Fish Species in the Norris Reservoir
The TWRA and local volunteers have worked to improve fish habitat in Norris for many years.
More than 21,000 structures have been placed in the lake since 1992. 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 drawdown areas to create additional, long lasting habitat.
Shoreline seeding of grasses during the winter drawdown has the potential of creating spawning habitat and cover for young fish. Inconsistent water levels, however, have rendered any shoreline seeding projects impractical.
Spawning benches have been constructed to provide habitat for smallmouth bass reproduction.
The three species of black bass accounted for about 32-percent of the total fish in the Norris reservoir at last count.
Spotted (Kentucky) bass make up a good percentage of the black bass population in Norris. Unlike largemouth and smallmouth, this species rarely reaches quality size in East Tennessee. 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 restriction and the limit is 15 spotted bass, per day.
Recommended lures – Small white spinners, plastic grubs on leadhead jigs, doll flies, and crawfish crankbaits are excellent.
For largemouth bass – Crankbaits, top water lures, Flukes, Bass Assassins, spinners, and Carolina-rigged lizards all work during April, May, and early June.
Norris is noted for its winter smallmouth fishing. The best fishing is from November to April. There were an estimated 26,675 smallmouth caught by anglers in 2003, at an averaged weight of 3.2 lbs. The current smallmouth regulation allows five fish (in combination with largemouth) per day with a minimum length limit of 18-inches.
Catch smallmouth with 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.
Norris yielded a 49.5 lb state record striped bass in April, 1978. A recent fish kill in 2003 which was related to water quality issues has 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 >30-40 pound fish that were common in the past.
As of March 1, 2005, anglers are allowed one 36-inch or larger fish from November-March and two, 15-inch or larger fish from April-October.
What works for stripers, aka rockfish – contact East Tennessee’s premier striper guide, Jay Girardot
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.
Finding 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 accounted for over 17 percent of fishing in 2003 and they are abundant in the reservoir. The greatest fishing pressure for this species is in the early spring during the annual spawning runs, but many are also caught throughout the reservoir during all seasons.
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.
Two strains and three distinct populations of walleye exist in Norris. The Lake Erie strain, stocked in the early years, is adapted to spawn on gravel points, while the Greers Ferry strain is adapted to making annual spawning runs in rivers. Current stocking uses brood fish obtained directly from Norris.
What works – 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.