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Cumberland River Report 01-19-23

Welcome to 2023 and thank you for stopping by to check out Cumberland Bottom Ticklers! Below you will find plenty of useful information, so keep reading. There’s a lot going on regarding the Cumberland River that you should be informed of. Our sleepy little river has some big changes coming and I think they are all positive (mostly). First, let’s talk just a little bit about 2022.

Cumberland River just below Rock House June 2022

2022 started out with the river getting lined out and into a fishable condition a little earlier than in recent past. Fly anglers pent up from winter were eager and ready to jump into the late spring season and start fishing. The Cumberland got busy early, and it was great. And the caddis… The 2022 caddis came in strong. Most of the Cumberland saw lots of hatching activity. Snow Island and Rainbow Run experienced some very nice hatches, while the Bakerton Bar and Alexander Bar areas also had plenty of days of heavy caddis. A client foul cast into a tree at Snow Island mid-way through May and the resulting cloud of caddis from shaking the limb to get his fly back was surprising. Let’s hope 2023 has more great caddis activity.

Tip: LaFontaine's pupae patterns are well worth tying and using on the Cumberland.

As the spring progressed into summer the fishing remained solid. There were a couple of storms that blew the river out for a day or two and the weather got really hot around mid-June for a while, which is normal. Really early starts became the norm during this time due to the heat. It’s always great to get on the water early in the mornings and when it’s hot, it’s a must. Most early summer mornings there's fog on the river that's present until the mid-morning hours. This fog is very advantageous to anglers as it allows for stealthy fishing.

All summer long by 10:00 the cicada alarm clock would sound, and cicada would fire up their chorus. I was surprised how much I missed them when they faded. Summer continued and as September came into focus, the fishing continued to be good as the river fished well from the Dam to Burkesville. There were even a few cutthroat trout netted from a recent stocking, which was encouraging.

In September I encountered a mysterious submerged vehicle at a launch site one early morning. I called 911, and my client and I assisted emergency personnel when they arrived, but I never found out what happened. I pray that no one was hurt.

Uh oh.


As fall approached, the river continued to produce. Fall foliage colors were nice, but sure didn’t seem to last long. They never do. The leaf drop, especially sycamore leaves always provide exciting client hooksets and subsequent laughs. The hopper dropper set up continued to be highly effective.

Fall colors on the Cumberland 2022

As usual, the traffic on the river really slowed once the weather started to turn colder. Lots of fly anglers turn their attention to hunting this time of year and fishing takes a backseat. I’m not a big fan of cold weather, but the fishing can be fantastic, so it’s worth it.

The rainbow spawn was in top form during late fall. The Black Fish Creek area saw heavy spawning with redds everywhere and lots of aggressive slashing by fish moving in and out of positions. It was a lot of fun to watch. Speaking of spawning, I hear from anglers that redds were seen in Hatchery Creek again this fall. I get questions all of the time about Hatchery Creek but haven’t fished it since 2018. I suspect angling pressure has wisened up some of the fish though.

With the corps of engineers being more proactive on water release this year, we’ve entered 2023 in a much better position regarding lake levels.

Lake Cumberland current pool.

By looking at the graph above you can see that Lake Cumberland is 11 feet lower than it was at this time last year. The Corps of Engineers and TVA have been much more proactive with water release schedules this year. I suspect floods of 2019 have provided incentive for the Corps and TVA to keep lake levels in check. Preparation for upcoming scheduled projects at Wolf Creek Dam may also be factoring into generation scheduling.

As a result, the river has been fishable into January 2023. Currently, the weekend generation schedules have typically been better, but weekday schedules have been allowing plenty of fishing opportunities also. The river has been void of anglers and the fishing has been good. However, I’m sure a heavy precipitation cycle is heading our way soon and will more than likely fill up Lake Cumberland forcing the Corps of Engineers / TVA into heavy generation cycles which will slow or end fly fishing on the river until spring. So, if you have a chance to hit the river, do it now.

Yours truly with a mid-January 2023 rainbow

Most of you are aware that the Kendall boat ramp closed on October 24, 2022 for repairs due to flood damage incurred in 2019. Bluegrass Contracting Corporation out of Lexington was awarded the work and have been diligently working on the project. So far, they’ve removed all of the rip rap from previous repairs and have been utilizing soil nails to stabilize the excavated riverbank. The finished area will have gabion walls to reinforce the riverbank which is much sturdier than the previous laid rip rap. The ramp will also be repaved and resurfaced. Let’s hope this project stays on schedule for a reopening in April of 2023. Bluegrass Contracting has done some pretty cool projects. Check out some of their projects here: Bluegrass Contracting. You can read the official press release regarding the work on the Kendall boat ramp from the Nashville District Corps of Engineers here: Kendall Boat Ramp.

Kendall boat ramp in late winter of 2016

Pic of Kendall ramp early spring 2020.

Here is a link to an old fishing report that has several more pics of the condition of the river from high water in 2019: Cumberland River 'Boat Ramp' Report.

Another project that will impact Wolf Creek Dam soon is the “Spillway Gates Replacement Project”. You can read the official press release from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District here: Wolf Creek Dam Spillway Gate Replacement Project.

This is an absolutely huge project both financially and in scope and will probably take several years to complete. The fabrication of the taintor gates by American Bridge Company will take some time and the actual work for the installation may begin late 2023 or early 2024. The Corps plans to have a public meeting and release more project information this year. Below is an example pic of a taintor gate displaying how they operate.

Image courtesy of

Also of significant interest is the bridge that will be going across the Cumberland at the Black Fish Creek area. After speaking with KDOT I've learned that construction will begin soon. There are several factors that will determine when construction actually begins, but summer 2023 is the scheduled start. Here are a few more items of importance:

  • Expected construction time is 1.5 years. This will depend on weather, generation schedules and a multitude of other factors.

  • The bridge will be a multi-span bridge with 5 spans (3 spans at 130' and 2 spans at 150').

  • The bridge will be around 85' tall above normal river level.

  • There will be (2) sets of piers placed in the river for a total of (4) piers.

  • Piers will be 150' apart.

  • Piers will be 8' in diameter.

  • The gradient will start around 90' on the Black Fish Creek side of the bridge and drop to around 74' on the opposite side of the river.

  • There are no plans at this time for any river access around the bridge area.

Lastly, there is the liquid oxygen diffuser proposed to go into production soon at Wolf Creek Dam. How this will affect the dissolved oxygen in the river is to be seen, but it's got to be a good thing. Highly oxygenated water will increase the health of fish and other organisms in the river. I'm curious how typical late summer / early fall warm river temperatures will be handled by the Corps of Engineers and TVA. In the end, this project will affect the Cumberland in a tremendous way.

Here is a link to the draft Environmental Assessment from US Army Corps of Engineers dated May 4, 2022:

So, as you can see, there's a lot going on in and around the Cumberland and Wolf Creek Dam. It's evident these changes will leave a long-lasting footprint on the river, local community, and fishing.

In closing I want to mention that there are a couple of fly-fishing shows coming up that should be a lot of fun.

2023 Kentuckian Fly Fishing Show: January 21, 2023: Paroquet Springs Conference Center; Shepherdsville, KY.

2023 Greater Cincinnati Fly Fishing Show: February 4, 2023: Oasis Conference Center; Loveland, OH

These shows will have tons of vendors, lots of fly fishing stuff (usually at good prices), give aways, and lots of free information. I'll have a booth at both shows, so stop by and say hello.

Thanks to all of you that made 2022 such a special year. I had more fun guiding and netting fish for you than ever.

Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about the Cumberland and please remember to be kind.

Fish Hard!



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