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

Fragrant Water Lily

In early spring, patches of freshly sprouted water lily (Nymphaea odorata) can be some of the only vegetation actively growing in the area. Fish soft plastics or a swim jig around these isolated vegetation clumps.

Fragrant Water Lily

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—This native plant sprouts from underground root structures known as rhizomes each spring. Once leaf stems reach the surface, a round leaf with a pie-shaped notch unravels to float on the water surface. In early spring, patches of freshly sprouted water lily can be some of the only vegetation actively growing in the area. Fish soft plastics or a swim jig around these isolated vegetation clumps.

Summer—During summer, water lily grows rapidly and begins flowering. Flowers are white or white-pink, opening each morning and closing each night for up to five consecutive nights. Fruit and subsequent seeds are drawn beneath the waters surface after the final opening of the flower. Fragrant water lily provides an excellent opportunity for flipping and punching in summer. If plants are spread out, try enticing a topwater bite by bumping a plastic frog on and off of pads.

Fall—In fall, fragrant water lily begins to decay and die off with cooler water temperatures. As leaves begin to decay, they leave behind submersed stems which can provide the perfect option for a swimbait or other weedless soft plastic.

Winter—Fragrant water lily overwinters as a rhizome. Very little of fragrant water-lily will remain through winter so this species should not be targeted again until the following spring.

Habitat Value

Fish—Submersed portions of fragrant water lily provide habitat for invertebrates, baitfish and juvenile fish species. A relatively open understory is the perfect ambush location for larger predatory fish.

Waterfowl—Seeds are readily consumed by waterfowl.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Fragrant water lily is easily identified by it’s round leaves with pie shaped notches as well as it’s showy, fragrant white or pink flowers. The sweet smell of fragrant water lily can often be detected hundreds of yards away when the plants are in full bloom.

Where to Find It—You can find fragrant water lily in many nearshore areas where nutrients are readily available.

Max Depth—0 to 5 feet

Similar Species—Fragrant water lily can sometimes resemble other floating leaved plants, like spatterdock and watershield. However water lily has a distinct pie-shaped cut in the round leaf and often has a white or pink flower, whereas spatterdock has a much less pronounced notch and yellow flowers and watershield has less noticeable flowers and much smaller, oval shaped leaves.

Drawbacks

Fragrant water lily can sometimes cause water use issues, especially for boating and swimming, and sometimes requires management. Cost to manage: $$ out of $$$$$.

Shoreline Plants

Fragrant Water Lily

In early spring, patches of freshly sprouted water lily (Nymphaea odorata) can be some of the only vegetation actively growing in the area. Fish soft plastics or a swim jig around these isolated vegetation clumps.

Fragrant Water Lily

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—This native plant sprouts from underground root structures known as rhizomes each spring. Once leaf stems reach the surface, a round leaf with a pie-shaped notch unravels to float on the water surface. In early spring, patches of freshly sprouted water lily can be some of the only vegetation actively growing in the area. Fish soft plastics or a swim jig around these isolated vegetation clumps.

Summer—During summer, water lily grows rapidly and begins flowering. Flowers are white or white-pink, opening each morning and closing each night for up to five consecutive nights. Fruit and subsequent seeds are drawn beneath the waters surface after the final opening of the flower. Fragrant water lily provides an excellent opportunity for flipping and punching in summer. If plants are spread out, try enticing a topwater bite by bumping a plastic frog on and off of pads.

Fall—In fall, fragrant water lily begins to decay and die off with cooler water temperatures. As leaves begin to decay, they leave behind submersed stems which can provide the perfect option for a swimbait or other weedless soft plastic.

Winter—Fragrant water lily overwinters as a rhizome. Very little of fragrant water-lily will remain through winter so this species should not be targeted again until the following spring.

Habitat Value

Fish—Submersed portions of fragrant water lily provide habitat for invertebrates, baitfish and juvenile fish species. A relatively open understory is the perfect ambush location for larger predatory fish.

Waterfowl—Seeds are readily consumed by waterfowl.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Fragrant water lily is easily identified by it’s round leaves with pie shaped notches as well as it’s showy, fragrant white or pink flowers. The sweet smell of fragrant water lily can often be detected hundreds of yards away when the plants are in full bloom.

Where to Find It—You can find fragrant water lily in many nearshore areas where nutrients are readily available.

Max Depth—0 to 5 feet

Similar Species—Fragrant water lily can sometimes resemble other floating leaved plants, like spatterdock and watershield. However water lily has a distinct pie-shaped cut in the round leaf and often has a white or pink flower, whereas spatterdock has a much less pronounced notch and yellow flowers and watershield has less noticeable flowers and much smaller, oval shaped leaves.

Drawbacks

Fragrant water lily can sometimes cause water use issues, especially for boating and swimming, and sometimes requires management. Cost to manage: $$ out of $$$$$.

Submersed Plants

Fragrant Water Lily

In early spring, patches of freshly sprouted water lily (Nymphaea odorata) can be some of the only vegetation actively growing in the area. Fish soft plastics or a swim jig around these isolated vegetation clumps.

Fragrant Water Lily

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—This native plant sprouts from underground root structures known as rhizomes each spring. Once leaf stems reach the surface, a round leaf with a pie-shaped notch unravels to float on the water surface. In early spring, patches of freshly sprouted water lily can be some of the only vegetation actively growing in the area. Fish soft plastics or a swim jig around these isolated vegetation clumps.

Summer—During summer, water lily grows rapidly and begins flowering. Flowers are white or white-pink, opening each morning and closing each night for up to five consecutive nights. Fruit and subsequent seeds are drawn beneath the waters surface after the final opening of the flower. Fragrant water lily provides an excellent opportunity for flipping and punching in summer. If plants are spread out, try enticing a topwater bite by bumping a plastic frog on and off of pads.

Fall—In fall, fragrant water lily begins to decay and die off with cooler water temperatures. As leaves begin to decay, they leave behind submersed stems which can provide the perfect option for a swimbait or other weedless soft plastic.

Winter—Fragrant water lily overwinters as a rhizome. Very little of fragrant water-lily will remain through winter so this species should not be targeted again until the following spring.

Habitat Value

Fish—Submersed portions of fragrant water lily provide habitat for invertebrates, baitfish and juvenile fish species. A relatively open understory is the perfect ambush location for larger predatory fish.

Waterfowl—Seeds are readily consumed by waterfowl.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Fragrant water lily is easily identified by it’s round leaves with pie shaped notches as well as it’s showy, fragrant white or pink flowers. The sweet smell of fragrant water lily can often be detected hundreds of yards away when the plants are in full bloom.

Where to Find It—You can find fragrant water lily in many nearshore areas where nutrients are readily available.

Max Depth—0 to 5 feet

Similar Species—Fragrant water lily can sometimes resemble other floating leaved plants, like spatterdock and watershield. However water lily has a distinct pie-shaped cut in the round leaf and often has a white or pink flower, whereas spatterdock has a much less pronounced notch and yellow flowers and watershield has less noticeable flowers and much smaller, oval shaped leaves.

Drawbacks

Fragrant water lily can sometimes cause water use issues, especially for boating and swimming, and sometimes requires management. 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.