This is a great time of year to hit the creeks and cool off. Tennessee is fortunate to have thousands of miles of streams (17,000 miles statewide) that offer anglers excellent fishing for smallmouth bass, spotted bass, rock bass, channel catfish and an array of pan fish.
While most fishermen are hitting the lake or tail water, there is a good chance you will have the stream to yourself. So, grab an old pair of tennis shoes or your wading boots and wade on in. A good stream to start with would be the Harpeth River near Nashville.
Be sure to secure permission to wade if you are on private land while fishing. In Tennessee, you are trespassing if you’re on the bank or bottom, but legal if you are floating. Tennessee State Parks and the Harpeth River Watershed Association have done an extraordinary job purchasing or cooperating with local governments to allow anglers and paddlers a wide variety of public access. If you don’t have access to private land, check out the 26 public access spots along the Harpeth River.
Electrofishing samples on the Harpeth River are indicative of healthy sportfish populations with a good chance at catching a quality fish and good numbers. Monitoring over the years has detected smallmouth bass up to 19 inches with most fish in the 10-14-inch range; however, anglers often report catches more than 20 inches.
Spotted bass are abundant, but are typically less than 10 inches long. We have seen fish of all size classes suggesting strong annual recruitment and good fishing for years to come.
Drift weightless crayfish soft-plastics through the swift riffles and keep your line tight to feel for the bite. Fish natural baits in deep pools with woody debris or directly below a riffle to catch some catfish—if you don’t have a bite after 15 minutes, move to another spot. Free-lining live baitfish in swift water eddies or on the backside of riffles is another great way to catch big smallmouth.
If you’re fly fishing, tie on a natural colored wooly bugger or a bead-headed hellgrammite nymph and target pockets just like you would for trout. Finally, if you’re out when the sun is low, be sure to try top water—and get ready for lots of fun.