Caney Fork’s fantastic fishing for ‘bows and browns

Friday, May 5, 2017
In-line spinners in white, black and olive are a good bet to catch rainbow and brown trout on the Caney Fork River.
Photos by Troy Basso

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 creating “tailwater” or “tailraces” rivers. These rivers supplya steady flow of cold water drawn from the bottoms of numerous lakes. The year-round cooler water flows through the hydroelectric generators and is discharged into the tailwaters, creating a prime habitat for both rainbow and brown trout.

The Caney Fork 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.

Photos by Troy Basso

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; conversley boaters are 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 six miles and will take the fisherman five to eight 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 three miles, and is a good half-day float. During generation, water takes about three hours to get to Betty’s. There is plenty of wade-able water accessible at all three locations. Along the river there are other access point, but you need to ensure you’re not trespassing on private property before you park or your vehicle might get towed ruining a fine day on the water.

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 crank baits 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 hook ups, the clear monofilament by Stren works well for me.