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

Common Cattail

Fish native cattails (Typha latifola) in summer, when baitfish will begin to congregate among their stands. Bass will be nearby, so try fishing a swimbait or shallow running crankbait.

Common Cattail

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—Cattails exist mostly as rhizomes throughout early spring, but new growth can lend to edge fishing around the shoreline. By mid spring, the plants have grown new leaves. Use a soft plastic stick bait, lizard or fluke to pitch up around actively growing plants.

Summer—As the plants begin growing in summer, producing the distinctive brown cylinder common of the species, baitfish will begin to congregate nearby feeding off of the invertebrates present among cattail stands. Bass will be nearby to pick off such schools of baitfish, so try fishing a swimbait or shallow running crankbait in areas around cattails.

Fall—In early fall as the flowers begin to dry up and fall off, the plant will produce seeds connected to bits of white fluff, which allow them to be spread by the wind. A single plant can produce more than a quarter million seeds. As cattail begins to decay, areas of open water will begin to open up around the thick stands of summer. Use a jig to pitch back into pockets formed between stands of cattail.

Winter—In early winter, cattail leaves begin to decay and fall off. The living plant retreats within the rhizome to await sprouting the following spring. Although dead, some stalks of cattail will remain in the winter, creating habitat for invertebrates and smaller fish. Fish deeper water nearby with a jerk bait or rattle trap resembling such bait species.

Habitat Value

Fish—Shoreline habitat for invertebrates can be created by cattail, thus attracting baitfish and other species that bass readily feed on.

Waterfowl—The seeds of cattail are readily consumed by waterfowl and other shoreline birds. Shorebirds and waterfowl also use cattail for nesting.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Cattail is easily recognized by the large brown, fluffy flower cylinder atop its talk stems.

Where to Find It—Cattail can be found most often in the back of coves and wetland areas around a reservoir.

Similar Species—The leaves and stem of cattail can look similar to giant cutgrass from a distance, however cattail leaves grow from a single base whereas cutgrass appears to originate from multiple locations within the sediment.

Drawbacks

Although native and highly valuable as habitat, Cattail can become a nuisance in some high use areas where boats and swimming are desired. Cost to manage: $$ out of $$$$$.

Shoreline Plants

Common Cattail

Fish native cattails (Typha latifola) in summer, when baitfish will begin to congregate among their stands. Bass will be nearby, so try fishing a swimbait or shallow running crankbait.

Common Cattail

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—Cattails exist mostly as rhizomes throughout early spring, but new growth can lend to edge fishing around the shoreline. By mid spring, the plants have grown new leaves. Use a soft plastic stick bait, lizard or fluke to pitch up around actively growing plants.

Summer—As the plants begin growing in summer, producing the distinctive brown cylinder common of the species, baitfish will begin to congregate nearby feeding off of the invertebrates present among cattail stands. Bass will be nearby to pick off such schools of baitfish, so try fishing a swimbait or shallow running crankbait in areas around cattails.

Fall—In early fall as the flowers begin to dry up and fall off, the plant will produce seeds connected to bits of white fluff, which allow them to be spread by the wind. A single plant can produce more than a quarter million seeds. As cattail begins to decay, areas of open water will begin to open up around the thick stands of summer. Use a jig to pitch back into pockets formed between stands of cattail.

Winter—In early winter, cattail leaves begin to decay and fall off. The living plant retreats within the rhizome to await sprouting the following spring. Although dead, some stalks of cattail will remain in the winter, creating habitat for invertebrates and smaller fish. Fish deeper water nearby with a jerk bait or rattle trap resembling such bait species.

Habitat Value

Fish—Shoreline habitat for invertebrates can be created by cattail, thus attracting baitfish and other species that bass readily feed on.

Waterfowl—The seeds of cattail are readily consumed by waterfowl and other shoreline birds. Shorebirds and waterfowl also use cattail for nesting.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Cattail is easily recognized by the large brown, fluffy flower cylinder atop its talk stems.

Where to Find It—Cattail can be found most often in the back of coves and wetland areas around a reservoir.

Similar Species—The leaves and stem of cattail can look similar to giant cutgrass from a distance, however cattail leaves grow from a single base whereas cutgrass appears to originate from multiple locations within the sediment.

Drawbacks

Although native and highly valuable as habitat, Cattail can become a nuisance in some high use areas where boats and swimming are desired. Cost to manage: $$ out of $$$$$.

Submersed Plants

Common Cattail

Fish native cattails (Typha latifola) in summer, when baitfish will begin to congregate among their stands. Bass will be nearby, so try fishing a swimbait or shallow running crankbait.

Common Cattail

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—Cattails exist mostly as rhizomes throughout early spring, but new growth can lend to edge fishing around the shoreline. By mid spring, the plants have grown new leaves. Use a soft plastic stick bait, lizard or fluke to pitch up around actively growing plants.

Summer—As the plants begin growing in summer, producing the distinctive brown cylinder common of the species, baitfish will begin to congregate nearby feeding off of the invertebrates present among cattail stands. Bass will be nearby to pick off such schools of baitfish, so try fishing a swimbait or shallow running crankbait in areas around cattails.

Fall—In early fall as the flowers begin to dry up and fall off, the plant will produce seeds connected to bits of white fluff, which allow them to be spread by the wind. A single plant can produce more than a quarter million seeds. As cattail begins to decay, areas of open water will begin to open up around the thick stands of summer. Use a jig to pitch back into pockets formed between stands of cattail.

Winter—In early winter, cattail leaves begin to decay and fall off. The living plant retreats within the rhizome to await sprouting the following spring. Although dead, some stalks of cattail will remain in the winter, creating habitat for invertebrates and smaller fish. Fish deeper water nearby with a jerk bait or rattle trap resembling such bait species.

Habitat Value

Fish—Shoreline habitat for invertebrates can be created by cattail, thus attracting baitfish and other species that bass readily feed on.

Waterfowl—The seeds of cattail are readily consumed by waterfowl and other shoreline birds. Shorebirds and waterfowl also use cattail for nesting.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Cattail is easily recognized by the large brown, fluffy flower cylinder atop its talk stems.

Where to Find It—Cattail can be found most often in the back of coves and wetland areas around a reservoir.

Similar Species—The leaves and stem of cattail can look similar to giant cutgrass from a distance, however cattail leaves grow from a single base whereas cutgrass appears to originate from multiple locations within the sediment.

Drawbacks

Although native and highly valuable as habitat, Cattail can become a nuisance in some high use areas where boats and swimming are desired. 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.