Commonwealth Hybrid Bass Bonanza

Some uncommonly fine hybrid striper action is possible on the five waters highlighted here. Don't miss out! (May 2008)

Photo by Tom Evans.

Among anglers, hybrid striped bass do not have the same celebrity status that largemouths, smallmouths, or even trout do. Despite this, hybrids have definitely earned some acclaim all their own. They have a dedicated following of anglers who believe that hybrids are some of the best game fish out there.

And that's no real surprise. After all, hybrids are very exciting to catch. They're well distributed around our state and can be caught year 'round. What more could any angler want?

Kentucky has a very active hybrid bass-stocking program, which has been functioning for many years.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) raises and stocks around 1 million hybrid stripers each year. A number of different waters receive these hybrids and are providing some excellent fishing opportunities for anglers.

Some of our larger reservoirs receive large numbers of 1 1/2-inch hybrids. Barren River Lake was stocked with 204,000 hybrids, while Rough River Lake received 105,000; Taylorsville Lake received 63,000, and Fishtrap Lake received 23,000.

Herrington Lake received around 50,000 of the smaller hybrids and another 1,100 hybrid stripers of 5 inches. The 5-inch hybrids were supplemental fish left over from other stockings.

As part of the FINS (Fishing In Neighborhoods) program, around five of the state's urban fishing lakes also received stockings of hybrids.

Assistant Fisheries Director Jeff Ross says the KDFWR is trying to get the program established to provide fishing opportunity for urban anglers.

These urban lakes are stocked with substantially larger fish. The hybrid fingerlings stocked into the FINS lakes are around 10 inches in length.

Another special stocking takes place at Guist Creek Lake. Last year, this 317-acre Shelby County water received approximately 5,500 hybrids 6 inches long.

Ross said they weren't getting the return with smaller fish at Guist Creek, so they're experimenting to see whether stocking larger fish will improve conditions.

Lakes are not the only waters that receive hybrids. Both the Ohio and the Kentucky rivers are also included in the stocking program.

Last year, the Ohio River received almost 500,000 hybrids. Most all of the river's pools were stocked with good numbers of 1 1/2-inch fish.

There were 44,000 fish stocked into the Meldahl Pool, 112,000 into the Markland Pool, 60,000 into the McAlpine Pool, 89,000 into the Cannelton Pool, 70,000 into the Newburgh Pool, 33,000 into the Uniontown Pool and 71,000 into the Smithland Pool.

A couple of years ago, the KDFWR also started a program at the Kentucky River to "beef up fishing" there, according Jeff Ross. He says the fishery is still in the building stage, but has good potential for the future because of the efforts the KDFWR is putting into the river.

The Kentucky River received two different sizes of hybrids last year.

Around 600,000 hybrid fry were stocked into the river, but Ross says they don't see real good survival rates with fry. He says our stocking program for hybrids is fairly established, but the KDFWR is still trying to tweak it.

The biologists are experimenting with stocking different-sized fish in certain locations to see what will provide the greatest return for anglers.

Most of the stocked fish come from the Minor Clark Fish Hatchery in Morehead. The Peter W. Pfeiffer Fish Hatchery in Frankfort hatches a lot of the hybrids, but then most are transferred to the Clark Hatchery where they remain until they reach stocking size. However, some of the 5- and 6-inch fish stocked last year came from Pfeiffer.

With the KDFWR's stocking efforts, anglers are reaping the benefits. Many of these stocked waters are providing hot hybrid action right now!

HERRINGTON LAKE
KDFWR biologist Kerry Prather says, that based on recent sampling efforts, Herrington Lake has shown some improvement. Last year, Herrington Lake scored out with a "fair" rating for hybrids. The 2008 assessment, based on sampling done during the fall of 2007, has resulted in a "good" rating.Prather says that while sampling last fall, they collected 111 hybrids.

"Generally, we caught more hybrids in 2007 than in recent years, which is encouraging. We hadn't done as well over the last few years."

Most of the fish collected were in the 15- to 16-inch range, although Prather says there was a "good blurb" of fish up to 23 inches.

The bulk of these hybrids were 15 to 16 inches long. By this time of year, they should have grown a couple of inches. A conservative estimate would now put that group of fish up around 3 to 4 pounds.

Hybrids grow fast at Herrington Lake and can put on a couple of inches in short order.

One of the main reasons is the excellent forage base available in the form of both threadfin and gizzard shad. It's unusual for a lake in this part of the state to contain both species of shad.

Prather says that since around 1999, Herrington Lake has been part of the hybrid-stocking program. The KDFWR stocks hybrids to the tune of about 20 fish per acre per year.

The middle portion of the lake is Prather's favorite location for hybrid fishing, but he says they can be caught most anywhere. "The fishing is great. You can go from the dam to the headwaters and catch hybrids."

The area around Quinn Island is a popular place for hybrid anglers. Just upstream from there, Dunn Island is another good choice.

Some anglers prefer to fish around the mouth of Cane Run.

One spot that gets a lot of attention from hybrid anglers is a location known locally as the Hogs Back, a ridge there where two river channels come together.

Actually, it's where the old river channel makes a big loop. There are rocky points and a lot of diverse habitat, making it one of the most popular fishing loc

ations on the lake.

Herrington Lake has a lot of boat ramps, but many of these ramps are quite steep. Anglers looking for easier access to the lake may want to try the ramp at Chimney Rock.

ROUGH RIVER LAKE
"It is a very good fishery," says biologist Rob Rold. There are good numbers of fish and good size distribution up to the 20- to 25-inch range.

Rold says he has even heard of anglers catching fish larger than 25 inches, but he hasn't seen any of that size himself.

Reports have filtered in of hybrid stripers in excess of 12 pounds.

Rold and crew didn't get to sample the lake last fall because of an early drawdown. The lake was pulled down to winter pool very early so repair work could begin on the dam.

Even though there isn't recent sampling data to go on, Rold says the fishery is still in great shape.

During the spring, most of the hybrids are in the headwaters areas. Once the lake begins to warm, the fish start going back toward the main lake. Most of the best fishing will be around the main lake points.

After the shad start adding some size, anglers will start having success fishing "the jumps." This will usually be around middle to late June.

Fishing the jumps can sometimes be tricky because the fish are often really scattered. They can be found from the dam down to where Panther Creek comes in.

When fishing the jumps, most people will throw topwater baits. Baits that make some noise will typically outperform others similar lures.

Rold says that a lot of local anglers will also tie on a crappie jig or popping jig behind the topwater lure.

He says that the fish in the jumps tend to school up in like-sized groups. Almost all of the fish in a particular jump will be around the same size, so if they're not what an angler's looking for, it's time to move to another location.

Other popular baits for catching hybrids include night crawlers, chicken livers, or cut bait. Other folks prefer to troll with medium- to deep-running crankbaits.

Trolling works well around the islands near the mouth of Cave Creek. Other good areas for hybrids include the Indian Valley area, Panther Creek area, and the mouth of Tules Creek.

FISHTRAP LAKE
Catching hybrids is no big task at Fishtrap Lake. An ample fishery and good size distribution makes this a highly sought-after species at this eastern reservoir. Anglers typically do very well all year long.

"The hybrid striped bass fishery is continuing to be very good," says fisheries biologist Kevin Frey.

"Indeed, it has received good marks from the KDFWR for several years, and sampling continues to yield positive results."

Frey says the most recent sampling showed good numbers of fish through 25 inches. The biologist says anglers also occasionally catch fish in the 26- to 28-inch range.

The health of the hybrids is good as well. Hybrids of 23 inches and longer usually weigh between 7 and 10 pounds. There have been verified catches from Fishtrap of hybrids that weighed up to 15 pounds.

The fish are congregated during the months while the lake is at winter pool. This period is usually from around the first of December until around the end of March. That's a great time to find higher numbers of fish in a smaller area of the lake.

By now, however, the hybrids have spread out more and are more difficult to locate. The best fishing comes from open water and limits most success to anglers with boats.

As the weather continues to warm, look for hybrids in the jumps out on the main lake. Getting in a position to cast to them is sometimes frustrating, but when it happens, the action can be hot and heavy.

Frey says the fish in the jumps will "hit about anything." Try casting surface plugs or minnow-imitating lures.

Other anglers prefer to fish for hybrids that suspend under schools of shad. This can be accomplished by trolling shad-imitating baits.

Vertical jigging or using live or cut bait can also be very effective on suspended fish.

During the summer, some of these fish will migrate up the Levisa Fork River. This is one of the few locations on the lake where shore-bound anglers can find some success on hybrids.

The boat ramps at the Fishtrap Marina and Grapevine Recreation Area require a small daily user fee. Seasonal passes are also available. The boat ramp at the Lick Creek Recreation Area is free.

OHIO RIVER
One of our most expansive hybrid fisheries of our state is along the Ohio River. As mentioned earlier, the Ohio River receives a huge number of stocked fish each year from the KDFWR.

Additionally, the states of Ohio and West Virginia also stock hybrids into the river. In the section of the river bordering those states, there are very good numbers of fish.

But those aren't the only sections of the river with good numbers of hybrids. They are stocked in eight major tailwaters of the Ohio and can be caught almost anywhere along the river. Anglers can expect the best concentrations of fish to be in the tailwaters, though.

Angling pressure for hybrids depends on how close the particular area is to major urban areas. Waters near Markland, McAlpine, and Cannelton are hardest hit by anglers.

Fisheries biologist Doug Henley says that the fish quality can vary from year to year. The body size of the hybrids, whether they are thick or thin, depends on the forage production in any given year.

"Most years, the fish are in real good shape," says Henley. He recommends the tailwaters as the best locations for hybrids.

"Hybrids can be caught most all year in the tailwaters if you know what you're doing."

Although he is a big believer in fishing the tailwaters, he cautions anglers to obey the regulations regarding restricted areas around the dams and other areas.

One of the great things about fishing the river for hybrids is they will bite on just about anything, from artificial baits to live baits. Hybrids are anxious to hammer whatever happens their way. Cut bait, shad, night crawlers, chicken liver, minnows, and much more will hook a hybrid.

Lots of river anglers catch hybrids while fishing for other species. In particular, catfish angle

rs fishing on the bottom and sauger anglers casting into swift water catch plenty of these strong fighters.

The swift currents of the tailwaters are great places for finding lots of action. A number of different baits can be used here too, but lots of anglers like to throw big jigs with Sassy Shad bodies.

When fishing the river near bordering states, remember to be aware of the regulations and reciprocal fishing agreements. Complete regulations are available from the KDFWR.

BARREN RIVER LAKE
One of the most popular locations in the state for hybrid striped bass is at Barren River Lake, which has been providing lots of hybrid fishing action for several years now.

Although the drought seemed to really make a dent last year, the fishing this year should still be good.

According to many of the locals, Barren River Lake was down a lot last year. They reported low-water levels and even some die-off of hybrids. Fortunately, the hybrid stocking program has been in place there for a number of years, and any hit the fishery may have taken should be overcome in short order.

Hybrids grow well at Barren River Lake, and big fish are common. In fact, Barren River Lake's tailwaters is the home of the state-record hybrid striped bass. Mark Wilson caught the 20-pound, 8-ounce fish in April 1991.

All the same fishing methods mentioned for the other lakes work equally as well at Barren.

Fishing the jumps in the summer is always fun, as is fishing with various live and cut baits.

Other anglers will fish for hybrids much as they do fishing for their cousins the striped bass. These methods include trolling with downriggers and pulling planer boards.

Using planer boards is a very popular fishing method on more northern waters for various species of fish. It was brought to Kentucky and introduced first to Lake Cumberland to get baits in front of the big stripers.

This method of fishing is now becoming more commonplace among hybrid enthusiasts.

The planer boards fan out away from the boat to create a wide path of baits through the water.

The depth of the different baits can also be staggered, which creates a varied presentation while covering a lot of water.

This method not only reaches a wide range, but also helps put the baits in front of fish that might spook if closer to the boat.

Barren River Lake has numerous boat launching ramps located around the lake in both Barren and Allen counties. Some require fees, and others are free.

There you have it -- a look at some of our state's hottest hybrid waters for this season.

Remember, there's no time like the present to get in on this great fishery. You'll be glad you did, but be sure to hold on!

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