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 Willow

In the spring, newly emerging water willow (Justicia americana) creates excellent vertical structure for fast rolling a spinnerbait or fishing a fluke or senko.

Water Willow

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—Native water willow emerges from seed and from previously existing underground roots (rhizomes) in early spring. Newly emerging water willow creates excellent vertical structure for fast rolling a spinnerbait or fishing a fluke or senko.

Summer—Water willow rapidly expands through rhizomes. The plants will begin to produce a white and violet flower in early summer and will continue to flower through fall. As stands become thicker, invertebrates and baitfish will congregate in the vertical structure of water willow. Fish a shallow crankbait or swimbait around edges and in shoreline pockets of waterwillow. Transitions between water willow and other species or structure are also productive.

Fall—Plants will begin to die back and drop seed into the water column in fall. Fishing edges and pockets will remain productive through fall. Run a buzzbait parallel to the edge formed by water willow, or work a spinner bait back into water willow stands.

Winter—Very little water willow will be present in winter, so targeting this species should be avoided until spring.

Habitat Value

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

Waterfowl—Water willow benefit to waterfowl is considered minimal.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Leaves are opposing around the stem and flowers are bi-color violet and white.

Where to Find It—Water willow can grow in a wide range of sediment along the shoreline, often stretching out as deep as five feet of water. Water willow has even been known to grow within rocky substrate.

Max Depth—0 to 5 feet

Similar Species—Water willow may resemble other shoreline species, but is very widespread and much more common that most.

Drawbacks

Water willow has caused some issues with water use and management is sometimes needed. Cost to manage: $$ out of $$$$$.

Shoreline Plants

Water Willow

In the spring, newly emerging water willow (Justicia americana) creates excellent vertical structure for fast rolling a spinnerbait or fishing a fluke or senko.

Water Willow

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—Native water willow emerges from seed and from previously existing underground roots (rhizomes) in early spring. Newly emerging water willow creates excellent vertical structure for fast rolling a spinnerbait or fishing a fluke or senko.

Summer—Water willow rapidly expands through rhizomes. The plants will begin to produce a white and violet flower in early summer and will continue to flower through fall. As stands become thicker, invertebrates and baitfish will congregate in the vertical structure of water willow. Fish a shallow crankbait or swimbait around edges and in shoreline pockets of waterwillow. Transitions between water willow and other species or structure are also productive.

Fall—Plants will begin to die back and drop seed into the water column in fall. Fishing edges and pockets will remain productive through fall. Run a buzzbait parallel to the edge formed by water willow, or work a spinner bait back into water willow stands.

Winter—Very little water willow will be present in winter, so targeting this species should be avoided until spring.

Habitat Value

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

Waterfowl—Water willow benefit to waterfowl is considered minimal.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Leaves are opposing around the stem and flowers are bi-color violet and white.

Where to Find It—Water willow can grow in a wide range of sediment along the shoreline, often stretching out as deep as five feet of water. Water willow has even been known to grow within rocky substrate.

Max Depth—0 to 5 feet

Similar Species—Water willow may resemble other shoreline species, but is very widespread and much more common that most.

Drawbacks

Water willow has caused some issues with water use and management is sometimes needed. Cost to manage: $$ out of $$$$$.

Submersed Plants

Water Willow

In the spring, newly emerging water willow (Justicia americana) creates excellent vertical structure for fast rolling a spinnerbait or fishing a fluke or senko.

Water Willow

Seasonal Techniques

Spring—Native water willow emerges from seed and from previously existing underground roots (rhizomes) in early spring. Newly emerging water willow creates excellent vertical structure for fast rolling a spinnerbait or fishing a fluke or senko.

Summer—Water willow rapidly expands through rhizomes. The plants will begin to produce a white and violet flower in early summer and will continue to flower through fall. As stands become thicker, invertebrates and baitfish will congregate in the vertical structure of water willow. Fish a shallow crankbait or swimbait around edges and in shoreline pockets of waterwillow. Transitions between water willow and other species or structure are also productive.

Fall—Plants will begin to die back and drop seed into the water column in fall. Fishing edges and pockets will remain productive through fall. Run a buzzbait parallel to the edge formed by water willow, or work a spinner bait back into water willow stands.

Winter—Very little water willow will be present in winter, so targeting this species should be avoided until spring.

Habitat Value

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

Waterfowl—Water willow benefit to waterfowl is considered minimal.

Identifying Features

What It Looks Like—Leaves are opposing around the stem and flowers are bi-color violet and white.

Where to Find It—Water willow can grow in a wide range of sediment along the shoreline, often stretching out as deep as five feet of water. Water willow has even been known to grow within rocky substrate.

Max Depth—0 to 5 feet

Similar Species—Water willow may resemble other shoreline species, but is very widespread and much more common that most.

Drawbacks

Water willow has caused some issues with water use and management is sometimes needed. 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.