provided by John Phillips
One of the best big smallmouth bass waters is the Tennessee River, especially the southern half that runs through north Alabama, west Mississippi and south Tennessee. The two lakes that get the most publicity and produce the biggest smallmouths are Pickwick and Wilson lakes. However, these two lakes not only produce great smallmouth fishing, but equally as good, if not better, largemouth, spotted, hybrid saltwater and striped bass fishing and catfishing. Brad Whitehead of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, guides for smallmouths and other fish. To learn more about Whitehead, visit his Facebook page.
There are several places where you can expect to catch smallmouths during the summer months on Pickwick and Wilson Lakes and other power plant lakes. If you’re fishing up close to the dam, and you’re drifting with the current coming out of the dam, you’ll want to look for a seam. Oftentimes, the dam will be running a certain number of turbines and have some turbines that aren’t running. For instance, if you have Numbers 1 and 2 turbines running current, and Number 3 turbine is not running current, and Numbers 4 and 5 are running current, you want to start your drift right in the middle of the Number 3 turbine where the water isn’t coming out of the dam. Number 3 will be slack water in-between two, fast currents, and that’s where the smallmouths want to hold.
Lots of boats will be drifting in that seam up near the dam and drifting back maybe 200 or 300 yards. But that fast current coming out of the dam can be really dangerous. If you’re not experienced, I suggest you start fishing 1,000 yards below the dam in that seam between the two currents. Plenty of smallmouths are well down below the dam that often don’t receive as much fishing pressure as the smallmouths closer to the dam. The currents are much easier to navigate the further you are from the dam. One important factor to drift fish for smallmouths successfully like I’m describing is you need to pretend your head is on a swivel and always look behind you for bridges, boulders and other boats approaching. Really, this type of smallmouth fishing causes an angler to always be cautious of fishing safely.
The smallmouths bite several different ways. The first bite is easy to detect and is called a thump. I’ve taught my children how to feel the bite by having one hold the rod. Next, I tie the line to the boat trailer hitch, then I thump the line with my finger, and that’s what a thump bite feels like that can be a bream or a smallmouth. The second bite you won’t feel, but you’ll see your line jump. What causes the line to bounce is the smallmouth comes-up behind the bait and sucks the bait into its mouth, causing the line to jump. The third type of bite is what I call a straight-down hit - a solid, straight-down pull on your rod. Once you set the hook on that smallmouth in swift water, you’ve got one heck of a fight.