Tennessee is truly blessed with an abundance of smallmouth waters. And those that fish for the famed "brown fish" know exactly what I mean. Whether it's small creeks or big impoundments, our state's clear, often-rocky waters hold some of my favorite fighters.
I grew up fishing for smallmouth around Lynchburg, Tennessee, wading small creeks like Mulberry. And back then, when I was using live baits like crawfish and such — long before I ever tossed an artificial bait – smallmouth were my No. 1 target.
In those days, a two-pounder was as good as a ten-pounder to the younger version of me. (And hey, they are still a lot of fun!)
If anybody had to ponder what it takes to produce trophy smallmouth, well, all they really need is a map of Tennessee…especially one that shows our lakes, rivers and creeks. They are chock-full of smallies, and there is none better than the big reservoir named Dale Hollow.
Dale Hollow holds the world record for smallmouth (David L. Hayes, 11 pounds, 15 ounces). That alone could easily be a draw for most spots, but guess what? Dale Hollow offers so much more.
It's one heck of a productive lake for big, brown fish and lots of ‘em. It has all the ingredients—first and foremost, there's clear water. Then there's loads of irregular features, bluffs, rocks, gravel mixed with red and tan clay in some areas. Add to that a more-than-adequate food supply and a high-protein forage base of shad and crawfish. And then, being in the South, well the growing season is extended, too.
This equation all adds up to produce great schools of the gamiest fish around. Dale Hollow is the smallmouth pinnacle. Its sheer beauty and what the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has done to make a good thing even better, one has to give the nod to Dale Hollow when it comes to being atop the heap.
The TWRA's 18 to 24-inch slot limit has really worked. Our growth rate at Dale Hollow has exploded with a very large population of four to five pound smallies. I really have to tip my T cap to the Agency for its quality work and quality results.
Put it on your "fish list." All this makes Dale Hollow a must-visit (and preferably on a regular basis) locale for anglers, whether they be in the next county over, the next state, or anywhere in the country. Anglers really do come from all over to fish for Dale Hollow's smallies. This includes those from all over the South, the Midwest, the Northeast and some even farther. A central location is icing on the famed cake.
With hunting becoming more restrictive and expensive, it really is easy to understand why an outdoor adventure to Dale Hollow could be a valued winter option. And the colder season is the target time, especially when it comes to catching a trophy brown fish. And with today's high-tech winter apparel, and plenty of deep banks/coves to get out of the wind, the fishing trip is tolerable for anglers facing the cold.
As for access, there are more than 20 ramps to launch from at Dale Hollow. Anytime from mid-November to mid-April is bound to be a heck of a trip when water temps are below 60.
But prime time for the enormous brown fish would be December through February, with water temps in the high 40s to 50 degree range. (When water temps dip below the 45-degree mark, the fishing gets tougher). I would also try to center my timing around the three to five days of new moon phases November through February. Activity follows up on a full moon phase, too, but normally a new moon phase is best.
The areas to target for trophies are big, main-lake points and deep bluff banks.
For numbers of nice smallmouths the coves produce a lot of quality smallmouth in 10 to 20 feet of water. But for the even bigger smallmouth, you need to target 35-foot depths on the main lake.
As for lures, a jerkbait works exceptionally well off the mainlake points on a calm day, where the big bass like to suspend. Work in closer on a day that might have choppier
waters due to winds.
A cloudy day is more productive than a clear day. Historically, at this time of year the lower end of the lake is most productive from Mitchell Creek to the dam. But hey, remember this is Dale Hollow. Big, brown fish can literally be anywhere.
Normally spinning tackle is best using line tests in the six to 10 pound range. Jig and plastic combos work well on main-lake points, too, as do some blade baits. Some fishers even go for tail-spinners.
Don't pass up the chance to fish long, sloping points in those 30 to 35 feet ranges.
The old float 'n' fly has long been a winter fishing favorite here, too.
A three-to-five-inch plastic grub is also a good bait. This is especially true if you want to go more for numbers than a trophy.
Don't be afraid to back way off the main lake points now and then as fish sometimes position themselves there. Fancast a big area all around these points.
Naturally, the mouth of a major creek seems to be a good area to try as well. Normally, the down-current point of a creek mouth is most productive.
The smallmouth is one of the gamiest fish around. It's a special species…an aristocrat in the angling world. And we Tennesseans have the top spot in the world to fish for 'em, and that's whether you want to catch a lot of four-pounders, or one in that famed 10-pound range.
These trophy smallies are smart. They didn't reach such a caliber by being foolish. You have to use skill to trick 'em, but once you get one on the line, I promise after the fight, you'll be wondering which of you really won.
They are a special fish in Tennessee. We are blessed to have such great places to fish for them here in our home state. Come visit us and see what you think.