2012 Kentucky Bass Forecast
February 23, 2012
Are we thinking bass fishing yet? Well obviously, many anglers never hang up their rods and can be found chasing America's No. 1 sport fish all year long, even in the dead of winter.
Regardless whether one falls in that category or more in the fair weather category, right about now is when every bass enthusiast is getting in full-blown hyper-mode. Jack Frost is losing his grip on our state and the water temperatures are starting on the upswing. It is nearing peak season to target black bass all across Kentucky.
Anglers here in the Blue Grass State have so many options when it comes to bass fishing; an old southern cliché is very fitting. You can hardly sling a dead cat without hitting a good bass fishing hole. Truly, we have a tremendous amount of opportunity and a lot of variety ranging from stream fishing to large reservoirs. Anglers are blessed with many superb fisheries for largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass.
Although there are lots of places to go, anglers always want to make the best use of their available time and hit the most productive spots. Some locations offer great bass fishing virtually every year, while others have some up and down years occasionally. To help sort out some of the madness, we checked with the fishery biologists at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, as well as some guides and pro anglers to find out the latest information. Here's a look at the locations we've uncovered for 2012.
EASTERN DYNAMIC DUO
Starting over on the eastern side of the state, there are two lakes that really outshine the rest. Fishtrap Lake in Pike County and Yatesville Lake in Lawrence County both offer bass anglers a great chance at connecting on some dandy black bass. Fishery biologist Kevin Frey has rated both lakes with a good assessment.
Both of these lakes do get a lot of fishing pressure though. The location of Fishtrap makes it not only attractive to in-state anglers, but it also gets pressure from Virginia fishers.
Yatesville Lake hosts numerous fishing tournaments throughout the year and also gets pressure from Virginia anglers as well as those from Ohio. Nonetheless, Kentuckians can still rely on these lakes for some great bass action, if they time their trips accordingly.
Weekends are when these lakes see the most pressure, so weekdays are the best bet. Additionally, right now and through the rest of spring is when the best bass fishing occurs.
"There is an ample supply of forage or prey at both lakes," Frey explained, but them cautioned. "With hot summer temps, these lakes are tough fishing during the daylight hours of summer."
The numbers of largemouth bass at Yatesville Lake are good with size distribution strong through 22 inches.
"Yatesville Lake is more fertile than Fishtrap, so overall numbers of largemouths are greater at Yatesville."
Nonetheless, the biologist said largemouths are in abundance at Fishtrap up to about 22 inches as well. Additionally, there is a decent population of smallmouth bass up to 20 inches at Fishtrap. Frey said anglers could catch even larger bass at both lakes, just less frequently.
Target these bass right now in transition areas leading back toward spawning areas and then follow the fish shallow as the water warms. Jerkbaits make a good starting choice while the water is still cool, but then baits such as jigs, soft plastics, and others that can be fished a little faster start coming into play.
With a lot of natural forage for the bass to focus on, anglers need to cover a lot of water, try different techniques, and be patient until they hit a location and tactic the bass prefer on a given day.
KENTUCKY & BARKLEY LAKES
The western part of the state also has a dynamic duo known quite well for superb bass fisheries and outstanding angling opportunities. Both Kentucky and Barkley lakes typically offer bass anglers lots of fish and great action. This year should be no exception and survey data actually points toward numbers being higher than usual, which is both good and bad.
"The bass populations at both lakes are in excellent shape," said Paul Rister, the KDFWR fishery biologist for the western district. "Several good year-classes have been produced in the past decade. During the period from 2000 to 2009 at Kentucky Lake, there have been six year-classes that were better than average. On Lake Barkley, five of the year classes in this period were above average. So these good year-classes have left us with a lot of fish."
There is a slight down side to big numbers of bass. When there is such a high density of fish, their growth rate starts to slow down somewhat. It's not a huge slowdown and most anglers don't even notice. It just may mean it takes an extra year for a bass to reach legal harvest size.
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"Normally at Kentucky Lake a largemouth bass reaches harvestable size during its fourth growing season," Rister said. "In 2005, a five-year-old bass averaged 16.9 inches. In 2011, a five-year-old bass was averaging 15.5 inches."
Rister also explained that the weight to length ratio had also dropped just a little.
Even though the bass may need just a little more growing time, the encouraging part right now is there are lots fish in the population and the outlook is for the next several years to be excellent for bass numbers.
Big numbers of bass doesn't guarantee success though. It's still bass fishing and anglers still have to work to find success.
"I also go on record as saying there are a lot of places to fish at Kentucky and Barkley lakes, but the number of places you can actually catch fish is much lower," Rister pointed out. "And, just because the fish are there, does not always mean they will bite your hook."
The biologist also went on to mention there was a lot of natural forage for the bass, with which anglers must compete.
Gary Hightower, a local tournament competitor at the lakes, said anglers often have to be willing and capable to do the things other anglers aren't attempting. Hightower is a big believer in jig fishing, and one of his most productive techniques is to pitch and flip right up in thick cover, such as buttonball bushes and other tangles. He gets tangled occasionally, but the fish he pulls out makes it well worthwhile.
GREEN RIVER LAKE
If an angler wants to go to a lake and have excellent fishing for largemouth and spotted bass, as well as the opportunity to land a jumbo-sized bronzeback, then Green River Lake is a top choice. Both of the former two species are in abundance and offer excellent fishing opportunities. Smallies are not present in as high numbers, but there is excellent trophy potential for fish larger than 20 inches.
Fishing for largemouths and spots will be good again this year, although probably down just a little from the most recent years, which were the best in 15 years, according to Eric Cummins, the KDFWR biologist in charge of overseeing the lake.
"The excellent largemouth year-class of 2004 is fading out of the fishery," he said, "but will still provide good big-bass potential for 2012. Spotted bass quality and numbers are good, as spots regularly reach 17 to 18 inches. The mid to lower sections of the lake have the highest densities and numbers."
Heavy rainfall in 2010 and 2011 prevented the biologist from being able to perform normal spring sampling and get reliable results. However, fall sampling from 2010 suggested there was another good year-class coming from the spring of 2010.
"Most of those 2010 spawned largemouth will eclipse 12 inches in early to mid summer of 2012," Cummins said.
Robbie Harmon has been a tournament bass angler for the past 18 years and calls Green River Lake home. Partnered with his dad, the pair has finished in the top five for the last five years in the Green River Bass Club. Harmon is a big believer in the bass fishery at Green and thinks this year is going to be another stellar fishing season.
Harmon said last year was really good and it took 16 to 18 pounds to be in the money during bass tournaments. He recently had a 25-pound bag in one tournament.
The fishing pro believes the flooding over the past couple of years has actually helped the spawn rather than hurt.
When the bass start moving up out of the winter areas and heading toward shallower water, Harmon likes to start fishing in main lake pockets. By April and May, he can catch bass in all three stages of spawning. Some will be in pre-spawn mode, others in the midst of spawning, and some already concluded with spawning and starting to feed again.
The largemouths are fairly widespread throughout the lake according to Harmon. The spots tend to hang in the clearer sections of the lake.
"The flats across from the dam are excellent pre-spawn and spawning areas to target in late March to early May," Cummins said.
Launching at Holmes Bend Marina (www.holmesbendresort.com) is a favorite of many bass anglers familiar with fishing at Green River. Its location puts you on the bass in mere minutes.
"Within two miles of launching, there are good shallow and deep areas and both clear and stained water," Harmon said. "It's good for all three species of bass."
The angler likes to fish a jig early in the spring, but later when he switches over to plastic, he opts for a big worm from Attack Pak Baits.
Crankbaits also are good choices after the water warms and fish aren't quite as lethargic. Harmon's choices are typically either a DD22 from Norman Lures or a Strike King 6XD.
Not everyone pictures bass fishing solely as a lake experience. Stream and river anglers also have a tremendous location right here in the state to target. Elkhorn Creek is one of the finest stream fisheries in the Southeast, especially for smallmouths.
Elkhorn has quite, not only here in Kentucky, but from many other locales. Stream fishing addicts travel from all over to sample this exquisite fishery. In fact, Elkhorn was even mentioned by Walt Whitman in the 16th stanza of his poem "Song of Myself."
Elkhorn Creek is comprised of the North Fork and South Fork, which join just east of Frankfort at a location aptly named the Forks of Elkhorn. The main stem then flows north until it reaches the Kentucky River. In total, there are 86 miles of stream coursing through Fayette, Scott, Woodford, and Franklin counties.
The main stem is where the bulk of the best fishing occurs. The KDFWR rates the smallmouth as excellent in this section of the stream. There is a 12- to 16-inch protective slot limit in place for bass on the main stem and all fish within the slot must be released. However, there are very good numbers of smallies within the slot and also above the slot. Most folks feel the slot limit has really improved the already good fishery there.
Although Elkhorn is regarded as a great smallmouth destination, the North Fork also provides some really decent largemouth action, especially in some of the pools and slower moving sections of the creek.
Anglers can access the creek through either the Peter W. Pfeiffer Fish Hatchery or the T.N. Sullivan Wildlife Management Area. Floating the creek in a small boat or canoe is permissible throughout its course, even as it flows through private land that borders virtually the entire stretch. Anglers must remember that the bottom of the creek belongs to the landowners, so permission must be obtained to wade the creek through private land holdings. Anglers should also remember safety, because the creek does have moderate flow in some areas, especially after rain.
A light-action spinning rig is all that is needed. But don't go too light on the rod, because enough strength is needed to muscle the occasional 3- or 4-pounder. Anglers can expect to catch about 100 fish a day with most of the bass 12 and 14 inches and weighing about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds.
A small crankbait, curly-tailed grub, or soft plastic jerkbait is the ticket for much of season on Elkhorn, but a good topwater bite occurs in May.