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Dale Hollow & Watts Barr Bassin'

Dale Hollow & Watts Barr Bassin'

On Dale Hollow and Watts Barr, hard-hitting May bass await you now. This guide will put you where the fish are.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Travis Faulkner

The month of May traditionally marks the closing of the spring turkey season and a month many anglers target some of the fantastic bass fishing throughout the state of Tennessee. It is a special time of year that is greeted by warmer temperatures, the distinct smell of freshly mowed lawns and sizzling bass action.

A steady rise in water temperature is all it takes to breathe life back into local reservoirs and generate a flurry of bass activity. Many bass are coming off the nest, have recovered from spawning and are extremely anxious to feed on any unsuspecting prey. This is the time of year when largemouth bass can be found in impressive numbers in the shallows along the shorelines.

Dale Hollow and Watts Bar lakes offer anglers some of the finest bass-fishing opportunities that can be found across the country. Both lakes are crammed full of healthy bass, and these dark green predators are eager to bite. Easy boating access combined with countless banks covered in prime structure creates a target-rich environment for bass anglers.

Over the years, Dale Hollow Lake has built a solid reputation as being one of the premier smallmouth bass fisheries in the nation. However, this impoundment of the Obey and Wolf rivers should not be overlooked for its ability to produce large numbers of largemouth and Kentucky bass. An impressive 620 miles of wooded shoreline provides ideal cover and structure for attracting and holding bass. The lake bottom of Dale Hollow is composed of boulders, gravel beds, sand, clay, shale and broken rock.

Where To Fish
Many lakes across the country have limitations relating to the amount of prime fishing banks that possess the right kind of cover that will attract bass. However, you will not encounter this problem at Dale Hollow because most of the lake is covered with productive banks.

During the month of May, bass congregate on shallow sections and flats on banks throughout the lake. Most of the bass are in the post-spawn transition and are coming off the nest. These fish will be very active and can be spotted cruising the shoreline just under the surface.


An integral step in locating and catching bass during this transition is to locate shallow flats that are dotted with willow or jack bushes. The shady sides of these bushes provide excellent ambush points for lurking largemouths. Banks with access to shallow water that have blowdowns and stumps will also be staging areas for bass. The heads of small creeks that can be found throughout the lake are other key locations where you should concentrate your fishing efforts.

The Wolf River and Obey River sections of the lake offer some fantastic banks that possess all types of structure. Star Point Marina of Byrdstown, Tennessee, will give anglers easy access to the Obey River. Horse Creek and Cedar Hill boat docks allow anglers to fish key areas around the dam.

Strategies And Techniques
One of the great aspects about fishing in May is the explosive topwater action that will inevitably increase your pulse rate and rattle your nerves. A wide assortment of surface lures will draw strikes from bass that are holding in 2 to 3 feet of water.

For example, prop baits and other surface lures equipped with propellers in the front, back or both will trigger a lot of strikes. For best results, make fairly long casts past the various types of structure and allow the water to calm and the bait to settle. Casting the lure past the targeted area is a crucial step in the process, as doing so prevents the bass from being spooked by the splash of the bait and it allows the fish to prepare to ambush and attack the lure as it approaches.

Sometimes a strike may occur while the bait is simply resting on the surface and is motionless. Your next move should be to barely twitch the tip of your rod to make the bait create small ripples on the water. This action emulates the motion of a wounded baitfish and will toy with the natural instincts of a bass to strike and take advantage of an easy meal. All of these topwater lures can be retrieved back to the boat by short and deliberate jerks that give the bait a lifelike presentation that bass find irresistible.

Furthermore, early in the month of May, a small portion of the bass could still be on the nest. These stragglers can be caught by casting the topwater bait directly above the bed and irritating the female to the point of generating a strike. In some cases, it may take several casts to finally hook up with the fish.

In fact, I have experienced bass that will knock the bait completely out of the water with a vengeance and somehow escape the cluster of sharp treble hooks. Ironically, these same hooks will inevitably hang in every limb, other rods, clothing and even the carpet in your boat. However, a few persistent casts are usually all it takes to finally land the obstinate largemouth that has eluded being caught on the first couple of attempts.

Bass can also successfully be taken on a wide range of other baits as well. For example, topwater stick baits, buzzbaits and a variety of jerkbaits will all take fish. When fishing clear water, try to select natural shad colors; fish bright colors like chartreuse under stained water conditions. You may also have to make subtle variations in your retrieve and presentation to increase your catch ratio.

The largemouth and Kentucky bass fishing at Watts Bar can be extraordinary during the month of May. In fact, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency's (TWRA) chief reservoir biologist, Tim Churchill, Watts Bar ranks as one of the top bass lakes in the state.

"The lake has a tremendous shad biomass composed of gizzard and the smaller threadfin shad," said Churchill.

This provides an ideal forage base for bass throughout the lake and can make for some great fishing.

"Watts Bar had one of the highest catch rates for largemouth bass last year in the Volunteer State and seems to be riding high on a couple of strong year-classes," commented Churchill.

Prime Structure
Bass will generally hold and congregate around weedbeds, willow bushes, and stumpbeds that are located in the major creeks and channels of the lake. Watts Bar also encompasses a number of boat docks that always seem to have huge populations of bass that patrol the shady boat s

lips. These areas can be sanctuaries for largemouths during the afternoon hours of a sunny day.

Lakeside Resort and Watts Bar Dam Recreation Area offer fast and easy access to a number of banks and docks that will produce fish. Paralleling weedbeds and fishing around blowdowns will also generate strikes during the afternoon.

How To Fish
The bass on Watts Bar can also be caught on a variety of surface lures ranging from prop baits to buzzbaits. A number of fish can be taken on soft-plastic jerkbaits and stick baits as well. All of these lures can be effectively fished around boat docks, over stumpbeds, around willow bushes and on the edges of weedbeds.

One important aspect of fishing for bass in shallow water that are holding near the surface is to be stealthy. Try to avoid thumping and bumping noises on the bottom of the boat. Alarming sound waves piercing through water can drastically decrease your chances of catching fish. I would also recommend anglers to not wear bright-colored clothing or hats that fish can pick out from great distances and become spooked. It is also wise to utilize a pair of polarized sunglasses that will take the glare off the water and enable you to spot bass before they see you.

Remember, the month of May can be legendary for producing some action-packed trips that can produce memories that will last a lifetime. There is nothing quite like the anticipation of a topwater strike and the thrill that is derived from the sound of a squealing drag that is being frantically slipped by a spirited largemouth bass. This May give Dale Hollow or Watts Bar a try and I hope to see you on the water.

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