Pickwick Landing State Park
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The Catfish Capital of the World, Right Here in Tennessee

I was surprised when a couple of our newest neighbors confessed they didn’t care for fried catfish. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could resist the satisfying crunch of crisp, hot catfish fillets and melt-in-your-mouth buttermilk hush puppies with sweet onions in every delicious bite.

Maybe it’s a cultural thing. One neighbor is from Portugal. The other moved from the NASA shuttle program in Houston. So I guess they led interesting, well-traveled but catfish-deprived lives before making their way to Leipers Fork.

Looks like it’s up to me to introduce them to the fine southern traditions of fried catfish.

Tennessee Catfish

Catfish about 10 to 12 inches long are called “fiddlers” and fit nicely into a skillet of hot oil.

The first part of my plan involves a summer trip to the Tennessee River to catch fresh catfish, perfect for frying whole. So we’ll head to Pickwick Landing State Park (www.tn.gov/environment/parks/PickwickLanding) to stay in a pet-friendly cabin.

Pickwick Landing Cabins

A comfortable cabin at Pickwick Landing State Park is close enough to enjoy the amenities at the inn and marina but nestled in the woods, giving you a feeling of getting away from it all. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)

The park is on Pickwick Lake and just south of the dam so I’ll have easy access to the lake and river. The lake is famous for its smallmouth but I’m after catfish this trip so I’ll go below the dam with a can of worms. The trick is not to catch the big blue cats. I’ve hauled in 30-pounders but those weighing five pounds or less taste better.

While Jake, my wonder dog, and I go catfishing, the rest of the group will enjoy the inn’s indoor and outdoor pools and the hiking trail that follows the shoreline. Too bad there’s not a golfer among us to enjoy the 18-hole par 72 golf course, but one of our small group is a dedicated historian who will enjoy a visit to the Tennessee River Museum on Main Street in Savannah, about 12 miles north.

Tennessee River Museum

The Tennessee River Museum in Savannah tells the story of the earliest prehistoric nomads, Mississippian mound builders who built complex ceremonial sites nearby and the tragic two-day Civil War battle that took place at Shiloh. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)

Savannah grew from a ferry and riverboat landing on the Tennessee River, the interstate highway of its day during the early 1820s. Legend says about 60 years ago a Savannah businessman wanted a distinction between his home town and that other Savannah. Since folks here were serious about catfish – catching them and eating them – the nickname “Catfish Capital of the World” was born.

Tennessee River Museum exhibits include steamboat transportation; routes through Savannah used during the Trail of Tears; and the Civil War on the river, including the Battle of Shiloh which took place up-river on the western shore

The Tennessee River Museum’s collections include hundreds of fossils from the Paleozoic and Cretaceous periods, numerous arrowheads, bone needles and awls and a rare eight-inch stone effigy pipe of a kneeling man that was unearthed in 1898 at the Shiloh Mounds complex, now a part of the 4,000-acre Shiloh National Military Park (www.nps.gov/shil).

Shiloh Tennessee

About ten miles south of Savannah, the staggering losses during the Civil War Battle of Shiloh included 13,047 Union men lost, wounded or dead and 10,699 Confederates losses. (Photo:Cathy Summerlin)

Centuries before General U.S. Grant arrived in Savannah, prehistoric mound builders created a mile-long line of mounds on the eastern shore. Most of those mounds have long since disappeared from view. The Cherry Mansion remains on top of one of the 14 mounds that made up this complex.

Cherry Mansion Tennessee

General U.S Grant was headquartered in Savannah at the Cherry Mansion during the spring of 1862 and traveled upstream by river steamer each day to the troop encampment at Pittsburgh Landing on the other side of the Tennessee River. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)

If the catfish aren’t biting, we’ll head over to Hagy’s Catfish Hotel (www.catfishhotel.com) which is about a mile from Shiloh National Military Park. The original Catfish Hotel was more of a catfish shack, known for the fried catfish and Southern hospitality shared with fishing buddies and family. Three generations of Hagys continue the tradition of serving finger-lickin’ fiddlers. Their menu has expanded to include critters served fried, grilled and chilled that never saw the likes of the Tennessee River but thankfully, catfish is still king.

We’ll be ready to hit the hay after a big plate of fried catfish and hushpuppies, but there’s no lodging at this “hotel.” Good thing it’s only a 20-minute drive back to our cabin at Pickwick Landing.

Pickwick Landing State Park

Pickwick Landing State Park is an ideal location for enjoying water sports including fishing, sailing, and water skiing on Pickwick Lake. You can also discover the fascinating history of the area and enjoy some of the finest catfish to ever land in a skillet. (Photo: Pickwick Landing State Park)

Love catfish? Share your favorite recipe in the comments if you dare! 

Hi there! I’m Vernon Summerlin. Like many, I came to Nashville to break into the music industry. After years of striving, I...Read on

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    Lori Nunnery

    If you like catfish you will not want to miss the World’s Biggest Fish Fry at Paris, Tennessee. Over 12,500 pounds of Catfish are served.

    Visit http://www.paristnchamber.com/fishfry.htm to learn more.

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    Pamela McGaha

    Savannah claims to be the Catfish Capital of the World, but there is not a single place in town to get fried catfish. The Catfish Hotel is actually in Shiloh, TN. It’s strange to go through town reading all the CCoW signs and finding no catfish there.

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    Christy Martin

    Fried catfish. Soak buttermilk. Salt, pepper, cornmeal. Plenty-enough hot olive oil. Drop in for 2-3 minutes each side. Gracious.

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    Tony Alcott

    Ms. Pamela, The Fish Hut is in Savannah and they serve very good Catfish. So does Mollie Monday’s Restaurant and Doris Diner. Shiloh is only about a 10 minute drive so we count Hagy’s Catfish Hotel too. Hope you come back soon.

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    Angie Martin, Hospitality Manager, Pickwick Landing State Park Restaurant

    Since you are staying in the cabins on the park, we also have a very nice restaurant in the hotel right on the park. We serve a wonderful country buffet during the season months and we are open and serving breakfast,lunch and dinner and yes we do serve that wonderful country fried catfish, steaks and other selections from our menu. We have all-u-can eat catfish and full buffet on Friday lunch & dinner, Saturday night and Sunday lunch and dinner. Call for more details or to check our buffet selections 731-689-3135. We look forward to serving you. Come by and see our beautiful view of the lake.

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    Vickie Rose

    Pamela, please come visit the “Catfish Capitol of the World” again! Stop by the Chamber of Commerce and they’ll be glad to direct you to a number of local restaurants that have catfish on their menu! Make it on a Friday and the majority of them have it as a daily special! Please come back!!!

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