Follow the Forage for Summer Bass

There is great summer bass fishing, for a variety of species, within easy driving distance from every region of the Volunteer State.

Just a couple of weeks ago, big female largemouths were on the beds, and Tennessee fishermen were taking advantage of sight fishing from one end of the state to the other. Every slough held a spawning fish along with male suitors, and it seemed almost any cast or flip could yield a trophy.

Now the sloughs are empty, and as spring yields to summer, the fish are settling into summer patterns, and anglers must adjust. Fortunately, these patterns are the most consistent of the year.

Summer bass fishing in Tennessee, generally speaking, is about targeting offshore schooling fish, and there are tactics that seem to work from one end of the state to the other. That isn’t to say anglers won’t have to experiment, but Tennessee bass, especially summer largemouths, tend to be creatures of habit, and there are a few basics to remember.

Summer bass are going to follow forage, which, in most cases, is a type of shad. They are also going to respond to current, with a moderate current causing them to feed, and little to no current causing them to become, at times, lethargic, especially in TVA impoundments. These are the times anglers will need to slow down and downsize approach, using drop-shot rigs on light line, or Texas- and Carolina-rigged plastics fished slowly on main river humps and points. Read more about: The Best Western Government Camp

These ideas can be applied on almost any body of water in the Volunteer State, but there are special places that produce annually that deserve a closer look.


Though the western part of the state abounds with great summertime fishing, Kentucky Lake and its ledge fishing is as good as it gets. Schools of largemouths take up residence on the ledges that line the floor of this huge impoundment, and the schools will sometimes get bigger on a particular ledge as the summer progresses. Electronics are the key to success.

Even with the enormity, there are numerous ledges that local fishermen know about. These holes are pounded every day, and fish become accustomed standard baits and can become very difficult to catch. Successful tournament anglers on Kentucky Lake are able to dissect electronics and lake maps to locate smaller ledges that other anglers overlook. In times of moderate current, it doesn’t take much of a change in depth to hold bass.

Anglers should not hesitate to spend time on the water just idling around looking for bass stacked on these drops. Once fish are located, mark them with a GPS and motor to another potentially productive area. After founding several productive areas, approach these fish with Texas- or Carolina-rigged 10-inch worms in black or pumpkin, or deep-diving crankbaits in shad patterns.


With its proximity to Nashville, Percy Priest is phenomenal in that it is one of the most consistent summertime bass waters in the state, while also being one of the highest pressured. Todd St. John, Region 2 Fisheries Biologist with the TWRA, indicates that not much has changed with this lake, though it gets pounded daily during the summer.

“The bass fishery in J. Percy Priest is still going strong,” said St. John. “Catch rates by bass anglers have remained very consistent as determined by creel surveys.”

With this many bass close to a major metropolitan area, tournament anglers are certain to utilize the resource. In fact, surveys taken by Tennessee Tech University several years ago revealed that about 450 tournaments occur on Priest, annually. Add to that an enormous amount of pleasure boats and jet skis, and anglers can quickly become frustrated.

With this in mind, anglers are going to find more success and enjoyment fishing Priest at night during the summer. Night fishing eliminates competition with pleasure craft and gets anglers out of the sultry temperatures of summer. Fortunately, there are good ramps along Priest, so fishing at night is fairly easy. Additionally, nighttime on Priest is going to give a mixed bag of largemouths and smallmouths, as the lake holds a healthy population of both that inhabits many of the same areas at night.

Before heading out, do some map work to locate main lake points, and then scout these areas on the lake. Find points that have gravel or large rocks and fish those points with spinnerbaits slow-rolled across the bottom, even bumping the rocks. Colorado blades seem to work better at night as they give off more vibration, and black is a hard color to beat, as it silhouettes against the night sky. Another option is to fish a plastic craw. Regardless, work baits slow and position the boat to fish shallow to deep, as fish could be scattered anywhere in the water column. Mark depths when fish are caught to establish a pattern from point to point. Night fishing can be more of a hassle logistically, but it’s certainly going to increase catch rates on Percy Priest in the summer.


No lake has increased in popularity as fast as Chickamauga Lake near Dayton. With the introduction of Florida strain bass, anglers from across the Southeast have worn a path to Chickamauga in hopes of eclipsing the new state record that was established a short time ago. With this pressure, fishing Chickamauga in the summer is going to be like hunting a highly pressured wildlife management area on the opening day of deer gun season. Anglers are going to have to find places other anglers have overlooked, and those areas are going to be offshore. That isn’t to say anglers can’t catch some large fish early in the morning and late in the evening in the vast acres of grass that grow in Chickamauga, but to be consistent all day, anglers are going to have to trust electronics and find the main river points, ledges and humps that centralize large schools of bass.

To prepare for a day on Chickamauga, study maps to find humps and ledges that are a further distance from popular marinas, such as Richland Creek than many anglers want to run. Many fishermen are going to be anxious to wet a line, so they are going to stop at the first bank or main river hump that looks inviting. These spots get fished heavily, and fish become educated or leave. Large fish don’t get big by being dumb. A bit of extra running time upriver or downriver can put anglers in a school of bass that hasn’t seen a bait all summer. Successful tournament anglers on Chickamauga typically go offshore, searching for four or five big strikes each day.

For anglers looking to score on a big fish, the typical way of thinking has to change. After finding a likely looking offshore spot, use bigger baits, such as large swimbaits, oversized plastics (especially large 10-inch worms in black and blue) and large deep-running crankbaits in shad patterns.


Just upstream from Chickamauga is the less pressured Watts Bar Lake. Watts Bar can be described as more opportunistic than Chickamauga in that anglers are going to have more of an opportunity for a mixed summertime bag, yet still, have the chance at a truly big fish. With grass now returning on this lake, early mornings and late evenings are all about topwater, with Zara Spooks and Pop Rs being local favorites. Much like Chickamauga and Kentucky Lakes, humps and ledges are going to hold bass in times of moderate current, and Watts Bar bass will smash a Tennessee Shad patterned, deep-running, crankbait. Points on the main river channel will also hold bass, and it seems the bigger fish that hold in these areas can’t resist large soft-plastic craws.

Since largemouths are the most sought after species on the lake, smallmouths are typically unutilized. With large bluffs and chunk-rock banks, Watts Bar is a smallmouth factory that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. In the summer, locate rock points at night on the main river channel, and drag a Carolina-rigged pumpkin-colored lizard or slow roll a black spinnerbait.

As a bonus, the summertime white bass frenzy is as good on Watts Bar as anywhere in Tennessee. In the heat of summer, white bass can be seen in the early mornings and late evenings breaking all over the lake. Just idle around until finding them, and then throw almost any minnow type lure to catch them. Catch these fish during the day by locating a hump on the main river channel that has shad and jig a spoon on the bottom.


Anglers looking for a change of pace away from the crowds should consider launching boats near Riverside Drive in Knoxville to run upriver to the confluence of the French Broad and Holston Rivers, both of which provide fantastic smallmouth action.

Though the Holston tends to flow a little clearer than the French Broad, similar baits will work on both rivers. In times of moderate flow, orange and brown curly-tailed grubs on 1/8- to 1/4-ounce heads or small Rapalas in the same colors are hard to beat. Additionally, the old time, black Tiny Torpedo works great and will entice some ferocious strikes.

Be sure to pay close attention to electronics, because depths can change drastically and abruptly. However, this also makes wading shoals possible.

No matter where you decide to fish this summer, do your homework before you go, try things you haven’t tried before, and don’t be afraid to fish areas that other anglers are ignoring. That’s how you catch the fish of a lifetime, and there are plenty of those to be caught from one end of our state to the other.

By Scott Carver

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