Randall Haley cringes at the math.
It was half-dozen 10-inch redeyes or rock bass to show for 10 hours of hand-blistering, back-breaking paddling.
“It was a rough, frustrating day,” said Haley, of Mt. Juliet, after a recent float trip down the Piney River to film an upcoming segment for the Southern Woods & Waters television show.
“It’s a beautiful little river,” Haley said, “but it’s become so crowded with canoers and kayakers that it’s hard to find a place to fish. Plus, almost all the property along the banks is private and posted, so it’s almost impossible to find a place to put in. We had to launch at a canoe-rental place.”
Haley was accompanied by show host Brandon Dowdy, of Lebanon, and two cameramen.
They shared two canoes and a kayak, putting in near Centerville and floating a seven-mile stretch before the Piney empties into the Duck River.
“We padded about six miles and fished a one-mile stretch,” Haley said. “We had to go that far to get away from the crowds.”
Their quarry was redeyes, members of the sunfish family and native to streams across Tennessee. They are a stocky little fish that get their name from their bright-red eyes. Technically a rock bass, the state record is a 2-pound, 8-ouncer caught in the Stones River in 1958. Most redeyes average a fraction of that.
Haley fished with a plastic jig, dropping it in pockets above deep pools. Crawdads and worms, fished along submerged rock ledges, are also effective.
“When we came to a good-looking stretch of water we would beach the boats and wade,” Haley said. “We caught about a half-dozen redeyes and two smallmouth bass. It was fun, but hard work.”
By state law, the landowner controls access to streams that run through his property. He also controls the banks and the stream bed, but not the water that flows through it. If a stream is navigable, it is open to the public – if the public can get to it.
“Used to, you could just walk across a field to get to a stream,” Haley said. “No more. Now most of the land is posted.”
He said he can’t blame the landowners.
“They have problems with people coming in without permission and partying and littering and carrying on,” he said. “Like everything else, a few bad apples can ruin it for everybody.”
Does he plan another float trip?
“Yep, eventually,” Haley said, “in a few months, when I’ve rested up from the last one.”