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

Water Lettuce

Dispersed water lettuce plants (Pistia stratiotes) can be fished with heavy punch baits. However once the invasive plants form dense colonies, fishing within them can be nearly impossible. Edges of colonies can be fished with a swim jig or other weedless presentation.

Water Lettuce

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—Native to tropics, water lettuce rarely overwinters in TVA system to continue growth in spring. Most often, new plants are a result of aquarium dumps in summer. Water lettuce is seldom present in spring.

Summer—Plants will rapidly grow and expand in size, producing daughter plants, thus resulting in large floating colonies of water lettuce. Water lettuce that has grown from seed or is a result of an aquarium dump will rapidly spread. Dispersed plants can be punched with heavy punch baits. However once plants form dense colonies, fishing them can be nearly impossible. Edges of colonies can be fished with a swim jig or other weedless presentation.

Fall—As winter approaches, water lettuce will slow in growth and new plant production. The plant produces buoyant seed that will spread with flow. As plants begin to decay in late fall, holes can be fished with punch baits within the once-dense colonies.

Winter—Water lettuce will only be present as dormant seed in the winter, therefore targeting this species should be avoided. In mild winters, water lettuce seed may survive to produce new plants in the spring.

Habitat Value

Fish—Water lettuce has very little habitat value for fish as it’s dense colonies will shade out more desirable native species that can provide submersed structure.

Waterfowl—Any habitat value of water lettuce to waterfowl is unknown.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Water lettuce is a free floating plant that has an appearance that is very similar to an open head of lettuce. A single plant can be as large as 12 inches wide.

Where to Find It—This plant prefers quiet backwater areas but will travel almost anywhere dependent on wind direction and current.

Similar Species—Water lettuce might be confused with other floating plants, but the distinct lettuce shape of it’s leaves makes it discernible from other plants.

Drawbacks

Water lettuce is a major problem throughout much of the southern United States. Large colonies have completely halted water use. Management of the plant can be very difficult as the plant can spread via seed or fragmentation. Cost to manage: $$$$ out of $$$$$.

Shoreline Plants

Water Lettuce

Dispersed water lettuce plants (Pistia stratiotes) can be fished with heavy punch baits. However once the invasive plants form dense colonies, fishing within them can be nearly impossible. Edges of colonies can be fished with a swim jig or other weedless presentation.

Water Lettuce

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—Native to tropics, water lettuce rarely overwinters in TVA system to continue growth in spring. Most often, new plants are a result of aquarium dumps in summer. Water lettuce is seldom present in spring.

Summer—Plants will rapidly grow and expand in size, producing daughter plants, thus resulting in large floating colonies of water lettuce. Water lettuce that has grown from seed or is a result of an aquarium dump will rapidly spread. Dispersed plants can be punched with heavy punch baits. However once plants form dense colonies, fishing them can be nearly impossible. Edges of colonies can be fished with a swim jig or other weedless presentation.

Fall—As winter approaches, water lettuce will slow in growth and new plant production. The plant produces buoyant seed that will spread with flow. As plants begin to decay in late fall, holes can be fished with punch baits within the once-dense colonies.

Winter—Water lettuce will only be present as dormant seed in the winter, therefore targeting this species should be avoided. In mild winters, water lettuce seed may survive to produce new plants in the spring.

Habitat Value

Fish—Water lettuce has very little habitat value for fish as it’s dense colonies will shade out more desirable native species that can provide submersed structure.

Waterfowl—Any habitat value of water lettuce to waterfowl is unknown.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Water lettuce is a free floating plant that has an appearance that is very similar to an open head of lettuce. A single plant can be as large as 12 inches wide.

Where to Find It—This plant prefers quiet backwater areas but will travel almost anywhere dependent on wind direction and current.

Similar Species—Water lettuce might be confused with other floating plants, but the distinct lettuce shape of it’s leaves makes it discernible from other plants.

Drawbacks

Water lettuce is a major problem throughout much of the southern United States. Large colonies have completely halted water use. Management of the plant can be very difficult as the plant can spread via seed or fragmentation. Cost to manage: $$$$ out of $$$$$.

Submersed Plants

Water Lettuce

Dispersed water lettuce plants (Pistia stratiotes) can be fished with heavy punch baits. However once the invasive plants form dense colonies, fishing within them can be nearly impossible. Edges of colonies can be fished with a swim jig or other weedless presentation.

Water Lettuce

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—Native to tropics, water lettuce rarely overwinters in TVA system to continue growth in spring. Most often, new plants are a result of aquarium dumps in summer. Water lettuce is seldom present in spring.

Summer—Plants will rapidly grow and expand in size, producing daughter plants, thus resulting in large floating colonies of water lettuce. Water lettuce that has grown from seed or is a result of an aquarium dump will rapidly spread. Dispersed plants can be punched with heavy punch baits. However once plants form dense colonies, fishing them can be nearly impossible. Edges of colonies can be fished with a swim jig or other weedless presentation.

Fall—As winter approaches, water lettuce will slow in growth and new plant production. The plant produces buoyant seed that will spread with flow. As plants begin to decay in late fall, holes can be fished with punch baits within the once-dense colonies.

Winter—Water lettuce will only be present as dormant seed in the winter, therefore targeting this species should be avoided. In mild winters, water lettuce seed may survive to produce new plants in the spring.

Habitat Value

Fish—Water lettuce has very little habitat value for fish as it’s dense colonies will shade out more desirable native species that can provide submersed structure.

Waterfowl—Any habitat value of water lettuce to waterfowl is unknown.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Water lettuce is a free floating plant that has an appearance that is very similar to an open head of lettuce. A single plant can be as large as 12 inches wide.

Where to Find It—This plant prefers quiet backwater areas but will travel almost anywhere dependent on wind direction and current.

Similar Species—Water lettuce might be confused with other floating plants, but the distinct lettuce shape of it’s leaves makes it discernible from other plants.

Drawbacks

Water lettuce is a major problem throughout much of the southern United States. Large colonies have completely halted water use. Management of the plant can be very difficult as the plant can spread via seed or fragmentation. 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.