Much of the 850-mile shore line at Dale Hollow is heavily overhung with wooded growth. Hundreds of small, bush-covered points jut out into the water, forming a myriad of coves where big bass lurk. A skilled fisherman, who is able to lay his surface lure close in under the overhanging growth, can almost take bets on a strike. However, while he's-playing his fish, less proficient anglers (like myself) are more often than not untangling yards of monofilament from bushes that invariably get in the way.
Warning: There are a fair number of snakes in the Tennessee Valley region, some of them poisonous. Look around before hopping out of a boat onto the shore. It is possible, but not likely, to step on a copperhead.
Because fishing is terrific on both Dale Hollow and Center Hill, some rivalry exists between them. The U.S. record walleye (21 pounds 4 ounces) was taken at Center Hill last year. Ever since Dale Hollow's big trout, Center Hill has been one record behind. The lake's top angler, Auvel Hayes, doesn't believe the box score will stay like this much longer. He's convinced there is an even bigger smallmouth than the present world's record just waiting to be taken out of Center Hill.
Hayes runs COVE HOLLOW RESORT on the lake near Lancaster, Tenn. Like Dick Roberts' resort, Cove Hollow is really geared to the serious fisherman. Fishing boats and motors are for rent at the dock where eight top Center Hill guides make their headquarters. If they're all booked up, local sportsmen seldom need much persuasion to run out to a nearby cove for a few hours.
Auvel Hayes and the Doll Fly are synonymous at Center Hill. Until Hayes began fishing seriously with the Doll Fly a few years ago, it was just another local Knoxville lure, no more or less effective than many of the others used in the area. Then Hayes suggested a few innovations to its originator, Elmer Thompson, and together they arrived at the present design.
Hayes believes the really big bass are down at depths of from 20 to 30 feet. The Doll, which can be worked on casting, spinning or trolling tackle, is heavy enough to get that deep and apparently attractive enough to make the big ones strike. The evening I fished with Hayes he hooked into an eight-pound smallmouth where my surface lures couldn't intrigue anything over three pounds. Frankly, I'd rather see a small bass hit a lure on top of the water than feel a big one down deep, but that's purely personal preference. As far as beating the present smallmouth record is concerned, the chances are very good that a Doll Fly fisherman will do it. And the chances are even better that it will come from the Tennessee Valley area, where fish—and all other vacation attractions for the traveler—grow better every year.
CRUISING THE TENNESSEE
Where the Holston and French Broad rivers converge at Knoxville, the big Tennessee begins its 652-mile flow to the Ohio, winding through four states and a vast semiwilderness of camping, hiking, fishing and vacationland. All of the great man-made lakes on the river can be reached by car, but for a unique and exciting adventure, the best way to enjoy this area is to cruise down the length of the Tennessee River. Although the run from Knoxville to Paducah can be made in nine days, at least three weeks should be allowed to really enjoy a cruise down the Tennessee. There is much to see and do along the way.
An outboard or small to medium inboard cruiser is ideal for this trip. The boat should be able to make 18 mph for some of the longer runs between overnight stops. Many vacationers prefer to sleep aboard, but even if this isn't part of the plan, cruising will be more enjoyable with a place to stretch out or put the children to bed. There are few shoreside stops. A head and small galley make living more comfortable along the way.
This reporter made the Tennessee River cruise in a 22-foot Chris-Craft Cavalier. This was just about as small a boat as safety and comfort demand. You can't rent a boat this big in the Tennessee Valley area. To bring in a 22-footer of your own, the average lightweight trailer is too small. A commercial trailer like the 1,000-pound Peterson Bros. Gator which the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED expedition used, handles the job nicely. Smaller craft can be rented on a day basis on all of the lakes. The Cavalier was equipped with two 35-hp Evinrude out-boards, which averaged 20 to 22 mph downstream when pushed. With four six-gallon tanks, the boat had a top-speed cruising range of 36 miles—minimum for this trip—and an emergency reserve which allowed another five miles for miscalculating the next gas stop. This happens, so be prepared. The river is big and lonely—and like all rivers can be dangerous if approached incautiously.