By Captain Scott Manning
For over 100 years, myths and legends have flourished along the banks of the Tennessee River of monstrous creatures that live in their muddy depths. In the 1800s, tales of river monsters abounded throughout the river system, including a legend in which anyone spotting the creature was cursed. In the mid-1900s, the most popular legendary river creature became “catzilla,” a species of catfish that reportedly grew to the size of Volkswagen Beetles at several dams along the Tennessee River. There are some reported photos of monster catfish over 500 pounds during the 1900’s that seem to back up these claims.
What lurks beneath the placid surface of the Tennessee River ? Are there monsters in our midst? Newspaper accounts indicate divers, while cleaning out the intake to a local power plant, had to be rescued from the murky depths by EMS crews. Found floating and unconscious, they reported catfish so large that one of the divers was sucked into the giant bottom-feeders mouth, only to be spat out. The most common bait shop story states that a dam repair man goes down to check for cracks in the dam. He sees a gigantic catfish that could swallow a Volkswagen Bug whole. He comes up from the murky depths of the lake and never is a dam repair man again.
However, the largest catfish in North America are blue cats, and the world record blue catfish caught in in 2011 weighed 143 pounds. While many of the world’s largest freshwater fish are located outside of North America, several large species can be found in area rivers, including blue catfish and flathead catfish. An angler better have stout tackle when doing battle with these beast. A Okuma Battle cat rod teamed with Okuma Coldwater reel will do the job just fine.
Tennessee River System
The Tennessee River, covering more than 650 miles in the south ranks at the top of most catfish & striper anglers “Bucket List”. The Tennessee River is formed at the confluence of the Holston and French Broad rivers on the east side of Knoxville, Tennessee. From Knoxville, it flows southwest through East Tennessee toward Chattanooga before crossing into Alabama. Watts Bar Lake is a reservoir on the Tennessee River created by Watts Bar Dam as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority system. Even today, it remains one of the top catfish destinations in the US. Cabela’s King Tournament Trail holds a annual 2 day super event here each spring. Located about midway between Chattanooga and Knoxville, the lake begins as the Tennessee River below Fort Loudon Dam in Lenoir City, Tennessee and stretches 72.4 miles to Watts Bar Dam near Spring City, Tennessee. The Clinch River connects to the main channel of the lake at mile 568 near Southwest Point in Kingston, Tennessee. The partially navigable Emory River connects with the Clinch near the TVA’s Kingston Steam Plant just upriver from the meeting with the Tennessee. Including the Clinch and Emory arms, Watts Bar has 722 miles of shoreline and over 39,000 acres of water surface. Minor tributaries include Poplar Creek, Caney Creek, and White’s Creek. The lake contains several large islands, most notably Thief Neck Island, Long Island, and Sand Island.
Fort Loudon Reservoir, located on the Tennessee River at Knoxville, is the uppermost in the chain of nine TVA reservoirs that form a continuous navigable channel from there to Paducah, Kentucky, 652 miles away. Fort Loudon is a popular recreation destination, known for boating and monster catfish. The tailwater area immediately below the dam is an excellent site for viewing a variety of waterbirds, including herons, cormorants, gulls, osprey and bald eagles.
The reservoir is connected by a short canal to Tellico Reservoir on the nearby Little Tennessee River. Water is diverted through the canal to Fort Loudon for power production. The canal also offers commercial barges access to Tellico without the need for a lock. Barges passing through the Fort Loudon lock carry about half a million tons of cargo a year.
Area attractions include the Oak Ridge Atomic Museum of Science & Energy, Dollywood Theme Park and Gatlinburg. In May of 2014, The Animal Planet TV Show filmed Season 7 episode 1 of Finding Bigfoot. That particular episode is still one of the highest rated watched shows in the world. World-famous Big Ed’s Pizza in Oak Ridge is a must-eat location as well as Calhoun’s BBQ on the river. I recommend Oak Ridge, Lenoir City, Kingston and Harriman as motel destinations with plenty of places to eat and not far from numerous boat ramps; such as Caney Creek Marina, Ladd Landing, Concord Marina and Tom Wheeler Park.
So if chasing legends or real world monster catfish is on your “Bucket List”; then East Tennessee and the Tennessee River system is a Can’t-Miss destination. Feel free to call Captain Scott Manning (865) 680-7672 for information ranging from area sites to guided fishing opportunities. Bring the kids; this is one of the most beautiful places in the world.