishing opportunities are for Largemouth Bass, White Crappie, Sauger, Walleye, Catfish, White Bass, Rainbow Trout.


Cheatham Reservoir Map


Cheatham Reservoir Fishing Opportunities

Cheatham Reservoir is a 7,450-acre riverine impoundment that meanders through Nashville and downstream to Ashland City, Tennessee.  The US Army Corps of Engineers owns and operates Cheatham Reservoir.  Dam completion occurred in 1952.  Full pool elevation is 385 feet-mean sea level and winter pool elevation is 384 feet-mean sea level.  Daily water levels and discharges can be tracked on the TVA Lake Level Information website and the TVA APP.

Sixteen public boat access sites are available for use with no fees.  Two marinas, Rock Harbor Marina and the Commodore Yacht Club provide services such as gas, food, and boat rentals.  Locations and descriptions of the boat access sites and marinas are listed on the TWRA website in the Where to Fish section.

Bank fishing opportunities are available at the public boat access sites and on the downstream sides of Old Hickory and J. Percy Priest Dams.  There are no fishing piers on Cheatham Reservoir.

The Harpeth River and Lock A Recreation Areas provide camping opportunities and are managed by the USACE.  The reservation process and opportunities are described on their website.

Fish attractor data for Cheatham Reservoir is available for you to upload into your fishfinder or other GPS devices, or view in online mapping applications.   Two fish attractor sites are maintained by TWRA in Cheatham Reservoir.  They are located in Sycamore and Johnson Creek embayments.

The best fishing opportunities are for:

  • Largemouth Bass
  • White Crappie
  • Sauger
  • Walleye
  • Catfish
  • White Bass
  • Rainbow Trout

Species Overviews with Fishing Locations and Techniques

Black Bass

Largemouth Bass, Spotted Bass, and Smallmouth Bass all contribute to the Cheatham Reservoir black bass fishery.  Largemouth Bass are the most abundant.  The creel limit for Largemouth Bass, Spotted Bass, and Smallmouth Bass is 5 per day in combination.  Size restrictions include a 14-inch minimum length limit for Largemouth Bass and an 18-inch minimum length limit for Smallmouth Bass.  No size restrictions apply to Spotted Bass.

Early spring, particularly mid-April through early May, is a great time to bass fish on Cheatham Reservoir.  Largemouth Bass have moved shallow to spawn and can be caught lake-wide in embayments.  Popular and productive fishing areas for Largemouth Bass include Johnson Creek, Sycamore Creek, Brush Creek, and Marrowbone Creek embayments in the downstream reservoir section.  Fishing techniques include the use of spinnerbaits, shallow diving lures, and soft plastics.

Spotted Bass and Smallmouth Bass are caught in the Cumberland River channel.  A popular river stretch for both species is from Old Hickory Dam downstream to the confluence of the Harpeth River.  Fishing with live bait is a very productive method.  Threadfin Shad, Gizzard Shad, and Golden Shiners are suspended beneath a float and drifted over the big rocks on either side of the river channel.  Live crayfish also work well and are fished on the bottom using a Carolina rig with the lightest weight possible to maintain contact with the bottom.  Live bait regulations are described in the Live Bait section of the fishing guide (link).  Productive artificial baits include jigs worked on or close to the bottom of the channel overbank areas.

Crappies

White and Black Crappie contribute to the Cheatham crappie fishery, but White Crappie are the predominant species.  A strong 2019 year-class of White Crappie should provide good catches of harvestable crappie starting in late summer and fall, 2021.  The creel limit for White and Black Crappies is 30 per day in combination, and there is a 10-inch minimum length limit.

Early spring, particularly late-March and April, is a great time to crappie fish.  In early April, crappie move shallow to spawn.  They are readily caught on light jigs, 1/8 ounce and less, tipped with soft plastics or minnows.  Popular and productive fishing areas for crappie include gently sloping banks preferably with submerged structure such as stumps, treetops and even rocks.  Beaver lodges make great fish attractors for crappie.  As noted for Largemouth Bass, the Johnson Creek, Sycamore Creek, Brush Creek and Marrowbone Creek embayments in the downstream reservoir section are very productive.

Crappie orient to some type of underwater structure during each seasonal period.  TWRA fish attractors are very popular fishing spots for crappie (link).  Fish attractors are most productive for crappie from October through May in 6-12 feet of water using jigs and minnows.

Sauger and Walleye

Winter is the time of year to brave the cold and head to the water for a tasty reward.  That’s right, sauger and walleye.  The TWRA stocks both species in Cheatham Reservoir to provide a really good fishery.  The upper section of Cheatham Reservoir, particularly below Old Hickory Dam, is a prime location from November through March.  This stretch is very accessible with public boat access areas at Old Hickory Dam, Peeler Park and Heartland Recreation Area. 

Increasing water flow and temperature trigger Sauger to concentrate below dams in late winter and early spring in preparation for spawning.  As water temperatures approach sixty degrees, Sauger move downstream from the dams to find appropriate spawning habitat.  After spawning, Sauger disperse throughout the reservoir feeding on shad and other small prey.  Anglers are most successful from December through March, when Sauger are concentrated below dams.  Favorite fishing spots from boats are in the eddy areas between the generator wall and spill gates and around the lock wall.  Fishing straight down beside the lock wall is often effective.  Sauger generally stay close to the bottom, so keeping your bait within a couple of feet off the bottom for best results. 

A popular method is using a heavy jig (1/2 to 1- ounce, depending on the current) bounced off the bottom.  The jig can be tipped with a live minnow or shad or a 4-inch chartreuse or white curly tail grub.  A stinger hook embedded near the end of the bait is a must.   Another effective method is using a live minnow hooked through the lips and attaching a sinker to keep it in contact with the bottom.  There are several methods to rig the bait; a basic split shot rig, a slip sinker with swivel and leader (Carolina rig), and a casting sinker with 3-way swivel and leader.   Live bait is considered the best choice when water temperatures reach 45 degrees and colder.

Bank fishing can also be good on the generator side of the dam by casting into the boils and eddies with live shad or minnows on a #4 to 1/0 hook and a ½-ounce and larger weight (again depending on the current).  The live bait rigs using a swivel work best in current by reducing line twist.  The lock side of the dam is also popular and productive when casting into the eddy created by the lock wall.  The lock side is the best choice when discharge exceeds 30,000 cubic feet per second.

When fishing the areas downstream of Old Hickory Dam, concentrate efforts at the mouths of creek embayments.  Shad and other baitfish will move out of these embayments and into the river channel as water temperatures in the shallower embayments become colder.  The steep drop offs transitioning from the embayments into the channel are excellent fishing spots.  The same methods described for fishing at the dam are also used at these locations.  If fishing from a boat, you can drift across areas while bouncing a jig up and down just off the bottom.  If you allow the jig to drag, it will usually result in a hang-up.  It is best to have 2 rods rigged so that if one becomes snagged and the lure lost, you can pick up the second to finish drifting through your spot.

Both Sauger and Walleye are regularly caught in the same area and by the same methods.  Regulations for sauger are 10 per day with a minimum length of 15-inches.  Walleye regulations are 5 per day with a 16-inch minimum length.  Both species look similar so take a fishing guide for identifying your catch.

Catfish

Catfish are very abundant and provide a popular fishery in Cheatham Reservoir.  Channel Catfish are the predominant species, but large Flathead and Blue Catfish provide a trophy component to this fishery.  No creel or length limits apply to catfish 34 inches or less, but only one catfish greater than 34 inches can be harvested per day.  Live and cut bait fished on the bottom is the most popular method.  Skipjack Herring is a top bait choice among many catfish anglers, but Gizzard and Threadfin Shad work well also.   Bait regulations are described in the Live Bait section of the Fishing Guide (link).  Productive areas for large Flathead and Blue Catfish include the Cumberland River channel at the confluence of major embayments such as Johnson Creek, Pardue Pond, Dyce’s Ditch, Hudgen’s Slough, Sycamore Creek and the Harpeth River.  Catfish of all sizes are caught throughout these embayments, as well as below Old Hickory Dam.  Bank fishing areas, particularly Lock A and Pardue Recreation Areas and below Old Hickory Dam, are great places to catch catfish.

Summertime catfishing using jugs or noodles can be fast action and fun.  Distributing jugs or noodles with live or cut bait is a popular method.  Each jug or noodle must be tagged with the owner’s name and address, or TWRA identification number.  Anglers are limited to 50 jugs or noodles and each with only one hook (TN Fishing Guide link, page 20).

White Bass

Spring is a great time to fish for White Bass from the segment of the Stones River downstream of J. Percy Priest Dam to the confluence of the Cumberland River channel and upstream to Old Hickory Dam. White Bass concentrate while spawning in this area during April and May.  Productive spots include bank indentations and the mouths of small creeks that create eddies or refuge from the current.  Jigs tipped with minnows or soft plastics are excellent baits.  The White Bass creel limit is 15 per day with no size restriction. 

Rainbow Trout

Beginning on the first Friday in December, the Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery stocks catchable-size Rainbow Trout below J. Percy Priest Dam.  Stockings occur in January and February, as well with 2,000 trout released at each event.  These trout stockings provide excellent winter bank fishing trips, high angler catch rates, and the opportunity to catch trout in Metro Nashville.  Anglers are encouraged to harvest their catch as Rainbow Trout are good to eat and will not survive the warm summer water temperatures.  Bank fishing access is available on both sides of the tailwater.  Popular baits include nightcrawlers, corn, and soft scented Power baits.  These baits can be drifted with the current or fished from the bottom.  Artificial lures and flies also work well.  Rooster tails are popular among spin fishermen, and variations of woolly bugger flies are commonly used by fly fishermen.  The creel limit is 7 per day with no minimum length restrictions.  A supplemental trout license (type 022) is required to fish for trout in addition to the license types 001, 020, or 021.

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