Like an azure vein through the arm of the Cumberland plateau ridge line, the confluence of rivers (Rocky, Collins, Calfkiller, and Caney Fork) that coalesce and converge to create the nearly derelict reservoir Great Falls and it’s larger tail water, the erosion forged limestone behemoth that is Center Hill Lake, form what is collectively referred to as Rock Island, or “The Rock” as I prefer. Once the site of an illustrious white collar tourism industry set amidst the beautiful backdrop of one of the earliest impoundments in North America, built in the early 1900s, Rock Island is now known the world over for world-class white water kayaking, breathtaking natural waterfalls pouring from its limestone aquifer superstructure, and is located atop one of the largest cave systems on the North American continent, the Cumberland Caverns. Amidst all the granola-crunching Chaco-couture hype though, there lies almost a diamon-in-the-rough of this remote body of water….a naturally supported trophy musky fishery. I spent my first years studying and pursuing muskellunge in Tennessee on this very water, amazed that despite indepth research as a youth into all the potential musky destination of North America, I had yet heard of this little beauty. Half under appreciate and half secret well kept, it has more recently began to garner respect amongst musky anglers for not only the winter and spring musky fishing opportunities, but even more so for the quality of fish it produces throughout its variable habitats. This complex produced more upper 40″ to just 50″ Muskies than I can off hand recollect with the largest coming aboard being just over 52″, from the Collins river which is barely a good cast length across.
While not as structurally or variable complex as Melton Hill Reservoir by a long shot, it’s very unique characteristic build provides little distinction between where river becomes reservoir, and Muskies traverse through both freely as the seasons and conditions progress as a permeable membrane between habitats, which both migratory and endemic fish.
While it may not have nearly the average size or class of absolute Panzer-tank Muskies Melton can boast, the slower growth rate augmented with a naturally balanced population due to its endemic reproductive population creates a more naturally tiered regime of muskies, thus each niche contains fish a variable size from young to old, and there is more than a good chance any day of the year of hooking a trophy upper 40″-low 50″ class fish, as well as being a much more approachable body of water in general.
One of the best things about the fishery is how closely arranged its different unique ecosystems are: on any given spring trip, we have started our day on the Collins, boating a nice fish or two, then trailered 20 minutes to blitzkrieg creek mouths on the main arm of the reservoir Great Falls, only to end our day amidst the backdrop of a 200 foot tall limestone gorge and a natural sand beach in the pristine upper reaches of Center Hill….baggin-and-taggin at each port of call.
While a fantastic fishery any time of the year, barring summer water temps stay well at bay, Rock Island, due to its excellent consistency, scenery, and very healthily stacked year classes of Muskies from fingerling to 50″ makes it especially worthy of consideration for early spring/winter fishing when big girls become all too predictable. Did I mention that these Muskies start to look like Orson Welles come November?…