I have been focusing on IBass360 TV vlogs, so I haven’t written any articles in a while. The focus on creating videos was taking up a lot of time. But recently, I have, had some great experiences catching Appalachian Mountain smallmouth that I would like to share. The pursuit of education and a needed change of scenery resulted in my wife and I recently relocating to East Tennessee. Needless to say, it has opened some new doors for my bass fishing passion. Having spent a fair amount of time on the water now, I’m starting to figure out these East Tennessee Smallies. I can recommend visiting the region with your fishing gear, and if you do, these tips might just help you catch one of river giants that live here.
The first thing I noticed when I moved down here from Kentucky is that the water is clear, and when I say clear, I mean very clear. My home water is the turbid Ohio River, often stained water with a lot of wood cover to pick apart hoping to get 5 bites to bring back to the scale. Most days you would find me with my flipping stick going down the bank flipping a tube or jig to every piece of structure I saw. This part of Tennessee it is completely different , which doesn’t make my adjustment any easier. First requirement? Change from spooling that 15 and 20-pound line to spooling a much lighter 10 to 12. Trust me when I say, these fish are line shy in this clear water. When I switched, I flat out got more bites on the lighter line. Next, you can forget about flipping isolated cover or going down the bank with a Texas Rig. You need to be snapping a tube off the bottom in this fast water- more on this later.
A lot of these rivers are similar but the one I have studied and fished most is the Holton River. The Holston is a 136-mile river that flow from Kingsport to Knoxville TN. The Holton has three major forks (North Fork, Middle Fork and South Fork), which together comprise a major river system in northeastern TN. After some experience, I believe the rod of choice to be the 7’ medium fast action Kistler Magnesium 2 casting rod. If you are wading or working from the bank you need to choose your gear wisely, and this rod is an all-purpose rod giving me the flexibility for a variety of baits. So far, I have not had to change presentations a lot as the bass have not been super picky. Mostly I’ve
been tossing a tube in current. This requires a lot of sensitivity, and with the Mag 2 I haven’t had any trouble feeling the bite in the moving water. Besides the tube, this type of water is conducive to topwater, a type of fishing I like to lean on heavily. For topwater, my go to is the Kistler Argon 6’9” medium fast casting rod. I pair both casting rods with a 7:1 gear ratio reel spooled with 12 pound fluorocarbon backed by 20 pound braid.
Now as for tackle, since I have also been doing filming for the YouTube channel along the Holston River, I definitely don’t want to pack more than I can carry on my back. Fortunately, what I’ve been bringing seems to be doing well for me, and that boils down to 3 main baits. As I said, number one is a 2.75 or 3.5 inch tube. Both have worked for quality fish. The colors that have done best are green pumpkin- with the tips dyed orange to mimic a crawfish, and what they call baitfish color. I’ve been rigging them on the Bass Pro Shops tender tube head in 1/8 or 1/4 oz.
My number two bait is the Xcite Baits Shadnasty swimbait. At 4-inches in length, it is the perfect choice for a swim jig. It also can be used for underspin, spinnerbait, vibrating jig trailer or fished alone on a weighted swimbait hook. It has a meaty body with a tapered tail for good tail-kicking action. The ribs down the length of the body generate vibrations while the bait is swimming. The Shadnasty is poured without salt for a durable plastic that stands up to multiple fish catches. Finally, my third bait has to
be my favorite topwater, the Heddon Super Spook Jr walking bait. What I have found interesting about this type of river fishing is that I can throw each of these baits in pretty much the same places- paying attention of course to what they are eating on that given day.
That leads me to how and where I present the lures to the fish. My favorite areas are those just below shoals where the current is blowing out hard. If the fish are feeding aggressively, I’ll throw the Shadnasty up into the current and work it down stream. If you hook one on the swimbait in the current you better hold on to your rod, because those smallies will absolutely smoke it. If the fish aren’t energetic, I’ll look for current breaks to toss the tube or topwater baits. I’ll fish the Spook almost anywhere. The tube, however, I especially like to throw in the slack water. I basically use a simple lift and drop retrieve. If fish are active, you can get some really exciting bites if you snap it up and down very aggressively. These waters are crawfish waters, and if I’m trying to mimic a crawfish I will dip the tips in orange for a little bit of flash.
One last tip for catching these Tennessee fighters. Given the clear water, you need to make long casts so you don’t spook the fish. Otherwise, they will see you coming from far away. This will assure you the upper hand in presenting the bait as naturally as possible. I hope this wets your appetite for some mountain river fishing. I admit I am still learning about the fish down here, but I wanted to share what I have learned so far. Remember to make long casts and to use natural colors and you will catch some of these smallmouths. Keep your lines tight and Live The Passion!
Brett Dawson is a Kentucky native now living in Eastern Tennessee. He has been a tournament fisherment and frequent blogger for iBass360, as well as being the key person behind iBass360TV on YouTube. Bret is pro staff for Kistler Rods and Xcite Baits. He works for Bass Pro Shops.