Hunter Palmer, a 15-year-old Bedford County resident, has been fishing since he was five years old. A member of the Tullahoma High School Bass Club and a Bassmaster Member, he says that he has “always had a love and passion for fishing” since it’s “a great way to get out and enjoy nature instead of being inside all day.” For Palmer, he feels that fishing is “a part of his nature,” and something he would do every day if possible.
If you are in the Manchester area and hoping to get out and cast a few lines, check out some of Palmer’s favorite fishing spots in southern Middle Tennessee and his recommendations for lures in each location. Be sure to familiarize yourself with Tennessee’s laws concerning fishing permits, fishing licenses and boating safety education for both residents and nonresidents before you hit the water.
Bedford / Coy Gaither Lake | Bedford County
A small 47-acre lake located in Bedford County, Bedford or Coy Gaither Lake is a family fishing lake that does not allow recreational canoeing, kayaking or pleasure boating. A fishing pier, boat ramp and courtesy dock are located at the lake, and a $5 daily permit can be purchased at the Valley View Market (345 Huffman St., Normandy) and other area license agents. Camping and gas engines are not allowed at the lake.
Palmer uses a bobber set up with a cricket or worm to fish for shellcrackers at Bedford Lake and enjoys fishing for catfish sitting on top of the underwater stumps located close to the boat ramp.
Duck River | across the region
With easy access at Normandy Dam, the Duck River is considered “one of three hot spots for fish and mussel diversity in the entire world,” according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Normandy Kayak Rental (615-925-9767), located in Wartrace, Tennessee, is open seven days a week and offers rentals for the Duck River.
Palmer says that the Duck River is perfect “if you want to catch a little bit of everything.” He has had experience catching black perch and spotted bass, or Kentucky bass, in the Duck. He recommends using anything flashy, such as rooster tails and white curly tails, or Texas rig, soft plastics if you are hoping to catch bass.
Elk River | across the region
Flowing away from Tims Ford Dam, the Elk River is a tributary of the Tennessee River that continues into northern Alabama. Access to the river can be found off of Highway 50 and at Farris Creek Bridge, Old Dam Ford and Shiloh Bridge. Canoes and kayaks can be rented from Elk River Canoe Rental and Kelso Canoe Rental, both located in Kelso, Tennessee. Fly fishing is very popular in the currents of the Elk.
Palmer enjoys fishing for trout, smallmouth bass and flathead catfish in the Elk River. He recommends using bluegill and smaller, live bait fish when fishing for flathead catfish and shallow crankbaits such as square bills when targeting bass.
Normandy Lake | Coffee and Bedford counties
Normandy Lake, a 17-mile reservoir on the Duck River and one of the “most biologically diverse river systems in the nation,” according to the Tennessee Valley Authority, is a popular area for fishing for catfish, crappie and both smallmouth and largemouth bass. Boat ramps are located at Barton Springs, Boyds Branch, Cedar Point, Normandy Dam and Wards Chapel. Campgrounds, showers, picnic shelters and swimming areas are located at Barton Springs (158 Barton Springs Rd., Normandy) and Cedar Point (1659 Cedar Point Rd., Manchester).
Palmer prefers to use soft, plastic lures and jigs when fishing for bass in the spring, and worms and chicken livers when fishing for catfish in the spring and summer. During April and May, he fishes for crappie using curly tail grubs and live minnows in Normandy Lake. Palmer says that the area near Normandy dam at night is “one of the best places” he has ever fished for catfish, since the water is very deep.
Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park | 732 Stone Fort Dr., Manchester
A short drive from downtown Manchester, the Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park is built around a 50-acre Native American hilltop enclosure, with surrounding areas for hiking, camping waterfall-viewing, birding and fishing in the Big and Little Duck Rivers. Visitors can fish anywhere in the park, as long as they have fishing license from the state or a day pass that can be purchased at the local Walmart (2518 Hillsboro Blvd., Manchester). A license is not needed for those under 16 years of age. No gas-powered boats are allowed at the park; however, a small boat ramp is located near the park’s entrance.
The park rangers recommend fishing near one of the waterfalls on the Little or Big Duck or under the campground bridge. They encourage visitors to stop by the office before fishing in the park. Crappie, bluegill, catfish and bass have all been caught nearby. The park is an ideal location for a family picnic and fishing with children.
Tims Ford Lake | Franklin and Moore counties
A reservoir located on the Elk River, Tims Ford Lake is considered “one of the most picturesque lakes in Tennessee” and “one of the top smallmouth bass fishing and recreational lakes in the Southeast,” according to the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. Tims Ford has over a dozen boat ramps available, including ramps located at the state park, Tims Ford Marina and Resort, home of the Hard Dock Café, and the Holiday Landing and Resort, home of the Bluegill Grill. Camping, lodging, gas pumps, fishing piers, hiking trails, and a golf course are also located in the area.
Palmer says that Tims Ford is home to a “great variety of fish” and is a “great spot for smallmouth bass.” He recommends using flashy crankbaits and spinnerbaits and fishing off rocky points at the lake early in the morning. According to the Franklin County Chamber, the lake is also a fantastic spot to fish for crappie and walleye.
The Tims Ford Bass Club is located in Winchester and can be contacted at 931-636-1115.
Woods Reservoir | Franklin, Coffee counties
Used to supply cooling water to the Arnold Engineering Development Center, Woods Reservoir was built in the 1950s by the United States Air Force as an impoundment of the Elk River. In addition to being a popular fishing spot, Woods Reservoir is known for its duck hunting season. The public is advised not to consume catfish from Woods Reservoir because of high levels of PCBs. Arnold Air Force Base has a marina with fishing boats, kayaks and canoes for rental, and a camp with RV and tent sites for military and Department of Defense personnel at Woods Reservoir. Otherwise, a boat ramp is located at Morris Ferry Boat Dock (79-99 Morris Ferry Dock Rd., Estill Springs).
Palmer says that the shallow reservoir has “really good spots for catfish and crappie.” He recommends throwing your fishing lines toward the reservoir’s duck blinds in order to catch channel and blue catfish, and using white, curly-tailed jigs for crappie fishing. He has had good luck catching crappie specifically from the Clyde Hill Bridge, formerly known as the Morris Ferry Bridge.