Big Bass From Our State's Smaller Lakes
October 04, 2010
At Mauzy Lake, Fishpond, plus three other top picks, here's where you'll find excellent largemouth angling on some of our state's less-pressured waters. Is one near you? (April 2007)
Photo by William J. Bohica.
You don't have to go to a huge reservoir in Kentucky to catch quality bass. Sure those big, well-known impoundments offer great bass fishing and have earned their reputations. But don't forget, there's plenty of great angling in our smaller lakes as well.
In some regards, the chances of catching some really large fish on some of the smaller locations are even greater than at the huge impoundments.
Kentucky has many small waters that provide anglers with some great opportunities to catch quality-sized largemouth bass. Of course, some of these waters waiver in quality from time to time, due to their size and subsequent spawning success.
So, here's a look at five lakes in the state that are serving up some great bassing right now!
Big things are happening on 456-acre Mauzy Lake, which is part of the Higginson-Henry Wildlife Management Area. To be specific, big bass are happening. Since the recent renovation of this Union County lake, the bass fishery has taken a major jump in quality and shows no signs of letting up.
Formerly, to be frank, the bass fishery was simply not very good at all. The lake was tremendously overpopulated with small bass in the 8- to 11-inch range. The shoreline was choked with thick vegetation that in many areas continued a good distance out into the lake. Some of the coves were completely saturated with pond scum and this vegetation -- which not only made fishing difficult, but also contributed to the demise of the bass fishery. Forage fish tended to stay within the thick weed growth and were less accessible to the bass. With a lack of food sources, their growth became severely stunted.
In the summer of 2003, a major renovation project took place. The water was drawn down 13 feet to facilitate repair work on the levee and to install a bottom-water withdrawal system that allows water to be lowered more efficiently, to help control weed growth and also improve stratification problems.
While the water level was down, the weed growth was eliminated, which has allowed the bass to feed more effectively.
According to biologist Rob Rold. "The bass have done wonderful. The bass are fat, chunky, and healthy. Everything really looks fantastic."
Fall sampling from 2006 bore this out. There were a lot of fish in the 15- to 17-inch range. One bass measured an impressive 19 1/2 inches! Rold says the fishery should develop into a very stable, thriving bass population. He anticipates this spring being a very good one for anglers.
One other bonus at Mauzy Lake is also thanks to the renovation project. While the water level was down, the sides of the lake were deepened. The soil taken from the deepening was used to build 12 fishing jetties around the lake. These jetties were rocked with riprap and gravel, which provide excellent fishing access for shore-bound anglers.
Near the jetties, pea gravel was also added for use as spawning beds. Stakebeds, brush, and fish attractors were also added close to the jetties. These areas are terrific fishing locations during the spring.
This past November, the lake was drawn down again to combat re-emerging vegetation. Rold says there will be winter drawdowns every two to three years to keep weed growth under control. Exposing the shoreline periodically for a few months during winter will also release nutrients back into the lake, once it is refilled. This lake's fishery has improved dramatically and should only get better over the next few years.
GUIST CREEK LAKE
The second largest water in our roundup is Guist Creek Lake in Shelby County. This lake covers 317 acres and is located between Louisville and Frankfort. Largemouth anglers can have a blast on this water.
Fisheries biologist Kerry Prather says Guist Creek is "a dandy." It has a very good bass population and has a known potential to yield some really large fish. Largemouths in the 7- to 9-pound range are not all uncommon. Some anglers will even hook a 10-pounder occasionally.
A large, fertile drainage helps make this fishery very productive. There are a lot of nutrients coming in, and that results in very good growth rates for the lake's largemouth population. Bass here will generally hit 12 inches in only 2 1/2 years. The state average for bass to hit that mark is 3 1/2 years. This means largemouth bass in Guist Creek Lake will generally reach 15 inches a year earlier than they will in other impoundments. A 21-inch bass at Guist Creek will be around 12 years old. Some bass in there will even measure from 23 to 24 inches.
The lake is a bass-management water and is usually stocked with largemouths each year. It has some natural reproduction as well, but the stocking helps make up any deficiencies and keeps the fishery in prime condition. Fisheries sampling indicates that a good number of the bass are stocked fish.
One reason why the bass are stocked is because of occasional low reproductive success. This can be attributed partly to the presence of gizzard shad and other species, which compete for food sources. Of course, the gizzard shad also provide major forage for largemouths, so their presence in the lake is a trade-off.
This year should be a great season for bass angling at Guist Creek. Sampling done in 2005 recorded a record number of all sizes of bass. Biologists recorded the highest number of 12- to 15-inch fish since 1992; the survey had the second-highest catch rate since 1992 of bass longer than 15 inches. A lot of catch-and-release is practiced at this lake, so most of those fish are still in the lake, with two more years of growth added.
There is not a lot of aquatic vegetation at Guist Creek, although there's some water willow here and there. Bass tend to relate to structure like overhanging trees, fallen trees, and artificially placed fish attractors. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) plans to continue placing structure in the lake.
Guist Creek is relatively shallow and has a lot of shallow points. Anglers on the open water should concentrate on points, flats, and old underwater structure. According to Prather, anglers have to "fish smart" because several bass tournaments are held there each year, and the fish "have seen it all."
Another lake that Kerry Prather oversee
s is Beaver Lake in Anderson County. This 148-acre impoundment has a good density of bass and is really coming on strong. Shad were removed from there in the mid-1990s, and there has also been work to reduce the amount of aquatic vegetation in the lake. With the help of good management, the numbers of big bass are improving.
Prather says he's "real pleased with that lake." His spring data from 2006 was not yet compiled, but sampling from 2005 showed the highest catch on record. There were a record high number of bass in the 8- to 12-inch range. With a 15-inch minimum size restriction on the lake, this group of sampled fish should provide a lot of action this year.
Beaver Lake is comprised of two main arms and when viewed from above, actually looks V-shaped. The main lake forms one arm, and the other arm makes a right turn near the dam and angles away. The one boat ramp on the lake is located at the upper end. Due to the 10-horsepower limits on the lake, the area closest to the ramp receives the most fishing pressure. Anglers can generally find less-pressured bass farther away toward the dam and even into the second arm of the lake.
As mentioned, Beaver Lake has a lot of aquatic vegetation that can provide excellent fishing opportunities for bass anglers. In spring, vegetation is comprised mostly of curly-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus), and summer brings coontail and naiads. There are also many good patches of water willow. Fishing directly in and along the edges of this vegetation can be deadly during a good portion of the year.
This is especially true during the spring, just prior to the spawn. Anglers often pick up some of the heaviest fish of the year by fishing along the edges of the curly-leaf pondweed just before the start of spawning.
Depending on weather conditions, the spawn will typically occur at Beaver Lake by the last week of April. Some years, the spawn is earlier toward the middle of the month. It will usually continue on into May.
Prather says the bass fishery is looking really good, and the fish are exhibiting good growth, with a lot of keepers coming on. The KDFWR stocked some largemouth into Beaver Lake in 2006 due to the assessment model showing a lower amount of reproduction in the spring of the previous year. Sampling indicated a lower number of young-of-the-year bass, so stocked fish were added to offset the lack of naturally spawned fish. The lake probably didn't need it, Prather says, but "We just gave it a shot in the arm" to insure against any loss of quality.
PAN BOWL LAKE
It's rare to find a lake where every three to four bass out of 10 you catch are of keeper size. But that's the case with 75-acre Pan Bowl Lake in Breathitt County. This lake has a 12-inch minimum size limit, and spring electrofishing shows that between 30 to 40 percent of the bass sampled every year measure above 12 inches.
Biologist Kevin Frey says that even though Pan Bowl doesn't have a 15-inch minimum like some lakes in the state, its bass fishery is still great, with plenty of good-sized fish. He says common there to see bass up to 22 inches and weighing around 5 pounds. Occasionally, there will be bass up to 23 to 24 inches, with some weighing up to 8 pounds!
Pan Bowl is an old oxbow lake and favors the type of fishery it would have. The lake was actually formed from a sharp bend in the north fork of the Kentucky River. The highway department basically relocated the river channel and dammed up the two ends of the river bend, leaving what is now Pan Bowl Lake.
Most of the lake is fairly shallow, with an average depth of only 13 feet. One of the few exceptions is on the side of the lake where the lone boat ramp is located. Along that shore is a steep cliff, which sits above one of the lake's deeper spots.
Finding vegetation to fish is no problem at Pan Bowl. In any given year, there may be as many as six to eight different types of aquatic plants growing there. There are small and large leaf pondweeds, coontail, and water willow as well as buckbrush.
Anglers often catch some nice-sized bass by casting up under some of the buckbrush. Other anglers prefer to fish right in the weeds and other vegetation. Frey says that a very popular method for fishing the weeds on the lake is to hook a plastic worm right in the middle and fish it directly into the vegetation, sometimes even with no weight added. This weedless setup is known as "wacky-worm" style.
When fishing areas away from the weeds, a lot of anglers throw spinnerbaits and buzzbaits. There are some fallen trees in the lake, and people have also put in structure such as Christmas trees and other things. Another area that can be hot at times is around the area where the storm drainage flows into the lake.
Matching baits to the forage can be good, too -- but there's quite a variety of forage at the lake: good numbers of gizzard shad as well as bluegill, redear, and minnows of all sorts. Basically, anything that once swam in the river is now in Pan Bowl Lake.
Last, but not least, 30-acre Fishpond Lake in Letcher County is a great spot for targeting big largemouths. Anglers there can tie into some really hefty bass at times. The lake may be small in size, but the bass fishery there is phenomenal.
Biologist Kevin Frey estimates that 35 percent of the bass in Fishpond are over 12 inches in length. Fish up to 21 to 22 inches and weighing 5 to 6 pounds are real common. Every year, biologists sample fish up to 22 inches and in the past, have recorded fish up to 24 inches.
One reason for the great bass fishery is ample forage. Bluegills are obviously a prey species, but another very significant forage species is rainbow trout, which are stocked into the lake by the KDFWR. Trout are a huge boost to bass growth. In fact, some of the largest bass caught in the country each year come from lakes in California, which have substantial trout populations.
Fishpond Lake is really deep and really clear, with a maximum depth of 79 feet and an average of 33 feet. Fisheries biologists commonly use the Secchi Disk test, which is a standardized method of gauging water clarity. At Fishpond, this reading is typically greater than 20 feet.
Because of this clear water, the best bass fishing often occurs after dusk. Anglers generally have to fish deeper and smarter to find success.
At this lake, springtime is one of the best times of the year to target big bass. More bass are caught around spawning than at any other time. Pre-spawn females are at their heaviest weight of the year.
April is generally the best time to pick up these larger fish. Depending on weather and water temperature, the spawn at Fishpond will typically occur between April 15 and 30. Spawning activity usually runs into May, but bass caught later into the spawn tend to be smaller.
The lake has a few coves that can be good areas to fish. The terrain around the lake is mostly steep-sided. Most of the important str
ucture for bass is in the form of timber and brush. There are a lot of deadfalls in the lake and also quite a few older stumps scattered around.
Early in the year and at certain other times, anglers do real well using jig-and-pig combos. Surface baits are also very popular on this lake. When conditions are right, various buzzbaits and jerkbaits can result in some fantastic top-water action. Because of the amount of predation on trout, many anglers report having success using baits resembling rainbow trout.
A new section on the KDFWR's Web site profiles many of our state's smaller lakes. You can find it at www.fw.ky.gov by clicking on the "Public Lakes Guide" link under the "Where To Fish" section.