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.
KNOXVILLE IS FULL OF BASSHOLES
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.
Last week we went up to Kingsport, TN to meet up with Randy Ratliff (Troutfishers Guide Service) to spend a day chasing Smallmouth on the Holston proper. When I suggested this idea to Steve as a feature for the premiere issue of SCOF, I was met with what I will politely call skepticism. In less polite circles it would be called Steve looking at me like I was full of shit. Either way, the car ride up to Tennessee was spent reassuring Steve that… yes, I know it’s late November…yes, I know they are bass…and yes, Randy said it would fish. Well Steve will now attest, that in Randy we trust because the Holston proper did indeed fish…for bass…in late November. Here are some of the pics we aren’t gonna use in the issue. Thanks again Randy.
The French Broad I am referring to is not that piece of strange you picked up on your vacation after graduating college (although judging from the laundry list of STD’s my buddies came back with, those girls aren’t exactly church going folk). The French Broad I refer to is our local urban smallmouth fishery, which has remained filthy in terms of garbage and water color for going on the whole season now. Guiding smallmouth on the French Broad this season was like taking repeated kicks to the groin from my one-year-old. Not something I enjoy, but inevitably it happens over and over again. In commemoration of our last trip of the year on the Broad, SCOF’s inappropriate T-shirt designer, Steve, came up with this gem of a tee to sum up most folks’ feelings on the Broad this year.
Unfortunately, this sentiment seems work all the way around for the French Broad, from the people who abuse it to the people who try to make a living on it. Now I know this bullshit is not limited to our urban fishery, as the words “urban fishery” have become synonymous with water that is just as likely to dole out a staff infection as it is an enjoyable day of fishing, but you gotta start somewhere. At this point, I am left with a decision to make: keep on pissing and moaning about how much the Broad sucks for another season, or to do my small part in trying to salvage what we can from the fishery. I usually go the pissing and moaning route as it involves less actual work on my part, but things have gone too far. I am now an official French Broad whistle-blower.
Beware developers who don’t implement proper erosion controls…your ass is, as they say, grass. Be warned hillbilly depositing your tires in the river to avoid the ten-dollar disposal fee…I see you. Armed with nothing more than my trusty camera phone and a list of environmental nazi contacts, I plan to fight crime from very far away and without actually confronting you. What I will do is get your license plate number, and like an old lady, phone it in to the authorities. My brand of justice may not be swift or painful, but what it lacks in these areas it more than makes up for in girlishness. Think the Monkey Wrench Gang meets Murder She Wrote…Wrongdoers, your day has come.