On the Prowl by Richard Simms
Editor's note: Richard Simms is an outdoor
writer and multi-species fishing guide from Chattanooga. Richard operates
Scenic City Fishing
Charters and is the author of
An Outdoor State of Mind, a
collection of touching and humorous outdoor stories and columns accumulated
from 40 years of hunting and fishing. Many thanks to Richard for this
contribution to TRF!
Guide Dwayne Hickey (left)
and Tom Kelly from Dalton Ga. Hickey says he has about a 50 percent success
rate on clients who land a Collins River musky. Photo Courtesy, Dwayne
The lure stopped its rhythmic dance and
seemed to just glide downstream like a dead stick. As it came into view from
beneath the surface glare however, it was clear why the lure wasn't
The bright orange 6-inch Husky Jerk was
sticking like a cigar out of the mouth of a muskellunge nearly 40 inches
long. As the fish swam by the boat in the clear Collins River water, it
sneered up at the anglers, reminiscent of Jack Nicholson sneering at Nurse
Ratched in "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest."
This fished owned the river and was so far,
unaware that it had been "caught." That is until the heavy line came taught
and this beast of a fish began to turn the Collins River to a froth.
It is a sight that Dwayne Hickey has never
tired of watching, although he has been doing it more than two decades.
"Me and a buddy had heard about the musky
and decided we wanted to try and catch one. I was fishing a plain old white
spinnerbait like you'd use for bass," said Hickey. "The first fish I ever
hooked was a 30-pounder. Two of them followed the spinnerbait out, the big
one hit and the battle was on… until he broke my line right under the boat
and I was hooked. I was back two days later and caught my first one and I've
been doing it for 25 years."
In recent years Hickey has been sharing his
passion as the official "Musky Guide" for
www.TennesseeBassGuides.com owned by Rick McFerrin.
"Fishermen fly to Canada or to the Northern
states and spend thousands of dollars trying to catch a musky when they
could book a trip with Dwayne right here," McFerrin said.
The Collins River drains 811 square miles
in all or parts of six Middle and East Tennessee Counties. Hickey lives in
McMinnville, just barely a long cast away from the Collins.
Collins River drains 811 square miles in six different counties. Photo by
In spite of its huge length, access to the
pristine river is extremely difficult. It flows almost exclusively through
"There are very limited public access
points," said Hickey. "What I call the VFW Bridge and Turner's Bend. That's
the only two public access points I know of. After that it's all private
land and you have to secure permission to reach the river."
Hickey grew up in the area and knows enough
folks who let him do that. It was a bumpy ride as we hauled his 14-foot flat
bottom jon boat through hill and dale in the bed of his pickup truck. The
only motor he carried was battery powered.
prefers to use nothing but a trolling motor to navigate the "skinny water"
of the Collins River. Photo by Richard Simms
"We're 20 miles up in the 'skinny' water of
the Collins River," Hickey explained. "It's all what I call 'roughin' it,'
and I kind of like it that way. I definitely wouldn't suggest anything above
a 9 horsepower motor… I've used a 6 horsepower but usually I stick with a
trolling motor. That's the best way to cover the river that I've found."
The trolling motor helps the Collins remain
a very quiet river. In the Chattanooga area it's hard to fish anywhere
that's not within earshot of a highway. Not so on the Collins. The only
sound was the whir of casting reels and the "kersplash" of monster fishing
lures. It is skinny water, but Hickey still uses big baits.
"I don't call it fishing for musky, I call
it hunting musky," said Hickey. "It really is a hunt… the following fish,
the way they flare their gills when they hit, right-at-the-boat hits on
figure-8's… there's no other fishing like that in freshwater that I know
Of course a favorite line of all musky
fisherman, or outdoor writers, is to refer to them as "the fish of a
thousand casts." Hickey laughs every time he hears it.
Dwayne Hickey definitely believes in "big baits for big fish" when he's
hunting musky on the Collins River. Photo by Richard Simms
"It's not that bad," he said with a smile.
"From my experience it's a lot better ratio than that around here. I would
say my success rate with clients (landing a musky) is about 50 percent. And
if they don't catch one, they've probably had one or two on the line at
least. We see fish and have follows every trip. It's rare if we don't have
some kind of action."
"Follows" are when a curious musky eases up
off the bottom to look at a lure, but doesn't necessarily strike. The boat
rarely scares them. These fish consider themselves the biggest, baddest
things in the water. They don't scare easily.
We saw seven fish in about three hours
fishing, including the one of the end of the line.
As the musky with the bright orange husky
jerk in its mouth swam downstream, it finally realized something was pulling
back. It immediately headed back upstream and around the bow of the boat
with one or two short flicks of its tail.
Then the big bronze fish tore back
downstream in the middle of the bright green Collins River in two major,
drag-screaming bursts of speed.
"Sometimes they hit with absolutely savage
strikes," explained Hickey. "Other times they'll just come up behind a lure
to get a little taste. But when he realizes he's hooked, hold on."
That's what I was doing. It was about all I
There was no way to know if this fish
occurred in the Collins naturally, or if it was stocked by the Tennessee
Wildlife Resources Agency. There are some of both.
"Last year we stocked 410,
eight-to-10 inch musky in the Collins," said TWRA Asst. Fisheries Chief
Bobby Wilson. "We stock Melton Hill Lake, the Collins River, the Caney Fork,
Emory and few other scattered Cumberland Plateau streams. The number varies
year-to-year because we depend almost entirely what Kentucky gives us."
Wilson says slowly but surely, Tennessee is
becoming a "destination state" for musky anglers.
"I think because of our location, southern
water with a longer growing season, we have the potential of producing some
world class musky," said Wilson. Folks from other states are taking note and
we get a lot of folks taking those destination trips to come fish for
I repeat: "We ain't
crappie fishin'!" Photo by Richard Simms
Of course that is what Hickey is banking on.
And he is doing all he can to encourage local anglers to get involved. He
organized one of the first-ever musky fishing tournaments on Great Falls
Reservoir this year. He hopes the tourney will become an annual event.
"All-Pro Rods has sponsored us along with
Interstate Batteries," he said. "There are more musky fishermen out there
than you know and the sport is growing. Great Falls Lake is an overlooked
fishery. Just ask the bass fishermen that hook and lose these things on a
"Anyone who can cast a spinnerbait at a
fallen treetop stands a chance of catching the winning musky," he said.
"It's a 100 percent payout, catch & release tournament so bring your digital
Imagining how the photograph of me and
this monster musky was surely going to impress all my fishing buddies, my
ego had already climbed a notch about the time the sneering beast came to
the surface. He thrashed his huge head back-and-forth several times and I
ducked as the bright orange Husky Jerk nearly caught me between the eyes. I
swear the fish was aiming at me.
Hickey simply laid the big net back in the
bottom of the boat, picked up his own rod and said, "That's musky fishing."
If you're interested in fishing with
www.TennesseeBassGuides.com. If you'd like to know more about the musky
tournament at Great Falls, call 931-668-3008.