Tennessee: River Monsters, Myths & Great Destinations

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Blog 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.

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.

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Choosing a Catfish Combo

By Capt. Scott Manning
Okuma Pro / Professional Guide / Outdoor Writer
Licensed US Coast Guard Captain

Catfishing tackle has progressed a long way over the past few years.  We have access to so many well crafted products that picking a rod/reel combo can be a daunting task. Okuma Fishing Tackle has removed the guesswork with the Battle Cat Rod series accompanied with a Coldwater line counter reel.


As a professional guide who puts a lot of demand on his equipment; I can say this combo is legit. They fish better, feel better and handle the big catfish with ease whether drifting or anchor fishing.  They are not too bulky which makes them kid friendly and strong enough for any tournament or seasoned angler. They come in both casting and spinning models in 7′ 6″ and 8″ lengths.

The reels come in both right or left handed models with various sizes. I prefer monofilament fishing line; but have had success with braided line as well. An excellent choice for rod holders and/or planer board fishing techniques. My fishing gear has to be made with quality materials, tough, and user friendly.  Being a multi-fish / multi set-up combo makes these Okuma products a staple of my guide business.

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The Battle Cat rods are also sensitive for fishing livebaits, but have enough backbone to pull the big brutes out of heavy structure. With this combo you can feel if something isn’t right, so you don’t need to pull the bait every 10 minutes to check it. The more patient you are and longer your bait is in the water, the more fish you’ll catch.

I use both J-hooks and circle hooks with great success with these combos as well. I often mark fish I see on sonar on my Humminbird GPS and then move upstream and anchor off. Using the Coldwater line counter reels, I can present baits at precise distances downstream to the fish. If I’m drift fishing I can strategically place baits at different depths to target both bottom feeding and suspended catfish.

Hopefully, you will get out and try these combos. Trust me you will not be disappointed with the quailty or feel of this gear.  Always remember to let someone know where you are on the water and be safe.

Locating and Catching Monster Blue Catfish

by Capt. Scott Manning

Each Spring, I get tons of calls, emails and messages from social media from people wanting to catch a monster blue catfish. It seems to be on everyone’s “bucket list” of big fish. Blue catfish fishing continues to increase in nationwide popularity because of high numbers of fish to be caught and the opprotunity to catch a true monster.

Each year; catfish tournaments like the Cabela’s King Kat and the Monsters on the Ohio attract thousands of anglers all across the US. Blue catfish in the 100-lb. range are popping up all over the US; especially in the Tennessee, James and Mississippi River basins.

Capt. Scott Manning hoists up a giant blue cat

Blue catfish favor water temperatures between 68 and 82 degrees, but they can also thrive in cooler waters. Most waterways in the US hold large numbers of blue catfish with the James, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri Rivers holding the true giants.

Finding and catching blue catfish is as simple as locating the food source such as gizzard shad and skip jack herring. Once you do this, you’re able to narrow down specific areas to look for like structure, river bends, drop-offs, ledges and current seams. Big catfish eat and eat a lot; so if your not locating massive schools of bait fish move on. My motto is “Find the Birds – Find the Bait – Find the Fish.”

A team effort help land this big blue

Big blue catfish like current and will be located in and around structure, curves in the river, deeper holes, scour holes and eddies close to shore out of the main current. Blue catfish are extremely opportunistic and will use these river features as ambush spots. They’ll feed on live bait and/or cut bait. There are anglers that swear by the effective use of store baits such as chicken livers, Ivory soap or beef hearts that might tempt you, but nothing works consistently better than freshly caught bait. I use gizzard shad and skip jack herring, and on ocassion live bluegill. Gizzard shad can usually be located in warm water coves out of the main waterway and skip jack are often caught below dams on crappie tackle. Make sure whatever bait you use is legal in your state or region. Blue catfish will investigate anything with a strong odor and fresher bait is always better.

Blue catfish can be caught almost anytime of the year. As water temperatures start to increase into the high 50’s and 60’s the bite will increase. Springtime is an excellent time to target big blue catfish all the way up to the spawn in mid-to-late June when the water temperature reaches 70 to 75 degrees. The the post spawn in mid-August all the way through the fall is an excellent time as well.

Stout tackle is a must for these big fish. I use Okuma Battle Cat rods and Okuma Solterra reels spooled with 40-lb. or 50-lb. monofilament line. I use a simple carolina rig with a 6- to 8-oz. bank sinker and an 80-lb. mono leader. My hook of choice is usually an 8/0 circle hook or a 10/0 Octopus hook. I change hooks and leader line often to ensure a realible rig when that big fish strikes. It’s the little things from your bait to the knots on your terminal tackle that add up to big results with big blue catfish. Be ready because you never know when your going to hook that fish of a lifetime.

The most important thing is just get out there, fish and be safe on the water. Always wear your PFD when or around heavy current and let someone know where your going to be on the water.

Check out this video of a big blue being landed on the Tennessee: Tennessee River Monsters


Okuma Battle Cat Rods Ready for a Fight

Reposted from www.fishing-headquarters.com

By Matt Lynch

An Okuma Battle Cat rod doing work on a big flathead catfish.

If a couple months ago you had asked me about Okuma’s Battle Cat line of cat fishing rods I’d have scratched my head. However recently while discussing the need to update my catfish rod inventory with my good friend and licensed guide, Scott Manning owner of Tennessee River Monsters, brought these rods to my attention.

Being partnered up with Okuma, he recently had the opportunity to check these rods out himself and for someone who spends well over one hundred days on the water putting clients on monster fish, he was very impressed and spoke favorably of them in our talks. After a bit more research on the different models in this line, Scott finally convinced me to purchase some of my own.

Check out the rest of this story here: http://www.fishing-headquarters.com/okumas-battle-cat-rods-are-ready-for-a-fight