The Overlooked Tailwaters

By Troy Basso

At one time years ago the Tennessee State Rainbow and Brown Trout were caught out of the Obey River near Celina Tennessee. Today the obey still fishes very well but there are better places to catch record-breaking trout. However there are few places you can catch the sheer numbers of trout that come out of the obey everyday. The obey river tail water, where it flows out of Dale hollow, is a mere seven in a half miles long. It flows into the Cumberland River around Celina Tennessee. The Obey is one of the rivers that get’s restocked with trout twelve months a year. Its close proximity to the Dale Hollow National fish hatchery is the primary reason for this. It’s primarily stocked with rainbows but the locals tell of some monster browns being caught in a regular basis. The River has good access in comparison to some of our other tail waters. There is great bank access for the first two miles of river and good access at all three boat ramps. Another things is this river is deeper than your average tail water and can be difficult, but not impossible, to wade in places, especially the last three miles or so. Floating the Obey is not only a great way to see one of the most scenic rivers in Tennessee but gives you access to the entire river as well as parts of the Cumberland River as well.

If you’re like myself and live a pretty good drive from this river the campground at the Dale Hollow dam is actually very nice. There is electricity and water at most sites, two large shower houses, and the local police patrol it. The cost is twenty bucks per night and since your camping right on the water it’s well worth the money.

Since the Obey is tail water you still have to pay attention to the generations schedule. These can be obtained at the TVA website or by calling the hotline. The single best thing about this fishery is that they don’t generate as often as most of the other tail waters thus giving us more fishing time on the river. Also this river is, on average, deeper than most other trout water and if you have a boat is fishable under a single generator.

If you’re new to trout fishing the Obey is a great place to learn. They have plenty of catch able trout and that makes it a great confidence builder for the novice. Since trout are the primary fish in this river rod selection is pretty straightforward. A good three to five weight medium fast rod will do the trick. I prefer to use a reel with a drag as you have a better than average chance at landing a quality fish. Lines are also a no brainer; a good weight forward floater will cover the entire water column here. This particular river is what I guess you could call a midge river as the trout eat midges by the pound. When I fished it a Zebra Midge and Copper john in sizes 10 and 20 was the preferred fly. Most of these fish are “looking up” to feed so using a strike indicator is a big help because you will be able to adjust and control your depth with little effort. Start with your fly about 13 inches below the indicator and adjust for water depth from there. Most of the fish will feed up and 13 to 18 inches is about right in most of the river. Cast your fly upstream and let it drift through the runs as natural as possible. There is very little current on the river so mending is not a big issue. Now when you get a chance and can fish the mouth of one of the numerous feeder creeks try to mend your line upstream so the drift stays drag free. If you’re not used to fishing an indicator it can be a little frustrating at first. It’s basically a bobber attached about the midge. After your first drift you will see how it’s going to react with the current versus a pick up by a trout. Strike indicators are a great tool as you can see even the slightest of hits, if you’re paying attention. Since midges are so small you would be wise to drop down to a 6X leader and tippet. I got to watch the trout rise to a 4X tippet and turn away because they could see the line.

If midges and indicators are not your idea of fun fishing the Obey also gives many fish up to small streamers such as the wooly bugger. Good colors are black, brown, green and yellow. I liked, as did the fish, the bead head wooly buggers. To fish these a 4X or 5X tippet should be fine. Use the downstream swing method of fishing. Cast straight across stream in slow water, or at more of an angle (up to 60 degrees) in faster water. Mend upstream or downstream so that the fly moves across the river at about the same speed it moves down the river. Let the fly swing until it is directly below you, and then let it hang there for a few seconds before casting again. Generally the fish will take the fly at the pause in the swing. Try not to “set the hook” per say. Just sweep the rod tip away from the fish and they should be hooked up pretty well.

Once you have had your fill of trout in the Obey you can motor down to the confluence of the Obey and the Cumberland. It’s there that you can catch striper, hybrid and white bass. These fish will require a change in not only gear but tactics as well. Step up to a seven or eight weight rod and appropriate reel. Depending on the type of feeding happening you will either use a floating line or a sink tip line. If the fish are feeding on top a floating line and a top water fly like a white popper will catch fish. If they are feeding deep try a heavy white clouser or striper fly. If you want to catch a pile of fish that fight very well target the white bass. They are pretty easy to catch on anything white fished from the surface to about 6 feet deep. The waker shad is my go to fly for white bass. If that won’t get it done a white cone head wooly bugger is a great second choice.

If you’re interested in booking a day trip of trout fishing the Obey you can reach me at 931-224-1851 or email me at for rates and information.