By Richard Hines
Located in west Tennessee, the Buffalo River is the last stretch of “small” water providing kayak anglers a good shot at catching smallmouth bass.
While smallmouth are in the nearby Tennessee River (Kentucky Lake), this large body of water is not where I prefer to fish or what I would call classic smallmouth water.
For me, small streams are my choice destinations for either wade fishing or kayak fishing.
When kayak fishing, I will generally step down the size of my equipment, allowing me to throw smaller lures and lighter line.
My favorite watercraft for small stream smallmouth is a kayak, although for years I fished from a canoe. But after my first trip in an Old Town Predator, I am locked in on the “Sit on Top” kayak. However, it’s still quite a change from my normal 16-foot johnboat and baitcasting equipment.
In the kayak, I fish with a 5-foot ultralight rod with a Shimano Sahara-1000FE reel and 4-pound test line. I occasionally use 6-pound, but the lighter line helps smaller spinning tackle perform better. And although fish tend to run a little smaller on some streams, I still keep a medium action rod handy if fish seem to be running larger.
Along the Buffalo, anglers will find the right combination of limestone and other rocks that provide suitable hiding areas for good smallmouth.
Limestone in particular seems to be the important component not just for the smallmouth bass, but the dozens of species of forage this bass prefer such as crawfish and numerous aquatic insects.
Those familiar with this section of Tennessee know that most streams further west are beginning to change over to sand and mud bottoms which is totally unsuited for smallmouth.
On most of the upper portions of the Buffalo you won’t encounter larger boats and jet skis.
However, at the peak of summer season, weekend canoe traffic is heavy with what I call non-fishing traffic; rafts, canoes, or kayaks. Not to worry, I have fished several famous “recreational floater streams” and I’ve found that the bass have become accustomed to the traffic.
But fishing for smallmouth in these streams is tough. The bass don’t seem to be on any predictable pattern. The secret is getting on the water early. Later in the day as groups might overtake you, catching a break between the clusters of canoes and casting a good eddy or around some cover might work well.
I think bass have learned to deal with the disturbance by doing the same thing during heavy recreational use. Pull over occasionally and spend more time making casts into good looking cover from shore.
Most of these bass will be in the 12-16 inch range, but I caught one last year just shy of 20 inches—which I call a real trophy. Many of my lake angler friends ask, “Why is this little guy a trophy?” Well, on many streams it may take a smallmouth bass six to seven years to obtain that size, so I say it’s reason enough to call it a trophy!
During the trip we also caught several largemouth and spotted bass. While both species are black bass, each have their own set of habitat requirements. Along stream sections where there are long, slower pools, is where you’ll find largemouth and spotted bass.
Some of the backwater or side channels on this river are not much different than a lake. Watch for weed beds, old logs and other woody debris for largemouth.
As you drift to the end of the pool, the water will tend to pick up speed as you approach a riffle. Spotted bass or sometimes smallmouth prefer these locations. However, as you float through the riffle, be prepared for a quick cast into an eddy. This tight space of still water will hold smallmouth waiting for crayfish and baitfish to wash by.
Cast a Strike King mini-spin or a Rebel Crayfish into the eddy and get ready. As is true on lakes, the biggest fish hold the best locations, and along streams, large eddies below riffles are sure to hold larger bronzebacks.
The Buffalo River located west of Nashville is best accessed at Hurricane Mills just off I-40. During summer, expect heavy canoe traffic on the weekends from several canoe liveries operating on the river.
Bones Canoe and Campground is a small family owned business that rents kayaks for anglers. They will also shuttle for a minimum fee.
Fridays are best for avoiding crowds and I have caught smallmouth on both the two “five-mile” trips Bones offers. To contact Bones, call 931-209-5908.
There are several canoe liveries in the vicinity of Hurricane Mills, Tennessee where you can rent kayaks or canoes as well. Another source of information is found on the TWRA website.