5-Plus Bluegrass State Bass Picks

5-Plus Bluegrass State Bass Picks

From our twin lakes of Barkley and Kentucky to Dale Hollow and beyond, here's where you'll find fabulous bassing this season in our state!

Kentucky bass anglers gearing up for the spring should have no shortage of opportunities to catch some good fish this year. Many fisheries, especially in the state’s reservoirs, show excellent promise.

With any luck, the weather conditions Kentucky experienced last year will pan out this spring, and rainfall amounts will be closer to normal. What Mother Nature sends our way plays such a huge role in the ability of anglers to catch bass, even when various populations may be in superb shape. Last year, Mother Nature was tough on anglers from April through June — prime bass-catching times.

The spawning success for bass doesn’t have a lot of effect on the quality of fishing the very next spring. Young-of-the-year fish are too small to make it into the “catchable” size range in just one growing season, so it’s best to judge how fishing might be by looking back a year or two when predicting the upcoming year.

According to biologists’ reports from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), several major lakes should give anglers plenty of quality action this year. Two of those remain ongoing hotspots, and you can talk about them for largemouths in the same sentence: Kentucky and Barkley lakes.

KENTUCKY & BARKLEY LAKES

The bass-fishing heyday when heavier vegetation appeared on the lake may never be matched again, but biologists say both these reservoirs are back on the upswing.

“I don’t think we’ll hit the level we did when we had the milfoil develop several years ago, but we are seeing improvement in catch rates and quality on both reservoirs,” said KDFWR fisheries director Benjy Kinman.

“It’s taking more pounds of fish to win tournaments down there now, and that’s a good trend that some better bass are being caught from these waters. I expect it will continue through the spring season, and hopefully beyond,” Kinman said.

Reports coming in from biologist Paul Rister support that the upcoming spring season on Kentucky and Barkley should be good, and could be stellar. If this fall’s fishing was any indication, bass ought to be present throughout the lake.

“I’ve had lots of good reports of anglers catching fish — one from a pair of anglers who said they caught 50 in a night in shallow water on spinnerbaits last September,” Rister said.

“That number may or may not be precisely accurate, but it was obvious these guys had caught a bunch of fish and were pretty pleased about it,” he said, “and lots of times we tend to get more feedback about bad fishing rather than good.

“One of our employees here was out fishing about that same time, and caught a limit in under an hour,” Rister continued.

“Our creel survey last year was also very positive, so if the weather cooperates, I believe this year could be very good; and with the strong year- classes coming in, the following spring should also be pretty hot,” the biologist said.

Kentucky and Barkley have a lot of embayments and feeder creeks to take advantage of when bass are in the spring mode of shallow water and active feeding. Rister reports that the tremendous volume of threadfin and gizzard shad in these waters is contributing to excellent growth and weights for bass.

The “sister” reservoirs have been a productive environment for largemouths for years, and are hard to beat as a solid bet to catch bass at any given time. It appears this year may be an upward spike for better fish, and well worth a trip to the west.

The Kentucky Lake smallmouth population, meanwhile, is doing quite well, too, Rister said. He noted sampling for the big smallmouths is tough because electroshocking equipment used by biologists to stun fish so they can be netted and examined is less effective on species that generally stay in deeper water. However, tournament anglers consistently report boating some excellent smallmouths, and Rister said reproduction of bronzebacks has remained solid in recent years.

“We’ve got a good number of big smallies in the population, and anglers are picking these fish up regularly,” the biologist said.

“I see no indication that’s going to change this year, and I think anglers specifically interested in smallmouths can safely come here and find some quality opportunity along the deeper banks and structure.”

CAVE RUN

Black bass biologist Jeff Ross advises another good choice for spring largemouths in his book will be Cave Run Lake in northeastern Kentucky. Cave Run is a beautiful, scenic, 8,300-acre hole of water that holds a world-class muskie fishery, and a significantly improving bucketmouth fishery.

“Cave Run is a bright spot this year for eastern Kentucky anglers among many lakes in this region that are less productive and fertile for black bass than their western and central state counterparts,” Ross said.

Ross watches Cave Run about as closely as any other lake and his research studies are giving him a lot of good signs about some much better quality bassing coming on than in previous years.

“We believe the 13- to 16-inch slot limit on Cave Run has begun to reverse a trend we saw previously of fewer quality fish in the population, and I imagine anglers are going to find that out this spring when they get on the water.

“There are lots of big bass in this population right now, and that’s going to mean some exciting action for those who get the chance to fish Cave Run this spring,” Ross said.

In addition to the effect the slot limit seems to be having, Ross also credits “home lake” anglers with helping to turn Cave Run around in terms of better bass fishing.

“I think more anglers are going with catch-and-release of fish above the slot that they could legally keep if they wanted to.

“It’s putting

bass back into the population that are already very high-quality fish, and that, added to the mandatory release of nice-sized fish 13 to 16 inches long, is noticeably helping Cave Run get back on track. We’re really happy about that,” Ross said.

“Until the slot went into effect, we were experiencing some pretty hefty harvest of the intermediate size largemouths, so what we had was fewer bigger bass and a bunch of smaller fish never making it on up the ladder.

“More are getting there now and the chance of catching those 3- to 5-pounders is becoming more of a reality than a dream,” he said.

Anglers have a good volume of timbered coves and creeks that should hold largemouths during the spring, and additional open flat areas where bass look for baitfish into late spring and early summer. Ross said abiding by the slot limit is the key to continuing to see improvement in largemouth fishing, and encourages the harvest of spotted bass in the reservoir for those who are interested in fish dinners.

“I think anglers will be pleasantly surprised this year with Cave Run, and those who will spend some time learning the lake ought to fare pretty well on some nicer bass,” Ross concluded.

CEDAR CREEK LAKE

Cedar Creek Lake is, as most anglers are aware, being managed as a trophy bass lake. It is under the same approach that was taken at Carter Caves Lake a few years ago. Carter Caves is a very small, somewhat hard-to-access hole that was discovered to have a high percentage of big largemouths already present. However, the production and catching of trophy bass never really came alive the way biologists thought it might.

According to biologist Ross, the 780-acre Cedar Creek Lake in Lincoln County is looking much more promising, and is a solid fourth spot where largemouth fishing should be an eye-opening experience this year.

“We put this lake under a 20-inch minimum size limit and a one-fish-daily creel back at the beginning of 2003, even though we knew there were no bass in there that big at the time,” Ross said. “It was barely a year old.

“We had a unique chance to start trophy management right from the onset on Cedar Creek, which we think probably gives it the best chance to succeed.

“It allowed us to protect all the undersized bass present, rather than start with a situation where a good portion of the fish 12 inches and larger had already been harvested. It also takes advantage of the fact the new lakes usually undergo an explosion in production and growth of its bass population, and the fertility remains pretty high in the beginning year. We believe that will get us more fish to the desired size sooner, and we are well on our way,” the biologist said.

In the fall of 2004, anglers were catching and biologists were seeing a large number of bass ranging from 15 to 17 inches in Cedar Creek. The KDFWR stocked a lot of bass that were bigger to begin with than usual, so things have progressed quickly. Even though spring anglers will still probably have to catch and release the majority of largemouths caught, sometime during the latter part of the year, a small percentage of bass will be right at the 20-inch keeper mark. This year, if things stay on track, look out!

“I think anglers are going to have a blast on Cedar Creek this spring when they start hooking up with a whole lot of 15-inch and better largemouths,” Ross said.

“Most won’t care that they have to put them back. It’s just a lot of fun to catch bass that size, regardless,” he said. “Just make sure you handle them as carefully as possible.”

Cedar Creek has a tremendous amount of natural and manmade cover, all of which helps anglers be more successful locating fish. Fishing during the week will probably be the best bet simply because any new lake attracts a lot of weekend anglers.

“Right now, the bass are growing well and they haven’t gotten into a pattern like Lake Malone or Kincaid Lake, where we know there is a really good percentage of the bass in the 15-inch-plus range, too, but they are sometimes tough to catch,” Ross said.

“Cedar Creek has the bass present, and they are willing to hit. This spring, there should be lots of dynamite action for the casual and serious bass fishermen alike,” he added.

HERRINGTON LAKE

One other cream-of-the-crop lake where anglers have (year after year connected with a lot of quality largemouths throughout spring and summer is Herrington Lake. Perhaps one of the most fertile and consistent bass producing waters in Kentucky, Herrington’s deep creeks and rocky banks crank out a very good crop of bucketmouths on a regular basis.

“Herrington isn’t the easiest lake out there to fish, but it has a well-balanced bass population and spring to early-summer fishing tends to be the best time for anglers to find success,” said biologist Kerry Prather.

“The spring pattern gets more largemouths up in the shallow water, and brings them into the back of creeks and around shoreline cover where most anglers are more comfortable trying to catch them.

“Jig combinations and crankbaits get a lot of use on Herrington in early spring, then worms and topwaters later when the fish settle into a more warm-weather pattern and fishermen turn to nighttime angling,” the biologist said.

Herrington has a good population of 12- to 15-inch bass, and the potential for some 5- and 6-pound lunkers as well. It has excellent forage base, which helps bass winter in better condition and maintain good growth rates when feeding picks up in March and April, prior to the spawn.

BEST OF THE REST

Bass fishing is reportedly going to be good on several other major reservoirs this season. Grayson Lake is expected to provide some good catch-and-release fishing on largemouths approaching the 15-inch mark, while Fishtrap Lake in Pike County is believed to be sporting the best ratio of keeper-sized bass in the far eastern end of the Bluegrass State. Fishtrap’s smallmouth population is considered small, but some hefty bronzebacks are likely to be caught in the lower end of the lake this year, perhaps 5-pounders or better.

If you’re looking for smallies, by the way, you will probably want to forego a couple of spots like Paintsville and Grayson lakes this season, and opt for either Elkhorn Creek in Franklin County or Dale Hollow. Paintsville and Grayson have fairly small populations of smallmouth bass and haven’t experienced

the best recruitment over the last couple of years. However, Dale Hollow continues to produce some fantastic quality smallmouths, and will get the nod this year, too, over Lake Cumberland for better bronzeback action.

The mighty Elkhorn Creek, since a slot limit went into effect, has continued to offer some premier stream smallmouth fishing, with lots of smaller fish being caught and released, and frequently big bruiser smallies taken when water conditions are good. Last year’s wet spring slowed down fishing somewhat, but biologists say good fish are still available, especially in the main stem for waders and belly-boaters.

Lastly, central Kentucky anglers should see improvement at Taylorsville Lake, despite heavy bass fishing pressure. Biologist Prather reports that bass in the 12- to 15-inch range are holding their own and have established a stable population; and the numbers of bigger 15- to 18-inch bass have been slowly increasing. Anglers should do pretty well on Taylorsville during the early spring before the pleasure boat fleet starts arriving in May.

MORE INFO

For a complete rundown of what is expected on all of the major waterways, many smaller state-owned lakes and most of the primary river systems in Kentucky, either go on- line to the KDFWR’s Web site at www.fw.ky.gov, or call (800) 858-1549 for this year’s Fishing Forecast. It gives you a rundown on all the major game fish species, and what biologists expect anglers will find when they ply each specific water.

If you plan to try a lake that you’re unfamiliar with, the KDFWR also has publications that identify launching access sites, and in some cases, you can get an outline map of waters with creek names and sometimes fish attractor locations. Fish attractors are often good places to fish in spring when bass are shallow.

Largemouth bass continue to be Kentucky’s most sought-after species, and practically every body of water contains some of these fine game fish. The outlook for most lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers is positive, and as noted here, many are expected to be good to excellent. So use this as a guideline to some of the better fishing in the Commonwealth, and plan some trips today!   

Magazine Cover

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.