Secrets of Southern Fishermen

Six Local Fishing Experts Share Their Secrets

 

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I have laid aside business, and gone a-fishing.
–Isaak Walton

 


Grab your rod and tackle and head to the river. It’s time to go a-fishing. In fact, it’s never not a good time to go fishing here in Chattanooga. No matter the season, there is always something to catch. The surrounding lakes and rivers hold an incredible variety of freshwater fish – it’s one of Chattanooga’s best kept secrets.

Here, six local fishing experts share their secrets with us – tips for new anglers, favorite spots, and memories of their best catches.


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Robert Prytula, radio co-host and expert fly fisher, haunts the area’s cold water trout streams, including the Tellico River, Hiwassee River, and the Elk Rivers of Southeastern Tennessee.


CS: Where is your favorite lake or river to fish?

RP: My favorite is the Tellico. It has good populations of rainbow, brown, and brook trout and is probably one of the prettiest places to fish. Trout don’t usually live in ugly areas. Many times, I have seen deer, bears, and other animals
coming down to get a drink at the water’s edge. The Tellico has many runs, riffles, and bends to fish, and the water is gin clear!

CS: What do you primarily catch?

RP: In the Tellico River, I catch rainbow and brook trout. When I fish in Lake Chickamauga, I catch bream (sunfish).

CS: Do you prefer to fish alone or with a few friends?

RP: It depends. I fish mostly with one friend, but sometimes I like to get out by myself to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.

CS: What’s the best catch you’ve ever had? What made the memory so great?

RP: I caught a blue marlin in the Bahamas in 1995. It was out of season, between hurricanes. A hurricane hit on Friday, I got there Sunday, and another hurricane hit again the following Sunday. 

CS: What tips and tricks can you share with new anglers?

RP: Join a local group (Chattanooga Bass Anglers, Trout Unlimited, Bass Yakkers) and learn practical tips from local anglers. My personal tip is: don’t let the weather dictate your fishing. If you wait for the perfect day to fish, you will be waiting a long time.

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Ben Hayes, expert bass fishing guide, loves to take fathers and sons on bass fishing trips and teach them the ropes.


CS: Where is your favorite lake or river to fish?

BH: My favorite lake is our own Lake Chickamauga. I’ve been able to fish some fine lakes from South Carolina to Texas and all the way down to Florida, but Chickamauga is a special place for bass. Since the resurgence of aquatic vegetation, it’s the perfect habitat for large bass to thrive, and it contains a great number of them.

CS: What’s your favorite time of year to fish?

BH: May and June are probably my favorite months as the bass get in very predictable places, and usually when I catch one, there’s a bunch with him!

CS: Do you prefer to fish alone or with a few friends?

BH: I love to fish with dads and their sons. Most are just getting into bass fishing with artificial lures and are eager to learn some techniques. Also, I’m blessed that my family – sons, daughter, and wife – all love to bass fish and are my regular fishing partners.

CS: What’s the best catch you’ve ever had? What made the memory so great?

BH: Probably my most memorable one was actually an 8 lb. bass my son caught when he was 8 years old. He wanted to send a picture and his story about it to Bassmaster magazine, and they published the picture and short story.

CS: What tips and tricks can you share with new anglers? 

BH: There is so much information on bass fishing websites and YouTube that it’s become the best way for a new angler to find out about locating bass and how to rig and fish different lures. Google Earth is also a wealth of information about particular areas of a lake. You can get a view before you ever launch a boat.

CS: What’s your favorite way to cook a fresh catch?

BH: I release most of what I catch, but when I want to eat some, I will beer batter some crappie or spotted bass fillets and into the Fry Daddy they go!

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Meet Dickey Porter, who loves to teach new anglers how to catch crappie.


CS: Where is your favorite lake or river to fish?

DP: It is hard to pick a favorite body of water. I fish Chickamauga mostly, but do love Tims Ford Reservoir for the black nose crappie and smallmouth bass. I fish Watts Bar Dam tailwaters for the striped bass, walleyes, and magnum white bass.

CS: What’s your favorite time of year to fish?

DP: Fall, winter, and spring. I like the fall because the fish are beginning to perk up after the water temperature begins to come down. I like the winter because the fish are so predictable, and I like the spring because everything is happening at once, and my biggest problem is trying to decide which species of fish to pursue.

CS: What’s your go-to rod, lure, and bait?

DP: I use spinning rods 99% of the time. I use Bass Assassin lures and Bobby Garland plastics for crappie. I use Swimbaits and Foley spoons for walleyes and white bass, along with the occasional striper.

CS: Do you prefer to fish alone or with a few friends?

DP: I prefer to take people fishing and teach them how to fish for crappie. I like to fish alone when I have a hair brained idea or technique that I want to work on and perfect.

CS: What’s the best catch you’ve ever had? What made the memory so great?

DP: I guess the biggest fish that I ever caught was a 42.5 lb. striped bass below Watts Bar Dam. That probably isn’t the most memorable though. The most memorable fish I caught was last year below Watts Bar Dam when I hooked and landed, after about 30 minutes, a 57-inch long, 32 lb. paddlefish. It nearly wore me out.

CS: What tips and tricks can you share with new anglers?

DP: The secret to catching crappie on a consistent basis is location, presentation, and confidence. After you have those down, my best advice is to watch your line like a hawk, because most crappie bites are seen long before they are felt by the fisherman. A crappie can suck in a bait and spit it out without a fisherman ever knowing that he had a bite. This is the hardest thing to teach: how to detect a non-feeling bite.

Richard Simms, local fishing guide, loves to take friends fishing and show them the ropes.


CS: Where is your favorite lake or river to fish?

RS: I prefer Chickamauga Tailwaters because it’s a catfish factory. And in fact, depending upon the season and fishing technique, you can catch virtually every fish that swims in the Tennessee River in this area. Second would be Chickamauga Lake which has become nationally known for its largemouth bass fishing. Plus, the outstanding crappie fishing on Chickamauga is one of angling’s best kept secrets.

CS: What’s your go-to rod, lure, and bait?

RS: For catfish and crappie I use B’n’M Rods. My preferred bait for catfish is either chicken breast or “cut bait” (river herring or bluegill cut into pieces). My favorite crappie lures are Crappie Magnet jigs/plastic. For smallmouth, I routinely use live shiners purchased from area bait shops.

CS: What’s the best catch you’ve ever had? What made the memory so great?

RS: My most memorable catch was my first ever 60 lb. catfish captured and landed by myself, without a net.

CS: What tips and tricks can you share with new anglers?

RS: The single best tip I could provide for budding catfishermen is to use store-bought chicken breast for bait. No preparation – I use it straight from the meat counter. It is extremely effective plus it is very tough so fish rarely steal your bait, as they do with chicken liver, the most popular catfish bait.

CS: What’s your favorite way to cook a fresh catch?

RS: If it ain’t fried, it ain’t fish!

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Local angler Eric Maurer has set more than 20 records and won several world titles for netting monster catfish.


CS: Where is your favorite lake or river to fish?

EM: Chickamauga Lake, by far. It contains a large number of trophy fish from a variety of species and gives the angler a wide range of structures to fish.

CS: What do you primarily catch?

EM:I personally prefer blue catfish, striped bass, white bass and black bass, and walleye.

CS: What’s your favorite time of year to fish?

EM: March and April for the trophy catfish as they move and feed before spawning; May and June for the post-spawn largemouth bass; and year-round for most of the other species.

CS: Do you prefer to fish alone or with a few friends?

EM: I usually fish alone since I’m retired and can fish during the week. I often go for just a couple of hours at a time. When I do get out with friends, I enjoy finding fish for them to catch and seeing them enjoy themselves.

CS: What’s the best catch you’ve ever had? What made the memory so great?

EM: My best freshwater catches came from Chickamauga: an 84 lb. and an 83 lb. blue catfish. Both were quite memorable because each set an IGFA (International Game Fish Association) World Line Class record. I also caught a 44 lb. striped bass on Chickamauga that could have tied the 6 lb. test World Line Class record for that species. What a fight!

CS: What tips and tricks can you share with new anglers?

EM: Use patience. Look at lake maps to find structures that differ from the norm. Keep in mind that fish stay in a particular place for a reason –­­ usually food or shelter. If fishing is poor in one spot, move to a somewhat different structure and you will often find success.

CS: What’s your favorite way to cook a fresh catch?

EM: I prefer most of my fish fried in a batter using beer or a soft drink to make the batter lighter.

Meet Chris Loizeaux, local fly shop owner and guide, who claims fishing is more about the journey and not the destination.


CS: Where is your favorite lake or river to fish?

CL: North Chickamauga Creek. Not only is it close by, but it also has such an amazingly diverse fish population. From Greenway Farms to the Blue Hole in Soddy Daisy, you’ve got great warm-fishing all year-round. If I want to chase trout and gorgeous scenery, I love going to the Caney Fork River, Hiwassee River, and various other streams and creeks throughout East Tennessee and North Georgia.

CS: What do you primarily catch?

CL: The Chickamauga Lake and Tennessee River have some of the greatest warm-water fishing in the South. We catch everything from largemouth and smallmouth bass to stripers, freshwater drum, skipjack (better known as the Tennessee tarpon), crappie, and a multitude of bream (bluegill). When we go to the mountains and tailwaters (cold water released from dams), we target rainbow, brown, and brook trout primarily.

CS: What’s your favorite time of year to fish?

CL: You’d be hardpressed to find a fly angler that doesn’t love the fall. The weather can be spectacular and the fish are rising. However, one of the nicest seasons to get out in is the winter, because it’s too cold for everyone but a few crazy fly anglers, so you usually have the place to yourself.

CS: Do you prefer to fish alone or with a few friends?

CL: I love to go to the river with friends, but I spread out and fish alone for the majority of the time. Hanging out streamside or helping a buddy net a fish on occasion is always gonna be good, but having 50 yards of river to fish alone is a great thing, while still being able to see your friends nearby.

CS: What’s the best catch you’ve ever had? What made the memory so great?

CL: While I’ve caught some great fish, I probably remember the days more than the fish. I guess that’s the whole “it’s the journey, not the destination” cliché, but it’s true. I remember lying in a field in Montana, upstream from a moose and downstream from a herd of deer, looking up at the mountains overhead, pondering what the heck these fish wanted and reminding myself to not be frustrated with a slow morning of fishing. I remember the otters scaring the fish out of my fishing hole, and I remember the insects hatching in the evening. I remember the fly I picked out. I remember casting and the trout rising to my fly. I remember my friend landing the trout in the net for me, but that specific Montana rainbow trout is a vague memory.

CS: What tips and tricks can you share with new anglers?

CL: Fly fishing is much easier than you probably think, and it’s not just chasing trout.

CS: What’s your favorite way to cook a fresh catch?

CL: I rarely keep my catches. If I do keep a rainbow trout, I’ll gut it and cook it in olive oil, with a sliver of lemon, sea salt, and a sprig of rosemary inside it.

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“If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there’d be a shortage of fishing poles.”

–Doug Larson

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