Here are your best bets for bass fishing in Kentucky in 2014.
Isn’t it the month of March that’s supposed to come in like a lion, and go out like a lamb? If the adage is true, that’s great news for Kentucky bass anglers, since it is precisely that type of moderating of the weather that gets largemouth cranked up for the spring frenzy throughout the commonwealth.
If you stop and think a little bit like a largemouth might, you realize they really aren’t so much different than humans. In the colder winter period, our drive to be active tends to throttle back, but as the warmer days approach, we start to gear back up. For bass, that means more frequent feeding and getting in better physical shape for the upcoming spawn in the not-so-distant future.
Presently Kentucky as a whole is in excellent shape in regard to having many waters that are experiencing excellent largemouth fishing. Several smaller impoundments, which tend to warm quicker, are doing well for bucketmouths, as are numerous major impoundments. Late March and April are the transition period when bass begin to move in to warmer shallow water, and obviously are at their best weights to give your rod a decent bend when they latch on.
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 8 feet
A highly detailed crankbait, the M65 confronts bass with a realistic baitfish appearance plus sound generated by a metal plate and steel ball. Available in two models and a variety of colors, this crankbait is effective in both stained and clear water. Price: $12.99
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 4-7 feet
Patrick Sebile’s Bull Crank is an excellent lure, especially at that low price point of $6.95. The Xternal weight system helps to keep a low center of gravity, dig deep, and stay on track, reducing the need to tune. It features a wide body to increase visual presence. Price: $6.95
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 3 feet
The Square Bill's self-tuning line tie lets you burn it and still have it track straight. The circuit board lip provides strong vibration up the line and helps the lure deflect well in cover, especially downed trees. Price: $8.99
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 2-4 feet
This popularly-priced, rattle-equipped crankbait is designed to be worked through heavy cover and still get the job done. The Chikara features internal 3D holographic foiling that provides flash and cannot be chipped. The lure’s value is enhanced by Mustad Triple Grip treble hooks. Price: $7.99
Weight: 3/8 ounce
Depth: 8-10 feet
This flat-side crankbait has a good thumping action and a tight wobble, and that means it’s a great crankbait for cooler months or highly pressured lakes. Adding some weight to the hooks helps to cast the relatively light Flat Side on baitcasting gear, especially in windy situations. Price: $5.79
Weight: 5/16 ounce
Depth: 6-8 feet
On a medium or slow retrieve, the Rap Crank is amazing: it tracks straight, then pops laterally and juts back onto the original track, ready for the waiting strike. Price: $8.99
Weight: 3/8 ounce
Depth: 0-2 feet
Spro Baby Fat John 50 This smaller version of the established Fat John effectively imitates smaller forage, and works on spotted and smallmouth bass as well as largemouth. It runs shallow at any speed, and its fiberglass lip makes it kick out and “hunt” frequently before returning to true. Price: $12.03
Weight: 3/8 ounce
Depth: 5 feet
It’s a good-looking lure, and fine quality for a hard-to-beat price. The XPS rattle is subdued, which is nice for spooky bass. The oval split on the line tie helps it run straight and avoid line slipping between rings. Price: $4.29
Weight: 3/8 ounce
Depth: 1-3 feet
You'll be a megafan of Megabass lures because of their innovation and uncanny attention to detail. The Knuckle Jr.'s two-position adjustable bill really gives you two lures in one, making it easier to swallow the premium price. Price: $4.29
Weight: 1/2 ounce
Depth: 3-4 feet
The Bait Ball is a crankbait with realistic 3D baitfish bodies inside the main body. The smaller lures inside cleverly mimic a school of shad. This crankbait casts very well and has a tighter wobble than most square bills, making it a perfect crank for clear water. Price: $14.99
Let’s take a look at a good number of opportunities, one or more of which is in your comfort zone of a reasonable distance for a trip for sure. We also throw in some suggestions on how to work early spring bass and hopefully get you prepared for taking what can be the best quality largemouth of the entire year.
Before we touch on some of the better bass lakes that are under 1,000 surface acres, it needs to be noted that because smaller waters generally warm sooner the giant, deeper ones, anglers who can don’t want to overlook March bass in farm ponds right out of the gate. Though many fisherman prefer bassin’ big reservoirs, the truth is in Kentucky, the odds of taking truly monster bass this time of year are as favorable, if not more likely, from ponds five acres and less.
“Largemouth activity is driven by warmth, baitfish activity increasing and the spawning drive in early spring,” said Jeff Crosby, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources central district fishery biologist.
“That natural instinct occurs sooner on smaller bodies of water, where there are usually more shallow water areas.
“Sometimes just three or four degrees difference in the water temperature can make a great difference in bass feeding patterns, as well as attracting food fish out of deeper hiding spots looking for aquatic insects and new plant growth, and it just makes those little fish easier targets for bass locate,” the biologist said.
And, that makes those hungry largemouths easier to catch. Ponds are true hotspots and when the activity starts there, it’s not long before it picks up in smaller lakes, and shortly thereafter the bigger reservoirs as each day gets a little warmer and the sun stays out longer.
Among the best smaller impoundments for early bass action are Guist Creek, Kincaid, Lake Malone, Greenbo and of course Cedar Creek, Kentucky’s only waterway under true trophy bass management. Cedar operates under a minimum 20-inch, one fish a day rule. You’d expect there to be a big number of very high quality bass present – and there are. Similarly though, it’s not unusual for the rest of this elite list to give up six to eight pound largemouth in March and April, too.
One common aspect each of these lakes share is the potential for really big largemouth. Maybe these waters are just fertile for bass. Maybe catch-and-release keeps good fish in the lake, or maybe at certain times of the year, big bass are just hard to catch in deep water and when they don’t get caught, there’s a few more of them around next time.
Electro-shocking studies at all these locations have consistently shown high quality bass in very good numbers, and at the start of the spring season, chances are better in connecting with larger bass trying to make for lost time in feeding the last few months. They are clearly more susceptible to the average angler in spring. Too many natural instincts make them more vulnerable.
“One of the best tips is no big secret, but fishing heavier cover in coves or the heads of the feeder creeks produces largemouth as they move up from deeper water into the warmer shallow water,” said Crosby.
Bass like cover, and where warmer water flows in to a lake, or can be found on a rocky bank or point with some stumps or stickups or brush piles, that’s where bass move to so they are more comfortable and get more active.
Likewise, the water color in creeks in spring is usually murkier, which gives bass a sense of security, and many times the influx of natural food and nutrients that come in from creeks attracts bass. When you begin to notice bluegill and other sunfish milling around just under the surface, in and around downed trees and other shoreline cover, predators like largemouth aren’t going to be far behind, and every day that is a little warmer than yesterday means bass spend more time there waiting to ambush a minnow or something that looks like it.
Remember not to get to far ahead of yourself, in terms of fishing presentation and lure speed retrieval. Though the warm up is coming on, it’s doing so gradually, and it takes bass a while before they become super aggressive. Continue to fish slowly and tight on cover, and use lures like a jig-and-pig combination, large spinnerbaits maybe with a trailer, or soft, slow-moving plastic salamanders or grubs and probe the available cover.
As the spring progresses, match your lure choice to the activity level of the bass. Avoid the temptation during the first trip or two in mid-March of getting on the water and ripping crankbaits or buzzbaits. That simply zips the bait right past bass that aren’t quite as excited as you are to be out there. You are likely to miss more fish than you catch.
A final “up-and-comer” on the small lake scene this spring is Wilgreen Lake, a 169-acre state-owned lake in Madison County. Though not likely well known by many, Wilgreen’s bass population has boomed for big fish the last year or two. Anglers are finding excellent numbers of 15-inch fish in the mix right now, and a very decent volume of 20-inch bass.
As we’ve noted, right now is prime time to score on big bass pre-spawn, and equally good, not have to compete with a whole lot of other anglers, especially those after panfish. Small lakes gets really busy when bluegill and redear go on the bed in May, but during March and early April bass anglers have a good deal more room to operate, even in smaller reservoirs like Wilgreen.
The outlook for best bass fishing on major reservoirs undoubtedly has to include Lake Cumberland this spring. The plan of the Corps of Engineers was to bring the lake down some to make sure repairs to Wolf Creek Dam are solid, which they appear to be, and then return the lake to normal summer pool for the first time in several years.
“When the water level starts coming back up in the spring, we believe it’s going to be like a new lake effect on Cumberland,” said John Williams, KDFWR district fishery biologist for the south-central region.
“So much habitat has developed over the last few years that once the water starts to cover it again, largemouth are going to be up in that stuff and we suspect the fishing will be exceptional for several years,” said Williams.
Anglers are going to have to take care in navigating boats in the “newly available” territory along the banks and creeks; however, having structure to fish around will be abundant throughout this normally 50,000 acre lake.
The increase in area open for bass to use may also give bass production a shot in the arm over the next few years, with more spawning area and a higher amount of food sources for fish lake-wide.
It’s likewise difficult to discuss Kentucky’s best early spring bass fishing opportunities and not highlight Kentucky Lake to the west. This immense reservoir, despite a lot of bass fishing pressure, has been a feather in the Bluegrass State’s bass “cap” for several years in a row. Anglers catch a lot of bass here, and a lot of “good” bass here.
Points adjacent to deeper creek or the river channel that hold cover, along with the banks of creeks with submerged timber are excellent spots to try early largemouth. Rocky banks pull bass in closer since they warm more quickly. Casting medium-running crankbaits in stained water, or crawfish imitators soft-bodied or solid pick up a lot of bass in late afternoon.
Both Lake Cumberland and Kentucky Lake are also known as high quality smallmouth bass waters. Anglers know smallmouth become active in colder water conditions, compared to largemouth. Look for smallmouth along deeper channels and points with pea gravel bottoms. Look for bank rockslides and long, sloping points that extend out some distance into the channel to create a drop off on either side. Riprapped areas are also popular hangouts for bronzebacks, generally in the lower half of these reservoirs.
Another consistent spring largemouth producer sometimes easy to overlook is Herrington Lake in central Kentucky. Interestingly this reservoir has remained under a 12-inch minimum size limit on largemouth, while many others have gone to the 15-inch limit. What’s unusual is that Herrington keeps on producing a very good volume of 15-inch plus largemouth, though smaller bass are legal to take home. It’s almost like this lake was “built” for bass, and remains that way, even as Kentucky’s oldest manmade major reservoir.
Firing crankbaits along rocky shorelines with cover, like a fire tiger pattern bomber, or a shad-colored Rapala often get excellent reception.
Fishing bank woody cover with jigs, or white and chartreuse single-bladed spinnerbaits tend to send irresistible vibrations to feeding largemouths.
Though Herrington is often thought of as a deep, clear water lake, the spring rains push a lot of debris down the creeks into the lake. It piles up at the heads of creeks, which is also where the warmest water tends to be, and that’s a great combination for drawing bass in searching for warmth and food after a long slowdown period.
To the eastern end of the state, three excellent choices of major lakes include Cave Run, Dewey and Fishtrap. Several waters in Kentucky had good spawns in 2010 to 2012. Some also had bass populations that were already in good shape, and those good year classes of bass will serve to keep the fishing in a high cycle for some years to come.
On Cave Run, KDFWR reports that the better bass in early spring are found in the North Fork and Licking River portions of the upper lake. The lake is under a protective 13- to 16-inch slot limit, so naturally anglers will find many bass in that size range.
Timbered coves hold the best potential early in the season, over creek drop-offs early in the warm up, and later near bank cover, blown down trees and stickups close to the shoreline.
Thanks to strong reproduction in 2009 and 2010, Dewey Lake’s population of 15-inch largemouth has been increasing. KDFWR Biologist Kevin Frey reports that many bass that were hovering right below that size began to break over in the keeper category last year, and more should logically follow by this spring.
Likewise at Fishtrap Lake in Pike County, better bass fishing is expected for largely the same reason, and Frey notes that Fishtrap has one of the best keeper size ratio bass populations of any reservoir in the eastern region. The KDFWR has also done some supplemental bass stocking recently to buoy up largemouth numbers in the out years for better fishing consistency.
It’s anybody’s guess what kind of spring Kentucky will have. Our state isn’t the easiest to predict. We’ve had very warm weather, very quick in the new year, as well as unusually cool and exceptionally wet, and that’s been just in the last two springs.
What is consistent is that bass anglers really start getting itchy when those warmer afternoons start coming in March, and we know largemouth are awaiting that signal that supper is on. When you catch a good warming pattern for a few days, it’s time to be there on any of these waterways for quality bass action. Instead of in like a lion and out like a lamb, as far as bass action goes, look for just the opposite as the month wears on.
Be sure to go on-line at fw.ky.gov, look under the fishing tab, and take a gander at the Kentucky Fishing Forecast for 2014 so you can see all the lake updates that biologists have compiled on essentially all the waterways in the state. There are plenty of promising waters to visit.
Lastly, remember that new year 2014 licenses are required March 1, which you can get at local sporting goods stores, on-line, or by phone. The 2014 state fishing regulations should also be available at license outlets or on the agency’s website by March 1 as well.
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