Home of the World Record Smallmouth


Dale Hollow Reservoirstraddles the line between Kentucky and Tennessee.  It’s a huge reservoir and famous for its fishing, particularly its smallmouth bass fishing.  On a slow fishing day in 1955 this old artificial lake produced the world record smallmouth bass of 11pound, 15 ounce.  Smallmouth is one of my favorite fish and I’ve been aware of this record my entire life.

Today was the last day of our fun visit down here in Kentucky with John and Betty Reesor.  Naturally the Reesor’s made our last day special and would you believe they booked us a guide for Dale Hollow.  We were fishing in the land of enormous smallmouth! 

Our guide was Capt. Johnny Rush.  Johnny not only guides Dale Hollow for smallies but also the Cumberland River for trout and stripers.  Unfortunately Johnny was quick to tell us that we were at the tail end of their coldest spring in recent memory and the fishing wasn’t just slow, it was flat out lousy.  Although he’s normally one with faith in the fly rod, he highly suggested using the live shad he captured for bait at 4 AM this morning.

Unless after a rare bottom dwelling catfish 5,000 miles from home, you won’t find me watching the bait rod, but having them out around me while I’m fly fishing is ok.  By having them around I know what to expect for myself.  If the bait is catching fish – I know there’s fish around and there’s hope for my fly.  If the bait isn’t producing – I’m probably screwed!

After a three hour drive southward in darkness on the windy roads of Kentucky followed by a cold boat ride to the Tennessee part of Dale Hollow, John, Granny and me and my queasy stomach found ourselves at Capt. Johnny’s first spot.  It was a cool 40º and while Johnny carefully tossed out the shad rigs I strung up my 6-weight Ross RX with Scientific Anglers Uniform Sink line and a large heavy weight Warpath Fly.  By the time I stood up to make my first cast, John was wrangling a respectable largemouth bass

I watched Capt. Johnny net then release John’s bass as I let my first cast sink down deep.  Then, another of the shad rods bounced.  John set the hook and line pealed off.  “This ones bigger.” John stated.  And it was.  A moment later John landed this 5 pound largemouth

I was now letting my third cast of the crisp morning sink when I got jolted.  I was far from ready as I stupidly had my line hand warming up in my pants pocket.  Luckily I instinctively keep my line secure against the rod in my rod hand and the impact of the strike hooked the fish itself.  This too was a good one. 

My line pealed off towards the deep as I clumsily got my deal under control.  I knew right away this wasn’t a bass.  There were no head shakes and the fish was running too far.  I felt certain I had a freshwater drum, a fish common on Dale Hollow.  But just as fast as the fight became a furry, the fish gave up and I reeled him in. I caught an 8 pound channel catfish!

Although catching members of the catfish family isn’t the norm on a fly rod, it does happen.  I’ve caught bullheads and various catfish species on fly over the years, but the channels come consistently.  I’ve caught them on several occasions and once on the Red River in Manitoba I caught one of nearly 20lbs on a Clouser!

Despite the fast start, the rest of our day was less than productive.  We literally caught almost all of our fish at the first spot.  John went on to land two chubby smallmouth and several channel catfish of his own on the live shad rigs.  But me and my fly – I cast at least a thousand more times, but it was only that third cast that produced anything for me.  Nonetheless it was a great day.  I’ve now not only put a day of fishing in Tennessee under my belt, but also touched the waters of the world record smallmouth.

Granny and I have had a fantastic long weekend down here in Kentucky.  A lot of new and fun experiences from Keeneland to unique and memorable fishing adventures.  A very special thanks to John and Betty Reesor!

2 Responses to “Home of the World Record Smallmouth”

  1. Erik Moncada April 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Nice cat fish Jeff. Rob and I fished on Friday, he is a fantastic angler. I picked up a few tricks just by watching him fish.

  2. Jeff Currier - Global Fly Fishing April 15, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Robs a very good angler and a good fun guy. I’m looking forward to his return to Victor. He’s been gone weeks.

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