Of Muskellunge and Tennessee Tarpon

By Tom Dempsey

I was recently forced to change plans when Hurricane Matthew interfered with my fishing trip to Paradise Lodge in Mexico. So I decided to go to Nashville and fish with good friend Chris Nischan, who is a full time fishing and hunting guide. 

Since the Mexico trip was a vacation we were both going to take, we decided to fish together for something that he does not fish for every day. Normally, he guides on the Caney Fork River and other rivers around Nashville for trout and bass, but on this occasion I said, “Let’s walk on the wild side.” 

The first suggestion was to go toward Chattanooga to the town of McMinnville, which is about 60 miles outside of Nashville on what is called “The Plateau.” We met up with Dwayne Hickey of the Tennessee River Fishing Association outside of town at the local filling station and followed him to the Collins River. The Collins River is unique in that it holds muskie, a pretty uncommon quarry this far south. 

This pristine river drains six middle and eastern Tennessee counties and runs free. The water is crystal clear and it was not long before we started seeing log-sized muskies. Traditionally they are called the “fish of 1,000 casts.” I was lucky enough to hook up prettty quickly. The fish initially broke the water a couple of times and then took a nosedive into the bottom of our boat. We all jumped onto the seats as we watched it snap at us; these things have teeth and can bite! They are a beautiful fish and I was lucky to have the opportunity to catch one. 

The next day we went to the bottom of Cheatham Dam. This place is notorious for the “Tennessee Tarpon” or “Freshwater Ladyfish.” Once the dam begins to generate electricity the fish go into a frenzy and will hit almost anything you throw at them, including a beer can. We had fun taking the hooks off the poppers and watching them dive on top of the poppers.

Also at the bottom of Cheatham Dam, a major dam on the Cumberland River that runs straight through Nashville, there is a hang-out for large striped bass and alligator gar. On my last trip to Nashville we caught alligator gar on hookless polypropylene rope flies, allowing them to tangle in their teeth and then “set the hook.” The stripers are a little harder to catch. They will readily hit a fly that is put in front of their face, but it has to be in the strike zone. 

This trip to Nashville saved our vacation. It allowed me to fish for a couple of species I have always had fun fishing for and to catch one species that I had never boated. 

If you are interested in a great fishing trip, fishing with Chris Nischan on the tailwater rivers around Nashville is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The trout fishing is excellent, and it is not unusual to catch 50 to 100 trout per day on these beautiful pristine rivers. Chris has a website called “Rod and Gun Guide Service.” He can be contacted at 615-975-2766 for his schedule and his rates. Below are some of the gorgeous views along the rivers.