If you know Allen Gillespie, then the title is pretty self-explanatory. All truth aside though, Knoxville might just be the best smallmouth fishery in the South, and is always on our itinerary this time of year.

cover SCOF_knoxville is full of bassholes_allen gillespie_seinberg_2012

By Allen Gillespie
Photos: Steve Seinberg and Allen Gillespie
Southern Culture On the Fly
Issue NO. 5: Fall 2012

“Thou source of all my bliss and all my woe,that found me poor at first, and keep me so.” – Oliver Goldsmith

Like your first shot of corn from a jar, the take from a substantial riverine smallmouth has the ability to freeze time.  During that brief interlude, the savage force of the fish’s grab plants a seed in the recesses of your mind, which will ultimately sprout and grow to possess all of the qualities of a high-grade addiction.

This is in part due to the fact that a smallmouth’s fight is rivaled in freshwater only by their anadromous cousin, the steelhead. And just like steelhead fishing, it is the later reflection, far from the river, which haunts you and twists your mind sufficiently to cause a serious case of the night sweats. The only cure is the journey back to the river to seek another taste. Hence the addiction.

Knoxville, tucked neatly in the bosom of southern Appalachia, lies at the southern extreme of the smallmouth’s natal range. Like Afghanistan is to poppies or Bolivia to coca, East Tennessee is ground zero for the southern smallmouth. The region’s longer growing season coupled with TVA’s Franken-water laboratory of habitats combine to cook lunker smallmouth in batches of varying grades, which have included the current world record fish (11lbs 15oz).

A purest within a subset of gentlemen anglers, I prefer to chase the species in their lotic habitats due to the riverine effects on the species phenotype, which results in an ornery disposition not found in their lake brethren. My preferences aside, stillwater anglers need not despair since the hundreds of acres of water in the numerous reservoirs that ring the Knoxville area are prime waters. In fact, in many cases the potamodromous species divides its time between the area’s interconnected lentic and lotic habitats depending upon the season.

My southern home is blessed with a longer fishing season for smallmouth than anywhere else on the planet. A typical Knoxville basshole gets his first itch for a fresh fix in early March when water temperatures begin to approach 60 degrees. From this point on, the fishing can be fantastic as post-spawn bass drop back off their beds into primary tributaries and put on their feedbags.

With the arrival of the dog days of summer, however, the smallmouth frequently affect a crepuscular crankiness that limits the better fishing to the early morning and late evening hours necessitating not only a pre-work fix, but also a post-work one for the junkies among us.

As the first hints of browning on the foliage begin to show in late August and early September, serious anglers are in full-blown addict mode, in a perpetual search for the next monster to ease their pain. All too frequently obligations and responsibilities are eschewed for the chance at one more taste as the anticipation of the fall feeding frenzy makes the need that much more poignant, as by early October there is no better time to be on the water chasing trophy smallmouth.

By early fall, the occasional angler has long since shifted focus to football or hunting. The rivers are devoid of any boat traffic and the big bass begin to sense the change in the air and switch back to a persistent diel activity pattern, feeding throughout the waning daylight hours. The big fish you’ve targeted through the summer months are more obliging. In anticipation of the colder weather, they’re no longer content to merely inspect your offerings, instead compelled to destroy nearly all properly presented flies upon entry into their watery world.

With a little luck, and favorable weather conditions, Knoxville’s primary tailwater fisheries’ season can stretch well into the later part of November. This, of course, leaves only three months to wait before the season is back yet again. Scant weeks on the one hand.

Yet on the other—a long cold winter before the junkie can score his next fix.


  1. I guess you missed the part about the world record smallmouth being caught in Kentucky. They have the license plate to prove it.

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