Watauga Reservoir - General Information
TWRA Region IV Office
3030 Wildlife Way Morristown, TN 37814
(423) 587-7037 or (800) 332-0900
Updated - October 2016
Watauga is a beautiful, 6,430-acre TVA reservoir located in northeast Tennessee near the North Carolina border. The Cherokee National Forest adjoins much of the reservoir and the Appalachian Trail runs along its northwestern edge. The shoreline is farmland, wooded, and mountainous. The reservoir was formed by the impounding of the Watauga River in 1948.
There are approximately 106-miles of shoreline and water levels can fluctuate as much as 44-feet between summer full pool and the winter draw-down period. An abundance of public land makes Watauga an excellent reservoir for bank fishing and camping. There is a handicapped-accessible fishing pier at the Rat Branch access area courtesy of the TWRA and USFS.
Smallmouth, walleye, and trout are the most popular game fish for Watauga anglers. Gizzard shad, alewife, bluegill, and assorted minnows make up the forage base. There are eight public boat ramps, seven marinas and two Forest Service recreation facilities.
FISH HABITAT ENHANCEMENT:
A variety of fish attractors have been constructed over the years in an attempt to concentrate fish for anglers. These include brush piles which are used by many game fish and stake beds that are primarily for concentrating crappie. These attractors work well, but must continually be refurbished to maintain their effectiveness.
Bald cypress trees have been planted in several areas of the reservoir and have done especially well in the Roan Creek embayment. Both black willow and bald cypress trees provide long lasting habitat for a variety of game fish.
Benches designed to provide smallmouth bass spawning habitat have been built, but there have been problems with bank anglers using the top planks for firewood. Please call your local wildlife officer if you see someone destroying these or any other TWRA installed habitat structure.
Watauga has fantastic smallmouth and very good largemouth bass fishing. The lower section of the reservoir is where some of the best smallmouth action takes place. The highest densities of largemouth are in the Roan, Doe, and Cobb Creek Arms and the upper Elk and Watauga River Arms of the reservoir.
The daily creel limit is five largemouth and/or smallmouth bass in any combination. There is a 12-inch minimum length limit for largemouth bass and 15-inch minimum length limit for smallmouth.
Spotted (Kentucky) bass make up a significant percentage of the black bass found within several areas of the reservoir. Unlike largemouth and smallmouth bass, these fish rarely reach quality size in any east Tennessee reservoir. They also utilize the same habitat and may compete with the larger smallmouth bass. As a result, anglers are encouraged to keep these fish for the table. There is no size limit on spotted bass and 15 may be harvested daily.
- Black and Blacknose Crappie stocking: 2015 - 29,960; 2014 - 34,265; 2013 - 42,672; 2012 - 31,452; 2011 - 32,806; 2010 - 31,705
Crappie fishing has improved recently. The creel limit put in place in the mid-90’s has allowed the crappie population to thrive. Black crappie are more abundant than whites. The daily creel limit is 15-crappie in any combination with a minimum length limit of 10-inches.
Blacknose and black crappie have been stocked during the few years. Blacknose are genetically similar to black crappie. The black stripe on their nape and lower jaw allows biologists to monitor the success of the stocking program.
RAINBOW and LAKE TROUT:
- Rainbow Trout stocking: 2015 - 58,478; 2014 - 48,528; 2013 - 54,388; 2012 - 78,744; 2011 - 56,364; 2010 - 44,667; 2009 - 26,855
- Lake Trout stocking: 2015 - 77,302; 2014 - 83,327; 2013 - 67,610; 2011 - 64,082; 2010 - 69,784; 2009 - 27,712; 2008 - 47,110
- Brown Trout stocking: 2015 - 35,073; 2014 - 25,049; 2013 - 25,088; 2012 - 25,029; 2011 - 25,036; 2008 - 40,084
The TWRA has stocked many rainbow and lake trout in the reservoir since 1990. There is no size limit for any trout species, but there is a daily limit of 7; only two of which can be lake trout.
Lake trout, a cousin of our native brook trout, are selected for stocking because they perform well in the cold, well-oxygenated habitat present. The best lake trout fishing takes place between Watauga Point and Butler Bridge. The state record lake trout that weighed 22-pounds and 2-ounce was caught from Watauga in 2008.
- Walleye stocking: 2015 - 61,169; 2014 - 35,153; 2013 - 30,109; 2011 - 18,360; 2010 - 41,830; 2009 - 47,376; 2008 - 40,936
Walleye were initially stocked in 1954 and have been stocked consistently since 1985. They are abundant and grow exceptionally well. Seven to eight pound walleye are not uncommon.
There is a minimum length limit of 18-inches and a daily creel limit of five for walleye. A Walleye run regulation is in effect from January 1 - April 30. Anglers are restricted to the use of one hook having a single point or one lure having no more than one hook with a single point (artificial or bait) on the following waters: Elk River from the Hwy. 321 Bridge downstream to RM 3.0 (Pt. 11) on the Elk River Arm, Doe Creek (Old Cabin Private Road downstream to Roan Creek), Roan Creek (Mountain Lake Estates Bridge downstream to Doe Creek), and Watauga River (NC line downstream to the end of Cownstown Road).
Largemouth bass - Spring: Spinner baits and buzz baits. Lizards, 4- to 6-inch worms and flukes. Small Shad Raps, Bandit crankbaits and stickbaits. During the spring, the flooded willows in the creeks and in the backs of coves can be very productive. Summer: Good night fishing on worms and lizards.
Smallmouth bass - Spring: Fish clay and broken shale banks with spinner baits, lizards, worms, live bait, small crankbaits, float-n-fly and suspended Flukes. During this period, secondary points are prime smallmouth holding spots. Summer: Smallmouth move to deeper water. This is the time for night fishing with various worm rigs and pig-n-jig.
Crappie - Year 'round: Fishing around structure of any kind is productive. This may be in the form of brush piles and black willows when the water level is high enough to flood the backs of coves or stump rows in creek channels when the water level is low. Small flies tipped with minnows, grubs, small crankbaits and spinners are recommended. Roan Creek would be a good place to start any crappie fishing trip.
Walleye - Late winter: As the water temperatures approach 50-degrees, walleye begin spawning runs up the Watauga and Elk Rivers. The confluence of Roan Creek with the Watuaga River is a staging point for these fish. Standard river walleye fishing tactics (grubs, flies and minnows) should work. In mid to late spring when alewife are in the shallows spawning, fishing at night with any shad-looking crankbait can be productive. This is a good time for floating crankbaits. Flooded treetops and black willows will hold lots of walleye at this time. From summer to early fall, trolling with crankbaits (Long-Bill Rebels) or spinner rigs (night crawler harnesses) is recommended.
Channel catfish - Summer: Limb lines and rod-and-reel with live bait.
Rainbow trout - Spring: Bank fish with corn or salmon eggs. Summer: Troll spoons in 30- to 50-feet of water.
Lake trout - Summer: Troll spoons in 90- to 120-feet of water. The best lake trout fishing takes place between Watauga Point and Butler Bridge.