Summer is officially here in East Tennessee. It’s time to get out and enjoy all the outdoor activities in Jefferson County. Nicknamed Lakeside of the Smokies, we have excellent fishing on our local waterways including Douglas Lake and Cherokee Lake.  

Fishing, while fun and relaxing, can be daunting if you do not know where to start. We are going to discuss all the things you need to know to get started fishing. We will cover how to get a fishing license in Tennessee, the type of fish you can expect to catch, the best bait(s) to use, boating laws that must be followed, as well as some great guided tours. Once you get that first bite, you’ll be hooked on fishing in our beautiful county.  

How Do I Get a Fishing License? 

First, let’s look at how to get a fishing license in Tennessee. There are a few questions you will need to answer to help guide you. Unless you have a lifetime membership, your license will expire one year after your purchase date. 

Are you resident of the state of Tennessee or are you visiting? 

  • If you are a resident of the state of Tennessee, you must provide a driver’s license with your application. The annual cost is $33. 
  • If you are visiting the state of Tennessee, you must purchase non-resident licenses for the duration of your fishing trip. Prices range from $10-$98 depending on the license you choose. 
  • Ages 13-15 can purchase a Jr. Hunt, Fish & Trap license for $9. 
  • If you are under the age of thirteen (13), a license is not required in Tennessee.  

What type of identification must I have?

  • Social Security Number 
  • Driver’s License 
  • If you do not have a TN driver’s license you must present two other forms that prove your residency such as, voter registration card, vehicle title or registration, I-9 issued by US Citizen & Immigration Service, or a rental/mortgage contract or receipt of deed for sale of property, or receipt of property tax payment. 

Visit to register and purchase your license. You can also visit a county clerks office, sporting goods stores, hardware stores, boat docks, or TWRA offices for licensing. Every summer, the state of Tennessee hosts a Free Fishing Day. This year it is on June 8, 2024, for all residents and Free Fishing Week for all children ages 15 and under is June 8-14, 2024.   

What Types of Fish Will I Catch? 

Now let’s talk about the fun stuff- what kind of fish you can expect to catch! While there are hundreds of fish species in our waterway, these are some of the more popular to find in East Tennessee: 

  • Bass- Black Bass and Temperate (True) Bass 
  • Crappie 
  • Sunfish 
  • Pike 
  • Perch 
  • Trout 
  • Catfish 
  • Gar 
  • Buffalo 
  • Redhorses 
  • Carpsuckers 
  • Freshwater Drum 
  • Herring (sometimes called Shad) 
  • Sturgeon 
  • Walleye 

Check out the Angler’s Guide to Tennessee Fish for more information about the characteristics, variety, and descriptions of the fish in Tennessee. As with any other state there are daily limits and size restrictions. Stay up to date with all regulations and changes here. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) publishes a weekly fishing forecast to provide updates for the state’s lakes.  

What Kind of Bait Should I Use? 

Let’s look at what you will need to catch the fish. The best bait depends on the species of fish, but these are most used: 

  • Nightcrawlers (worms)- These are the most widely used versatile baits. 
  • Minnows- Live minnows (shiner or flathead) can be used on a variety of rigs, hooks, and jigs. 
  • Crickets- Crickets are best used during warmer months when they are more active near the surface of the water. 
  • Artificial Lures- Plastic worms, Crankbait, Jigs, Rigs, Spinnerbait, Jerkbait, Swimbait, and Topwater Lures 
  • PowerBait– Dough-like baits that come in various colors and scents used primarily for trout fishing. 

TWRA does impose Live Bait Regulations for our waterways. Make sure to check those out before harvesting, selling, or transporting live bait. If you are looking for a local bait shop, there are three in Jefferson County: Bucks “N” Bass, Rimmer Sporting Goods, and Cherokee Bait &Tackle Store.  

Tennessee Boating Laws 

Just like any other vehicle or vessel, operating a boat is a large responsibility. While the rules and regulations around safely using a watercraft are in depth, one thing is at the forefront of our minds- you must have one U.S. Coastguard approved personal floatation device per person, regardless of age or swimming ability. You can download the Tennessee Boating Handbook for full details and descriptions of regulations and requirements for boat operators and owners in Tennessee. Additionally, page 51 of the handbook includes a checklist for you to ensure you have all the required equipment. * Any Tennessee resident born after January 1, 1989, must show the TWRA issued wallet Boating Safety Certificate as proof of successful completion of the TWRA Boating Safety Exam. *  

If you rent a boat for the day or days during your trip here are some general requirements, you must meet: 

  • Must have an active driver’s license. 
  • Must be at least 18 years or older. 
  • Most marinas require a boater’s license if born after January 1, 1989, from Tennessee or state of residence. 

For a full list of marinas and to learn about their rental process, click here.  

Guided Trips 

If you would prefer to have a professional take you fishing, no worries! Enjoy year-round guided fishing trips for you and your family to experience Appalachia’s best fishing! All equipment (rod, reel, and tackle) is provided, and you only need to bring a valid fishing license with you.  

     Jefferson County Features an Elite Fishing Experience 

    If you love fishing, there is no better place to visit than Jefferson County and the Lakeside of the Smokies. Whether you are a local exploring a new stream or planning a long weekend with us, we can think of no better way to enjoy your summer day. East Tennessee boasts some of the best crappie and bass fishing in the nation! Whether on Douglas Lake or Cherokee you will be sure to reel em’ in! Plan your visit with us today! With great places to eat, play, stay, and shop, we can’t wait to see.