Fishing Nashville in the Last Days of Winter
Think of all the things Nashville is known for… time’s up.
Did you think of fishing? Three major reservoirs lie within casting distance of the city: J. Percy Priest, Old Hickory and Cheatham Lakes. There are oodles of fish-filled tributaries but I’ll concentrate on these big waters. And because it’s wintertime, I’ll focus on two species: sauger and walleye – they are the most sought after this time of year.
The lock and dam construction began in 1950 and was completed 10 years later. The delay was caused by a change of plans in 1952 to add hydroelectric generators. When it was completed in 1960 it made a lake of 7,450 surface acres. Cheatham is a run-of-the-river reservoir 67.5 miles long with Nashville being about two-thirds of the way upstream. It extends northeast and northwest of the city. This sounds strange but when you look at the map you will see why. Nashville is at the bottom of an arc the Cumberland River makes when it swings down from eastern Kentucky and swings back north into western Kentucky.
Cheatham Lake contains largemouth bass, crappie, bream, catfish, stripe, stripers, hybrids, sauger and walleye, and trout that escaped from the Stones River. Cheatham was the first dam I ever fished and beginner’s luck was with me so many years ago. Casting into the rushing water with a Hellbender, I landed several of the ugliest fish I had ever seen (we didn’t have them in south Alabama where I grew up).
A nearby angler told me they were good to eat. I thought they were too ugly to be a game fish and certainly didn’t see how they could taste good so I gave him my walleyes.
Walleyes swim throughout the Cumberland River and they concentrate below all its dams from November into April to spawn.
Sauger, one of the walleye’s cousins, occupies the same habitat and are caught the same way; fishing jigs vertically and trolling crankbaits. Both fish species tend to stay close to the bottom except during low-light periods when they swim near the surface to dine on baitfish; and both are rated at the top of the table fare menu.
Construction on Old Hickory Dam began in 1952, backing up 22,500 surface acres of water and reaching 97.3 miles from Cheatham Dam to Cordell Hull Dam. Old Hickory Dam is 25 miles upstream from Nashville near the city of Old Hickory.
During the winter, sauger and walleye action below the dam draw many anglers to fish in the cold weather. Guide Jim Duckworth (www.fishingtennessee.com) uses trolling and vertical jigging techniques to catch both species. He says better-than-average sauger and walleye catches come from some several deep holes in a certain area of the Cumberland River that he located while working underwater as a mussel diver.
Saugers and walleyes continue hitting until the water temperature falls too low – and who wants to fish when it’s that cold? Well, Jim does; he uses heated rod handles and propane heaters for fishing comfort.
Old Hickory is a wider lake than Cheatham and contains more extensive backwater that warm-warm fish species such as crappie and bass favor. White bass are pursued in summer in the mid-section of the lake. Bream fishing is excellent too.
The 25-pound world record walleye came from Old Hickory Lake.
One of the last lakes constructed by the Corps of Engineers began in 1963. It is 31.9 miles long and its 14,400 surface acres is one of the most visited in the state.
The winter months offer good trout action below Priest Dam (Stones River) and attracts many anglers slinging Power Eggs, corn and in-line spinners. Trout stocking begins in December and lasts into April.
Some hefty stripers and hybrids swim up the Stones River from Cheatham Lake to feed on shad and trout. The better side to fish for stripers is the western bank. Bumping jigs on the bottom is an effective technique. Sauger and walleye move up Stones River to the dam also, but their numbers don’t usually raise an eyebrow because anglers are after the much larger stripers.
Above the dam on Percy Priest Lake stripers, largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie and white bass are active. Sadly, there are few, if any, saugers or walleyes in Priest – siltation resulting from the dam restricting the Stone River’s flow destroyed their spawning habitat.
Spring Fishing Ahead!
I’ll tell you more about catching fish when the weather warms. Until then, head for the headwaters for the best action on the lakes. Happy Hooking!