Topwater Time on the Tennessee

OCTOBER 24, 2018—Chilly autumn mornings and vibrant foliage mark a magical season for sports enthusiasts across the Valley. And for a Tennessee River angler, a school of shallow-running shad can be as exhilarating as a throwing a Hail Mary pass into an end zone. In each case, there’s a potential for a big score.

Yes, it’s topwater time on the Tennessee—the wonderful fish-slamming window where amateur and professional anglers can dance topwater lures across the surface to take advantage of bass feeding frenzies.

The phenomenon occurs each year as cooler temperatures force baitfish into the shallows where the water is warmer. As gizzard shad and other minnows rise to the surface, hungry bass follow, ready to ambush their prey. 

“Things are looking up, literally!” John Justice, TVA Fisheries biologist,  says. “When forage fish congregate and move up, predator fish come with them. The whole migration pattern congregates fish into a smaller area, and that makes them easier to catch.”

Club tournament veteran, Clay Deason, of Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee is getting in on the action. Deason says the first sign of the strong topwater bite came with a two-day cold snap as TVA lowered water levels to prepare for rain dumped by September’s Hurricane Florence. 

Today, however, the massive strike is consistent. Deason says it’s hard to predict how long the fishing field days will last, but he’s sure it will be “game over” once water temperatures fall into the mid to low 50s—or at least until spring.

“Bass are gorging themselves right now and putting fat on for the winter. A bass’ metabolism slows way down in the colder months, and they’ll go days sometimes without eating,” he says. “Right now they’re really aggressive and fun to catch on topwater. I’m having a ball!” 

Bethel University angler and 2018 National Bassmaster Champ, Garrett Enders, believes it’s not just the shallow baitfish that make this period the easiest time for beginners and pros alike to catch monster bass.

“There are just not a whole lot of people out on the lake this time of year,” he says. “I guess everybody’s scratching the hunting itch.”

For those who do want to wet a line, Enders recommends his favorite topwater baits—the Evergreen Show Blower, Reaction Innovations Vixen, One Knocker Spook and the Whopper Plopper. For fishing a Tennessee River reservoir with grass or lily pads, a traditional frog is always a tool in Enders’ tournament-winning arsenal.

According to TVA, the region’s reservoirs attract visitors from around the world, generating about $12 billion to the Tennessee Valley—including anglers on the hunt for big bass prey.