Hot weather means hot river bassin' to these expert largemouth anglers. Here's where and how they do it. (July 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
Maybe it's the lack of deep-water refuges, maybe it's the moving water, or maybe it's just the way they are. No matter the reason, however, river largemouths love hot weather. Unlike their reservoir relatives, they come alive when the daytime temperature hits 90 degrees.
And so, savvy Tennessee bass anglers shift their focus from the legendary impoundments throughout the state toward the lesser-known and underappreciated rivers. Our state has thousands of miles of them. Most hold some largemouths. Still, some are better than others.
Those better ones include the Obey, the Cumberland and the Tennessee rivers. Here's what three top professional guides have to say about fishing them in July.
THE OBEY RIVER
The upper stretches of the Obey River -- it was dammed to form Dale Hollow -- may offer some of the best summer largemouth bass fishing in the state. According to 25-year Obey River veteran Bobby Gentry (www.bobbygentry.com), the period from late June through early September is the best.
"Largemouth fishing has really been improving the last couple of years. Most of the better largemouths are found in the bigger tributaries farther upstream from the lake. I don't know why, but they seem to like that shallow, warm water."
He specifically directs anglers to Franklin Creek as a great place to start. It's near Taylor's Ford at mile 43.4 on your Obey River map. You can launch at either East Point Resort & Marina or Sunset Marina & Resort. East Point is on the West Fork of the Obey at the split (mile 50); Sunset is downstream at mile 38.
The creek channel here is steep, well defined and offers many twists and turns. For the most part, it runs in the center of the creek but occasionally swings in toward the bank. The shoreline is relatively steep -- most places anyway -- and is usually cluttered with laydowns and brush.
Most largemouths will typically be found shallow, near the channel drops hiding or feeding in the wood along this stretch of the river. Weed growth in the immediate vicinity will often turn a good spot into a great spot.
Flipping or pitching a brown, green or black/blue jig with a matching chunk is a favorite tactic, especially after the sun is up and the shade becomes well defined. The better largemouths will usually be found in the deepest, darkest shade in the area.
If there's heavy cloud cover or the day is overcast and dark, toss a spinnerbait parallel to the bigger logs and tree trunks along the bank. Work it just under the surface and allow it to drop and flutter toward the bottom from time to time.
Spinnerbait colors depend upon water conditions. Gentry throws natural, shad-imitating colors, such as white, silver, smoke or gray, when the water is clear. If a summer thunderstorm has muddied the water a bit, try something with a little more color; chartreuse, yellow and pink are solid and reliable selections.
Farther upstream, above the split, the river is shallower and in some places, from a fishing point of view, is little more than a string of pools. Small, lightweight aluminum boats are your only real option here, unless you like to wade.
Nevertheless, the largemouth fishing is dependable. Fish up to 5 pounds are regularly caught. Open-faced spinning tackle is the norm in this stretch of the Obey. Small, natural-finished in-line spinners are usually the most effective lure.
THE CUMBERLAND RIVER
Donnie Felton (615/417-0245) likes the stretch of water on the Cumberland River between Old Hickory and Cordell Hull lakes, northeast of Nashville, for his July largemouth fishing.
"I start at the Highway 231 bridge above Old Hickory and fish one spot upstream and one downstream. That's all I need," he said.
Just as soon as you launch your boat -- there's a good ramp right under the bridge on the Lebanon (south) side of the river -- turn right and motor upstream to the first creek on your right. That's Little Cedar Creek.
Felton starts fishing Little Cedar at the mouth and fishes both sides, up and down, as far as the water will let him. "There's no one place that's better than another. They'll all hold fish on any given day. The area is full of weeds, stumps and laydowns; each one's (laydown, stump) as likely as the next to hold a good one."
Felton's favorite and most productive lure for July largemouths in the Cumberland River is an old-fashioned black/blue jig with a matching plastic chunk. Something fairly heavy, around 3/4 ounce, that'll get down through the weeds and into the wood, is required. This is heavy cover.
He flips or pitches to nearly every visible piece of wood. "If I'm catching fish, even if they're small, I'll slow down and fish every little bit. If the bite is slow, I usually just hit the best-looking spots and try to keep moving until I find fish. If they're there, they'll bite quickly enough. There's no need to waste a lot of time," he said.
Felton's other spot is a short ways downstream from the bridge and ramp. It's called Second Creek and is the first big creek on your right as you face downstream. It's littered with heavy debris, including drift and laydowns, most of which can be found in a tangled mess of grass and weeds. If it looks impenetrable, you're in the right spot.
This creek is for heavy tackle only. Largemouths that survive in this tangled mess in a river system are tough; milksop types are nowhere to be found. Casting rods with heavy-duty reels spooled with 15- to 20-pound-test abrasion-resistant line is the norm.
With unusual candor, Felton describes fishing Second Creek this way, "Tell 'em the right-hand side is best here (Second Creek). There's more fish-holding stuff around and the largemouths are bigger. Some of them break 5 pounds and you're always subject to catch a good one."
Once again, his favorite Second Creek lure is a black/blue jig with a matching trailer. He does say, however, that upon occasion, a Texas-rigged plastic worm will get you just as many bites. Black, deep purple or anything dark seems to catch the biggest fish.
THE TENNESSEE RIVER
Lou Williams (731/989-5367) fishes and guides a
long the Tennessee River and knows it about as well as anyone. He considers it to be one of the premier summer largemouth venues in the state.
"The area around Birdsong Resort, Marina and Campground is about as good as it gets. Last year (2006), I caught several largemouths between 6 and 7 pounds from there," he said.
The area he's referring to is at mile 104 on the river. That's about 80 miles from the dam at Kentucky Lake and about 100 miles from the dam at Pickwick. The most convenient place to launch is at Birdsong Resort, back in the creek. As well as modern launching and parking facilities, they offer licenses, fuel and just about anything else you'll need for a day on the water.
Williams suggested anglers begin their day at the mouth of the creek where it enters the river. As you exit, there are two points, one on each side of the mouth. Both offer hot July largemouth fishing. They are characterized by drops, flats, stumps, rock and wood.
To fish the points effectively, Williams positions his boat out in deeper water -- 25 to 30 feet -- and throws crankbaits up on the flats so he can cover the drops with his bait.
"Don't be surprised if you catch a lot of spots along with your largemouths. They like these points and drops about as well as the largemouths, sometimes better," he said with a chuckle.
In his opinion, the style and running depth of your crankbait is more important than make or color. He believes that to be effective in the Tennessee River a crankbait must strike the bottom, and careen off the cover, from time to time.
"I like 'em to run just a little deeper than the water I'm fishing. That way I get good contact with the bottom and whatever else is there," he said.
Another place that often produces respectable largemouths is the Highway 70 bridge. It's at mile 100.5, a short four miles downstream from the mouth of Birdsong Creek. (It's called the Hickman-Lockhart Highway Bridge on most maps.) Note: Downstream is north.
Williams points to an area of submerged chunk rock on the right side of the bridge facing downstream as being the best spot here. Now, he's not talking about the riprap along the bank; he's talking about massive pieces of rock under the water's surface. "Fishing the riprap is a waste of time," he said.
Williams reminded anglers that this is river fishing. Drops, debris, weeds and baitfish matter, but without current, and something to break it, largemouths will be hard to find. "The big ones want some water movement and a place to get out of it. Find that spot on the spot and you'll catch 'em," he said.
Tennessee's rivers suffer from a lack of respect among some largemouth anglers. Don't be one of them.