Kentucky's Big-Bass Hotspots

You'll be more likely to encounter a big bass or two in the waters of Dale Hollow, Taylorsville and Yatesville lakes. Here's the latest on fishing each of these lakes.

By Larry Self

The Bluegrass State is blessed with plenty of big-water bass fishing. But big isn't always better because Kentucky is also littered with more than a fair number of small waters brimming with both largemouth and smallmouth bass opportunities.

For example, the Kentucky portion of Dale Hollow Lake is legendary for its big smallmouth production - that's a given. And if you still haven't discovered Taylorsville and Yatesville lakes, you've missed out over the last few years, as these two waters are sporting generous largemouth bass numbers themselves.

Late May and June are traditionally transition bass months in the Commonwealth. Bass are beginning to settle down after the rigors of the spawn with summer and nighttime patterns starting to prevail. With plenty of big-bass waters to choose from, you may want to take a look at these three small-water opportunities. With its legendary status, Dale Hollow is often overlooked for its nighttime smallmouth fishing and even largemouth opportunities.

Likewise, Taylorsville and Yatesville lakes are both rated as two top destinations for largemouth bass. Each of these top spots features less than 5,000 acres of Bluegrass water that shouldn't be overlooked. These "little" big-bass waters hold great bassing potential and deserve your fishing attention.

TOP BILLING

When looking for hardcore bass data, it's true you should turn to the biologists and managers found within the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). What I like about leaning on guys like Lee McClellan, the KDFWR's information officer, and Ted Crowell, the assistant director of fisheries, is that they not only know the biological aspect of Bluegrass waters, they know how to fish them. Let's see how the KDFWR ranks these small waters.

"Dale Hollow is our No. 1 smallmouth lake, but only about 4,800 acres out of the lake's 28,000 acres are in Kentucky," McClellan said. "Taylorsville Lake is a good largemouth bass, crappie and hybrid striped bass lake. It is one of our better hybrid striped bass lakes and holds a good population of white bass." Yatesville Lake is a relatively new lake that only opened in the spring of 1992. However, it's one of the best, if not the best, largemouth bass lake in eastern Kentucky.

Kentucky anglers are fortunate to have fantastic fishing for both smallmouth and largemouth bass in many of our state's waters. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Dale Hollow's reputation is built on years of smallmouth success, and the Kentucky portion of the legendary lake can lay claim to some of the biggest smallies caught over the years. Taylorville and Yatesville are small as a whole, but big on the charts. Taylorsville gets plenty of fishing pressure from surrounding urban regions, but continues to produce good bass fishing.

Yatesville is the newer of these small waters, but anglers have put it on the map literally with good largemouth catches. Dale Hollow is unquestionably the top Kentucky big smallmouth destination. The shallower watered Taylorsville and Yatesville lakes will cough up the occasional incidental smallmouth, but their fishing is dominated by largemouth bass.

DALE HOLLOW LAKE:

SIMPLY THE BEST

Of these three lakes, Dale Hollow obviously leads in smallmouth bass success, but is no stranger to big largemouth bass either. As McClellan said, Dale is the state's premier smallmouth lake, but its largemouth population is often underutilized.

The winter fishing on Dale Hollow is the best in the country as far as I'm concerned. But the nighttime summer smallmouth action can also be heart-pounding and heartbreaking. The big 5- and 6-pound smallies show no mercy when you put a jig or spinnerbait into a coontail grassbed at night. These areas are found up in creeks and on points on the Kentucky side of the waters. There are nights when you break off as many fish as you put in the boat.

When it comes to smallmouth bass, the KDFWR recognizes and follows Tennessee's trophy regulations when setting size and creel limits on the lake. These are regulations McClellan said are producing superb smallmouth bass. He added the Kentucky section of the lake offers very good smallmouth fishing, especially along the banks located near the old Wolf River channel and the major creek channels.

"Many folks believe the smallmouth fishing in the Kentucky end of the lake is not quite as good as the lower end, but in my experience, that is not true," McClellan states. "I've heard people say the smallmouths migrate out of the upper end of the lake in the winter and return in the spring."

He explains why he doesn't believe that scenario in relation to water depths. The old Wolf River channel near its confluence with Illwill Creek is 70 to 80 feet deep. The Obey River channel near First Island in the mid-lower portion of the lake is 90 to 100 feet deep. McClellan doesn't believe a big smallmouth is going to waste the metabolic energy in late fall to swim miles and miles to get to water that is 90 to 100 feet deep vs. swimming a football field length to get to 70 to 80 feet of water.

He said there are good smallies year 'round in the upper portion of the lake in Kentucky waters. He backs it up by pointing to the 8-pound line-class International Game Fish Association's record smallmouth taken by Paul Beal on April 14, 1986, on a 1/8-ounce smoke grub from Hendricks Creek near the Kentucky/Tennessee border. That fish weighed 10 pounds, 8 ounces and is only one of four smallies over 10 pounds on record ever pulled from Dale Hollow's hallowed waters.

"I don't think hogs like that are going to migrate downlake to Horse Creek and then way back uplake for spawning in April," said McClellan. "The deepest water at the mouth of Hendricks Creek is 70 to 80 feet deep, just like up in Wolf River."

Winter drawdowns may cause some migrations to the nearest available deep-water channel, but he undoubtedly doesn't believe big bruiser smallies in the Kentucky section head south of Lillydale at Christmas. This is where I can back up what McClellan is saying just from my Dale Hollow winter experience. Some of the biggest smallmouths I've ever hooked and boated - lost one here and there - have come out of Kentucky waters in December. The Bluegrass waters are truly a big smallmouth haven from December through February for me.

The best news for Commonwealth anglers that's not as widespread as Dale's smallmouth lore is the Kentucky section of the lake produces good largemouth bass fishing, especially in the spring. McClellan said th

e upper end of Wolf River is good largemouth water with lots of wood cover and stumps, weedbeds and other shallow structure. The backs of Illwill, Hendricks, Pulsey and Sulphur creeks are great largemouth spots during the spring and at night in the summer.

The upper end of Fannys Creek is also a good largemouth bass area. McClellan points out most of the fishing pressure on the lake is directed toward smallmouths, and he thinks the largemouth bass are a little more than overlooked on Dale Hollow. He said largemouth fishing really shines if you can find some colored or stained water and work it with a buzzbait or spinnerbait. McClellan likes a wide wobble crankbait because it shines in that kind of water as well, especially in chartreuse/pearl, fire-tiger or brown/ orange/chartreuse.

TAYLORSVILLE LAKE: PRESSURED BUT PREDICTABLE

Lying close to urban and suburban areas can be both good and bad for a lake in an angler's eyes. Taylorsville Lake provides excellent fishing opportunity for the masses, but that can lead to being over pressured, though not entirely.

"Taylorsville Lake holds a good population of largemouth bass with a very limited population of smallmouth bass," McClellan explains. He said smallmouth bass are occasionally caught in the Salt River arm of the lake upstream of Van Buren, but he wouldn't go to the lake specifically for smallmouth bass when one can fish Kentucky, Cumberland, Green, Laurel River and Dale Hollow for smallmouth bass. One of his co-workers at KDWFR caught a decent smallmouth last October up in the headwaters of the Salt River arm, but the largemouths are by far and away the dominant fish. There are some Kentucky (spotted) bass in the deeper, clearer water near the dam.

"Taylorsville Lake has an abundant population of gizzard shad," McClellan adds. "It drains an area of the state abundant in cattle, hog and row crop farms. Nutrients from these farms wash into the lake and make it one of the most fertile in Kentucky."

The dominant bass structure in Taylorsville Lake is its standing timber and stumps. McClellan said pitching a spinnerbait and allowing it to helicopter down is a good way to fish standing timber. Grubs 3 to 5 inches or 6-inch lizards or plastic worms also work well in standing timber. He said to use the lightest weight possible or go weightless when fishing the timber.

"A lethargic, pressured bass isn't going to chase a lizard that rips down in front of its face like a cannonball dropped off the casting deck, but it will often pick up a very light lizard that almost floats in front of its face," McClellan said. There are also weedbeds in the lake that offer good fishing in spring and summer, especially in Little Beach Creek.

"The thinking angler would fish Taylorsville when others don't," McClellan advises. Taylorsville Lake is located within an easy drive of metropolitan Louisville, the largest city in Kentucky. He said a lot of people are moving from the Louisville area to the rural suburbs near the lake. That means the lake receives substantial fishing pressure, especially in the warmer months. A lot of tournaments are also held on the lake, so the bite in the warm months slows.

YATESVILLE LAKE:

THE BEAST IN THE EAST

"Yatesville Lake is probably the best largemouth bass lake in eastern Kentucky," McClellan said. All in all, it does have a few smallmouth bass in its upper reaches, and Blaine Creek held some smallmouths prior to impoundment in 1992. He said there are also some spotted bass in the lake, but this is largemouth territory.

"Yatesville Lake is an anomaly in eastern Kentucky," McClellan said. "Most highland impoundments are gin clear, infertile, rocky and deep."

Not Yatesville, it is only 60 feet deep at its deepest with a mean depth of a little over 17 feet. And this water possesses good fertility for a mountain lake.

McClellan said Yatesville Lake was constructed with fishing in mind. The lakebed was graded before impoundment and trees were cabled to the bottom to provide fish structure. Many of these are marked with buoys. That's a recipe for success, and the success has come early on this young lake.

There is a good amount of woody cover present, as well as flooded willows. There are good spawning flats and long, tapering points in the lake. McClellan further explained that Yatesville is more like a lake found in south-central Kentucky than eastern Kentucky. Yatesville is an enjoyable lake because you don't have to fish in a steep, clear, rocky highland impoundment like many of the lakes in the area.

"I've fished many lakes in eastern Kentucky and they are gorgeous, but the gin-clear water and steep banks make it tough on a bass angler unless it's cloudy and spitting rain. Bright, beautiful days spell poor fishing," grinned McClellan. He said Yatesville is an unusually good bass lake for a mountain reservoir. "The reports we hear back from bass anglers are all very positive about Yatesville."

A BRIGHT

FORESEEABLE FUTURE

Look at some of the specifics that have made these lakes great bass destinations. "Dale Hollow is aesthetically a good place to go fishing. It is a gorgeous lake," Ted Crowell said. "It has all kinds of habitat from cliffs, rocky banks, weedbeds, stumpbeds and channel banks. Weekends, weekdays or night, Dale is never very crowded and that is rewarding to an angler."

Looking at spawn and year-class recruitment, Kentucky anglers' success should continue at these waters. "Barring any major floods during the spawn, the population of smallmouths and largemouths should remain stable for the foreseeable future in Dale," Crowell said.

McClellan said Taylorsville Lake also looks good for largemouth bass for the next few years. The year-class strength over the past three years is good, according to sampling data. "There are good numbers of bass in the lake in the 8- to 12-inch range, which should portend good largemouth bass fishing in the future," he added. "There are also very good numbers of fish in 12- to 16-inch range and decent numbers of fish 16 to 20 inches long."

McClellan said Taylorsville has had some off years since impoundment and had some siltation problems when it was new, but the sampling numbers have been consistent for year-old fish, as well as fish larger than 15 inches over the past 10 years or so. The 2000 and 2001 year-classes were strong as evidenced by the number of 1-year-old fish picked up during sampling in 2001 and 2002, respectively, so the fishing should improve a little in the future.

"Yatesville Lake looks to be in very good shape," McClellan said. The 1999, 2000 and 2001 year-classes of spawning largemouth bass look exceptionally strong, especially the 1999 year-class. Those fish should be coming into keeper status this year. Those are three very good year-classes that will provide quality fishing in the future. The numbers of 8- to 12-inch fish in Yatesville Lake are very good, as well as the numbers of 12- to 16-inch fish. There are decent numbers of fish larger than 16 inches in the lake. Electrofishing showed 16.7 fish per hour of fish

over 15 inches long in 2002.

"That is very good and exceeds the objectives for the lake," McClellan said. "Yatesville Lake should continue to shine as one of best largemouth bass fisheries in east Kentucky for the foreseeable future."

WHEN YOU GO

Dale Hollow Lake (4,800 acres in Kentucky) - Five-bass creel limit, of which only two can be smallmouths. Largemouth bass must be 15 inches, and there's a slot limit on smallmouths, which allows for the taking of one smallmouth over 21 inches and one under 16 inches.

When fishing Dale Hollow, a reciprocal license agreement is in effect with Tennessee for the Wolf River arm. The agreement includes the Illwill Creek embayment beginning at a line crossing the Wolf River at its mouth where it joins the Obey River and the main part of the lake.

Taylorsville Lake (3,050 acres in Anderson, Nelson and Spencer counties) - Follows the statewide creel limit of six bass. Largemouth and smallmouth bass must be 15 inches in size.

Yatesville Lake (2,240 acres in Lawrence County) - Follows the statewide creel limit of six bass. Largemouth and smallmouth bass must be 15 inches in size.



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