South Holston Lake is an approximately 7,600 acre fishery on the Virginia and Tennessee border. This body of waters holds some excellent smallmouth and largemouth bass fishing opportunities. Jason Sturgill has had a lot of success fishing South Holston Lake and provides some great detail on his approach to fishing this bass factory.
What do you enjoy most about fishing South Holston Lake?
I enjoy the fact that with South Holston you get the best of both worlds. It is mainly known for its smallmouth, but it is also has a healthy population of big largemouth as well. I love the fact that I can plan on catching one or the other in a tournament, but if my Plan A fails, I can always switch over and try fishing for the other species. Many times during Spring tournaments, I will start out fishing for spawning largemouths and try to catch a good “kicker” fish first thing in the morning and then try and top my bag off with smallmouth later in the day.
How do you describe the quality of fishing for both smallmouth and largemouth bass on South Holston?
Most people that go to South Holston go for the smallmouth. In the past few years, most of the tournaments on South Holston have been won with predominantly pure smallmouth bags. There are some good largemouth in South Holston, even some giants, but they are tough to catch sometimes. The smallmouth seem to be more plentiful and more eager to bite. However, especially during the Spring when the largemouth are coming shallow to spawn, the cranking game is awesome. I have caught several nice largemouth by cranking during the Spring.
You have a Helix 7 on the boat. What are the key pieces of structure and habitat that are looking for when fishing South Holston?
If you’re after smallmouth, they tend to favor the rocky banks. During the Spring, I focus on the shale banks. The smallmouth love that dark shale that is on much of the shore of South Holston. My theory is that the dark rocks heat up more quickly during the day and make for an ideal spot for spawning and laying of eggs. Often times they will actually school up right against these types of banks. They can be a lot of fun when that happens. You can set on one spot and catch 15 to 20 smallmouth in a short amount of time.
The largemouth tend to favor the larger rocks. I like to find shorelines with these bigger rocks on them and then use my electronics to figure out how far the large rocks run out in the lake. Once I have that figured out, I back off and throw things like crankbaits, spinnerbaits, or jerkbaits over top of these submerged rocks.
What do you consider a strong tournament bag on the Lake?
During March and April, you must have 20 pounds to even stand a chance on South Holston. Most of these local guys know the “honey holes” and can go there most any day of the week and catch 20+ pounds. I think the main key to the lake is finding out where the smallmouth are hiding out before the tournament and then coaxing them to bite on tournament morning. These South Holston smallmouth are large and aggressive, so if you can trigger the school you can fill the livewell quick.
Beginning in May, South Holston gets really crowded with pleasure boaters and recreational fishing. This usually causes the fishing to slow way down. I have seen tournaments in late May and June won with 9 or 10 pound bags. Finesse fishing becomes key once the days and the water warms up.
What are your favorite search baits on the Lake?
During the Spring, 2 baits dominate South Holston. These are the 3.5-4 inch swimbaits and what is known locally as “the little green worm”…LOL. The little green worm is essentially a 4 inch Berkley Finesse worm in Green Pumpkin color, but around here it has been dubbed “the little green worm”. Beginning in March, most people start throwing the swimbaits and get bit pretty regularly. However, when you see the Dogwood trees start to bloom, you better have a little green worm tied on. People often talk about catching 100+ smallmouth in one day between 2 anglers in 6 to 7 hours of fishing. I don’t know what it is about South Holston and that worm, but the smallmouth can’t get enough.
Once May rolls around and on through the summer, finesse becomes key. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t even fish the lake much after mid-May. It gets extremely crowded and fast. If you do find yourself on SOHO during the summer, you are going to want to think finesse. Drop shots, shakey heads, and finesse worms will be your best friends. The boat traffic is rough and the bass get beat to death.
What are your favorite big bite baits on the Lake?
Believe it or not, if you’re looking for big smallmouth, I would rely on “the little green worm”. I hate fishing with a spinning reel, so I was not quick to adopt the technique, but when I started seeing 22-25 pound bags of smallmouth come to the scales and all of them being caught on that worm, I had to try it. Once I did I became a believer. You can catch some trophy smallmouth on that little ridiculously small worm and I have even caught some nice largemouth on it. The key to fishing the little green worm is to fish it slow and methodical.
However, I have also found that you can catch some nice largemouth on the lake by cranking. My favorite two baits to crank with on SOHO is the Spro Rockcrawlers and the Strike King 5XD. I usually have to experiment with color and speed to figure out what the bass prefer from time to time, but I usually can get a big bite or two by cranking around the pebble banks.
What are your biggest smallmouth and largemouth bass on South Holston?
My biggest smallmouth on SOHO was a little over 5 pounds. I actually caught it on a Keitech 3.8 swimbait in Tennessee Shad color on a J-Will swimbait head. It was during a BFL and I actually thought that I would have a chance at big bass with that fish during the event, but there was actually one bigger weighed in that day. I caught it by slow rolling that swimbait over some rip-rap bank that I had found in practice. My co-angler was actually drinking a cup of coffee in the back when I hooked it and when he saw it jump he dropped his coffee in an attempt to get the net!!
My biggest largemouth was right at 6 pounds. I caught it cranking in late Spring 3 years ago on a Spro Rockcrawler in Spring Craw color. I was actually fishing by myself when I hooked it and there was a pontoon boat going behind my boat when it made it’s first jump. The pontoon had some guys and their wives in it. They had been out joy-riding and were coming in for some lunch and when they seen what I had hooked, they stopped for the show. They got a kick out of me trying to wrestle this bass to the boat and trying to net it by myself, LOL. One of the ladies actually took some pictures of me trying to wrestle this thing in the net. It was definitely a pre-spawner with a big ole gut on it. The funny thing is that it was set up next to a large rock that I had caught a solid 3.5 to 4 pounder off of the week before. Same rock, same lure, same presentation, and same outcome.
For those coming to South Holston to fish for the first time, what are 5 pieces of advice that they should know before coming?
1. Come during the Spring. It gets very crowded beginning in mid-May and is very difficult to fish. I feel like mid-March through the last of April is the prime time to catch trophy sized bass, both smallmouth and largemouth.
2. It is a deep and clear lake, be prepared to downsize lures and line. The bass on SOHO are pressured, so they are finicky. Sometimes it take light line and small lures with slow presentations to make the magic happen.
3. People often come with smallmouth on their minds and totally ignore the largemouth, this can be a big mistake. A VA Department of Game & Inland Fisheries biologist told me one time that if people realized the size and population of the giant largemouth in SOHO, they would forget about the smallmouth. He said that in his opinion, SOHO was one of the most overlooked largemouth lakes in Southwest VA/East TN.
4. Forget what you know about smallmouth fishing!! When people talk about catching smallmouth, you often here about jerkbaits, Alabama rigs, spinnerbaits, tubes, plastic craws, small crankbaits, etc. If you come to SOHO in the Spring, you need 3.8 inch swimbaits and “the little green worm”, thats it!! For some odd reason, traditional smallmouth techniques don’t seem to do very well on SOHO. Of course if you do them you will catch some, but you are going to be missing out on some great smallmouth fishing. All you need is a spinning rod with 6-8 pound line and the little green worm and a baitcaster with 12-15 pound line and a small swimbait. Don’t over complicate it.
5. Bring all sorts of clothing. The weather here in East TN and Southwest VA can change daily during the Spring. One week this past Spring, we had 80 degrees and sunny on a Monday only to have a 43 degree day with a chance of snow the following Friday, so be prepared.
Who are your sponsors?
My main sponsor is Edward Jones Investments. I actually work for them, but I couldn’t fish as many tournaments as I do if it wasn’t for this phenominal company. They are a great company to work for and they are a great company for financial services as well. I have never worked for a more “people oriented” company. We constantly are ranked among the highest in customer satisfaction among brokerages and financial institutions.
Kistler Rods is another one of my sponsors. This company was founded and is currently ran by Trey Kistler. I like several things about Kistler. The first is that it is ran by a strong Christian family. As a follower of Christ myself, I love knowing that this company that I am a part of is spreading the Word through our mutual love of fishing and that is awesome. The 2nd thing that I love about Kistler is that their rods are 100% American made and because of their success. They have been expanding and adding more to their workforce. Trey is passionate about these rods and it shows in their products. I have been using their Helium 3 rods now for 2 years and they are fantastic!! I especially love them for flipping the big bass out of the rough stuff. The rods are light, but pack a huge punch. Their newest series of rods are the “Feel-N-Reel” rods and if you are a cranker like me, then you must give these rods a try. They are the first rods to offer a “hybrid blank technology” which means that the rods are a combination of blanks. This gives them flexibility so you don’t yank the hook from the fish, but also power so that when you get the hooks in them they won’t come unbuttoned.
Quantum Fishing is also a sponsor of mine. I have actually been with Quantum for 4 years now. I love their story and one of my first memories of fishing with my grandfather as a child is fishing with an old Zebco 33 which is a common memory for many fishermen. So, I love being part of this long-standing tradition and story. Quantum’s new Tour Magnesium reel is awesome!! It has become my new cranking reel. It is light and can cast a 5 or 6XD a mile!!! I also use their Smoke line of reels for my “heavy lifting”. The Smoke reels are my workhorses. Greg Hackney says that the Quantum Smoke PT reels are the best he’s ever fished with. I use them for flipping, throwing swimbaits, and throwing Alabama rigs. They’re a beast!!