(WJHL) – Tennessee is a world-class fishing destination for anglers. The Volunteer State is the home of world-record fish, and its lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams are teeming with one of the widest selections of freshwater species in North America.
In addition to sporting fish, Tennessee also is home to spots that offer unique opportunities for anglers who would like to catch out-of-ordinary fish.
One of those sites is Cherokee Lake: home of paddlefish that can easily exceed 100 pounds.
Fishery biologists John Hammonds, Shaun Ramsey and Alan Beach with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) said the paddlefish (also known as spoonbills) in Cherokee Lake draw casters from far away.
“A very unique large sport fish that we have is the paddlefish in Tennessee,” Hammonds said.
The largest paddlefish caught in Tennessee was in the Cherokee Reservoir and weighed 120 pounds, according to TWRA records. It was caught on April 14, 2022, and was so large, that it could be seen taking up an entire tailgate of a pickup truck in a photo.
The Angler’s Guide to Tennessee Fish states that Tennessee paddlefish reach an average of 36 inches in length.
“That’s where people target them,” Hammonds said. “If you wanna catch a 100-pound fish or 50-pound fish for that matter, that’s where you want to go.”
Paddlefish are filter feeders, meaning they get food by opening their mouths to extraordinary sizes and filtering plankton through the water. As such, they will not go after bait or lures used by anglers.
So, how do you catch a paddlefish?
Short answer: patience and a whole lot of luck. The preferred method for catching paddlefish is known as snagging.
“It’s a pretty unique deal because you’re using a treble hook and snagging those fish. They’re not gonna bite a lure,” Ramsey said.
A treble hook is a three-pronged device used in several different lures and baits. However, for paddlefish, the hook (which needs to be quite a good deal larger than normal) is doing all the work without the addition of bait. Since the paddlefish have no interest in bait or lures, anglers have to hope for the hook to snag the fish as it passes by.
Heavyweights also need to be added to the line to make sure the hook sinks and snags correctly. The process is often described as tedious since the hooks are prone to get tangled in vegetation.
“That’s a pretty unique opportunity for us here because you can be successful at it,” Hammonds said. “It’s almost impossible to catch one on hook and line except right there in the upper Cherokee, and that season is in April.”
During their season, anglers are restricted to only catching one paddlefish per day.
“It’s pretty restrictive for that reason,” Hammonds said. “They live a long time and they don’t reproduce every year. With a fish like that, the population can crash in a hurry if you harvest too many.”
To learn more about paddlefish and fishing in Tennessee, check out the Angler’s Guide to Tennessee Fish or visit the TWRA website. For more fishing stories and all things outdoors in the Tri-Cities region, visit the Outdoors Appalachia section of WJHL.com.