The vultures led to her body.
The group of black birds perched in a tree caught the eye of 71-year-old Lance Parker on Wednesday as he rode in a boat around Williams Island on the Tennessee River.
"And then we saw something below it," he said. "We couldn't tell from where we were. I thought maybe it was a cow or a deer. So I pulled over closer to it, and it was a body."
Parker found the woman's body floating face down near the north end of the island about 3:30 p.m. The body was still clothed, he said.
"It had boots on with wedge heels. The boots went up to about the knee. We could see spandex," he said.
Parker called 911 and waited for authorities to arrive.
Volunteer State Rescue Service and Chattanooga Fire Department boats were used to reach the body, which was taken to the Hamilton County Medical Examiner's Office.
"It may be a couple of days before we are able to identify her," said Chattanooga Police Department spokeswoman Officer Rebecca Royval.
Investigators did not comment on whether there were obvious signs of trauma, saying they would wait for the outcome of an autopsy.
Authorities are looking into the possibility that the body belongs to a missing woman.