While there are a lot of great lakes in the Volunteer State, Kentucky Lake, near the state line, provides ample opportunities to bass anglers. By Scott Carver
Throughout the Volunteer State, school is out for the summer, which means baseball is in full swing and Tennessee anglers have opportunities to set hooks on Kentucky Lake.
Long days give anglers more time to fish, and schooling bass are very hungry after the rigors of spawning. Fish are in their summer patterns, and on Kentucky Lake in West Tennessee, summer fishing means ledges. Ledge fishing is a “when, where, why and how” fishing opportunity, and can be some of the most opportunistic and predictable fishing of the year.
Kentucky Lake is one of the largest manmade impoundments in the eastern United States. Stretching into both Tennessee and Kentucky, this huge body of water has been giving anglers plenty of elbowroom since its completion in August 1944.
Kentucky Lake was created primarily for flood control in the Tennessee Valley watershed, but this TVA impoundment has become a crown jewel for bass fishing. And while it receives large amounts of recreational boat traffic, because it covers more than 160,000 acres, the lake never seems really crowded for anglers. The lake can be intimidating, but also quite rewarding, particularly with largemouths.
“Smallmouth bass catch rates are very low and very few anglers seek smallmouth bass on Kentucky Lake,” said Tim Broadbent TWRA Region 1 fisheries biologist. “Recruitment is limited due to adult populations, but some areas, such as Panther Creek, Leatherwood Creek and Whiteoak Creek, are fair. The majority of smallmouth are collected in the Paris Landing area.”
In 2015, only six percent of bass collected in the Paris Landing area were smallmouths; largemouths were collected at 81 fish per hour, while smallmouth came in at five fish per hour. With this in mind, it may be well advised to focus on largemouth, and save smallmouth for another lake.
Though some largemouth are still spawning around the full moon, Kentucky Lake pretty much becomes an offshore fishery once summer settles. The summertime, offshore, ledge fishing has become legendary on this huge impoundment, with anglers plying their craft in large expanses of open water. These areas hold huge schools of bass, as they take up residence on open water drop-offs to rest and feed after the spawn. These fish will, many times, remain in the same vicinity throughout the entire summer.
Now there are three primary things that drive fish behavior — procreation, food and safety. With the spawn occurring mostly in April and May, bass are tired and hungry. As such, bass move to deep water to search for large schools of shad, particularly around edges, where one type of habitat meets another, creating a transition zone.
A ledge provides this type of environment, with access to both deep and shallow water. The adjacent deep water is an escape route from potential predators, which lets bass concentrate on resting and feeding. Kentucky Lake is full of these types of spots, and a little scouting can prove to be the difference in catching fish or just another day on the water.
Many ledges will be very distinct on electronics in open water, dropping 15 to 40 feet. Other ledges are not as distinct, dropping only 3 or 4 feet. These areas can hold fish and are often overlooked by anglers. The key is to take the time to locate these areas with electronics and mark them on GPS.
“I have been fishing ledges and dropoffs since 1990, long before hi-tech sonar, and I learned a lot from diving the Tennessee River for mussel shells,” said Scott McGlinchey, Shelldivers Guide Service. “As far as electronics are concerned, the most valuable thing to me is the live map via satellite, and my preference is the Lowrance Map. It is the best for Kentucky Lake. I use the map to easily locate good-looking spots, then, sometimes I scan them for groups of bass. I have definitely had some great days by finding fish with electronics, and then caught them every cast.”
According to McGlinchey, depth plays a major role in bass location in the summer on Kentucky Lake. The main river channel runs through the middle of the entire lake, with channel ledges ranging down to 25 feet that hold large numbers of bass. These areas can be located with a good map and then scouted via electronics to find fish.
“When you go to the west side of the lake, there are many back-creek channel ledges that hold fish through the summer,” said McGlinchey. “Then going to the east side of the lake, there are some back-creek channel ledges and many under water points that hold summer bass.”
Points naturally have drop-offs, and summertime bass on Kentucky Lake, along with many other lakes, stack up in these areas.
Many anglers overlook points, preferring to cast in shallow water near the bank. As such, ledges and drop-offs can be relatively open to aspiring anglers.
Bass, of course, can be moody. Some days, they feed ravenously on anything that swims by, while other days find them fickle and not wanting to do anything but have a meal brought to them by the current. An approaching storm front or rain event will often bring low barometric pressure, and cause bass to feed heavily.
These are the times when crankbaits can be very productive. Large-lipped crankbaits that run 15 to 22 feet deep are excellent. Tennessee Shad is a good color, as are chartreuse and blue. Other baits, of course, also work.
“I like dragging a Carolina-rig with a long leader and/or dragging a football head with a trailer,” McGlinchey said. “While guiding, most of my fishing is with 10-inch and smaller worms rigged Texas style. I also like to throw large crankbaits and 1-ounce single-bladed spinnerbaits. With the large spinnerbait I let it get to the bottom, then snatch it up, moving it 4 feet, and let it flutter back down, much like the big spoons that have become popular.”
Fluttering spinnerbaits can be particularly deadly, as the bait looks like a wounded shad, and fish will strike instinctively, whether hungry or not.
According to McGlinchey, when is just as important as how, as, he claims, that during the second week of July, the fishing gets tougher, with the best times being around sunset.
“Part of the reason it gets tougher in July is due to the immense fishing pressure,” said McGlinchey. “Many hot ledges are only good for about three weeks, then they fizzle due to constant pressure. When this happens, you really have to look for a diamond in the rough, a.k.a., a secret hole, and I find them every year. Once the bass hit the ledges in mid-May, the fishing is fabulous until that second week of July.”
Anglers new to Kentucky Lake can become overwhelmed by the size of the lake. As such, it is best if anglers pick a small section of the lake and learn it well.
“The area around Paris Landing is good, and bass fishing on Kentucky Lake is good mostly north of the New Johnsonville Bridge, with a lot of summer ledge fishing concentrated north of the Paris Landing Bridge,” said Broadbent.
Scouting is a good way to learn which area to pick, as well as the lake in general. Take a day and do nothing but ride around the lake, marking waypoints in potentially productive areas. Find where contours are very close together on a map, and then try these areas.
Those wanting to keep some fish should know that there is a five bass limit, with a 15-inch minimum length for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, with no length limit on spotted bass.
There are also numerous places to stay near the lake, such as Paris Landing State Park. Paris Landing is complete with a campground, cabins, a large swimming pool and other activities that could turn a fishing trip into a great family memory.