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Virginia Kraft
July 07, 1958
For summer travelers in search of unexpected vacation adventure, Sports Illustrated explores the South's most impressive valley
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July 07, 1958

Discovery: The Tennessee Valley

For summer travelers in search of unexpected vacation adventure, Sports Illustrated explores the South's most impressive valley

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Twenty-one miles downstream you may want to make an overnight stop at ELK RIVER LODGE. The lodge is owned and operated by the State of Alabama primarily as a fishing camp. Its rooms are new and clean but double-decker, dormitory style with a public bath down the hall. A small short-order restaurant was added this year but most guests cook in the large community kitchen. Beds rent for $2 a night.

The Elk River Lodge is located in the heart of a great wooded wilderness. Large snapping turtles swim into the harbor and a number of mallard ducks have adopted it as their home. In fact, they're so friendly that one drake managed to fly right into a line I was casting off the back of the boat. (The duck season is closed in summer, even for birds taken on rod and reel.) There is fairly good bass fishing nearby, but without guide service (Elk River Lodge doesn't seem to have any) the right spots are hard to find.


Leave Elk River Lodge by 8 a.m. at the latest to make the seven-mile run back to the Tennessee River and the 77 miles cruise to PICKWICK LANDING before dark. The resort at Pickwick is worth visiting, so allow enough time to look around. There are four lockages involved in this stretch of river which can seriously delay a small boat if freight traffic is heavy. Locking through the first, Wheeler Dam, into Wilson Lake (mile 275) takes about 10 minutes, and traffic moves rapidly. On the other side there are several docks with gas for the run down Wilson Reservoir.

Wilson is only 15½ miles long, but its antiquated triple-lock system, now being replaced by a modern single structure, takes longer to lock through than any dam on the Tennessee River. Big barges have to lock in sections, a time-consuming operation during which pleasure boats can be held up several hours. When finally through, gas up again at O'NEAL HARBOR DOCK, two and a half miles downstream on the right bank. The next gas stop is WATERLOO DOCK, just under 30 miles from O'Neal, past Waterloo Light (mile 227.8).

Pickwick resort (mile 207.8), back in the state of Tennessee, is located on a 200-acre pine-covered peninsula which juts out into Pickwick Lake. It is a complete community with its own restaurant, post office, village hall, hotel and series of small cottages and full-size houses which range in rental from $45 to $72 weekly. The restaurant is strictly short-order since most people use cottage cooking facilities. It also sells ice cold, legal beer (by the glass or case), limited groceries and canned goods. Fox hunting is very popular in this area. Regular hunts, attracting up to 200 local participants, occur throughout the year. The resort can arrange for guests to go along with fox hunters if they wish. During the fall, there is also good deer and bird shooting in this heavily wooded region.

But Pickwick's greatest attraction is fishing. Dozens of small coves yield limits of big bass to the plug caster, fly fisherman or troller. Guides are available at the well-equipped dock, but the best nonprofessional guide of all is Pickwick's president, Wesley Dickson. For a lure, Dickson swears by a spotted black Bomber, cast close to the overhanging shore and retrieved slowly. He keeps up a quiet conversation as he fishes and has little patience with any cove which doesn't produce a strike on the first cast. They usually do for him.

Besides the dock at Pickwick Resort, Dickson operates another floating dock beneath Pickwick Dam. Fishing under the spillways is a harrowing and highly popular sport at most TVA dams, but particularly at Pickwick. A certain number of small fish invariably are ground up in the generators at all these dams. They form a natural chum which lures big catfish, carp, walleye and bass to the turbulent waters beneath the dams.

TVA officials discourage this kind of fishing because of the danger of boats being sucked under several thousand pounds of cascading water. A few are each year—but fishermen crowd to the dams anyway because the really big fish are here. From spring to fall a fleet of small outboards—sometimes as many as 300—bob up and down in the massive shadow of the dam, their motors racing to hold them stationary in the strong currents. Live bait, particularly minnows, are most popularly fished at depths of 10 to 25 feet. Dickson's floating dock is handy nearby to replace baits, rent boats, sell soda pop and offer advice to newcomers.


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