Angler's Aquatic Plant ID

Want to be a better fisherman? Learn smart, season-based strategies for fishing the “weeds.”

Across the country, they go by different names. Valley anglers often refer to them collectively as “weeds,” “grass,” or “moss.” Whatever you call them, aquatic plants are an integral part of the Tennessee River’s ecosystem, whether providing nutrients for the species at the bottom of the food chain, or cover and ambush areas for largemouth bass.

While many aquatic plants look the same, understanding the differences can make you a better bass fisherman. Whether you prefer to punch a jig, burn a lipless crankbait or fish a frog, this guide to aquatic plants in the Tennessee Valley can help you be the best angler you can be.

Developed by fishermen for fishermen, this guide gives you all the information you need to understand when these plants are most productive, where they grow and—most importantly—how to fish them. Whether you are a seasoned tournament angler, weekend warrior or new to fishing altogether, we invite you to learn more about aquatic plants and improve your catch.

Floating and Floating Leaf Plants

Cabomba, Fanwort

In fall, cabomba (Cabomba caroliniana) mats seem to persist longer than those of native annuals like slender pondweed and southern naiad. This refuge for baitfish makes this a prime location for picking off schooling fall bass.

Cabomba, Fanwort

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—A submersed perennial, invasive cabomba sprouts from seed or overwintering portions in the late spring. Newly emerging cabomba will create vertical, yet open structure to be fished with swimbaits, crankbaits and Carolina rigs.

Summer—Grows rapidly throughout summer, forming dense, impenetrable colonies. Cabomba quickly forms an impenetrable mat. Heavy punch baits are required to get below this species. Otherwise, fish the outside edge as this plant doesn’t grow much deeper than 5 feet.

Fall—Growth slows after flowering and seed production is initiated. Cabomba mats seem to persist longer than those of native annuals like slender pondweed and southern naiad. Refuge for fall baitfish makes this a prime location for picking off schooling fall bass.

Winter—Little visible cabomba will be present in winter; however some stems may persist along the bottom. Try fishing small, dying clumps of cabomba with a jig.

Habitat Value

Fish—Cabomba provides shelter and cover for fry and juvenile fish species as well as some bait species.

Waterfowl—Cabomba provides little benefit to waterfowl species.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Fan-shaped, oppositely oriented leaves make identification of Cabomba quite easy. The native, less aggressive biotype is said to be tinged red, whereas the invasive biotype is said to be red only on the underside of each leaf. An “aquarium” biotype also exists, exhibiting only green leaves.

Where to Find It—Cabomba tends to prefer quiet, stagnant sloughs with little water movement. Look for backwater areas and sheltered coves to hold cabomba.

Max Depth—0 to 5 feet

Similar Species—Cabomba may appear similar to milfoil, however leaves are opposing whereas milfoil leaves are whorled around the stem.

Drawbacks

Cabomba has caused water use issues in TVA reservoirs, and current options for management make it somewhat costly to control. Cost to manage: $$$ out of $$$$$.

Shoreline Plants

Cabomba, Fanwort

In fall, cabomba (Cabomba caroliniana) mats seem to persist longer than those of native annuals like slender pondweed and southern naiad. This refuge for baitfish makes this a prime location for picking off schooling fall bass.

Cabomba, Fanwort

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—A submersed perennial, invasive cabomba sprouts from seed or overwintering portions in the late spring. Newly emerging cabomba will create vertical, yet open structure to be fished with swimbaits, crankbaits and Carolina rigs.

Summer—Grows rapidly throughout summer, forming dense, impenetrable colonies. Cabomba quickly forms an impenetrable mat. Heavy punch baits are required to get below this species. Otherwise, fish the outside edge as this plant doesn’t grow much deeper than 5 feet.

Fall—Growth slows after flowering and seed production is initiated. Cabomba mats seem to persist longer than those of native annuals like slender pondweed and southern naiad. Refuge for fall baitfish makes this a prime location for picking off schooling fall bass.

Winter—Little visible cabomba will be present in winter; however some stems may persist along the bottom. Try fishing small, dying clumps of cabomba with a jig.

Habitat Value

Fish—Cabomba provides shelter and cover for fry and juvenile fish species as well as some bait species.

Waterfowl—Cabomba provides little benefit to waterfowl species.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Fan-shaped, oppositely oriented leaves make identification of Cabomba quite easy. The native, less aggressive biotype is said to be tinged red, whereas the invasive biotype is said to be red only on the underside of each leaf. An “aquarium” biotype also exists, exhibiting only green leaves.

Where to Find It—Cabomba tends to prefer quiet, stagnant sloughs with little water movement. Look for backwater areas and sheltered coves to hold cabomba.

Max Depth—0 to 5 feet

Similar Species—Cabomba may appear similar to milfoil, however leaves are opposing whereas milfoil leaves are whorled around the stem.

Drawbacks

Cabomba has caused water use issues in TVA reservoirs, and current options for management make it somewhat costly to control. Cost to manage: $$$ out of $$$$$.

Submersed Plants

Cabomba, Fanwort

In fall, cabomba (Cabomba caroliniana) mats seem to persist longer than those of native annuals like slender pondweed and southern naiad. This refuge for baitfish makes this a prime location for picking off schooling fall bass.

Cabomba, Fanwort

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—A submersed perennial, invasive cabomba sprouts from seed or overwintering portions in the late spring. Newly emerging cabomba will create vertical, yet open structure to be fished with swimbaits, crankbaits and Carolina rigs.

Summer—Grows rapidly throughout summer, forming dense, impenetrable colonies. Cabomba quickly forms an impenetrable mat. Heavy punch baits are required to get below this species. Otherwise, fish the outside edge as this plant doesn’t grow much deeper than 5 feet.

Fall—Growth slows after flowering and seed production is initiated. Cabomba mats seem to persist longer than those of native annuals like slender pondweed and southern naiad. Refuge for fall baitfish makes this a prime location for picking off schooling fall bass.

Winter—Little visible cabomba will be present in winter; however some stems may persist along the bottom. Try fishing small, dying clumps of cabomba with a jig.

Habitat Value

Fish—Cabomba provides shelter and cover for fry and juvenile fish species as well as some bait species.

Waterfowl—Cabomba provides little benefit to waterfowl species.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Fan-shaped, oppositely oriented leaves make identification of Cabomba quite easy. The native, less aggressive biotype is said to be tinged red, whereas the invasive biotype is said to be red only on the underside of each leaf. An “aquarium” biotype also exists, exhibiting only green leaves.

Where to Find It—Cabomba tends to prefer quiet, stagnant sloughs with little water movement. Look for backwater areas and sheltered coves to hold cabomba.

Max Depth—0 to 5 feet

Similar Species—Cabomba may appear similar to milfoil, however leaves are opposing whereas milfoil leaves are whorled around the stem.

Drawbacks

Cabomba has caused water use issues in TVA reservoirs, and current options for management make it somewhat costly to control. Cost to manage: $$$ out of $$$$$.

Managing Aquatic Plants

Invasive plant species like hydrilla and milfoil can make for great edge fishing, but when found smack dab in front of your favorite boat ramp can keep you and others from even being able to enjoy the reservoir at all! A “drawbacks” section within each plant species page highlights the need to manage these plants in certain situations, and provides a relative cost scale from low ($) to high ($$$$$).

You may encounter TVA or its contractors managing aquatic plants in small, developed public access areas (such as boat ramps) at its reservoirs. TVA manages aquatic plants on an as-needed basis to improve public access to its reservoirs. Learn more about how TVA manages aquatic plants.

Aquatic Weeds Treatment Schedule

Learn when TVA contractors will be in your area using harvesters or EPA-approved herbicides to control the overgrowth of invasive aquatic plants. View the most recent schedule.

Valley Lakes Worth Billions

A new study by TVA and the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture has found that the economic impact to the region of TVA's reservoir system is nearly $12 billion each year, and that it contributes 130,000 jobs. Managing aquatic weeds is one way to make sure recreation proceeds unhindered. Read more about this groundbreaking study.

Further Reading

For more information on aquatic plants on Guntersville—or in general—read three stories by Bassmaster columnist and program manager of TVA Aquatic Plant Management Brett Hartis: “Bass and Grass on Guntersville,” “ Secrets of Fall Bass in the Grass” and “Where Has All the Grass Gone?”.

Contact Us

We're always looking for more information about aquatic plants on TVA reservoirs. Let us know where and what you see, and send us your photos. Email us.