Outlook On Kentucky Bassing

Here's the latest on where our state's greatest bass fishing will likely occur this season. Read on for the top waters to fish. (February 2006)

Photo by Jeff Samsel

Kentucky waterways have always given anglers much to choose from in terms of bass fishing. High-quality streams, large rivers, small lakes, major reservoirs and even farm ponds come alive with bass activity in early spring. Most of the best and biggest bass will be caught from now through early May, regardless of where you choose to wet a line.

According to reports from Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department (KDFWR) biologists, things look promising in many spots for 2006. Our forecast will highlight a variety of fisheries in the Bluegrass State to help you find a good place to be for bass action this spring. So dust off your fishing rods and reels, get your boat seaworthy, and let's go see what shape things are in for this season.

MAJOR LAKES

Kentucky has 18 major reservoirs containing 1,000 surface acres or more, and they are fairly well spread out into the various regions of the state. The smaller waters, and generally less productive for bass, are found in the eastern end of the state, while the bigger waters that tend to be more fertile are located in south-central and western Kentucky, spanning to just over 50,000 acres in some cases.

Although there is a significant size difference in our major lakes, don't let that fool you into thinking only the vastest and most sprawling waters contain the best bass fishing. As we'll see even more clearly, when we touch on the top lakes of under 1,000 acres, size isn't everything when considering what spot may be best for hawg largemouths or smallmouths.

The KDFWR fishery biologists throughout the state paint a pretty good overall picture for bass fishing this year, assuming weather trends are normal. In Kentucky, that's a big assumption as of late. But as with most other fishing or hunting activities, flexibility and luck play a big role in success. Anglers routinely have to adapt to the cards they're dealt. Perhaps that's one reason why Kentucky fishermen are fortunate. There are so many types of bass fishing available, if one slows down, another can be found somewhere else.

Let's look at some of the big waters where population studies and other research are indicating bass are doing well into the spring of 2006. We'll begin with a couple of those smaller, eastern Kentucky reservoirs that sometimes don't get as much notice. Biologists report that in some cases, looking elsewhere may cause you to miss some potentially high-quality action.

Leading the pack of about five reservoirs in the 1,100- to 1,500-acre size range in the eastern third of Kentucky for bass fishing this season is Dewey Lake in Floyd County. The past two or three springs have resulted in good bass production, providing some back-to-back strong year-classes coming into the population.

This is something biologists love to see, because it usually means three or four years down the road, some sustained, higher-quality fishing will be available. That's exactly what's expected at Dewey starting in 2006 and holding for a few years. Biologists also like to find good size distribution in a bass population, which tends to provide better fishing in the long term. Dewey is in that category right now as well.

When populations get skewed, and either a large percentage of fish are small, or too many are big, it leaves a gap that eventually turns into a year or two or three of poor fishing for keeper-sized fish. Having a good balance is key in maintaining equal opportunity over several seasons to catch some quality-sized fish, rather than a couple of years of feast, followed by two or three years of famine.

Right next door, Fishtrap Lake in Pike County is also getting high marks for the 2006 season. Biologists have actually touted Fishtrap for a few years now as one of the best eastern reservoirs in terms of holding harvestable size bass. In addition to the usual spring shallow-water fishing opportunities most bass anglers take advantage of, it is also recommended that fall fishing for bigger largemouths not be overlooked.

One of the best things about fall bass fishing is that you can get so much water to yourself while other sportsmen are often in the deer woods in their spare time. Concentrate on the lower end of Fishtrap late in the year for best success, and look for submerged structure or shoreline cover. In spring, largemouths will be more scattered throughout this small but decent choice for a bass-fishing trip or two in 2006.

In addition to the better places we touch on, we also get the report on lakes where bass fishing isn't expected to be "stellar," too. In the east this year, the scoop on Paintsville and Grayson is that bass populations may be down a little. Anglers may not come up with as many quality-sized bass as in some years. At Buckhorn, things look pretty good again for 2006, so perhaps that's an alternate option not too far away.

Another big lake expected to shine this year, moving westward, should be Cave Run Lake, a 10,000-acre reservoir in northeastern Kentucky. The most recent information available on this waterway suggests that the 13-to 16-inch protective slot limit is continuing to help improve the number of bigger bass.

Milfoil patches on the lake are giving bass a little more cover, and provide places for them to find food fish, which like to hide around that cover. The North Fork area of the upper lake is recommended for good numbers of largemouth bass. Early in the season, don't overlook the rocky banks where bass will be in quickly warming water searching out spawning areas.

For smallmouth action in this lake, anglers will have to work hard. Stick to the lower end of the lake, and occasionally you may come up with a really big smallie. Don't expect to take a limit, except on an exceptional day.

The forecast for one of Kentucky's most heavily fished and used lakes, Lake Cumberland, is not that astounding this year for largemouths or smallmouths. While both species swim the depths of this mammoth 50,000-acre hole of water, biologists believe most largemouths caught will be around 15 inches. Smallmouths will generally run from 15 to 18 inches, with a few larger fish thrown in to the lucky man in the boat.

Cumberland does get a pretty good score this year for Kentucky bass, which are a fun fish to catch. Kentucky bass put up a pretty good fight. Cumberland is known for having larger spots than many other lakes, so you may come home with a mess of nice Kentucky bass to augment the rest of your creel.

For the ardent and thrill-seeking smallmouth angler, you probably won't be able to top Dale Hol

low's bronzeback fishing regardless of where else you may go anywhere in the southeastern U.S. Dale Hollow pumps out a whole lot of big smallmouths, especially at the start of the spring fishing season. Biologists see no decline of that action now or in the near future.

Get on those rocky, sloping banks after the sun warms them some in February and March and stay with it. Fish are almost always present, and sooner or later in the day, when they decide to feed, you can really connect with some excellent fish up to 6 pounds or more. Fish around 3 pounds are normal, which is very impressive by any standard.

Anglers on Barren River should be better pleased with the largemouth action they find this year, thanks to another one of those back-to-back good spawning springs in 2003 and 2004. Larger fish should continue to become available in 2006 and beyond. Biologists look for Barren to re-emerge as one of Kentucky's better bass-fishing spots starting this season, and that's good news for south-central Kentucky fishermen.

Likewise, Herrington Lake, for years touted as a tough lake to fish but highly productive for largemouths, appears to be on track for another good year in 2006. The number of bass over 12 inches is increasing, and many fish in the population are beyond 15 inches. March and April are the top months for catching the most fish and biggest bass in the upper parts of the reservoir around shoreline cover. Bass will move in from the creek channel ledges and will be ready to feed before nesting.

In this generally clear lake, anglers who can find some stained water in the creeks and fish cover or irregular bank features tend to do very well on largemouths. Slow-moving baits early on get the nod, while crankbaits, worms and topwaters are the best ticket later in warmer weather at night.

Lastly, for the big boys, you'll have to take a hard look at Kentucky and Barkley lakes for really good bass-fishing potential in 2006. Last year, Kentucky Lake's opportunities began to improve after a sustained period of suffering from poor spawns. Biologists see things turning for the better this season, with more keepers expected in the population.

While Kentucky Lake is vast, it's not that hard to find good quality habitat in the embayments -- places that look "bassy" with shoreline bushes, stumps, vegetation and other features. There's plenty of submerged stuff in Kentucky Lake, which is primarily designed to attract crappie. Bass will use this cover just as readily in the spring. Keep your eyes open and when the crappie guys aren't on it, slip in there and probe it with a jig combination or spinnerbait. Chances are you'll pick up a bass or two somewhere close by.


Leading the pack of about five reservoirs in the 1,100 to 1,500-acre size range in the eastern third of Kentucky for bass fishing this season is Dewey Lake in Floyd County.
 

Smallmouth fishing continues to be good for this spring on Kentucky Lake around rocky banks and walls. Look for spots where feeder creeks intersect the main lake and channel, in the connecting canal with Barkley and off main-lake points. Kentucky Lake produces some super-sized smallies, which can really add unexpected excitement to a fishing trip.

Smallmouths provide anglers on the lake a different angling experience. If you get something on your line that doesn't act like a largemouth, hang on; it could well be a 4-pound bronzeback seeing if you're up to the test for some serious rod-bending action.

Across the way at Lake Barkley, anglers will still see a good bunch of sub-legal fish, but more and more bass from the good 2000 and 2001 spawns will be hitting the quality-sized fish mark (12 inches) and above in 2006. Anglers should have no trouble finding bass and putting a few in the well, if you like taking home a couple.

Barkley is a generally shallow lake where the creeks and flats will warm quickly and pull fish in from the depths in early spring. Look for places where long points extend into the main lake, and along the Land Between The Lakes side and canal, too, if you want a chance to land a smallie in this reservoir. They aren't incredibly numerous, but they are there and on a slow increase, biologists say.

SMALL LAKES

Scanning the substantial list of smaller impoundments in Kentucky, those under 1,000 acres, several standouts are expected for largemouth fishing in 2006.

Among the best will be Lake Malone, a beautiful little 825-acre gem in the corner of Muhlenberg, Todd and Logan counties in west-central Kentucky. Malone is not only considered as an excellent choice for trophy bass opportunities, but for very high-quality bass larger than 15 inches. In fact, nearly one out of every four largemouths sampled a year ago was above the protective 12- to 15-inch slot limit on this lake. (Note that something new on Malone this year will be a boat motor regulation that restricts motors to 150 horsepower from just before Memorial Day to just after Labor Day. Other times, the limit is 200 horsepower.)

Even better, biologists go on to say that if you like the feel of 3- to 5- pound largemouths tugging your line, Malone has a very good number of those paddling around in its waters. This is a tough choice to beat for good largemouth fishing on smaller lakes in Kentucky this year. Yet, there are others.

Much ado has been made over Cedar Creek Lake, a new little hole of water in Lincoln County. Impounded in 2002, Cedar Creek's 20-inch minimum size limit on largemouths makes it Kentucky's only "true" lake managed for trophy bass.

Last fall, biologists thought some anglers would start finding a few bass at the 20-inch mark, and for sure, there will be fish in the lake above 20 inches in 2006. Reports are that fish 12 to 17 inches are very plentiful already, and that come this spring, more fishermen are going to come home very happy campers with tales of boating some exceptional largemouths on this budding big-bass lake.

It is uncertain whether it can, and for how long Cedar Creek may be able to sustain a trophy bass fishery into the future. It is a delicate balance of management to juggle the productivity of the lake, fishing pressure and Mother Nature's whims, all of which have to fall right in place to work well. But for now, the bassing action should be dynamite in the early stages of Cedar Creek's life.


Much ado has been made over Cedar Creek Lake, a new little hole of water in Lincoln County. Impounded in 2002, Cedar Creek's 20-inch minimum size limit on largemouths makes it Kentucky's only "true" lake managed for trophy bass.
 

One other outstanding choice for superb bass fishing this year will be at northern Kentucky's Kincaid Lake. Biologists have found excellent bass in this 180-acre lake tucked away in Pendleton County. It is ranked high on the list with Malone, Beaver Lake and

Greenbo as the waterway that could give up a new state-record largemouth in Kentucky.

Lots of 15-inch or better bass are present and spring is perhaps the best time to find them cooperative. Jigs and crankbaits are good choices, along with big, slow-rolling spinnerbaits fished along the banks until the spawn hits.

RIVERS & CREEKS

The Elkhorn Creek in central Kentucky continues to roll along with quality smallmouth fishing in its main stem. Biologists note that many smallmouth bass over 16 inches are present, and anglers report that the number of smaller bronzebacks is also quite good. In the North Fork, look for good largemouth fishing, too, in the deeper, slower-moving pools around abundant shoreline cover.

Elkhorn has become a top destination for smallmouth stream anglers, and the 12- to 16-inch slot limit has proved very effective in keeping a good fishery, sometimes a great fishery, alive and well into 2006. Anglers are reminded to respect the landowners along the creek, and understand that getting on land adjacent to the creek requires landowner permission first.

Anglers interested in trying the Ohio or Kentucky river systems for bass will most likely find spotty action in the feeder creeks and embayments associated with these waterways. Largemouths prefer staying out of heavy current, and really concentrate on structure to provide cover and hiding places to feed from in a stream environment.

Slides, fallen trees, stumps and root wads in the creeks or the mouths of creeks along these two rivers will provide the best bass fishing. Also, try around rocky banks, out of the flow, especially in spring when bass are moving up in shallow water looking for food and more comfortable water temperatures.

Numerous opportunities to find good bass fishing in Kentucky are expected this year in whatever type of setting you prefer. Let's hope weather conditions will be favorable to getting in on the action all year long. For complete fishing information, get a copy of the 2006 Kentucky Sport Fishing & Boating Guide booklet, or go online at

www.fw.ky.gov for the latest in laws and fishing updates from the KDFWR.

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