Old Hickory Reservoir in Tennessee
Old Hickory Reservoir is a 22,500-acre impoundment on the Cumberland River in northern middle Tennessee. The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) owns and operates Old Hickory Reservoir. Dam completion occurred in 1954. Full pool elevation is 445 feet-mean sea level, and winter pool elevation is 444 feet-mean sea level. Daily water levels can be tracked on the TVA Lake Information website or the TVA app.
Forty-four public boat access sites are available for use with no fees. Eleven marinas offer amenities such as gas, food, and boat rentals.
Eight fishing piers are available for public use. They include Rockland Recreation Area, Sanders Ferry Park, Shutes Branch Recreation Area, and Shutes Branch city pier (on the south side of the causeway bridge), Lock 4 Park at the mouth of East Station Camp Creek, and another city pier near the back of East Station Camp Creek, and Little Cedar Creek Recreation Area.
Three USACE recreational areas and one state park provide camping opportunities. The USACE sites include Shutes Branch, Cages Bend, and Cedar Creek. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation owns and operates Bledsoe Creek State Park.
Fish attractor data for Old Hickory Reservoir is available for you to upload into your fishfinder or other GPS devices. Forty fish attractor sites are maintained on Old Hickory Reservoir by TWRA.
The best fishing opportunities are for Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Striped Bass, Sauger, White Bass, and Channel Catfish.
- Largemouth/Smallmouth/Spotted Bass: 5 per day in combination.
- Largemouth Bass: 14 inch minimum length limit.
- Smallmouth Bass: 18 inch minimum length limit.
- Spotted Bass: no length limit.
- Crappie (all species): 30 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.
- Yellow Bass: no creel or length limit.
- Walleye: 5 per day, 16 inch minimum length limit.
- Sauger: 10 per day, 15 inch minimum length limit.
- 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.
- Bluegill/Warmouth and other sunfishes: no creel or length limit.
Old Hickory’s Largemouth Bass fishery is the most popular and accounts for 40 percent of the targeted effort. Largemouth Bass are the predominant black bass species. Abundance, size structure, and condition are all indicative of a population providing very good fishing opportunities.
The 2019 spring electrofishing catch rate of Largemouth Bass exceeding 15-inches was 27/hour indicative of high relative abundance. Recent increases in aquatic vegetation will enhance fishing opportunities by providing fishing structure for anglers and nursery habitat for Largemouth Bass.
The creel limit for Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass and Spotted Bass is 5 per day in combination. The size restriction for Largemouth Bass is a 14-inch minimum length limit and an 18-inch minimum length limit for Smallmouth Bass. No size restriction applies to Spotted Bass.
Early spring, particularly April, is a great time to bass fish on Old Hickory. Largemouth Bass have moved shallow to spawn and can be caught lake wide on gently sloping banks with spinnerbaits, soft plastics, and lipless and square-billed crankbaits.
Popular and productive fishing areas for Largemouth Bass include the many embayments throughout the reservoir. Little Cedar Creek, Spring Creek, Misty Cove and Barton Creek embayments toward the upstream section. Bledsoe Creek, Spencer Creek and Station Camp Creek embayments in the middle section.
Drakes Creek and Shutes Branch embayments in the downstream section of the reservoir. During the summer months, aquatic vegetation located near the main river channel provides structure and cooler water which concentrate Largemouth Bass. Significant coverage of aquatic vegetation exists in the vicinity of the Highway 109 bridge near Gallatin.
The 40 buoyed fish attractor sites on Old Hickory Reservoir seem to primarily attract Largemouth Bass from late November to early March when water temperatures are below 55 degrees, although bass will use them year-round. Bass will use attractors surprisingly shallow during this time of year, typically from 6-12 feet deep. T
he attractors were designed to accommodate all lure types with minimal hang-ups. Attractor sites can contain habitat spread out around the buoy or have one main area of dense habitat, therefore, anglers should cast to a variety of locations near the buoy or use electronics to pinpoint the structures.
Crappie fishing accounts for 10 percent of the targeted effort. Both White and Black crappie contribute to the fishery. White crappies are the most abundant of the two species. The creel limit for White and Black Crappie 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 jigs 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.
Popular and productive springtime fishing areas for crappie include the many embayments throughout the reservoir. Little Cedar Creek, Spring Creek, Misty Cove and Barton Creek embayments are located toward the upper section and close to Lebanon, Tennessee.
Bledsoe Creek, Spencer Creek and Station Camp Creek embayments are in the middle section and close to Gallatin. Drakes Creek and Shutes Branch embayments are in the downstream section of the reservoir. Drakes Creek embayment is in Hendersonville and Shutes Branch in Mt. Juliet.
Crappie orient to some type of underwater structure during each seasonal period. TWRA fish attractors are very productive 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. Jigs can be fished efficiently through these sites with a low chance of getting hung up.
Striped bass fishing accounts for 10 percent of the targeted angler effort. Old Hickory Reservoir provides a world class trophy striped bass fishery with regular catches exceeding 50 pounds. May is a great month to catch a trophy Striped Bass from the upper end of Old Hickory Reservoir near Carthage, Tennessee. Striped bass are concentrated from Cordell Hull Dam downstream to the mouth of the Caney Fork River. They are also abundant in the Caney Fork River and are usually found within 2 river miles from its confluence to the Cumberland River.
Striped bass in Old Hickory Reservoir move upstream to spawn during May and are drawn to Cordell Hull Dam which provides an upstream barrier. Water temperatures in the lower to middle 60⁰ F range, photoperiod and water current are the natural spawning cues.
Although the Striped Bass go through the spawning motions, the eggs never hatch. They settle to the bottom of the river and are silted over during incubation. This fishery is totally dependent on annual stockings provided by Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fish hatcheries.
The Class A state record striped bass weighed 65 pounds and 6 ounces and was caught just upstream of Cordell Hull Dam. Striped bass exceeding 50 pounds are observed every year by TWRA biologists collecting striped bass brood fish from this tailwater to be spawned at their hatcheries. These big ones are too hard to handle and remain in the reservoir to be potentially caught and possibly even provide a new state record fish.
Striped Bass concentrate in embayments of the lower reservoir section during the winter months starting in December. Drakes Creek and Station Camp Creek embayments are among those frequented by winter Striped Bass.
Baits and methods vary but drifting live skipjack herring, gizzard shad or rainbow trout with planer boards is a preferred method for the big ones. The bigger the bait the better! Large artificial lures such as Redfins and top water baits such as the Zara Spook can also be productive. Guides are available to anglers looking for experience or a head start on learning the tactics. Regulations include a daily creel limit of 2 striped bass and a minimum length limit of 15 inches.
Winter is the time of year to brave the cold and head to the water for a tasty reward. That’s right, SAUGER! Overcoming the elements for this excellent table fare is well worth it. The upper section of Old Hickory Reservoir from Hunter’s Point, near Lebanon, to Cordell Hull Dam at Carthage is a prime location from January through March. This stretch is very accessible with public boat access areas at Hunter’s Point, Second Creek, Hartsville, Rome, Carthage, and the Cordell Hull tailwater.
Increasing water flow and temperature trigger Sauger to concentrate below dams in 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 January 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 keep your bait within a couple of feet off the bottom for best results.
A popular method is using a heavy jig (¼-1 ½ ounce, depending on the current) bounced off the bottom. The jig can be tipped with a live minnow and stinger hook or a 4-inch chartreuse or white curly tail grub. Another effective method is using a live minnow hooked through the lips and attached to a sinker to maintain bottom contact. 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.
Bank fishing can also be good on the generator side of the dam by casting into the boils with a live minnow on a #4 to 1/0 hook and a ¼ once 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, casting into the eddy created by the lock wall.
When fishing the areas downstream of Cordell Hull 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. Some of these creeks include Bledsoe Creek, Bartons Creek, Little Cedar Creek just upstream of Hunter’s Point ramp, Second Creek at the Second Creek Ramp, and Jennings Fork Creek at the Rome Ramp. The same methods described for fishing at the dam are also used at these locations.
Both Sauger and Walleye are stocked in Old Hickory Reservoir and are regularly caught in the same area. The All-Tackle World Record Walleye was caught from Old Hickory in 1960 weighing 25 pounds. 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.
Spring is a great time to fish for White Bass from the confluence of the Caney Fork River upstream to Cordell Hull Dam. They concentrate while spawning in this area during April and May. Productive spots include bank indentations 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.
Catfish account for 10 percent of the targeted effort on Old Hickory 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 Spencer and Station Camp Creeks, Cedar Creek, Bledsoe Creek and Drakes Creek. Catfish of all sizes are caught throughout these embayments, as well as below Cordell Hull Dam. The many bank fishing areas, which include 8 fishing piers, are great places to catch catfish.