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Humphrey County Cats

Tennessee Valley Stories

With the Tennessee River being one of the best catfishing locations in America, the rivers that feed from the Tennessee River are the best spots to catfish. In particular, the Duck River is known for its quality catfishing due to its ability to stay cooler in the summers, warmer in the winters and the layout of its ledges in the river. The Duck River is also the longest river completely in Tennessee running 284 miles before feeding into the Kentucky Lake. With the Duck River being known as the most biologically diverse river in North America, there is no shortage of fishing to be done on this pristine waterway.

John Felsher

Humphreys County Cats

Fishing the ‘Land of the Three Rivers’ for Giants
By John N. Felsher

The Tennessee River ranks extremely high among great catfish rivers. The largest tributary of the Ohio River commonly gives up blue catfish topping 100 pounds and giant flatheads approaching that plateau.

“I caught my personal best blue cat, an 88-pounder, on the Tennessee River,” recalled Paula Smith, a professional angler from Waverly, Tenn. “My personal best on the Duck River weighed 82 pounds, but I caught my personal best flathead, a 52-pounder, on the Duck.”

Many people call Humphreys County the “Land of the Three Rivers.” The longest river entirely in Tennessee and the most biologically diverse river in North America, the Duck River runs 284 miles before it feeds into the Kentucky Lake portion of the Tennessee River in Humphreys County. The longest river in Middle Tennessee without a dam and the largest tributary of the Duck, the Buffalo flows 125 miles before hitting the Duck near Bakerville.

In the summer, catfish scatter so anglers need to search harder to find them. When fishing the deeper Tennessee River, Smith prefers to drift with the current, suspending fish chunks just off the bottom. Sometimes, she drags a weight that looks like a lead rope along the bottom with the baits dangling a couple feet above it.

“The main food source for a mature catfish is other fish,” explained Ken Smith, Paula’s husband and a retired Tennessee game warden. “For bait, people should use baitfish native to the area because that’s what catfish are used to eating. We use a variety of baits to see what works best that day. When we can, we use live bait.”

In a river with current, catfish wait behind current breaks like logs or rocks. They also drop into deeper holes to let the water wash over them, but always look upstream when feeding. When they see something irresistible drifting along with the current, they grab it.

“Catfish like current, but strong current stresses them, so they want to get into slacker current,” Paula detailed. “The Tennessee is a good place to fish because it has a lot of creeks flowing into it. Creeks mouths are good places to fish. We like to fish right outside the mouth of the Duck. Catfish hang right there on the ledges.”

Several springs feed the Duck so it stays cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It doesn’t carry as much current as the Tennessee, so when fishing the Duck, the Smiths usually anchor upstream from a hole, logjam or other place where catfish can ambush prey. The savory juices flow downstream to their waiting whiskers, tempting them to investigate.

“The Duck River is my favorite winter fishing spot because the water temperature is warmer than on the Tennessee,” Paula advised. “In the winter, a lot of fish move up from the Tennessee into the Duck. If the wind’s blowing in the wrong direction, we can fish the Duck and get out of it. In the fall, fish are almost continuously eating to fatten up for the winter. In the winter, they stack up in spots. If we have no activity for about 30 minutes, we’ll try another spot.”

While in Humphreys County, visit nearby location attractions. These include the Johnsonville State Historic Park ( the location of a Civil War battle that occurred on the Tennessee River in 1864, the Tennessee National Wildlife Refuge (, which preserves part of the Duck River drainage, and Loretta Lynn’s Ranch, ( with its mansion and museum in Hurricane Mills. Lodging is available at the Ranch. There are a variety of things to do to suit all tastes.

Speaking of tastes, keep small catfish to eat, but always release the big ones to fight again. People can view Fishing with Paula Smith videos on her YouTube channel. For more information about Humphreys County, see

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