Fall Fishing in Tennessee

Nov 16, 2023

Angler casts her fly in Tennessee waters

Oh, fall.

The season that showcases Tennessee’s stunning landscape as its foliage transforms, and the cooler weather infuses a sense of excitement for all that this time of year has to offer. 

It’s also the season that calls outdoor enthusiasts to explore its beauty through various recreational activities like hunting and fishing. Many anglers tend to put down their rods and take to the woods to solely focus on deer season. But you shouldn’t be too quick to stow away your fishing gear just yet.

That’s right— fall can be a prime fishing season in the Volunteer State. 

Just as we indulge during the holiday season, fish are also on a mission to pack on extra weight before the colder weather approaches. This feeding frenzy is driven by a sense of urgency, as they must store sufficient reserves to endure the lean months of winter that lie ahead. For those looking to explore Tennessee’s many waterways, it’s an ideal opportunity, as a plethora of hungry fish eagerly await your bait. 


The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) regularly stocks the state with a wide range of trout species such as Brook, Brown, Rainbow, and even Cutthroat. However, the extensive streams in East Tennessee support abundant populations, making it the more widely recognized and popular area for trout fishing.

Autumn is a busy time of year, in particular, for Brook and Brown trout whose spawning season starts in October and extends into November. Much like the foliage, you’ll see males of these species take on deeper and more vibrant colors to fend off rival fish from the egg-laying female or their redds (nest). This protective instinct triggers aggressive behavior in the fish, increasing your chances of catching one as they perceive your fly as a threat. But before you cast your fly, be sure to clearly identify your target—learn more in Fly Fishing 101.

“There’s a fine line between catching spawning trout and catching pre-spaw trout. You should be able to determine if the fish are holding their position on a redd or migrating upstream.”

James Marsh, Fly Fishing Smoky Mountains

Ensuring the health of the fish and the success of future generations relies on minimizing stress during their spawning ritual. Be cautious when wading, avoiding stepping on the redds, as this practice fosters thriving trout populations for you to enjoy year after year.


Around this time of year, bass undergo a behavioral shift known as the “fall transition,” migrating from their summer deep-water habitats to shallower depths.


Bass follow baitfish, such as shad, to more shallow waters where the baitfish are in search of better oxygen levels and a rich supply of food like plankton. You will typically find both of these in the backs of creeks, on shallow flats, and around structures such as boat docks and standing timber. When you find the bait, you should find the bass.

Now, these might not be the spots where you have had success in the past, but don’t let that discourage you. It’s a time for exploration, and with fewer anglers on the water, you have the chance to do just that. Embrace the opportunity to fish in shallower and mid-range depths, and when you do, keep these five essentials in mind. 


While bass often take the spotlight in Tennessee, crappie ranks as a close second in popularity. This fish is beloved by many for its taste, and ease of catch when they gather in large schools.

What’s great about fall fishing is that it “provides one of the best and most consistent bites outside the period around the spawn.”

Similar to bass, crappie follow their appetites during the fall season, pursuing baitfish to feed on which provides ample opportunities for anglers. Typically, you will find these fish in a variety of shallower depths but it does depend on the particular body of water.

Some schools will hold at consistent depths for days or weeks depending upon the presence of food. In other places, “the location of a school can change not only on a daily basis, but while an angler is fishing for them.”

Electronics can come in handy here however they aren’t a necessity. You can achieve success in crappie fishing without a depth finder or any of the other gadgets, making it accessible and enjoyable for anglers of all levels. 

Fall Fishing in Tennessee is a Hidden Gem

Fall, often overlooked for fishing in Tennessee, is a hidden gem for those familiar with fish’s seasonal behaviors. Cooler weather adds excitement for action seekers and relaxation for leisure enthusiasts. We encourage you to get out on the water this season and remember to:

Interested in experiencing all of the outdoor landscapes in the state? Discover the top 10 places to recreate outside in Tennessee.

Feature photo by Jeremi Hough

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