The Caney Fork River

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As I netted the final Caney Fork Rainbow Trout of the day, in near total darkness, I wondered if anyone realized what a positive impact the TVA has had on cold water fishing in Tennessee. In 1933 President Roosevelt, as part of his New Deal initiative, signed a bill creating the Tennessee Valley Authority. The TVA was created to help fill the demand for hydroelectric power in the Tennessee Valley. Dams were built and thus rivers called “tailwaters or “tailraces” were formed. These rivers are supplied a steady flow of cold water drawn from the bottoms of numerous lakes. The water flows through the hydroelectric generators and is discharged into the tailwaters, creating a prime habitat for both Rainbow and Brown Trout.

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This river, a tail water of Center Hill Lake, is currently managed by the TWRA and provides some of the finest trout fishing that Tennessee has to offer. Although most of the time these rivers look like gently rolling waters they can very quickly change to fast moving very dangerous watersheds. In order to fish the Caney Fork one has to first understand what happens when the TVA has the generators on. Once the generators come on they start forcing a large volume of water into the river. This causes the river to gain speed and rise very rapidly during generation. Prior to fishing the river, you must consult the generation schedule put out by the TVA. This can be accessed at the TVA website. A wading fisherman does not want to get caught in the water during generation; a boat is usually rather safe. If you’re going to wade fish the Caney Fork it would be advisable to drop in and visit Jim Mauries at FLYSOUTH, Nashville’s premier fly fishing resource. They can help you in choosing a good window to fish. The water does not instantly take over the river so you can fish certain areas longer than others when generation is happening.

Access Points

There are three primary public access points in the river, the dam at Center hill, Happy Hollow, and Betty’s Island. If you’re planning on floating the river there is boat access at all three locations. Floating from the Dam to Happy hollow is about 6 miles and will take the fisherman 5 to 8 hours depending on how much you stop to fish. When the generators turn on the water levels at happy are not affected for an hour. So if the generators come on at 7 you won’t see the water until around 8. The float from Happy Hollow to Betty’s Island is about 3 miles and is a good half-day float. During generation water takes about three hours to get to Betty’s. There are plenty of wade able water accessible at all three locations. Along the river there are other access point but you need to insure you’re not trespassing on private property before you park or your vehicle might get towed, thus ruining a fine day on the water.

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Fishing Methods

Although you will see plenty of bait or power bait anglers on the river, especially at the damn, don’t overlook the fly rod or the spinning gear. If you are a Fly Fishing aficionado make sure you bring along some sow bugs and scuds. Also don’t overlook the “big nasties” for a crack at the bigger fish. Large streamers like wooly buggers are great when thrown at the numerous trees and logs on the river.

If spin fishing is your forte then try inline spinners like Mepp’s or rooster tails in the 1/8-ounce range. Three go to colors for the Caney are white, black, and olive. Don’t be afraid to try some small crankbaits in the deeper runs as they produce a respectable amount of fish on the river. Stay with a quality line in the four-pound range. Anything larger will reduce your number of hookups, the clear monofilament by Stren works well for me.

Tip of the week 12/10/18. A rigs and soft plastic choices.

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This weeks tip is from B’n’M pro angler Brad Whitehead. ” Don’t supersize your A-rig baits. They should match the baitfish on a given body of water. The 3.5 inch Charlie Brewer shad are a perfect match for our southeastern smallmouth.”

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Tip of the week 12/3/18. Fishing live bait for smallmouth.

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This weeks tip of the week is from Ardent pro angler Ronnie Leatherwood. “When fishing live bait for smallmouth keep your bail open and control the line with your finger. This allows the fish to run with the bait and gives you a better feel for when to set the hook.” Thanks to the “Bluff Master” for this great tip.

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Christmas gift Idea #1. The crappie fishing trip of a lifetime.

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If you want to book the crappie fishing trip of a lifetime for yourself, or a loved one, JH Guide Service is your one stop shop. John Harrison, B’n’M pro angler and Mississippi Outdoor Hall of Fame member, is a guide on the North Mississippi lakes of Enid, Sardis, and the holy grail of crappie fishing, Grenada lake.

John’s expertise has gained him national attention in more than one outdoor publication. When In Fisherman magazine wanted to write a story about crappie guides they came to John for his 40+ years experience.

Extreme angler TV has featured John several episode like these:

Enid Lake Slabbin

Slab smashing in ice rain on Enid

Brushpile TV also Featured him 

Wade fishing for crappie on Grenada lake

To get a springtime trip you will need to get it booked now, as those days go fast on the fertile Mississippi lakes John Guides. You can call JH Guide Service at 662-983-5999 and purchase a gift certificate that will lock in your date for this spring. He is also on facebook under JH Guide Service.

Grenada has been hailed ” the land of elephants” because of the size of  her crappie. The coveted 3-pound crappie is something that happens very frequently in Johns Boat.

Pickwick Lakes bronze bombs of fall.

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The great thing about fall on Pickwick lake is that the largemouth really put on a show. From shallow water cranking to blowing up on hollow bodies frogs it’s almost nonstop action. After All that’s what we have become famous for, but according to B’n’M pro Brad Whitehead fall is when our world class smallmouth fisheries come into their own as well. Brad is a guide on Pickwick Lake, and says when the evenings turn cooler it’s time to get after the brown fish. Of course, even though the first day of fall is September 22nd its mid-October before things get started. It takes 7-10 days of cool nights to impact water temperature but when it finally does drop the smallmouth really put on the proverbial feed bags.

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According to Whitehead there are three key factors in finding and catching fall smallmouths. The first and arguably most important is current. The fishing is mediocre with little to no current but picks up in relation to the flows. This is because the current moves the bait down the edges of any current break. Since smallmouth are ambush hunters they will lie in wait for the bait to come to them. This gives the fish a chance to lie in, or behind, a break in the current. The fish get the benefit of moving bait but won’t have to fight the current to catch it.

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The second factor here is structure and cover. Smallmouth prefer a different type of these than their cousin the largemouth. Whitehead says in the fall he looks for major breaks in the river flow. His favorite is the numerous shell mounds, which are apparently old Indian mounds that were flooded years ago. Second are creek arms where a hungry smallmouth can hold in the slack water in the creek, and still have access to the bait moving downstream in the main current. Last, but not least, are the rock walls and jetties below the many dams on the river.

The third factor is presentation. Since the primary forage in Pickwick Lake, in the fall, are threadfin shad he tries to stay close to that. However smallmouth always love a crayfish so he advises to keep one of those tied on as well. Presentation is slow and methodical. Make sure your baits are right on top of any break in the current, so the fish can see them.

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When asked about baits his advice was very straight forward. If your going to fish live bait it’s nearly impossible to beat live threadfin. If you can’t get those look for bass shiners 3.5-5 inches long, they are almost as good. Most bait shops on the river should have them all winter. Equipment for fishing the live bait is a 6.6 to 7-foot spinning rod, reels just need to have a good drag, as you will be fighting both the current and the fish. Line is a little different on the live bait rods as he prefers a high vis line. Even in clear water Whitehead feels the ability to detect a strike outweighs any perceived negatives about colored line.

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When he uses artificial baits the Charlie Brewers 3.5-inch shad paired with a 1/4 to 1/2  ounce unpainted jig head is his go to lure. It mimics our native shad very well and has a very natural swimming action. Second is a ¾ ounce football head jig in Green pumpkin or blue/black. These get paired with a matching crayfish trailer. This combo allows him to probe deeper structure in the current. Last but certainly not least, is a bait that has been catching smallmouth since the day it hit the shelf, a 3 to 4-inch curly tailed grub paired with a ¼-ounce unpainted jig head.

If your interested in a trip with Brad Whitehead Fishing can be reached at 256-483-0834 or on Facebook under “Brad Whitehead Fishing”

Tilapia in Tennessee

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The beauty of being a fisherman lies in sniffing out rumors of either big fish, or big catches of fish. The latest rumor was of big catches of tilapia in Old Hickory Lake. As with all angling rumors it had to be investigated thoroughly. I mean a new fish that, that even though is invasive, is palatable! So we picked a nice day with only 20 knot winds and away we went.

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Prior to our trip I was stuck in the Dallas Fort Worth airport for a few hours and decided to look up what I could about this fish. I learned that they don’t tolerate water temperatures below 48 degrees, which explained why they are populating the steam plant and a few creeks with warm water springs in them. I learned they are in fact not a filter feeder, as are the Asian carp. I had also been told they were herbivores when in fact they are omnivores, which is good news for the anglers! It appears these fish will eat a little of everything. I also learned that the Tilapia is the number one farmed fish in the world. A common misconception is that these are Asian fish is totally false. The tilapia is native to the African continent. That said they are farmed heavily thought out Asia at this time. The best anyone can tell me is that these are a cross between the Nile Tilapia and the farm raised fish. Either way we were determined to catch some and see if this rumor was true.

When the morning came is was beautiful and very windy, 12-15 MPH winds all day. We just hoped the steam plant would afford us some shelter from Mother Nature’s wrath. I thought that the wind would have kept most anglers off the water, especially on a Wednesday. I was sadly mistaken, apparently no one in middle Tennessee works on Wednesdays, as there were 15 boats there when we arrived.  It did not take a genius to figure out why. We watched those boats landing fish after fish while we were trying to get anchored up.

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We had been told that the big catches were coming on night crawlers under a bobber, the caveat was you could only use about an inch of the night crawler on a #6 Aberdeen hook. Now I am always skeptical of fisherman giving out information with that much detail but… it was all very accurate. After catching a very small one and a darn fine one I figured out why. The Tilapia has a very small mouth like a bluegill and they simply can’t get anything bigger inside their mouths. That day we caught 50 large fish and let another 50 or more go that were a little too small for my taste.

We went back again a couple days later to try something different. Rather than live bait we used our fly rods with small minnow patterns and it worked fair at best. We also removed the trebles off a Rooster Tail and put a single hook in their place, that was a futile effort as well. I tried small crankbaits that we would normally crappie fish with but those did not produce well at all.

So all in all these fish are palatable, very catchable, and just plain fun to chase. Will they stay is the question that keeps coming up and only time will tell. We do know that they were washed into the lake during the flood of 2010 and have survived that long so who knows. Right now, they are here and willing to bite so “Get out and fish”.

Happy Thanksgiving

Charlie Brewers Slider Company

This week I was fortunate enough to spend a morning with Charlie and Caroline Brewer. They have what is probably the oldest, and most established, tackle company in Tennessee.

Slider fishing makes some of the best smallmouth and crappie baits available today. This Tennessee “small business” makes a very large footprint in the angling world.

Tennessee River smallmouth fishing.

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I got to spend a day with B’n’M and Charlie Brewer pro angler Brad Whitehead this weekend on Pickwick Lake. There will be a lot more to come about this trip! The Charlie Brewers 6’6 slider rod was absolute poison on these smallmouth.

 

Hypothermia… The Quiet Killer

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As anglers and hunters we all tend to be outdoors in some nasty weather. Of all the bad things that could happen to us, hypothermia is the number one killer of outdoor enthusiast’s nationwide. This silent killer knows no boundaries, so whether your elk hunting in the Rockies or steelhead fishing in the northeast you could be its next victim.

What is Hypothermia?

Hypothermia is the condition that happens when your body’s core or inner temperature drops below 96 degrees Fahrenheit. It can happen in ambient air temps as high as 70 degrees but generally happens in the 30 to 50 degree range. Exposure to cold, wet, or windy conditions can accelerate its onset. It is broken down into two primary levels.

Chronic hypothermia

This happens over a long period of time.

  • Results from exposure to wind and wetness combined with exhaustion.

Acute Hypothermia

This happens when you fall into very cold water. When dealing with cold water, life expectancy is reduced, but YOU CAN SURVIVE.

  • Keep your clothing on, as it will help to trap your body heat.
  • DO NOT EXERCISE.
  • Stay still in water and DO NOT splash around. Moving water takes away body heat more rapidly than staying still.
  • When waterfowl hunting or angling, always wear a sportsman’s float coat or a floatation device. They help to insulate the body.
  • Draw legs into chest and wrap arms around in a self-huddle.

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Symptoms

  • Skin becomes BLUE/GRAY in color.
  • Violent shivering develops, giving way to muscle spasms and even loss of the use of your arms and legs. Shivering, which is initially violent in the body’s effort to correct the problem, diminishes (at 33 degrees core temperature and below). As this process too is overwhelmed, shivering action falters and could cease.
  • Confusion and drunken like behavior also indicates a person may be hypothermic.
  • Once shivering has stopped, so too does the body’s effort to ameliorate the situation. Consciousness is impaired, and will be lost altogether (30 degrees core temperature) as cold takes over.
  • The victim’s body begins to shut down to conserve warmth around the heart, so much so that pulse and respiration rates can drop to almost imperceptible levels. No further active process remains for self-generation of heat and gradually a passive shutdown of vital systems takes place.

Prevention

Attempt to stay warm and dry. Dress in layers so you can add or remove clothing as the situation warrants. Put on your cold weather gear before you’re miserable and always get into your rain gear before you’re soaked. Drink lots of warm liquids. Do not drink alcohol as it gives your brain a false sense of warmth. Most importantly, stop and get warm if you even think you or your partner has hypothermia.

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Treatment

Treating hypothermia means getting heat back into your body, thus raising the core temperature. Get dry and warm as fast as you can. If a fire can be built do so immediately. Stay by the fire until help arrives or you know you can reach shelter unassisted. In the event of a fall into the water fast action is required, as this is the most deadly form of this condition. Immediately get the victim to a fire and start getting them warm. Change them into dry clothing. Have them lie still as physical exertion is not a good idea. If a sleeping bag is available have them get into it, then you get in with them. Time is crucial and you must get their core temperature back up as soon as possible. SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION ASAP!

Enjoying the outdoors should be a fun, memorable experience. In order to keep it fun we all need to be aware of potential hazards and know how to not only prevent but also treat a situation such as hypothermia. The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” must have been written with outdoor enthusiasts in mind.