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66 fishing holes from the Gulf of Mexico to Washington, D.C.
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations and activities to consider in a time of coronavirus and to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

fishing holes
A family has plenty of space for social distancing on a pier at Tennessee’s Herb Parsons Lake; image by Tom Adkinson.

Fishing, a recreational pursuit often enjoyed alone and almost never in a group larger than anyone’s coronavirus pandemic bubble, has taken off this year like a spinnerbait flung across a fog-shrouded inlet on a calm morning.

In other words, far more people than usual have pulled a nearly forgotten fishing rod from the basement or bought one for the first time and then started looking for a place to drown a worm.

fishing boats
Many public fishing lakes limit watercraft to boats with no more than an electric trolling motor; image by Tom Adkinson.

Finding a lake, pond or river is not a difficult task. State parks often harbor excellent recreational lakes that allow fishing, but there are watery treasures of another kind in many states – public lakes that exist only for anglers.

They generally are small, at least in comparison to massive reservoirs. Some prohibit use of outboard motors, some permit only electric trolling motors and all are popular with anglers who fish out of jon boats, canoes and kayaks. You don’t have to worry about the noise and wakes of Jet Skis, Sea-Doos and WaveRunners. Public fishing lakes offer serenity to the max.

Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia are three examples of states that cater to anglers, with special lakes scattered from near the Gulf of Mexico to the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Alabama has 20 lakes, Tennessee maintains 13 and Virginia has a list of 33.

marrowbone basket
While getting out of the house may be the incentive for a pandemic fishing trip, fish for dinner can be a nice bonus; image by Tom Adkinson.

“As soon as lockdowns began, (fishing) license sales really took off,” said Jenifer Wisniewski, chief of outreach and communication for the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA). In the middle of summer, sales were 16 percent more than 2019.

“The water is open, and the outdoors are open,” she said, noting that Tennessee has more than 325 species of fish, although the state’s public fishing lakes are managed mainly for bream, bass, catfish and in one case, trout.

That trout location is Marrowbone Lake in a surprisingly rugged corner of Davidson County (Nashville) that is barely 20 miles from the state capitol. Winter stocking of rainbow trout entices anglers to the deep, spring-fed 60-acre lake almost regardless of the weather.

lake sunset
Peace, quiet and beautiful sunsets often are the aspects of a fishing trip that are most appreciated; image by Tom Adkinson.

While many of TWRA’s public fishing lakes are in rural counties, two notable ones are in metropolitan Memphis. One is 177-acre Herb Parsons Lake near Collierville, and the other is 310-acre Glenn Springs Lake near Millington. Herb Parsons Lake, named for a famous sharpshooter rather than a great angler, has the bonus of multiple hiking and biking trails.

If you do some scouting, you find some surprising outdoor opportunities. For instance, 14-acre Beartree Lake in Southwest Virginia is in the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area, meaning you can fish for trout and climb to the highest point in Virginia (5,729 feet) the same day. Another Virginia treat is Laurel Bed Lake, a 330-acre lake on top of Clinch Mountain. The lakes is surrounded by a second growth forest of hemlocks and mixed hardwoods at an alpine altitude of 3,600 feet. It’s a scene that could exist in Canada.

States across the nation reported a big jump in fishing license sales as people sought new ways to go anywhere during the pandemic; image by Tom Adkinson.

Virginia’s Department of Wildlife Resources offers several pandemic-related tips. Among them are buying your license online instead of in-person and fishing alone or only with people you know to have been comporting themselves appropriately.

An extra observation: To gauge your social distancing, see whether you can turn around in a full circle and not touch anyone with your fishing rod.

Even if you don’t catch any fish, outings to public fishing lakes usually have other diversions, such as nature photography; image by Tom Adkinson.

As autumn fishing weather approaches, take the advice of Tennessee outdoor journalist Larry Rea: “You’ll never experience the outdoors if you don’t open your front door.”

Trip Planning Resources:, TWRA Lakes,, Virginia Lakes, and Alabama Lakes

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published September 24, 2020

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