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

Eurasian Watermilfoil

The open understory beneath Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) is a prime place for bass seeking shelter on a sunny day. Get out your favorite creature bait and flip the holes in its canopy. Go heavy on line (braid or heavy Fluro)—you’ll need it.

Eurasian Watermilfoil

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—A classic target for many anglers, Eurasian watermilfoil will be one of the first plants to sprout and grow from existing structures in the early part of spring. Find the deep water edge where this plant often grows, and work a Carolina rig or big jig around clumps of newly growing plants.

Summer—This species is often one of the first to begin topping out. Much like hydrilla, the open understory beneath is a prime place for bass seeking shelter on a sunny day. Get out your favorite creature bait and flip the holes in its canopy. Go heavy on line (braid or heavy Fluro)—you’ll need it.

Fall—Eurasian watermilfoil will begin to exhibit some browning, even in late summer. But the plants will persist well though the fall. Milfoil is the perfect opportunity for frog fishing as the canopy will easily hold up the bait, but the understory is open enough for a bass to key in on the target.

Winter—While growth may have stopped and fragmentation begun, Eurasian watermilfoil will maintain some of its leaves and stems throughout the winter months. When all other grass is gone, find those clumps of milfoil in 10+ feet of water. Fish low and slow for those fish staging before the spring spawn.

Habitat Value

Fish—Eurasian watermilfoil can provide good habitat for fry and juvenile fish species. The open understory can also provide foraging opportunities for larger predatory fish.

Waterfowl—Eurasian watermilfoil can be a key resource for waterfowl in the Tennessee Valley, not because of it’s nutritional value, but mainly because of its abundance. Eurasian watermilfoil has been associated with avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM) in other areas, which can negatively impact water birds and predatory birds like eagles.  

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Eurasian watermilfoil is easily identified by its feathery leaf appearance. Leaves, in sets of four, can be found whorled around the stem of the plant. Each leaf will have up to 12 pairs of leaflets, giving the plant its featherlike appearance.

Where to Find It—Eurasian watermilfoil was once the most abundant and well-known plants in the Tennessee River system. In recent years, hydrilla has begun to dominate traditional areas of milfoil. However milfoil can still be found in abundance throughout many reservoirs in the system.

Max Depth—0 to 15 feet

Similar Species—Eurasian watermilfoil may appear similar to cambomba and coontail, however Eurasian watermilfoil has a whorled leaf orientation, unlike the opposing-leaf arrangement of cabomba.

Drawbacks

Eurasian watermilfoil was traditionally one of the most problematic weeds in the Tennessee Valley. In recent years, it has been replaced mostly by hydrilla. However milfoil does continue to cause problems in some TVA reservoirs. Cost to manage: $$$$ out of $$$$$.

Shoreline Plants

Eurasian Watermilfoil

The open understory beneath Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) is a prime place for bass seeking shelter on a sunny day. Get out your favorite creature bait and flip the holes in its canopy. Go heavy on line (braid or heavy Fluro)—you’ll need it.

Eurasian Watermilfoil

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—A classic target for many anglers, Eurasian watermilfoil will be one of the first plants to sprout and grow from existing structures in the early part of spring. Find the deep water edge where this plant often grows, and work a Carolina rig or big jig around clumps of newly growing plants.

Summer—This species is often one of the first to begin topping out. Much like hydrilla, the open understory beneath is a prime place for bass seeking shelter on a sunny day. Get out your favorite creature bait and flip the holes in its canopy. Go heavy on line (braid or heavy Fluro)—you’ll need it.

Fall—Eurasian watermilfoil will begin to exhibit some browning, even in late summer. But the plants will persist well though the fall. Milfoil is the perfect opportunity for frog fishing as the canopy will easily hold up the bait, but the understory is open enough for a bass to key in on the target.

Winter—While growth may have stopped and fragmentation begun, Eurasian watermilfoil will maintain some of its leaves and stems throughout the winter months. When all other grass is gone, find those clumps of milfoil in 10+ feet of water. Fish low and slow for those fish staging before the spring spawn.

Habitat Value

Fish—Eurasian watermilfoil can provide good habitat for fry and juvenile fish species. The open understory can also provide foraging opportunities for larger predatory fish.

Waterfowl—Eurasian watermilfoil can be a key resource for waterfowl in the Tennessee Valley, not because of it’s nutritional value, but mainly because of its abundance. Eurasian watermilfoil has been associated with avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM) in other areas, which can negatively impact water birds and predatory birds like eagles.  

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Eurasian watermilfoil is easily identified by its feathery leaf appearance. Leaves, in sets of four, can be found whorled around the stem of the plant. Each leaf will have up to 12 pairs of leaflets, giving the plant its featherlike appearance.

Where to Find It—Eurasian watermilfoil was once the most abundant and well-known plants in the Tennessee River system. In recent years, hydrilla has begun to dominate traditional areas of milfoil. However milfoil can still be found in abundance throughout many reservoirs in the system.

Max Depth—0 to 15 feet

Similar Species—Eurasian watermilfoil may appear similar to cambomba and coontail, however Eurasian watermilfoil has a whorled leaf orientation, unlike the opposing-leaf arrangement of cabomba.

Drawbacks

Eurasian watermilfoil was traditionally one of the most problematic weeds in the Tennessee Valley. In recent years, it has been replaced mostly by hydrilla. However milfoil does continue to cause problems in some TVA reservoirs. Cost to manage: $$$$ out of $$$$$.

Submersed Plants

Eurasian Watermilfoil

The open understory beneath Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) is a prime place for bass seeking shelter on a sunny day. Get out your favorite creature bait and flip the holes in its canopy. Go heavy on line (braid or heavy Fluro)—you’ll need it.

Eurasian Watermilfoil

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—A classic target for many anglers, Eurasian watermilfoil will be one of the first plants to sprout and grow from existing structures in the early part of spring. Find the deep water edge where this plant often grows, and work a Carolina rig or big jig around clumps of newly growing plants.

Summer—This species is often one of the first to begin topping out. Much like hydrilla, the open understory beneath is a prime place for bass seeking shelter on a sunny day. Get out your favorite creature bait and flip the holes in its canopy. Go heavy on line (braid or heavy Fluro)—you’ll need it.

Fall—Eurasian watermilfoil will begin to exhibit some browning, even in late summer. But the plants will persist well though the fall. Milfoil is the perfect opportunity for frog fishing as the canopy will easily hold up the bait, but the understory is open enough for a bass to key in on the target.

Winter—While growth may have stopped and fragmentation begun, Eurasian watermilfoil will maintain some of its leaves and stems throughout the winter months. When all other grass is gone, find those clumps of milfoil in 10+ feet of water. Fish low and slow for those fish staging before the spring spawn.

Habitat Value

Fish—Eurasian watermilfoil can provide good habitat for fry and juvenile fish species. The open understory can also provide foraging opportunities for larger predatory fish.

Waterfowl—Eurasian watermilfoil can be a key resource for waterfowl in the Tennessee Valley, not because of it’s nutritional value, but mainly because of its abundance. Eurasian watermilfoil has been associated with avian vacuolar myelinopathy (AVM) in other areas, which can negatively impact water birds and predatory birds like eagles.  

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Eurasian watermilfoil is easily identified by its feathery leaf appearance. Leaves, in sets of four, can be found whorled around the stem of the plant. Each leaf will have up to 12 pairs of leaflets, giving the plant its featherlike appearance.

Where to Find It—Eurasian watermilfoil was once the most abundant and well-known plants in the Tennessee River system. In recent years, hydrilla has begun to dominate traditional areas of milfoil. However milfoil can still be found in abundance throughout many reservoirs in the system.

Max Depth—0 to 15 feet

Similar Species—Eurasian watermilfoil may appear similar to cambomba and coontail, however Eurasian watermilfoil has a whorled leaf orientation, unlike the opposing-leaf arrangement of cabomba.

Drawbacks

Eurasian watermilfoil was traditionally one of the most problematic weeds in the Tennessee Valley. In recent years, it has been replaced mostly by hydrilla. However milfoil does continue to cause problems in some TVA reservoirs. 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.