Dale Hollow is no secret anymore. Many anglers have now ventured, explored and pioneered this lake, producing many large carp. The one thing that is unique about this lake, amongst its inhabitants, it holds a high percentage of fully scaled mirrors, especially compared to most US venues. Some of these special fish can also get very large indeed and that is why I decided to plan a visit, in the hopes of putting one of these beauties on the bank.
I had no idea what I was getting into. My knowledge of Dale Hollow was confined to the odd article or blog and You Tube video. It seemed that the most successful anglers have rented a boat or used one of the many marinas to drop them off at remote locations. There are also guided services available where you fish amongst a group of other hopeful anglers. Whilst that would have undoubtedly been easier, it’s not really my style. I’ve always been a bit of a recluse with my angling. Preferring the solitude and quiet of fishing on my own and on my own terms. Don’t get me wrong, social events and fishing with others has a time and a place but I just love being out there on my own most of the time. I had made the decision very early on that I was going to stay at one of the many waterfront campgrounds and whilst that can be a gamble because you just never know who else will be nearby, I thought that at this time of the year it might be quieter than normal. I had spoke to a couple of friends online who had fished there in the past, not really to get a secret spot but to just get a bit of a feel for what to expect. Before long it was almost time to hit the road for what was about a five and a half hour drive.
Much of Saturday had been spent cooking bait and making last minute preparations. I always end up planning for every eventuality and taking way more equipment, bait and food than I will need. Luckily I had recently purchased an SUV and that was loaded up to brim. I even had room for my faithful dog Brodie, though probably not as much as he would like. I had booked my camp site from Sunday until the following Saturday and couldn’t get there before 3pm which worked out nice as I didn’t have to get out of bed super early on Sunday morning. The drive was uneventful though my sat nav got a little confused as many of the roads around the venue were not digitized but after a couple of wrong turns I was soon pulling into the site.
Fall truly is a beautiful time of year and I was greeted with some wonderful colours that adorned the high forested banks that surrounded the lake. No one else was around so I quickly set up camp and got the marker float out. The water in front of me was quite deep, there was a shallow shelf that very quickly dropped down into 20 feet depths. Further out and I found areas that were over 35 feet deep. It also surprised me that it wasn’t all flat. There were many areas that came up or dropped a few feet at a time. The use of a marker float was going to be essential to find nice little spots to present a bait. I found a likely looking area not too far off the marginal shelf and spodded a couple of gallons of particle and around 100 boilies. By about 6:30 pm I was excitedly fishing for the first time on Dale Hollow.
It was a cold, clear night. Temps were in the low 30’s and a frost was forming on my equipment. I could hear coyotes howling and barking in the distance and finally managed to drift off to sleep. At 6am, after what seemed like a very long night I was awoken by a steady run on my middle rod. It was still dark and a heavy fog had descended into the lake. A short battle later and and my first carp was in the net. Wow, my first fish was one of the famous Dale Hollow fully scaled’s. Not a big fish, weighing in at 14lb 10oz but an absolute stunner of a fish. I quickly slipped it into the retainer as first light was almost upon me and got the rod back out. Around 9:30am I was looking out on the lake and I looked down to Brodie and said “time for breakfast”. The words had barely left my mouth when the middle rod was away again. This time things didn’t go my way and the fish found a snag along the shelf. The usual tactics to free the fish failed and eventually the line parted and he was gone. Later that afternoon I ended up losing another fish in the same manner and decided I must be fishing over the top of a sunken tree, so I moved my rods 20 yards to the left in the hopes of avoiding more trouble.
I rebaited for the night but to be honest I didn’t feel too confident with my bait placements. A strong cold wind had picked up making things difficult and I was feeling rushed as I’d left it kind of late, having moved spots. The second night proved to be uneventful and I reeled in around 10am to find to better spots with the marker rod. Under closer inspection my hookbaits had taken on a silty smell. Though not necessarily a bad thing I wanted to find some firmer areas that I would be more confident the fish would feed on. Having got my baits better placed, my mood buoyed and was hopeful of more action. Around 2pm I was connected to another fish, before long it was close in and I felt the unmistakable and gut wrenching feeling of the line rubbing on a snag. Sure enough I was soon locked up again and the fish was gone. This was getting ridiculous, what’s the point of hooking them if I had no chance of landing them. I gathered my thoughts and made the decision to move to one of the other vacant campsites further along the bank. The shelf cut in a little closer to the bank here and I might have a better chance of getting above the fish.
After moving and getting the rods out again it was getting late, I drifted off to sleep early and woke up at first light looking at motionless indicators. From everything I had read, it seems like Dale fish take time to get on a spot. I was almost half way through my session and things were not going well. There had been a high pressure weather system stubbornly sitting above me since I got there, meaning big changes in day time and night time temperatures. Not ideal! I had seen very little carp activity and with me moving spots twice I was starting to think my trip was going to end in disaster. Over the next few hours things started to change. Cloud started to build and the odd fish rolled out in the deeper water. At 8:20 am I received a steady take on the middle rod. I was very nervous after losing the previous fish. Luckily it didn’t cause too many problems and soon another fully scaled was in the net. A large weight was beginning to lift from my shoulder. This fish weighed in at 16.10 and I was just so happy to be getting into these stunners. At a little after 10am it was the turn of the right hand rod that gave a stuttery catfish like take. It didn’t fight much but I caught a glimpse of the unmistakable golden back of a nice common. In the net and quickly weighed in surprisingly enough exactly the same as the previous fish at 16.10.
Later that day a very large group of diving birds appeared. These looked a lot like the tufted ducks we get in England but lacked the familiar white feathers of their European cousins. One thing they did have in common though was their impressive eyesight and the ability to dive 20 plus feet to pick up baits. I took out the spod rod and cast a couple of empty spods in their direction which seemed to work and they moved off elsewhere in search of dinner.
It’s amazing what a couple of fish can do. I found myself adjusting targets, maybe I could end the week with a few more fish it won’t have been too bad a session after all. Though I didn’t have any more takes the rest of the day, the change in weather conditions and my recent success had me feeling good for the rest of the trip. I baited up for the night and relaxed, enjoying the evening. I did get entertained watching a Bald Eagle swooping on the aforementioned birds. Every time it swooped, the birds would all dive under the surface in unison to avoid the eagle. I wondered how long the eagle would keep going before getting tired and after about 10 minutes it flew off to find an easier meal.
Thursday morning had me playing a nice mid double common. It was close in but not quite ready to be netted when one of my other rods went off. I tried bullying the common into the net, which took longer than I hoped. By the time I got to the other fish it was too late and it was lost to another snag. An hour later I lost another fish. I was now starting to get seriously mad. I guessed that there must have been trees all along this bank at one time that were cleared to make room for the campground and what I was experiencing was all the old root systems still protruding under the margin shelf. I had now lost more fish than I had landed. I moved my rods one last time a little further down the bank and hoped for a clearer shelf. A few exploratory casts looked promising…Time will tell.
At 15:00 I was about to find out. I was about to reel in a bait up for the night when I had a take. I felt some grating on the line but it pinged out and a nice 20lb 2oz common was in the net, my biggest of the session so far. After that a shoal of catfish moved in and I ended up landing 3 decent size channels. I had two nights left and was confident of adding to the five fish I had landed so far.
At 9pm I had a group of guys in a 12 foot boat moor up, not 30 yards from me. They were dropping baits off the edge of the boat for Crappie and weren’t causing too much trouble for me so I kept quiet. They had been drinking and I’m not even sure they knew I was there. The one guy got tired and went to sleep in the boat and after a couple of hours the beer ran out and they called it a night. An hour later one of my rods screamed off and I was able to land an 18lb common. At first light I lost another one, this time to a hook pull due to me bullying the fish a little too much and again later in the morning another fish found the safety of the root system. At 2pm a screaming take had me in a bit of a panic but i had found a new way of dealing with the fish which involved putting a bank stick out in the shelf. This showed me how far I could safely wade before the shelf dropped off too much allowing me to get the rod tip up above the fish to keep him out the roots. This seemed to help and I guided a larger fish clear and into the net. When I looked into the folds of the net I was greeted by the sight of a lovely 26lb 12oz common.
I added an 11lb fish before baiting heavily for the night. I put out the marker rod and right as the first spod of bait hit the water a lightly scaled mirror crashed out of the water close by. I spodded for 45 minutes and I was noticing the odd patch of bubbles coming up near the marker. I wondered if I had fish feeding on my bait as I was putting it out. Incredibly not 45 minutes after putting out 3 gallons of bait, I had a take. The fish swam straight out and hit the surface. It felt big and I tried to stay calm. I finally managed to guide it into the waiting net and couldn’t believe the gut on what was an already long fish. I gingerly lifted it up into the cradle before weighing it in at 31lb 10oz. It looked like the big Dale Hollow fish had finally gotten on my bait.
I was into the final night of my session. The guys in the boat from the previous night had returned and I heard all kinds of stories including one apparently infamous night with a girl in a strip club parking lot. I’ll save you all the details. Other campers had also shown up so it was a noisier night than it had been. It finally quietened down and I had fell asleep. What happened next shook me to the core. I had a screaming take and I was out cold. I ran down to the rod and pulled into something akin to a huge log with a tail. The sheer weight and power of this fish had me shaking. My 13 foot 3.5lb TC rod was bent double and creaking, I never at any point felt in control. In my panic and still being half asleep I had forgot to step out onto the shelf and the fish slowly and powerfully made its way into the worse of the snags. Everything locked up, I gave it everything I dared and I felt a ping, ping ping as the line started to free. One last root and the line gave up with a shotgun like crack and the fish was gone. I just stood there, heart pounding, staring out into the darkness unable to believe what had just happened. I’ll go out on a limb here and say it was probably the biggest fish I have hooked in several years. It took about 30 minutes for me to calm down enough to tie up a new rig.
This is why we come here
I was now into the final morning and I had no idea that my session was about to explode. I was doing some scenic shots with my camera when I had a take and landed a nice mid double common. An hour later I was standing next to the rods when I had a take. During the fight I was almost convinced I had a Grass carp, the fish eventually turned into a lovely 21lb fully scaled.
Photos done, almost immediately after returning the fish I was in again. Again I was connected to a fully scaled, slightly smaller this time at 17lb. Takes were coming thick and fast and I was struggling to keep up. In the next 30 minutes another two common were landed, at 15.6 and a much larger 25.6.
I was again returning the last fish when I received another take and was again connected to something that felt a bit bigger. My tactic of getting as far out as I safely could was working a treat and I was soon in control of another fully scaled mirror only much bigger than what I had previously caught. In net and I was greated by what I had traveled to Dale Hollow to hopefully catch, it weighed in at 30lb 9oz and I couldn’t be happier. In the final two hours of the session I added a stunning 20lb mirror and two smaller commons.
30lb 9oz Fully Scaled
A stunning 20lb mirror towards the end.
It was finally time to leave. It had been an amazing session. Frustrating, challenging, heartbreaking and euphoric, all in equal measures. The lake had challenged myself and my tackle to the limits. I had to learn and adjust on the fly and had taken most of the week to figure out how to get the best out these swims. I’m proud that I was able to land some stunning fish on my first visit, on my own terms and I’ll definetly be back to try to land the big one I lost.