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Midway between Knoxville and Chattanooga, Watts Bar Lake has been called "King of the Southern Great Lakes."
Watts Bar Lake is an impoundment of the Tennessee River created by Watts Bar Dam. Construction on the dam started in 1939 and was finished in 1942 three weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. It was built for flood control, navigation, and to generate hydroelectric power for the war effort. Watts Bar Lake is one of nine reservoirs on the Tennessee River managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). Together the reservoirs provide a continuous navigable channel from the headwaters of the Tennessee River to Paducah, Kentucky. Over a million tons of cargo a year moves through Watts Bar Lock which lifts and lowers boats and barges 70 feet between reservoirs. Because it is a main waterway, water levels only fluctuate about six feet from summer to winter.
Watts Bar Lake stretches 72.4 miles from Watts Bar Dam to Fort Loudoun Dam. Millions of people visit the lake every year, but with miles of beautiful shore and lots of secluded coves, locals say Watts Bar Lake is too big to get crowded. There are plenty of marinas with boat rentals, including houseboats, and lots of room for sailboats. The lake's sport fishing ratings are near the top of the TVA system, and anglers will find large populations of largemouth, smallmouth and black bass to challenge them. There are also catfish, striper, white bass and good crappie and night fishing.
After a morning of fishing, visitors can cool off with a dip in Watts Bar Lake. There are sandy shores around the lake for sunbathing and swimming. The birds love the lake too, and bird watchers will see lots of great blue herons, osprey and even bald eagles. Mt. Roosevelt Wildlife Management Area is a great place to see wildlife, hike, or hunt. There are also several places to camp in the area.
To enjoy Watts Bar Lake and surrounding area by car, start at the overlook on the dam and then take the scenic highway to the Cherokee National Forest. At over 640,000 acres, Cherokee National Forest is the largest tract of public land in Tennessee and the heart of the Southern Appalachians. Great fishing and boating, abundant wildlife, plenty of room, and all the metropolitan convenience of Knoxville make Watts Bar Lake truly one of the South's Great Lakes.
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