Boone Lake is Poised to become a Destination for Bass Fishing

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Boone Lake is anticipated to rival other Tennessee River Valley lakes for the quality and size of bass due to new stocking programs and the end of a prolonged lake draw down.

“The sport fishing will be great,” said TWRA Fisheries Biologist John Hammonds. “Be patient, and get ready for great fishing after that, based on examples where the same thing happened across the country, like in Lake Cumberland in Kentucky,”

Boone Lake, named after famed frontiersman Daniel Boone, is an impoundment on the South Fork of the Holston and Watauga rivers in northeast Tennessee.

Boone Dam impounds the 4,400-acre Reservoir located in Sullivan and Washington counties, near Johnson City and Kingsport, Tennessee. Both the South Holston and Wilbur tailwaters, which support two of Tennessee’s most renowned trout fisheries, flow into Boone Reservoir. People travel from several surrounding states to fish for the legendary trophy trout in the South Holston and Watauga tailwaters.

In the coming years, the bass populations in the reservoir are predicted to explode, making it a destination for those seeking large bass, a result of the drawdown because of problems with the dam.

Once known for its striper and smallmouth fishing, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began drawing down the reservoir in 2014 to repair seepage around the structure.

CONSEQUENCES OF DRAWDOWN
Fisheries biologists with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) contend it can be good for a reservoir when water levels fluctuate yearly, but when they stay down it can cause a shortage of prey, leading to a decrease of game fish populations. When water levels go back up, however, the population will explode for the first couple of years.

TVA officials began refilling the reservoir in March, and are predicting it will be at full pool again in July 2021. While lowered, vegetation grew in the exposed coves and fingers. TVA has been mulching and clearing brush in the main channels and developed areas with a lot of recreational boat traffic, but some will remain in the shallower areas where fish spawn, creating a productive nursery needed for young fish to start the life cycle. Bass will utilize this habitat, and grow quickly because of the plentiful prey.

“The sport fishing will be great,” said TWRA Fisheries Biologist John Hammonds. “The good news is it doesn’t take too many nests to hatch successfully for bass populations to recover. “Be patient, and get ready for great fishing after that, based on examples where the same thing happened across the country, like in Lake Cumberland in Kentucky,” he said.

A BIGGER, MORE AGGRESSIVE BASS
Hammonds said TVA and TWRA are also placing stake beds and wreath balls in the reservoir for additional structure, as well as planting willow trees in undeveloped spots.

In mid-summer TWRA will stock stripers, crappie and F1 (hybrid) bass, which are a cross between Florida-strain and native Northern bass. The agency normally doesn’t stock bass -- which reproduce prolifically on their own – but will stock hybrids in an effort to improve the size and fight of this species (which anglers had requested).

The first pure Florida strains were stocked in Chickamauga 20 years ago, and these eventually hybridized with the native northern largemouth. These, like the pure strain Florida bass, grow quicker, and are more aggressive.

The agency has since stocked these in Kentucky, Nickajack, Fort Loudoun and Watts Bar reservoirs. TWRA sampling and fin clippings on these reservoirs concluded fish weighing over 8 pounds harvested from there are F1 hybrids.

As a result of the original Florida strain stockings, anglers are harvesting larger bass in those reservoirs, and more often. Hammonds said TWRA is proposing to stock 50,000 (11.1 fish/acre) F1 bass into Boone in 2021, 2022, and 2023. After the agency evaluates that effort to ensure the stocked fish are recruiting to the population they will likely be stocked annually. The agency also plans to stock 22,600 (5 fish/acre) striped bass, and that same number of hybrid striped bass. It will also release 41,600 (9.2 fish/acre) black crappie.

These conditions are all aligning to make Boone Lake a desired destination for bass anglers in coming years, especially those who seek large, hard fighting bass, the most popular game fish in North America. The other species should also do well, and together could provide an experience comparable to the exceptional trout fishing found nearby.

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