What could be better than spending the summer catching bass from the grass? Having a special place where you can extend your seasonal fixation on luring fish from aquatic vegetation. East Tennessee is the destination and Watts Bar Lake is the place to go in the fall.
There another good reason to visit here. Watts Bar ranks high on the BassmasterMagazine’s 100 Best Bass Lakes rankings.
Aquatic vegetation grows in Watts Bar, and it’s a personal fall favorite of Bassmaster Elite Series pro and Knoxville native Brandon Card.
“What makes it special is that unlike Chickamauga and Guntersville, the entire lake is not covered in grass,” he explained. “You have to look for it, but when you find it, the bass will be there.”
Less is better in this case, because isolated vegetation will concentrate the bass population in those areas. What is more, the key fall pattern on Watts Bar is focused on isolated areas of vegetation spanning the lake.
“It’s not like finding a needle in a haystack,” continued Card. “It’s a pretty simple pattern that a visitor can easily adapt to and begin catching fish.”
Find the grass, find the fish. It’s that simple. Card gears up with a lure that is notorious for causing explosive surface strikes—and that is also fun to use. That choice is a tricked out buzzbait. When retrieved, the blade’s churning action across the surface is irresistible to the bass.
The buzzbait is ideal because the grass is not dense enough to effectively work a topwater frog. A walking topwater bait is out too, because the efficiency of attracting fish from deep water is diminished. The grass grows too near the surface. That makes the buzzbait the best option.
“With the isolated areas of grass, you need to cover more water to find them,” he said. “The buzzbait allows you to do that.”
Card says to look for isolated areas of milfoil and hydrilla in three key areas. Those are grassy areas on the main river channel, coves and pockets off the channel, and on the outside bends of the creek channels. In that scenario, the bass stage on the edges of the grasslines to ambush migrating shad.
On the weather front, the good news is the buzzbait will produce strikes in sunny or cloudy conditions.
“They will come out of the grass and just blast the buzzbait in shallow water,” said Card.
Windy days and rougher water are less productive for the buzzbait, but there is a workaround. Card suggests switching to a lipless crankbait, which can cover water and produce reaction strikes from the bass. Fish it just above the tops of the grass, using a steady retrieve, while feeling the thumping action produced by the bait.
“When you feel the bait get bogged up in the grass, give it a quick pop of the rod tip,” he explained. “The bass will strike the bait when the bait breaks free of the grass.”
When the water is ultra-clear the bass can be lure shy of the flashy buzzbait and the profile of the lipless crankbait. In those conditions Card suggests using a soft plastic jerkbait.
“When they won’t hit the buzzbait you can switch to the soft plastic jerkbait for a more subtle presentation,” he said. “The fish will be lesser spooked and easier to catch.”
September and October are prime times for visiting Watts Bar. And as an added bonus, you get to go fishing amid the backdrop of the magnificent fall colors with the changing foliage. So, pack your bags, hitch up the boat, and plan a trip.
Gear up: Don’t put away the buzzbaits just yet. Best choice: 5/16-ounce buzzbait, with 4-inch Yamamoto Cowboy creature bait trailer. “The Cowboy’s large, J-shaped legs produce a prominent kicking action that adds to the strike appeal,” said Card. He fishes it on an Abu Garcia REVO MGX Casting Reel, spooled with 40-pound Yo-Zuri Superbraid line, with an Abu Garcia Veritas 7' medium action casting rod. For the lipless crankbait, he suggests a Yo-Zuri 5/8-ounce Rattl’n Vibe. Fish it on an Abu Garcia REVO STX Reel, spooled with Yo-Zuri 20-pound Top Knot Fluorocarbon, and an Abu Garcia Veritas 7' 3" medium action casting rod. Rig up the 5-inch Yamamoto D Shad on the same casting tackle.
About the lake: Watts Bar lake is located on the Tennessee River about midway between Knoxville and Chattanooga. The lake begins at Fort Loudon Dam and stretches 72 miles to Watts Bar Dam. The Clinch River connects to the main channel of the lake. Watts Bar covers 39,000 acres of surface water.
Other fun: Visits to Knoxville and Chattanooga are worth the time. Fall festivals and Oktoberfest celebrations abound, and you can enjoy the crisp, cool fall days, while taking in the fall foliage.
Plan your trip: tnvacation.com