“Cherokee stands out from the surrounding lakes for its topwater fishing, and especially during the fall,” said Brandon Card, a Bassmaster Elite Series pro and native of nearby Knoxville.
As the water cools and the level drops to winter pool, roaming schools of baitfish become the prey of choice for the bass. Cherokee’s forage base includes threadfin and gizzard shad and alewives, among other bait. That makes topwater baits ideal for finding and catching the nomadic, transitional bass. The moving baits, like the bass, can cover water until concentrations of bass are located, and a pattern is born.
Best of all, finding productive areas is fairly simple for visitors unfamiliar with the lake.
“Typically, the textbook school of thought is the best topwater fishing is during cloudy conditions with some wind,” said Card. “On Cherokee though, you can catch bass on topwaters during the fall in sunny skies, too.”
Card breaks down the topwater bite by sunny and cloudy patterns. On cloudy days he focuses on smallmouth in the lower end of the lake. The smallmouth gather on windy points, using those as ambush hideouts for feeding upon passing baitfish. In the clear water, the topwater can call up smallmouth in water up to 10 feet.
When sunny skies prevail, all is not lost. Under those conditions, Card moves to the upper end to target largemouth.
“Up the river near the channel are a lot of boat docks with manmade brushpiles,” he said. “Those are casting targets for topwaters.”
As the water continues to drop the fish are pulled out into deeper water. Card recommends keeping a sharp eye on isolated stumps or wood cover that appear on the bottom as the water retreats.
“As the water nears winter pool there are still some bushes in the water, and the bass will relate to that cover until it goes dry,” said Card. “Fish anything that you can find or mark on your electronics, and make a milk run kind of rotation through those areas.”
Card also relies on a square bill crankbait, fishing it around the same isolated wood habitat, when the topwater bite is unproductive for smallmouth or largemouth.
“Channel swings up the river, where the water gets dingier, are ideal for the crankbait in late September and into October,” he said. “Most of the fish will be in the upper part of the water column, which lines up with the running depth of the square bill.”
Card describes the ideal setup as a channel swing that passes near a deeper bluff bank. Another option is a flipping setup using a small profile soft plastic worm. Make contact with the wood using the crankbait, and flip or pitch the worm at the same targets for finnicky fish.
“A visitor can come here and find what suits their angling styles for either largemouth, smallmouth or both,” he said. “That’s what makes Cherokee unique in the fall, and of course, the great fall colors.”
Gear up:For the topwater, Card chooses a Yo-Zuri 5-inch 3DB Pencil in a Bone color. “The idea is to imitate the size and profile of the baitfish and this makes the perfect match,” he said. The best bet for the crankbait is a Yo-Zuri 3DB Series 1.5 Squarebill, Citrus Shad. “Retrieving it so the crankbait makes contact with the wood is a must.” Strikes most often occur as the crankbait deflects off the wood.
About the lake:Cherokee Lake covers 28,700 acres over nearly 400 miles of shoreline. In a normal year, the water level fluctuates over a range of about 30 feet. The lake is impounded by the Holston River, which feeds into the Tennessee River in Knoxville. “Don’t be intimidated by the falling water, because the fish are seasoned to it, like a seasonal rite of passage,” said Card.
Other fun:Minutes away from Cherokee is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the tourist haven cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg. For a memorable Tennessee vacation, plan day trips to sample the shopping, activities and dining that are unique to the area. Fall festivals and events are plentiful and popular.
Plan your trip:tnvacation.com