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27 Cumberland River Tailwater Tips.

Fall fishing on the Cumberland

I'm not an all knowing guide and don't profess to be. However, after fishing the Cumberland for over 2 decades and guiding clients for 8, I thought I might pass along a few tips I've learned through the years in hopes they might be helpful. There are many more, but below are a few that came to mind over the past couple of days while waiting for hurricane Zeta to blow over.

1. Don't make a false cast and re-cast right back into the exact same position you just pulled out of. Do limit false casting. Reposition on each cast, even if in a slightly different spot. Cast placement is key. Focus on accuracy, not distance.

2. Don’t fish with the same fly all day with no success. Do change it up. Sure, we all have our confidence flies, but if you’re not catching fish with those flies you need to change. For example, yes, the crackleback is a great fly, but if you’ve not caught anything in 2 hours and the angler next to you is catching fish on a PT, it’s time to change to the PT or some variant. Be willing to change.

3. Don’t assume the generation schedule is going to be the same all the time. Do check both the TVA and COE website before travelling to the river. If they don’t match, then you need to find out why before you commit to a drive to the river. This time of year, the COE / TVA can switch up the generation schedule from day to day. Don’t get caught with your pants down, check generation sources.

4. Don’t spend a lot of time launching or taking out from a public ramp. Rig up before you launch and at the end of the day, tear down your gear away from the ramp. The ramp can be an aggravating and hilarious place at the same time. You can see lots of odd things at the ramp. However, if you see someone that needs help, then offer help. Don’t get mad when someone is having trouble and you must wait. That could be you having trouble and needing help someday.

5. Don’t be afraid to try new water or new sections of the river. Fishing new water will expose your weaknesses, force you to fish harder and teach you more about your skills than you could ever learn just fishing the same old water. Fish a completely new river, you’ll end up being a better angler for it.

6. Don’t waste too much time fishing frog water. Do find and fish moving water. Even if it’s micro-drift, it’s enough.

7. If you have a motor boat, be courteous. Don’t blow by someone fishing and ruin their fishing with excessive wake which muddies the bank. Do slow down and treat others how you would like to be treated.

8. Don’t ignore your surroundings. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. If you see rises, try a dry fly. If you see Sulphur’s popping, match it. Stoneflies crawling on bank, try one. Pay attention to what the fish are telling you.

9. Get good drifts and utilize proper line management. Obtaining a good dead drift is more important than we realize. Faster water is a little more forgiving regarding dead drift, but slow-moving water is not. Anglers that pay attention to what their fly line is doing catch more fish than those that don’t.

10. Don’t let big fish take your rod tip horizontal. Keep that rod tip up and control big fish. I continuously see anglers try to fight large fish incorrectly. Bringing larger fish to the net is something that just comes with experience and time.

11. Don’t fish with just one fly. Do use tandem nymph rigs if you can. Tandem rigs serve several purposes. My main purpose in fishing tandem rigs is for searching and experimenting. I’ll often fish a fly that I’m confident in and a new fly as a dropper that I want to see how it performs. And don’t be afraid to use split shot. Split shot comes in all sizes. Sometimes a tiny split shot to get smaller flies down into the water column is all that is needed for a successful day on the water.


12. Don’t be afraid to fish structure. I consistently see anglers trying to fish over the top of root wads, and blowdowns. This almost always results in hang-ups. Hug the edge of structure and hang on. Big fish like cover, especially edges.

13. Don’t cancel a trip just because of a weather forecast. Do keep an eye on the weather, but don’t let a forecast a week out change your plans. I’ve had a few instances over the years where clients have called the day before a trip concerned about or wanting to cancel due to weather. Then, the forecast turns out to be wrong and fishing is great. Forecast are often full of errors as weather is very hard to predict. Overcast days even with a little rain can be some of the best days on the river.

14. Don’t be a fool and think that older anglers you see on the river are not knowledgeable. Do seek their advice. Older anglers have already made all the mistakes in the past you are going to make in the future. Most experienced anglers are happy to share their knowledge with you. Listen to them. I always take time to listen to people that have fished the river longer than I have and I almost always learn something. I’ve even picked up a couple of productive fly patterns over the years that I still use today.

15. Don’t think that a standard 9’ leader is all that is needed. Conditions change and sometimes your leader should too. In super low and clear water, you might have to bump from a 6x to 7x to accommodate fishing conditions. Be aware of when to and when not to use mono and fluorocarbon. I’ll mention tippet rings and swivels here as I sometimes use them. Some anglers use them, and some don’t. Like many topics in fly fishing, they seem to attract controversy. Try them and make your own decision. Regarding tippet, I use Seaguar invizx fluorocarbon that comes in 183-meter spools. One spool will typically last all season, it’s cheap, and its good.

16. Don’t think that you have to make a 70’ cast to catch fish. Fishing from a drift boat is very stealthy and getting close to fish undetected is easy. A short cast is much easier to manage in every way, including obtaining quicker hook sets. Do fish close water first. Fish the water closest to the boat first then make longer casts to fish that are further away.

17. Be somewhat quiet. Sound travels very easily on water. Don’t be that guy dropping everything in the bottom of the boat and making noise that can be heard downriver for 1/2 mile.

18. Don’t have too much fly line on the water. If you have to pick up 20’ of fly line before you even connect with the fish, chances are that you will not catch that fish. There is a fine line between knowing how much loose fly line to have out to obtain a good dead drift and not having enough which results in drag. Successful fly anglers have this dialed in.

19. Don’t wait too long to set the hook. Do strive to obtain a quick hookset. Do hook set everything. Every small bump or drag could be a fish. Hook sets are free. Since I fish mostly barbless, maintaining tension on the initial hook set is essential. Trout can rub or throw a barbless fly from their mouths very quickly.

20. Don’t fish one depth all day. Do be willing to change depths. Adjust those indicators and see what happens. Often a simple 6” to a foot adjustment can make a big difference.

Rock house in fall color.

21. Clean your fly line. I need to clean the fly line on my rods 2-3 times a season as they pick up so much gunk from the river. If your fly line is sinking at the tip where it attaches to the leader, then you need to clean your line. Look on-line for how to do this. There are plenty of products and methods available.

22. Don’t skimp on food or water for the day. Do bring plenty of goodies to eat and drink. Eating and drinking from time to time gives your mind and body much needed breaks as well as fuel.

23. Look for risers. When casting to rising fish, don’t target the rise rings themselves. Throw your cast a few feet in front of where you saw the rise. This will allow the fly to settle in the water column or on the surface and present itself in a more natural manner.

24. If you hire a guide, pay attention to how he carries himself and takes care of his equipment. Those are two indicators of how he is going to be treating you as a client.

25. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen or sun protection. Do wear a hat, buff, or hooded shirt to keep your exposure to sun limited. I wear Buff gloves solely for sun protection. My hands are on the oars and exposed to the sun all day. Gloves are extremely helpful and protective. Don’t forget your lips. They can get burned too. Don’t mess with the sun, melanoma is not a joke.

26. Be careful on wet ramps. Sure, it’s funny to see someone fall, but a bad fall can be serious. Watch your footing and walk slow on ramps. We’ve all fallen and it’s no fun.

27. Lastly, kindness always wins. I've seen tempers flare and cross words yelled over silly things on the river. I've even come uncomfortably close to confrontation before myself. Be kind on the river under all circumstances and everything will always work out.

Thanks for all your kind words on-line and hello's on the river! If you want to talk trout, reach out via phone, text, e-mail, messenger, etc. I'm happy to share what I know.

Fish hard!



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