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Cheatham’s Pennington Bend Smallies

There was still a big piece of the formerly full moon hanging in the sky when I went to locate smallmouth bass in upper section of Cheatham Lake.

When I put in at Lock Two Park ramp off Pennington Bend Road it was still o’dark thirty. After fishing for six decades, getting up just after midnight for a fishing trip has lost a lot of its appeal; but the stars were gorgeous and sunrise on the river was exhilarating. I was here early because I was told that’s the magic period for hooking big smallies.

Soon it was light enough to see a wet line at the base of the bluffs – it appeared the lake had dropped about a foot. The rule of thumb is “falling water turns river fish off.”

I began casting to the rocky bank across from the ramp in the fresh daylight and soon started reeling in one- to two-pound spotted bass.

When there’s only one generator operating at Old Hickory Dam the spots are active. Most of my hook setting events took place from the surface along the shoreline down to 15 feet on top of the channel drop.

Smallmouth become more active when there is current from two or three generators operating at Old Hickory Dam. If Cheatham Dam is releasing water, this also increases the current and stimulates the smallies even more.

Cheatham Lake is a long riverine reservoir stretching 68 miles between two dams whose generation makes or breaks fishing success. I don’t know what the best balance of flow from the two dams is that makes smallies the happiest, but from years of experience of fishing Cheatham, smallies and largemouth bass usually don’t bite well unless there is current. That rule isn’t set in stone because I’ve caught smallies in the river during periods of no current. That just proves the blind-hog rule.

Here’s the way I understand it: If Cheatham Dam is releasing water and Old Hickory isn’t, the water is falling and the upper end of Cheatham Lake suffers poor fishing. If Cheatham Dam is holding water and Old Hickory is generating, the water is rising and the fishing is good. If both dams are pulling water there is more flow but I can’t say how the smallies feel about that except to fall back to the old rule “If there’s current, smallies smile and open wide.” (I just made that up.)

I was fishing the flow coming from one generator at Old Hickory Dam but didn’t know what was happening at Cheatham Dam. But I did know that another generator was to kick in from Old Hickory at 10 a.m., so I felt optimistic about the late morning bite.

And before that generation began I caught several yearling smallmouths by vertically jigging a 1/8-ounce black haired, peanut head jig with a blue plastic frog trailer. I lost a fair number of baits because I was using six-pound-test line instead of lure-saving 30-pound-test braid. But I was prepared to lose a few baits to the rocks – I call that making sacrifices to the fish gods. To alter my semi-successful tactic, I switched to casting a four-inch Fin-S bait on a 1/4-ounce leadhead for spotted bass.

When another generator kicked on at 10, although it took a while for the current to reach the fish, I felt compelled to get serious about catching smallmouths. I switched back to the black and blue jig.

That upper section of the river has steep rocky bluffs that smallmouth love. When the current reached us, the smallies and I came together. They were near the three-pound range coming from the top of the drop at about 15 feet deep while drifting with the current.

By the time I was ready to call the day a done deal, I think I had boated close to a dozen smallmouths but more spots.

Both are naturally fierce fighters – I believe river fish fight harder than lake fish because they contend with current, making them leaner and meaner. Happy Hooking!