Kentucky'™s Best Big-Bass Waters
August 31, 2011
Virtually any pond, reservoir or river in the commonwealth can give up a few trophy-class bass. But for the best odds of catching a lunker largemouth or spotted bass try these waters!
Theories about the best places and ways to catch big bass in the spring are about as diverse as Kentucky weather is during that season. Hang around a day or two, they say, and it will be noticeably different than today.
One thing bass anglers agree on, however, is we really like catching trophy-class largemouths. For most of us, that just doesn't happen everyday. The month of May does tip the odds in our favor. Regardless of which big-bass theory you subscribe to, it's the best time of year to hook up with lunker largemouths on virtually any type of waterway in the commonwealth.
CEDAR CREEK LAKE
Getting right to the heart of the matter, let's take a quick run over to Cedar Creek Lake between Danville and Somerset and check its big bass potential for this spring. Most anglers know this is Kentucky's single body of water being managed specifically for trophy-class bass. It carries a one fish, 20-inch minimum size limit on largemouths.
Is it working?
"We have seen Cedar Creek continue to show improvement in big bass production under this strict size and creel limit management," said Jeff Crosby, the Central District fishery biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
"In 2010 we saw more bass in the 17- to 20-inch range, along with more above the 20-inch limit," Crosby said.
"Given that data, the potential for anglers to catch trophy class largemouths this spring looks excellent.
"It would definitely make my top five list for lakes to try, if 4- to 6-pound bass are what I know I have the chance of hooking," Crosby said.
The biologist also noted that Cedar Creek was designed with fishermen in mind, with a good deal of structure and cover created in the lake before the water was even impounded. Much of the natural shoreline cover was also left intact. As water temperatures rise and nesting time approaches, that cover attracts big bass into the shallows looking for easy meals.
"I'd be pitching a jig-and-pig, or a big spinnerbait with a trailer in the brush and working it slowly and thoroughly. Try to focus effort where colored or elevated water inundates shoreline trees and stumps," Crosby added.
The biologist also suggested running a crawfish-patterned crankbait around riprap areas or on rocky banks where water warms a little faster.
This impoundment is not under trophy bass regulations, but of the major Bluegrass State reservoirs, Lake Barkley appears to be set for a dynamite big-bass spring season, according to District Biologist Paul Rister.
"We saw a lot of good bass in last year's population, and I expect that to be the case this spring," Rister said.
"I wouldn't describe the big fish segment as growing a lot from last year, but at the same time, I don't think we'll see a big drop in the big fish percentage either," he added.
Also expect the volume of 15-inch bass to be very good, which bodes well for trophy potential to remain stable beyond 2011. Right now, what's present is above average for Barkley.
Barkley has a lot of shallow water that beckons to largemouths during the warm spring. In fact, it's not such a bad idea to start looking for "hawg-sized" bass as early as late March on rocky banks and points.
By May bass are certainly spending much more time in the backs of bay in bushes and around woody cover as the water level and temperature climbs. It's not that uncommon for spring crappie anglers to tie into some really excellent largemouths around brush piles.
"May is one of only a couple stretches in the year when you catch the big bass up in the creeks closer to the bank," Rister pointed out. "The majority of the hotter and colder weather, these fish prefer deeper drop-offs, main-lake points and channels, and the security of a little more room underneath them."
Rister suggested nothing fancy is necessary to entice big bass on this lake. A jig-and-pig, spinnerbait bumped into stumps, or soft plastic lizards and worms tugged through underwater limbs all work. Even a topwater wounded minnow presentation can work. All of these should be tossed in areas 6 feet deep or less.
GREEN RIVER LAKE
Another major reservoir getting a green light for trophy bass potential this year is Green River Lake near Campbellsville.
In 2004 a particularly strong bass spawn occurred, which in latter years generally means a noticeable increase in bigger bass moving through the system. This spring anglers should still find a few 20-inch-plus largemouths hanging on from that year-class.
Green River is one of Kentucky's waterways that can also produce better than average size spotted bass. In most lakes, this species hardly makes it past 12 inches, but Green River fishery managers report seeing spots up to and beyond 15 inches. A 15-inch Kentucky bass is usually a pretty chunky fish and gives a good fight.
Spring fishing for spotted bass is more productive in habitat that is a little deeper than largemouths like, and on gravel or rocky banks and points.
Largemouth often are found closer to the bank, are in the upper parts of the lake, and associated with woody cover or vegetation when present. The timbered coves of Green River Lake are good for largemouths on the verge of starting the spawn. Then late in the month after the spawn, they'll be back there again.
Not only do the food sources, such as baitfish and insects, found in the shallow water pull bass there, but the males searching for nest sites also roam the banks more frequently.
Big female bass also move in and feed much more often. However, lots of times they prefer to hit a big bait, trying to get one large meal. They are conserving their energy for nesting.
After the sows are through lying, they move off the banks for a bit to recover, and then return to a heavier feeding mode. That's when they take advantage of the abundant forage in the form of bluegill and redear sunfish that are then in shallow for their spawn.
That mid to late May period
is an excellent time to try surface lures for big bass, early and late in the day around logs, fallen tree limbs, the edge of docks and long sloping banks or points with shallow structure. Also, don't overlook areas of the lake where spring rains raise the water level, flooding areas not usually covered.
Many larger bass cruise newly inundated areas because they offer additional food sources and cover.
BARREN RIVER LAKE
You hear quite a few tournament anglers say that Barren River Lake is one of the more consistent spots to catch bigger largemouths. Even though bass fishing can be rather cyclic, Barren River is well worth a look for a trophy-sized bass.
In fact, the report from the KDFWR is that big-bass numbers are actually on the rise here, and should provide improved chances of hooking those elusive 4-pound and better bruisers. What pumps a bass angler up more than setting the hook, having the rod barely give, and then having drag pulled from the reel?
Shallow bays with stump beds, creek banks close to the channel contour, and any cover in water along the shore are good places to flip a jig or slow-roll a spinnerbait.
Generally, Barren is pulled down several feet in winter, and when the water is allowed to come back up to summer pool a whole lot of territory becomes available to the bass. An early trip here to check out habitat that will later be underwater is time well spent.
Feeder creeks also attract largemouths in good numbers as the water level expands the shoreline. When the water rises and pushes woody debris to the edge of the banks and piles it up in the backs of the coves after a decent rain event, that's where largemouths of all sized head.
There are 10,000 acres to explore on Barren River Lake, but you can cut the search down by eliminating much of the less productive water. In mid-April to mid-June start right at the water's edge and move a little deeper until you find the right range. Chances are you won't have to get far out from the bank, especially once surface temperatures get to 60 degrees.
When you locate the comfort zone of bass for the day, stay with lures that run in that depth. Also pay attention to how fast you were working the lure when the hit came. Sometimes early May water is still pretty cool, and the activity level of bass hasn't peaked like it does in water closer to 70 degrees.
On Barren for example, fishing over a shallow mud flat with a few stumps scattered around, running a black buzzbait full tilt above the cover might not be what the big fish are willing to come after. But a twitched stick- or jerkbait that rests a few seconds and looks easy to grab might draw a strike. Often, you just have to experiment a little to see how active the bass want to be in any given water and weather conditions.
KINCAID & BULLOCK PEN LAKES
These two small state-owned and managed impoundments are grouped together because of their similarities in bass fishing opportunities and location. Both are getting fairly stellar reports for this spring in terms of the chances to catch a trophy-sized largemouth. That's a continuation of an ongoing trend.
Biologists have raved for some time about what they see in Kincaid Lake during electro-shocking surveys. Simply said, this lake carries an excellent volume of really big bass, and they always seem to be there. Why that's the case in this Pendleton County reservoir seems to be a combination of a catch-and-release ethic, coupled with the fact that fishing this lake isn't always easy.
Bullock Pen in Grant County is another example of how lakes under a thousand acres in the commonwealth prove that surface size doesn't matter for big bass production. Logic might say bigger lake must equal more big bass, but not necessarily.
"Our studies show a very good population of big largemouths here, and early spring and again in late fall, they are up closer to the banks and more accessible to the methods most anglers are comfortable with," said KDFWR District Fishery Biologist Steve Crosby.
Smaller impoundments like Kincaid and Bullock Pen take their fair share of bank pounding every year mostly from local fishermen, and every year a few guys in the right place at the right time connect with some 6-pound and better bass. More often than not those catches occur in the month of May.
"Most anglers prefer to fish shoreline structure in murky water, and probe that cover with slow-moving baits," advised Crosby. "Sometimes you can find a long sand or gravel bar point that extends out into a creek or the main channel where bigger bass can come shallow to feed, but still have quick access to the deeper water.
"You might try fishing larger crankbaits with a stop-and-go retrieve," he continued, "or an oversized plastic worm that slowly hops along the bottom or the edge of the drop to pick up staging bass before the spawn, and again for a few weeks after the spawn concludes."
Throwing a chugging-action topwater lure at daylight, dusk or after dark along the banks with some brush or submerged treetops also works. Big bass often come into warmer water at times when light penetration is low or nonexistent, but the temperature is more comfortable. They find something to hang out around, and wait for baitfish to make a bad choice and swim past.
SUMMING IT UP
Trophy-class bass reside in just about every body of water in Kentucky. Farm ponds give up as many lunker largemouths each spring as anywhere else.
On the other hand, biologically, there are some spots for finding a better percentage of the big boys and girls. The preceding lakes are some of those waters.