By Vernon Summerlin
Summertime anglers find relief from the hot days by fishing at night. On a night trip for Center Hill’s smallmouth a few years ago, I learned some nights are better than others.
READING THE MOON
Darin Coe and I fished out of Edgar Evins Marina a few nights after the full moon. “Night fishing is my favorite,” says Darin. “I like to fish when the moon is between a quarter and three-quarters in size. After three-quarters, the moon is too bright. If I do fish nights when there is a lot of moon, I fish the dark side of a bank, in the moon shadows.”
Darin says smallmouth bass strike a bait when it’s between them and the moon. “They don’t see color at night but they see shades of color. A full moon lets them see the lure too clearly – they see shades of gray and its shape or outline. They are a smart fish, they know when not to hit.”
There we were casting the Little Demon and hair jigs with an Uncle Josh rind under a three-quarter moon. It was bright enough to read by.
“From a quarter to nearly three-quarter moon, I fish a black and chartreuse or black and red. From one-half to three-quarter I fish crawfish and orange, something lighter colored because there is more light in the sky. From new moon to first-quarter I use black on black, such as a black jig and trailer or a black worm. The solid black gives a little more outline when there is almost no light in the sky.”
We began fishing before it was dark and Darin said we should be casting six-inch worms. “Just before dark I think they like to hit worms better,” says Darin. “During the day they will hit the worm and crankbaits better. And during the day you have to fish the cover or structure from 15 to 25 feet of water. I fish old road beds, house foundations, fallen trees and deep river channel points until it gets dark.”
COVER AND STRUCTURE
“Early in the spring I fish a chartreuse tail with black dots and crawfish with orange around big chunk rock and mud,” he says. “Cast in on the rocks and pull it off and let it fall, smallmouth are under the rocks. But in hot weather, I pull up on a channel point with both deep and shallow water close by. I cast across the point into 20-25 feet of water let it drop then bounce it up the ledge across the point then down the other side.”
Since the surface water temperature is in the upper 80′s in summer, the fish will be deeper. The top of the thermocline is about 20 feet. You are going to find the fish about 4 feet into the thermocline.
Shallow chunk rock points in Indian Creek are some of Darin’s favorite places. He says on Center Hill you will find the bottom drops about a foot to one and a half feet for every foot you go out from the bank. For example, 10 feet from the bank the depth will be between 10 and 15 feet. Shallow points drop about one half to three-quarters of a foot per foot away from the bank. At 20 feet from the bank you would be in about 12 feet of water.
“At night I expect smallmouth to move into 12 to 15 feet of water. I pull into the bank and cast out, put the boat in 12 to 15 feet and cast across the point working the Little Demon or hair fly from deep to shallow or I put the boat in deep water and cast shallow. I try it from all directions – that way I know I cover everything.”
He says, “Some people say that bass like the bait coming from the bank because that’s the way they usually see baitfish traveling. I’m not 100 percent sure that’s always true. You just have to figure out where they are in relation to depth and fish every point that way.”
In hot weather he suggests you fish the channel points. Darin fishes the lower end of the lake from Hurricane Creek towards the dam. Indian Creek is a tributary large enough to warrant fishing its primary points (points on the creek channel). Other places with good smallmouth action are the points at the mouth of Merritt Hollow, Hales Hollow and Holmes Creek.
“For smallmouth bass I use the Little Demon and a hair jig. I use Hoppy’s hair fly or Stan Sloan’s fly, 1/8-ounce size. Smallmouth suck in their food by flaring their gills and opening their mouth wide. This causes a vacuum. It’s easier for an 1/8-ounce jig to be sucked in than an 1/4-ounce. You catch better fish with 1/8-ounce. I’ll use a 1/4-ounce jig if there is wind but I get less hits with it.
Darin cuts three-fourths of the fat off the back of a piece of Uncle Josh 101 rind. He also splits the tail all the way up to give it more action.
CENTER HILL COMPARED TO OTHER LAKES
Center Hill is a highland lake on the upper Cumberland Highland Rim. Darin says it closely compares to Dale Hollow. He thinks of them as sister lakes since they have a lot in common – same structure, both are very clean lakes and both have a lot of smallmouth bass.
On Center Hill you will catch about 80 percent smallmouth bass and 20 percent largemouth bass. Darin says you would expect to catch about equal numbers of each on Woods Reservoir. “Woods has better largemouth bass fishing because of its depth and structure.
“Tims is a tough lake. I compare it to Woods, but it’s more of a smallmouth lake. You’d probably catch 60 percent smallmouth to 40 percent largemouth. It’s shallower with fewer hills. Tims has always been a good producer.
“Priest is shallow and has too much pressure, I don’t fish there. I think you would catch about 20 or 30 percent smallmouth bass there. It has a lot of wood cover, much more than Center Hill,” he says.
“Largemouth are coming back on Center Hill. They are trash fish to us smallmouth fishermen, but we’ll fish for them sometimes,” he says with a grin.
Jim Walker, of Franklin and Past-President of the Nashville Smallmouth Bass Club, fishes Percy Priest frequently. He says, “It’s no secret, locating baitfish is the key to finding smallmouth bass. As soon as I put in, I turn my LCR on. Before I pass the No Wake zone I can pretty well determine how deep the baitfish are. Trying to find points and drops with bait on it is the reliable way to finding smallmouth.”
Jim fishes the points more than humps. “I usually get off the point and fish the deep side and the drops. These points are close to the main channel. The fish may be up on the flats at night but the channel is close by.” He adds that there are a million road beds in Priest and he favors points that have a road associated with them.
“I find August to be a tough month to catch smallmouth. If you can find places where the channel comes in close to a bank that has some kind of ledge, I think you will find them at night. I have more confidence in a fly and rind than anything and that’s what I cast on to these ledges.”
Some people are picky about the color fly and rind that cast. He asked an angler, who had several large fish, what he was using. The angler’s answer was a fly and rind and added that he changed colors until he got the right combination. He said that night the smallmouth wanted a fly with a purple rind. This was substantiated by the angler’s partner who said, “I didn’t think much about colors either until he landed three big fish – then I switched to purple rind.”
The color controversy will continue but remember what Darin Coe said about the colors he used at various phases of the moon. I find it hard to believe that fish can distinguish subtle color differences at night. I think dark colors show a stronger silhouette and light colors may be more difficult to see, but in the water at night, how can a fish distinguish between purple and black?
Jim Walker says the fly and rind is the most reliable bait but he also fishes a grub. He read books and articles that stated smallmouth preferred a three-inch grub on a 1/8- or 1/4-ounce leadhead. He says, “I didn’t have a great deal of success so I went to a four-inch grub. I don’t know if it was that I had more confidence in the four-inch grub or not but I caught more fish.”
Jim uses Uncle Josh’s 101 rind in black, brown and purple. “I do have some red that I use on Tims Ford Lake. Most of the time, black or brown is what I put on. Watermelon green with a little gold sparkle is my favorite grub. I’ll use any grub as long as it’s green,” Jim says with a chuckle.
Jim talked about a place he caught 16 smallies in an hour. He wouldn’t say just where this place was but he described it. “This must have been a school of bass holding on brush. There is a little ditch that runs about 100 yards from the shoreline and there is brush in the ditch. They were just piled in there on that brush. I would cast in other directions but wouldn’t catch fish except when I hit that brush pile,” he says. This was an example of smallmouth schooling on a brush pile, when most of us think they would be associated with rocky structures.
Jim uses six-pound test line, occasionally eight-pound test on a five-foot rod. “Personally, I like a short rod because I feel like I have more sensitivity with it. I can see the line better at night because it’s closer. An important tip is to watch your line. It’s critical! I believe that if you feel the strike, it’s too late. The fish is gone. You’ve got to see it hit. That’s particularly true at night and that why I like the short rod.
“You get a lot better hook set by snapping the hook into the fish’s mouth than by sweeping a long rod. You can move more line sweeping a long rod but the short rod allows you move your tip faster.” Sensitivity, seeing the line better and the quick hook setting motion are three good reasons to use a short rod.
Smallmouth fishing under an August moon is probably more rewarding than casting during the day on Priest. Even if the fish don’t cooperate as much as you would like, you can enjoy the cool evenings.
OTHER TENNESSEE SMALLMOUTH LAKES
Kentucky Lake may be an overlooked smallmouth fishery. They tend to be on the east side of the lower (northern) end of the lake where clean gravel streams enter. Try Leatherwood Creek, Standing Rock Creek, Panther Creek, Hughes Bay, Byrd Bay, Tischel Creek and Ginger Bay north of the Highway 79 Bridge.
The area below Pickwick Dam is known for its smallmouth bass too. Smallies are prevalent for several miles downstream of the dam.
East Tennessee is also smallie country. Beginning with Nickajack at Chattanooga and going upstream, you have Watts Bar and Ft. Loudoun with good smallie action. The Hiawasse River Lakes and the tributary impoundments, including Norris, Melton Hill, Cherokee, Watauga and Boone are also favored smallies lakes.
NIGHT FISHING TIPS
Being organized makes night fishing easier.
1- Start fishing before it gets dark. Your eyes will adjust to the dark gradually. It takes about 15 minutes for your eyes to adjust to the dark after being exposed to bright lights of lanterns.
2- Take only two or three rods for the techniques you plan to use. Extra rods may become the source of aggravation or subject to breakage.
3- Take only the baits you will need for a night on the water. Organize then so they are easy to find. This goes for your pliers, net and, especially, your flashlight. Keep these items off the floor.
4- Running and anchor lights are a must. Anytime you are not anchored or tied to the dock, you must have on your running lights. Anchor light must be on and visible from 360 degrees unless you are tied to the dock. Spot lights are not required but should be available for navigation.
5- Safety first! Wear your life vest. Visibility as well as your sense of balance are impaired in the dark. Stumbling over a rod, tackle box or pliers may become a major event at night, resulting in your falling overboard.