Norris Lake Musky Fishing : Dead Sea or Lost Treasure ?
When the vast majority of musky anglers think about Tennessee musky waters they solely are fixated on Melton Hill. This narrow focus seems to stem from how publicized Melton Hill Muskies have been after years of stocking and some rather substantial fish being caught. While Melton Hill defiantly deserves its crown as the “big musky water of Tennessee”, another Goliath waterway still holds some secrets.
Norris Lake which resides upstream from Melton Hill is the long-forgotten juggernaut of Tennessee musky fishing. Norris Lake Reservoir is a behemoth surrounded by the mountains of Tennessee seemingly appearing out of nowhere in their flooded valleys. Norris Lake extends about 73 miles up the Clinch River and 56 miles up the Powell River from Norris Dam. It has a flood storage capacity of about 1,113,000 acre-feet, and it has about 800 miles of shoreline and 52.9 square miles (33,840 acres) of water surface. The lake has a maximum width of about 1.2 miles and a maximum depth of 210 feet. With such a staggering amount of surface area and an average depth exceeding 100 feet Norris feels like an ocean out of place.
With Norris being feed by the Clinch River muskies have always been present in some minute capacity but in the 1969 and 71 Norris Lake was stocked with a tremendous number of muskies. Some stories and reports say as many as 100,000 due to a hatchery issue, while other claim it was not that many but was still a five-figure number. Regardless of how many muskies were introduced Tennessee muskies flourished in Norris Reservoir during the late 70’s and 80’s.
I have had the pleasure of guiding a client whose father operated a marina on Norris Lake during this time. Once muskies started showing up incidentally during bass fishing these two got wise and where some of the first anglers to specially target muskies on Norris Lake. I have had the pleasure of being regaled with some of the highlights from the hay days of Norris Lake Musky Fishing. While everyone loves a good fishing story my client defiantly had no reason to embellish as he had seemingly endless aged but impressive photos of muskies from Norris Lake.
He explained that years after the stocking had taken place it became obvious that the vast majority of the muskies in Norris Lake had congregated in just a few small areas. While it was unclear if this was based on forage, cover or structure it really didn’t seem to matter as on any given evening they could easily catch two or three muskies in the upper thirty to low forty-inch range. Again, the private family photo album reinforced this narrative, the muskies on Norris had reacted in a way that was unexpected. Instead of spreading throughout the system they all gravitated to a narrow range and set up shop turning a blind eye to hundreds of miles of shoreline. While this may seem odd, I was not surprised as muskies in Melton Hill seem to have adopted the exact same game plan.
I was told, as the years went on a few anglers caught on to the “Hot Musky Fishing” on Norris Lake. This inevitability drew some attention from northern anglers but again like its little cousin down stream Melton Hill, the musky fishing on Norris never took off. While this is complete conjecture, I would think it would be safe to say that just like Melton Hill, Norris knew how to keep its musky secrets. Big clear bodies of water like Norris and Melton Hill are fickle at best for musky fishing but given the enormity of Norris Lake an angler looking to dip his toes into the pool of Tennessee musky fishing during this era that predates electronics was in for a world of frustration.
With little to no shallow areas throughout Norris Lake poses not only the daunting question of where to start but looking for muskies, but if your wrong moving sections of the lake takes far more fuel than any angler has. While musky population on Norris Lake in this vintage era may have been robust due to its sheer size, finding the muskies on Norris Lake was still “a needle in a hay stack” for those on the outside looking in. Simply put just like it’s modern day musky contemporary Melton Hill, Norris Lake musky fishing in it’s prime was still a tempestuous endeavor. But things where then as they are now, if you knew where to look you could find a monster Tennessee musky that would rival the waters of Canada.
Fast forward back to the present, sadly the golden days for Norris Lake musky fishing are long gone. Numbers dwindled as catch and release was not the practice of the day. This combined with other environmental factors caused the population to decrease significantly. Please note the usage of the words “dwindled” and “decrease” in the previous two sentences as they will conflict with the current thoughts of most anglers that there are no muskies on Norris Lake.
Simply put, there is a fishable population of modern muskies in Norris Lake but only in the same isolated sections that they congregated in during those long-gone glory years. While it would be foolish to think that an angler could catch a significant number of muskies while fishing Norris Lake, one could possibly catch the biggest musky of their lifetime. The remnant population of muskies in Norris Lake have little to no competition for resources and the deep clear water provides these hold overs with nearly unlimited hunting opportunities.
It seems in the case of muskies that once a lake is “dead” the hold overs grow to their max potential, cursing open water and shallow zones like a lost tribe. While far too many years have passed for the muskies currently present in Norris Lake to be from any stocking the obvious answer runs counter to any formal stance a biologist would make. But I can assure you the muskies still haunting the shores of Norris Lake didn’t get there by plane, train or rail nor did they come crawling out of the woods. Yes it’ quote from Jurassic Park but it’s a damn good one “life finds a way”, and I am sure the muskies of Norris Lake have found a way to hold on.
I must confess that the Norris Lake muskies that have graced my net over recent years have been extremely hard earned. Countless hours of trolling with little to no hope of anything more than one rip or pull on a lure over the course of a day or maybe more. Casting during the fall or winter seems a fool’s game when taking in the vastness of the areas one must target on Norris Lake. But just like it’s little cousin Melton Hill downstream, when Norris Lake gives up a musky they are never disappointing in size.
In reality would I guide or allocate significant time to perusing muskies on Norris Lake, well the answer is simply no. But with it being such a beautiful, vast and odd waterway it does on occasion call me back and I simply cannot say no. With its size, depth, clarity and composition Norris Lake and its handful of muskies draw my focus on occasion as I know there is a monster Tennessee musky lurking somewhere in that vast fresh water sea.
Captain Steven Paul