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  • By Ken Perrotte

Fat Cats and Behemoth Bass in Scenic Chattanooga - It's Easy to Get Hooked!

Updated: Nov 9, 2020

Tennessee River and Chattanooga fishing for catfish and bass

When it comes to unique urban settings to hook into chunky catfish, Chattanooga, Tennessee, is tough to beat. The city is a showpiece with many cultural and historic attractions. And one great way to see it is from the water with a fishing rod in your hand, while drifting beneath iconic bridges in front of the towering, impressive Tennessee Aquarium.

Chattanooga sits on the Tennessee River. A series of “lakes” were created when the Tennessee Valley Authority built a series of dams on the river to provide hydroelectric power and flood control. Each lake has excellent public access facilities.

Guide Richard Simms operates Scenic City Fishing. He calls himself a "Tennessee River Rat" and he’s an expert on the region’s lakes, especially liking to take visitors to the river to fish for big catfish.

The “lake” in front of Chattanooga is called “Nickajack.” It looks and behaves much like a typical river. Simms likes to drift free-sinking (no weights) live or cut bait, using the trolling motor to perfectly position the boat as it floats with the current. We drifted multiple times across favored honey holes, places yielding 50-pound-plus blue catfish in years past. While some big fish showed on the boat’s sonar, fishing weighing 2-10 pounds were the hungriest. Those are best for a fish fry! For real river monsters, Simms likes fishing the boiling tailrace waters of Chickamauga Dam. Big fish stack in there to grab bait carried by the current. It’s not unusual to have nice cats slam your bait on every drift here. Our biggest was a spawned-out 37-pounder, a fish likely weighing around 50 pounds a couple months earlier.

If largemouth bass is your game, hook up with Ben Hayes, a guide with Simms’ Scenic City team, for a trip on Chickamauga Lake. Chickamauga resembles a typical lake with small bays, islands, and varied channels and bottom features. Ten-pounders aren’t unusual. A 15-pound, 3-ounce new state record bass was caught there last year. Springtime crappie fishing is also hot.

Hayes said bass fishing improved once stocking programs ramped up and underwater grasses, especially hydrilla, began flourishing. His favored summertime lure is a big soft plastic worm or creature bait presented on a ¼-ounce Zorro Booza Whiplash pivoting jighead.

Within a few casts, Hayes said, “There he is,” reared back and set the hook. “It’s a good one!” After we carefully netted the fish, it was an obvious 8 pounds-plus and would’ve been a fat 10-pounder before spawning.

Note: When you visit the Chattanooga area, take in some of the great sites downtown. Check them out here. The Chattanooga area, residing in the shadow of Lookout Mountain, also has a storied military history. To read more about places to visit when touring, click here.

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