Caney Fork Fly Fishing for Trout

Guide to Fly Fishing the Caney Fork Tennessee (Maps, Flies and Technique)

There are some rivers in the world that just look like they’re meant to be fished with a fly rod. They have a gravel bottom, deep pools and healthy amounts of vegetation for insects to hatch. The Caney Fork River has all of these features and more. There are extremely healthy trout populations and ample opportunities to catch a 20 to 25 inch fish.

Rainbow Trout on the Caney Fork
Rainbow Trout on the Caney Fork

A Little Bit About the Caney Fork River

The Caney Fork River is a tributary of the Cumberland River. It’s a tailwater fishery that flows out from the Center Hill Dam in Buffalo Valley. There is a nice amount of public access and you can easily wade or drift this river depending on how you want to fish.

If you’re after trout, the first 15 or so miles are the best areas to go. Check out the three following access points on your next visit.

1. Lancaster Highway Pull-Off- Good Wadeable Water!

There are a few pull-off areas right along the Lancaster Highway just below the Center Hill Dam. This section of water widens out and is a great place to wade as long as the water levels are low enough. You can pick out the variety of seams and deeper sections of water. Nymphs and small streamers are perfect here.

2. Happy Hollow Boat Ramp- Great Place to Start your Drift!

If you’re looking to start your float trip, do so at the Happy Hollow Boat Ramp. This area can be busy with families and visitors, but as soon as you hit the water and begin floating, you’ll find more privacy. You can float down to Betty’s Island.

The fishing at the ramp is great. It’s a wide section of river that easily allows you to wade both up and downstream. However, this is a better section to start your float!

3. Betty’s Island- Wide Water with Big Fish!

Betty’s Island is one of the wider parts of the river that still holds trout. When the water is low, you can wade out to a few seams right along the south side of the island that hold some extremely large fish. If you’re drifting, then hang out in this area and hit all of the seams you can find. This area is well-known to hold some holdover trout.

Why the Caney Fork River is Perfect for Fly Fishing

The Caney Fork is close in proximity to several larger towns and it’s one of the easiest tailwaters to wade in Tennessee. Combine these two factors with the prevalent access and you have a wonderful body of water to fish.

You can easily spend a day on the water and return to one of the nearby towns for a nice dinner and a place to stay. This river appeals to those looking for efficiency. If you don’t want to spend hours driving and trying to find new spots, then fish the Caney Fork. The formula is fairly straightforward.

What Kind of Fish Can You Catch in the Caney Fork River?

On the Caney Fork, you’ll find nice populations of both rainbow, brown and brook trout. These are most prevalent throughout the first 15 miles of the river. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency stocks upwards of 100,000 fish in the river every single year, so the fish numbers are high.

If you don’t want trout, you’ll find a nice amount of walleye, bass, striper and carp. These are easier to catch the further away from the dam that you get.

Favorite Flies for the Caney Fork River

Zebra Midge Fly Pattern
Zebra Midge Fly Pattern
Scud Fly Pattern
Scud Fly Pattern
Chubby Chernobyl Terrestrial Fly Pattern
Chubby Chernobyl Terrestrial Fly Pattern

Black Zebra Midge- Size 20

Midge flies are going to be the most prevalent throughout the Caney Fork. The Zebra Midge is a perfect option for the end of your nymph rig. Or, you can fish it under an indicator. Start with a black pattern and then move on to different colors.

BH Scud- Size 16

Since it’s a tailwater fishery, the Caney Fork has a high population of scuds. The BH-Scud is a good choice of a fly to use if you’re fishing close to the Center Hill Dam.

Chubby Chernobyl

As the weather warms in late summer, the terrestrials are out and active. The Chubby is a great representation of hoppers and beetles. Find a section of water near a grassy area, and you’ll be in business.

Hatch Chart for the Caney Fork River

Fly NameSizeStart DateEnd Date
 Adams 14-18 August 1August 31
 Caddis 14-18 April 1 April 30
 Blue Quill 16-20 January 1 March 31
 Blue Winged Olive 14-20 September 1April 30
 Gray Midge 18-22November 1February 28
 Hendrickson 12-16 March 1 May 31
 Light Cahill 12-16 May 1 June 30
 March Brown 12-14 March 1 April 30
 Pale Morning Dun 16-18 June 1 June 30
 Red Quill 12-14 March 1 April 30
 Trico 18-22 August 1December 31

Fly Rod and Reel Setup for the Caney Fork River

When you’re fishing the Caney Fork, your best bet is to use a 5-weight or 6-weight, 8’6” or 9’ medium fast or fast action rod. The river is somewhere between 20 and 40 yards wide on average, so you may have to make some longer casts! Plus, it’s possible for you to land a fish that is over 5 pounds.

It’s a nymphers dream, so if you like to Czech Nymph, feel free to bring that rod along. A Czech Nymphing rod is usually between 10’ and 12’. These are great for high sticking your way through different portions of the river.

If you’re using a 5-weight or 6-weight 9’ rod, then make sure you have a reel that matches the weight of the rod. For your fly line, use a double tapered line that matches the weight of your rod and reel. You’ll be throwing quite a few nymphs and the double taper gives you a more delicate presentation.

Bring along 0x to 4x leader with 3x to 5x tippet. Some anglers choose to use a 3x or 4x tapered leader and attach their nymph to the end and others use a straight leader and attach 4x tippet.

Guides and Fly Shops

Southern Brookies is a full guide service run by a woman named Susan Thrasher. She offers guided trips all along the Caney Fork.

Trophy Fishing Tennessee is another guide service that offers full-day and half-day trips on the Caney Fork River.

Caney Fork Outdoors is a fishing tackle shop that’ll give you the opportunity to pick up flies and gear for your day on the Caney Fork.

Last Cast

The Caney Fork River is a must visit if you’re in North Central Tennessee. It’s located right off of Interstate 40, so it’s an easy river to access with very large trout. The annual stocking numbers are some of the largest in the state, so the fish count is always high. Once you’ve fished the Caney Fork, check out one of the other great rivers to fish in Tennessee.

Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:

Scroll to Top