Are we thinking bass fishing yet? Well obviously, many anglers never hang up their rods and can be found chasing America’s No. 1 sport fish all year long, even in the dead of winter.
Regardless whether one falls in that category or more in the fair weather category, right about now is when every bass enthusiast is getting in full-blown hyper-mode. Jack Frost is losing his grip on our state and the water temperatures are starting on the upswing. It is nearing peak season to target black bass all across Kentucky.
Anglers here in the Blue Grass State have so many options when it comes to bass fishing; an old southern cliché is very fitting. You can hardly sling a dead cat without hitting a good bass fishing hole. Truly, we have a tremendous amount of opportunity and a lot of variety ranging from stream fishing to large reservoirs. Anglers are blessed with many superb fisheries for largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass.
Although there are lots of places to go, anglers always want to make the best use of their available time and hit the most productive spots. Some locations offer great bass fishing virtually every year, while others have some up and down years occasionally. To help sort out some of the madness, we checked with the fishery biologists at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, as well as some guides and pro anglers to find out the latest information. Here’s a look at the locations we’ve uncovered for 2012.
EASTERN DYNAMIC DUO
Starting over on the eastern side of the state, there are two lakes that really outshine the rest. Fishtrap Lake in Pike County and Yatesville Lake in Lawrence County both offer bass anglers a great chance at connecting on some dandy black bass. Fishery biologist Kevin Frey has rated both lakes with a good assessment.
Both of these lakes do get a lot of fishing pressure though. The location of Fishtrap makes it not only attractive to in-state anglers, but it also gets pressure from Virginia fishers.
Yatesville Lake hosts numerous fishing tournaments throughout the year and also gets pressure from Virginia anglers as well as those from Ohio. Nonetheless, Kentuckians can still rely on these lakes for some great bass action, if they time their trips accordingly.
Weekends are when these lakes see the most pressure, so weekdays are the best bet. Additionally, right now and through the rest of spring is when the best bass fishing occurs.
“There is an ample supply of forage or prey at both lakes,” Frey explained, but them cautioned. “With hot summer temps, these lakes are tough fishing during the daylight hours of summer.”
The numbers of largemouth bass at Yatesville Lake are good with size distribution strong through 22 inches.
“Yatesville Lake is more fertile than Fishtrap, so overall numbers of largemouths are greater at Yatesville.”
Nonetheless, the biologist said largemouths are in abundance at Fishtrap up to about 22 inches as well. Additionally, there is a decent population of smallmouth bass up to 20 inches at Fishtrap. Frey said anglers could catch even larger bass at both lakes, just less frequently.
Target these bass right now in transition areas leading back toward spawning areas and then follow the fish shallow as the water warms. Jerkbaits make a good starting choice while the water is still cool, but then baits such as jigs, soft plastics, and others that can be fished a little faster start coming into play.
With a lot of natural forage for the bass to focus on, anglers need to cover a lot of water, try different techniques, and be patient until they hit a location and tactic the bass prefer on a given day.
KENTUCKY & BARKLEY LAKES
The western part of the state also has a dynamic duo known quite well for superb bass fisheries and outstanding angling opportunities. Both Kentucky and Barkley lakes typically offer bass anglers lots of fish and great action. This year should be no exception and survey data actually points toward numbers being higher than usual, which is both good and bad.
“The bass populations at both lakes are in excellent shape,” said Paul Rister, the KDFWR fishery biologist for the western district. “Several good year-classes have been produced in the past decade. During the period from 2000 to 2009 at Kentucky Lake, there have been six year-classes that were better than average. On Lake Barkley, five of the year classes in this period were above average. So these good year-classes have left us with a lot of fish.”
There is a slight down side to big numbers of bass. When there is such a high density of fish, their growth rate starts to slow down somewhat. It’s not a huge slowdown and most anglers don’t even notice. It just may mean it takes an extra year for a bass to reach legal harvest size.
“Normally at Kentucky Lake a largemouth bass reaches harvestable size during its fourth growing season,” Rister said. “In 2005, a five-year-old bass averaged 16.9 inches. In 2011, a five-year-old bass was averaging 15.5 inches.”
Rister also explained that the weight to length ratio had also dropped just a little.
Even though the bass may need just a little more growing time, the encouraging part right now is there are lots fish in the population and the outlook is for the next several years to be excellent for bass numbers.
Big numbers of bass doesn’t guarantee success though. It’s still bass fishing and anglers still have to work to find success.
“I also go on record as saying there are a lot of places to fish at Kentucky and Barkley lakes, but the number of places you can actually catch fish is much lower,” Rister pointed out. “And, just because the fish are there, does not always mean they will bite your hook.”
The biologist also went on to mention there was a lot of natural forage for the bass, with which anglers must compete.
Gary Hightower, a local tournament competitor at the lakes, said anglers often have to be willing and capable to do the things other anglers aren’t attempting. Hightower is a big believer in jig fishing, and one of his most productive techniques is to pitch and flip right up in thick cover, such as buttonball bushes and other tangles. He gets tangled occasionally, but the fish he pulls out makes it well worthwhile.