Fish Traps and Fish Dams on the Caney Fork

I was doing some research in the process of gathering material to update my book “Survival Fish Harvesting,” which is currently available on Amazon and I found a reference to fish traps found on the Caney Fork of the Cumberland River in 1769. Actually they found a series of traps or fish dams and presumed that they had been placed there by the natives. This incident is described in the book “The Caney Fork of the Cumberland” uploaded on a website maintained by Daniel Hanston who graciously gave me permission to use the info and image from his site.

The Need for Multiple Traps

What is of particular interest to me is that the book describes how there were a series of traps, reinforcing the concept that it’s not enough to have one trap, one source of vegetables, one source of fruit, water, energy or whatever. A harvester has a range of planned sources of anything that is essential to them.  Bestselling author Robert Allen wrote the book “Multiple Streams of Income” promoting the concept of not putting all of your income eggs in one basket.  This is the same idea.

Early deeds that describe the land along the Caney Fork of the Cumberland describe at least nine different locations, typically in shallows, where the traps were constructed. They were of a unique design as well. Check the image below.

One of a series of fish traps found on the Caney Fork of the Cumberland in 1769.

The gently angled slats in the center allowed the current to push fish up out of the water. The water current was strong enough to do that because the rock dikes diverted a higher level of flow towards the slats. Here is the description from the book:

“Loose rock dams were built out from each bank of the river to a wood structure supporting poles or slats at an angle of about 30 degrees, spaced about 2” apart.  Even though the rock dams were not water tight, the level of the river was raised so that the velocity of the water through the slats was quite rapid.  Small fish passed through but the large ones were caught on the slats and due to the water pressure could not get away.  As Jim Baker of Campaign used to say, “It was just a matter of walking out to the trap and picking up a mess of fish for supper.”

As the book states, these traps “…were fragile and easily washed out. ” I don’t see the slats surviving spring runoff. O the other hand, it wouldn’t have been too hard to reproduce the center portion. The rock dikes weren’t going to move.

Author: Paul

I was brought up in a family where respect for the outdoors and personal independence were strong values. Early life experience on the small farms of my extended family, in home vegetable gardens and canning and freezing of family grown produce made having a large pantry a commonplace. A career in the nuclear industry and positions in emergency response within that field inculcated a philosophy of preparedness. My personal experience of multi-day power outages only reinforced the possibility of infrastructure breakdown. A growing awareness of possible threats to the electrical grid from pandemic, economic breakdown, cyber-attack, solar storms and EMP attack lead to an interest in the preparedness field with regards to society and the individual family. I continue to research and learn in the prepping field and look forward to assembling additional books in the near future to complement my first, "Survival Fish Harvesting.". I may be contacted at