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Hey Everybody, it’s catfish time in the Volunteer State!

Posted: September 12th, 2018 by Bill Dance

Several rivers across Middle Tennessee can provide anglers excellent catfishing.  However, the Duck River provides probably the best opportunities to all types of catfishermen.  Catfishing is the third most popular kind of fishing in Tennessee behind black bass and crappie.  Biologists last sampled river catfish every few years to keep tabs on the populations.  Across several middle Tennessee streams, biologists observed about 29 channel catfish/hour at an average length of 13 inches.  The channel catfish looked great throughout middle Tennessee, but the Duck River was a certain stand out.  The Duck River is 284 miles long and spans much of the region from east and west.  Concerning catfish, the Duck needs to be split into four major sections to account for changes in river characteristics from the underlying geology and the addition of tributaries.

The first stretch to discuss is from the Normandy Dam to the Halls Mill area which is swift and rocky and tends not to be ideal for catfish.  Electrofishing surveys recorded only 2.5 catfish/hour and the average size was 12.0”.  The habitat is more suited towards smallmouth bass, rock bass, stocked rainbow trout in the winter, and the occasional walleye.

By the time the Duck River has passed Henry Horton it has increased in size after picking up a few tributaries and the catfishing certainly picks up as well.  This middle stretch includes Milltown, Leftwhich, Iron Bridge, Yanahli, and to the Columbia Dam.  The catfish abundance in this stretch is close to average (25.6 catfish/hour) but fish size is excellent.  The average length was 17.9” and electrofishing data recorded lots of fish over 20” that weigh 2 to 4 pounds.  There are lots of public access points and private canoe outfitters in this area making it a great spot for a floating catfish trip.   In the summer fish undercut banks in shallow swift water that is high in oxygen.  However, in the cooler months catfish can be anywhere but try drifting meaty baits at the transition from swift water to pool.  There are lots of hungry catfish in the Duck, if you do not get a bite within 20 minutes, try another spot.

Columbia to Centerville is also a very good area to fish.  Columbia is the most downstream impoundment on the Duck River and fish have a straight shot to the Tennessee River.  Public access is limited in this stretch but worth the effort if you can get a jet boat near Littlelot or Williamsport.  The Duck River has started to slow down and spread out with large gravel bars and sluggish pools a common feature.  The abundance of catfish in this area is close to the highest in middle Tennessee and almost double the average at 53.2 catfish/hour.  While the number of large fish is lower than the previous stretch, there is still a good chance of landing a few catfish over 20”.  Average length was 13.2”.  Although they do not frequently show up in our samples, the large deep pools adjacent to bluff walls are known to hold big blue catfish which prefer fresh dead shad or large pieces of skipjack herring.  If you are looking to balance numbers and size, this stretch of the Duck River is among the best for catfish in middle Tennessee,

Finally, the most downstream stretch of the Duck is from Centerville to the mouth.  Swan Creek and the Piney River dump into the Duck a few miles apart and afterwards the habitat is dominated by large pools, snags and trees, sand bars, and long wide shoals.   Public access is again sparse this far downstream, but those with a jet drive motor can find some spots that are rarely fished.  Our samples do not observe many channel catfish over 17” and average size is 13.2”.  Abundance is above average at 38.8 catfish/hour.  Be sure to bring heavy tackle and drift live bait near tree tops and chunk rock to hook into large flathead catfish that are common in these parts.

If you want to stay more local or have already experienced the Duck River, other rivers in middle Tennessee can be very productive.  Anglers in northern middle Tennessee can try these methods in the Red River from Port Royal to Clarksville. Nashville anglers should look at the Harpeth River around the Narrows.  While those in southern Middle Tennessee wanting to fish the Elk River for catfish should focus on the stretch from Harms Mill to the state line.

So, get out your whisker gear and let’s go cattin’!  Have fun and catch one for me.

Bill Dance


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