100 Best: Cumberland River

Location: Southcentral Kentucky

Type of stream: Tailwater

Angling methods Fly, Spin

Species: Browns, Rainbows, Brook Trout

Access Limited

Season: Year-round Supporting

Services: Burkesville

Short take: On the Cumberland, a hot brown ain’t no sandwich

Handicapped access: No

Closest TU Chapter: Bluegrass

For 75 miles from the outflow of the Corps of Engineers’ Wolf Creek Dam to the Tennessee line, the Cumberland River offers some of the greatest tailwater fishing in the Southeast. This stretch produced the 21-pound Kentucky record brown and the record rainbow of 14 pounds, 6 ounces. Since 2007, the Corps has been rehabilitating the dam creating inconsistent flows which have not helped the fishery. That work is scheduled to be completed in 2014 and the Cumberland will return to its former muscle bound persona: heavy flows when generators are on.

When the dam’s generators are off, shoals and others near islands provide good opportunities for wading anglers. But here’s the caveat: When the generators come on, the river can rise six to eight feet!! Heedless anglers can be swept to their deaths. Those who know the river best maintain that big trout are turned on by increasing flows. More food, they contend, is washed into the river, and increased depths mean more cover from predators. Being trout, they’ll not burn up calories by hanging in heavy current but seek softer water behind obstructions or along the bank. To reach them you need a boat, preferably one powered by an outboard jet engine. First timers’ to the Cumberland will do well to fish with a guide.

Large plugs and spinners account for the greatest number of big fish. However, flyfishers will catch their share with three to four inch Clousers, the Chicago fly ( a black bead-head sparsely tied woolly bugger), and deceivers. The river is stocked with about 200,000 trout—rainbows, browns, and brookies per year.


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