Judging from what many Bassmasteres believe about smallmouths, this is a fish that prefers to hang around rocks. Largemouths, by contrast, love weeds.
But put smallmouths in a weedy lake, and a strange thing happens. Not only will bronzebacks relate to many varieties of common aquatic plants, they sometimes choose weeds above all other types of structure.
Dale Hollow Reservoir fishermen know that submerged grass and smallmouth bass are a winning combination. This big lake on the Tennessee/Kentucky border is famous for giant smallmouths, including the 11-pound, 15-ounce world record caught in 1955. Dale Hollow is unique among southeastern highland reservoirs in that it has extensive beds of aquatic grasses, some of which grow nearly 40 feet deep.
But this fishermen’s experience with bronzebacks and weeds isn’t limited to Dale Hollow. A native of Pennsylvania, the guide fished weedy northeastern lakes for years. It was there that he discovered the amazing drawing power of submerged vegetation for smallies.
There’s no doubt that northern anglers have far more exposure to smallmouths in grassy lakes than do southerners. For example, in the St. Lawrence River, which is loaded with grass. If the smallmouths weren’t on shallow shoals, they’d be on the grassy perimeter of the channel.
Midwestern anglers who come to fish on Dale Hollow have reported their home lakes, too, have weedy patterns for bronzebacks.
Fishermen in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin know that smallmouths love grass. The rapid spread of “junk weeds” such as Eurasian milfoil and hydrilla into river-run smallmouth lakes in the Southeast especially Kentucky Lake is beginning to open the eyes of many anglers to this “new” pattern.
Kentucky Lake anglers are reporting catching smallmouths in the 7-pound class while they are flipping the grass for largemouths. But few southern anglers are using techniques specifically designed for bronzebacks in weedy cover. And a great many Yankee fishermen still associate smallies with rock, not weeds.
The fact that most information smallmouth fishermen read or see on television depicts their favorite bass as a deep-water rockhound further perpetuates the problem. People who have fished Dale Hollow for years aren’t even aware the lake has grass in it. Many avid smallmouth fishermen are stunned when they are told that most of your day should be fishing the grass.
Many Dale Hollow fishermen have found that smallies basically relate to grass in Tennessee just as they do in New York or Pennsylvania or Minnesota. And, he emphasizes, this tends to be different than the way largemouths relate to this cover.
The first hurdle bass anglers must overcome is accepting the fact that smallmouths love grass, when it’s available to them. The next hurdle is understanding that smallies usually don’t relate to submerged vegetation the same way largemouth bass and other predaors might.
Over time, Dale Hollow fishermen realized that different predators occupy different niches in weedy cover. The grass will draw in muskies, northern pike, largemouths, smallmouths, and walleye. It isn’t uncommon to catch all or several of the above in a single day from a single stand of grass in a northern lake.
The muskies and pike would relate to the weed edges and to thin grass points that feathered out from the main body of vegetation. Smallmouths would most likely be on top of submerged weedbeds, while largemouths might bury into the thicker weed areas. Some types of grass have a universal appeal for predators, while others are favored more by one species than others.
At Dale Hollow, smallmouths seem to relate to coontail moss best, even though there are other species of grass to choose from.