Life’s A Beach at Cheatham Dam
I love fishing below Cumberland River dams and Cheatham is one of my favorites. Unlike lakes with wide expanses to fish, I like the structure and confinement below dams.
When I fished there last Wednesday, it was miserably hot. I would have quit earlier in the day had the fishing been poor, but it was terrific. I focused on white bass (stripe) near the boils. The boils are water discharged from the turbines and contain stunned or chopped up baitfish – that make the waters something of a cafeteria. Some of the fish that come to feed themselves become food for larger predators.
Some anglers were catching catfish and others were fighting stripers that weighed between 10 and 15 pounds – not the largest stripers that grow in the Cumberland, those can weigh up to 60 pounds. Getting even a small one of those babies on your hook means you’re committed to a struggle.
In addition to catfish, stripe and stripers I catch sauger, bream, bass, crappie and the occasional gar. (I have a recipe for gar of you’re interested – just email me and ask for a copy.) All these fish are inhabiting a relatively small area – this is what thrills me about fishing below the Cumberland River dams.
Before I launched my boat, I toured the Lock A Campground and talked with Dean Austin with the Corps of Engineers about changes since the May 2010 flood, which did a lot of damage. Today, all is restored better than before and busy with visitors.
To get to the dam, campground and day use areas, go northwest from Ashland City on Route 12, turn left on Cheatham Dam Road in the Cheap Hill Community. At the end of the road you can turn right to go to the day use areas and the dam or turn left to the campground and trailhead.
The Lock A Campground offers 45 sites with water and electrical hookups but only seven sites for tent camping. Amenities include hot showers, washer and dryer, dumping station, boat launching ramp, courtesy floats, nature trail, playground and picnic shelter. A beach and additional playgrounds are available in the adjacent Right Bank Day Use Recreation Area.
Campers may also use the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail, which ends at Lock A. This rails-to-trails project is 6.5 miles long and crosses nearby Sycamore Creek on an abandoned railroad trestle.
I’d rather fish than walk but many hikers, bicyclists, equestrians, bird watchers and wildflower enthusiasts use the Cumberland River Bicentennial Trail. You can access it from the campground, same trailhead as the Lock A Nature Trail, but head southeast toward Ashland City. This trail is open from sunrise to sunset.
The Lock A Nature Trail leads to the site of the homestead used by the lockmaster during the years the lock was in operation. The property was used first by the workers constructing the old lock. Several of the buildings’ foundations are still visible. From the trail, you get an excellent view of the river from two overlooks and they’re good spots for wildlife viewing. Eagles flying over the river area common sight. One picked up a fish right in front of my boat but I didn’t get a good picture – it happened so fast. The overlooks are serene places to just watch the river.
The Day Use Area features four picnic shelters that may be reserved and there are many individual picnic tables with grills on a first come basis. There is a designated swimming area with sand beach (no life guard), two boat launching ramps, two playgrounds, two volleyball courts, a softball field and public restrooms. A $4 per car day use fee is collected mid-May through Labor Day.
For more information call the park attendant at 615-792-3715. You can also get more info here.