Fishing at Norris Lake, Tennessee
Annual water elevation fluctuations can exceed 45-feet. These fluctuations, coupled with the detrimental effects of wave action, has severely eroded the lake's 800-miles of shoreline, washing away fish habitat, topsoil, and much of the associated nutrients needed to support aquatic life. Most of the reservoir's nutrient supply comes from the water inflow from the Clinch and Powell rivers. Norris is relatively infertile and does not, and never will, support as many fish as more fertile reservoirs like Boone, Douglas, and Cherokee.

During summer months, the lake is subject to vertical stratification. With rare exception, dissolved oxygen and water temperatures related to the stratification do not cause problems with respect to fish survival.

There is a precautionary advisory against the consumption of largemouth and smallmouth bass, striped bass, and sauger from the Clinch River portion of the reservoir due to mercury contamination. The reservoir has approximately 40 public boat ramps.


The TWRA and volunteers from the public sector, have worked to improve fish habitat in Norris for many years. A wide variety of fish attractors have been used in an attempt to concentrate fish for anglers. These include brush piles which are used by many game fish, and stake beds which are primarily for concentrating crappie. These attractors work well, but must continually be refurbished.

Bald cypress and black willow trees have been planted in draw-down areas to create additional, long lasting habitat. The TWRA seeded areas with terrestrial plants including Reed Canary Grass, Austrian Winter Peas, Lespedeza spp., and Trifolium spp. (clover) during the early 1990s. Seeding had the potential of creating spawning habitat and cover for young fish, but the reservoir's inconsistent water levels rendered any shoreline seeding efforts impractical. Numerous spawning benches have been constructed to provide habitat for smallmouth bass reproduction.

The relatively recent appearance of Chara spp. (muskgrass, stonewart, ....) was not the result of any TWRA habitat enhancement efforts. Chara is an algae that attaches to the bottom using root-like structures called holdfasts. It grows quickly and can form thick mats along the bottom. Chara is an important food source for waterfowl and provides valuable protection for young fish and invertebrates.


Norris is noted for its quality smallmouth. The best fishing is from November to April. Anglers are allowed to harvest one, 20-inch or larger smallmouth per day from June 1 through October 15. Five, 18-inch or larger smallmouth are allowed from October 16 through May 31. The harvest of largemouth and smallmouth bass will be limited to five per day in combination. The minimum size limit for largemouth is 14-inches.

Spotted (Kentucky) bass make up a good percentage of the bass population in Norris. Unlike largemouth and smallmouth bass, this species rarely reaches quality size in any east Tennessee reservoir. They also utilize the same habitat and compete with the more quality-sized smallmouth bass. As a result, anglers are encouraged to keep these fish for the table. There is no size or creel limit for this species.


Striped bass stocking: 2013 - 104,228; 2012 - 106,586; 2011 - 119,949; 2010 - 103,201; 2009 - 106,676; 2008 - 108,103
Norris yielded a 49.5-pound state record striped bass in April, 1978. A recent water quality related fish kill in 2003 severely reduced the number of large stripers in the reservoir. It will take several years for the fishery to recover and begin producing good numbers of the 30 to 40-pound fish that were common in the past.

Stocking was suspended between 1996 and 1998 pending the outcome of a food habit/competition study. That study and previous food-habit studies showed a preference for shad; and few non-shad species have ever been found in striper stomachs. The study concluded that few game fish are consumed by stripers, but that there is the potential for limited forage production during some years. As a result, stocking rates were reduced three per acre.

Anglers are allowed one striped bass over 36-inches from November through March and two fish over 15-inches from April through October.


Crappie stocking: 2012 - 102,039; 2011 - 128,226; 2010 - 132,453; 2009 - 110,806; 2008 - 103,559; 2007 - 109,572
Since natural reproduction of crappie has been below average during the past several years and densities are less than desirable, an aggressive stocking program using blacknose black crappie was begun in 1999. The decline in lake fertility and loss of habitat structure are two important aspects of reservoir aging adversely affecting this game fish.

Much of the habitat work undertaken on Norris has been to improve the crappie population and increase angler success rates. There is a daily creel limit of 10 crappie with a minimum size limit of 10-inches.


Walleye stocking: 2013 - 240,267; 2012 - 194,291; 2011 - 284,146; 2010 - 194,584; 2009 - 170,066; 2008 - 187,589
The greatest fishing pressure for this species is in the early spring during the annual spawning runs and at night during the alewife spawn. Many are also caught throughout the reservoir during all seasons by anglers willing to employ various strategies.

An aggressive campaign was begun in 1999 to offset the negative impacts of a failure in natural reproduction. These stockings have proven to be extremely successful.


Sunfish are an important component of Norris Lake's fishery. There has been a dramatic increase in the number and quality of the much sought after redear sunfish (“shellcracker”) in recent years. Shellcrackers grow large and make for fine table fare.


Spotted bass - Small white spinners, plastic grubs on leadhead jigs, doll flies, and crawfish crankbaits are excellent.

Largemouth bass - Crankbaits, top water lures, Flukes, Bass Assassins, spinners, and Carolina-rigged lizards all work during April, May, and early June.

Smallmouth bass - Good lures for Norris smallmouth are Silver Buddies, 1/4 oz (or smaller) doll flies, doll flies tipped with minnows, float-and-fly rigs, and large shiners. On windy days in late winter, cast small crankbaits to wind-swept, rocky banks. Early spring smallmouth spawn on gravel points which reach out into the main channels. Spinners or pig’n jigs fished at night on steep, boulder-strewn banks catch good smallmouth year-‘round.

Crappie - Quality angling is best in the back of major embayments such as Big Sycamore Creek, Davis Creek and Big Creek. Upper river sections above Point 15 (Powell R.) and Point 31 (Clinch R.) are also good. Fish brush piles or downed trees in the winter, early spring or late fall months. Small minnows, plastic grubs, flies tipped with minnows, and small crankbaits work best.

Walleye - During river runs, troll or jig with minnow-tipped doll flies, Sparkle Tails, AC Shiners, Rapalas, or Shad Raps. In late spring, night anglers cast crankbaits into flooded weeds. Trolling with Jet Lures tipped with night crawlers, spinner-and-night crawler rigs, or with deep running Long-Billed Rebels and Model 911 RedFins is popular by the end of May on the lower end. Night fishing with jigging spoons, alewife or shad accounts for good catches in the summer.

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