Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency

TWRA's Region 4 - East Tennessee

Reservoir Fisheries Management Program

Cherokee Reservoir - General Information

TWRA Region IV Office
3030 Wildlife Way Morristown, TN 37814
(423) 587-7037 or (800) 332-0900
Updated - October 2016



Cherokee is a fertile Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) reservoir containing 30,300 surface acres and 393 miles of shoreline. Fish densities are greater than in many other Tennessee reservoirs due to the high fertility level. There is a prolific forage base of threadfin shad, gizzard shad, and alewife. The primary game fish species are the three black bass species, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, crappie, walleye, saugeye, sunfish, white bass, and catfish.

The reservoir thermally stratifies in the summer and the warm oxygenated surface water can not mix with the cold water below. As the summer progresses, respiration by organisms and decay of detritus slowly depletes the cold water of oxygen. During most summers and in many locations, oxygen levels below 30 feet can become too low to support most fish species. This is especially true for mature striped bass and walleye which need cold, oxygenated water to survive. These fish seek out refuge areas until the surface water becomes cool enough in the fall to mix with the rest of the lake.

TVA owns to the 1,075 foot elevation mark and controls water levels. Significant winter draw-downs occur due to power demands, flood control, and downstream navigational needs. Much of the draw-down zone is easily accessible to the public and offers outstanding bank fishing opportunities during the winter. There is a precautionary advisory issued against the consumption of all fish upstream from the mouth of the Poor Valley Creek Embayment due to mercury. The reservoir has 12 marinas and approximately 20 public boat launching ramps.


A variety of fish attractors have been constructed over the years in an attempt to concentrate fish for anglers. These include brush piles, stake beds, and smallmouth bass spawning benches. Fish attractors work well, but must be continually refurbished to maintain their effectiveness.

Water-loving trees such as willow, swamp oak, bald cypress, and river birch have been planted in draw-down areas to create additional, long lasting habitat.

Shoreline seeding of grasses on bare banks during winter draw-down has the potential of creating spawning habitat and cover for young fish. Inconsistent water levels, however, have rendered any shoreline seeding projects impractical.


Largemouth and smallmouth bass are not stocked into Cherokee because they are very abundant and the fishery is easily sustained through natural reproduction. No more than five smallmouth or largemouth in any combination are allowed to be harvested per day, year-round. There is a 15-inch minimum length limit and a 5-fish daily creel limit for largemouth year-round. From June 1 through October 15, only one smallmouth greater than the 18-inch minimum length limit is allowed. From October 16 through May 31, five smallmouth with a 15-inch minimum length limit are allowed.

Largemouth bass responded well to the 15-inch size limit imposed in 2001. There are now a substantial number of fish in the more desirable size-classes.

Spotted (Kentucky) bass make up a fair percentage of the black bass population. 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-size smallmouth bass. As a result, anglers are encouraged to keep these fish for the table. There is no size restriction and the limit is 15 spotted bass per day.


Stripers are fairly numerous in the lake. Although some large striped bass are caught, they do not normally grow big in Cherokee due to poor dissolved oxygen levels in the summer months. The average weight of stripers in the 2011 angler survey was 8.9 lb.

Hybrids, the artificial cross between striped and white bass, are more tolerant of warm water and low oxygen levels. Many have been stocked since 2000 in the hope that they will offer a more diverse opportunity for anglers. They survive and grow exceptionally well in Cherokee.

The current daily creel limit for both hybrid and striped bass is two, 15-inch fish in any combination. Stripers congregate in the summer within an oxygen refuge area near the dam and are very susceptible to over exploitation. A closed fishing zone has been established near the dam from July 15 through September 15 to protect the fishery.


TWRA's 2008 angler survey estimated that 66,143 crappie were caught and 21% of the total angling effort was for crappie. They are obviously very important to anglers and we have taken steps to improve the fishery.

Blacknose and black crappie have been stocked during the past several years. Blacknose are genetically similar to black crappie which is the dominant crappie in the reservoir. The black stripe on their nape and lower jaw allows biologists to monitor the success of the stocking program.

The 10-inch, 15-fish daily creel limit coupled with TWRA's stocking efforts should help improve crappie fishing in the future.


Sauger are well adapted to the warm, turbid waters of Cherokee Lake and many were stocked from 2000 to 2002. Although good survival was documented through our gill net sampling, only a limited number were ever caught by anglers. Saugeye, the hybrid between sauger and walleye, are also well adapted to the conditions and grow exceptionally fast. The TWRA has stocked several since 2012 in hope they will be more susceptible to anglers than were sauger.

The TWRA plans to stock walleye and saugeye exclusively in the future to maintain a quality pike-perch fishery. There is a 10-fish per day, 15-inch minimum length limit for sauger, walleye, and saugeye in any combination.


One of the Tennessee's largest recreational snag fishery for paddlefish has existed in the headwaters of Cherokee for many years. Anglers are allowed one fish per day with no size limit from April 1 through April 15. Culling of paddlefish, whereby an angler removes a fish from his or hers possession and replaces it with another more desirable fish, is not allowed.


Striped bass- During the late fall and early spring many striped bass move upstream to the John Sevier Steam Plant. Year round, but especially in the summer when dissolved oxygen levels are low, the lower section of the reservoir from Macedonia Hollow to the dam is hard to beat. Live shad or large shiners with single hook, sinker, and greater than 15 lb. test monofilament is a well-used method. One-ounce white doll flies with 6-inch plastic trailers, Red Fins or Little Mac plugs, Sassy Shads on 1-oz lead head, Zara Spooks, white Slug-gos, and jigging spoons are also used.

Largemouth bass- The highest catch occurs in March and April when the water warms and bass move to shallow water to spawn. Some popular tackle are Silver Buddies, Carolina-rigged plastic lizards, 4-inch plastic worms, crankbaits, Shad Raps, Rapalas, Rat-L-Traps, spinner baits, buzz baits, and many more.

Smallmouth bass- They move to clay and gravel points in the spring. Fish live bait on the bottom, Carolina-rigged lizards, or cast firetiger or shad colored Shad Raps, Rapalas, and Rebels.

Crappie- Fish in coves near fish attractors, brush piles, or downed trees in the early spring or late fall. Small minnows, plastic grubs, flies tipped with minnows, and small crankbaits work best.

Walleye- The best season is from January through May when they concentrate upstream near the steam plant. Best caught with small flies tipped with minnows, Rooster Tail or June Bug spinners, plastic grubs, and hair doll flies.


Cherokee Length at Age