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Best Bets for Kentucky Bass Fishing in May

Best Bets for Kentucky Bass Fishing in May
Photo by Ron Sinfelt

Bass activity is in a state of flux this month and it can vary greatly from one body of water to another across the state. Anglers find bass in all three phases of the spawn this month.

Some are still in prespawn, some are at the peak of spawning, and others have already concluded spawning. It all depends on the individual location, water temperature, water level, and other factors. In some of the larger bodies of water, anglers may find bass scattered throughout a single lake in all three phases of the spawn.

All this bass activity brings both challenge and reward. Anglers must locate the fish and then identify where they are in relation to the spawn, as tactics and bass feeding activity varies tremendously. However, depending on the location and timing, there is some absolutely fantastic fishing to be had this month in the Bluegrass State.

All three of our major black bass — largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted — are revved up and ready to be caught this month. We've got some great fisheries for all three species and many of our waters have good angling for more than one of those. Following are a few choice locations for finding great bassin' this month and beyond.


One of the most enjoyable lakes to fish if you're a bass angler might be Barren River Lake down in the Glasgow and Bowling Green area. There are plenty of fish available and you don't have to be the winner of last year's BASS Master Classic to catch them.

Barren River Lake has a robust bass fishery, including a good number larger than 15 inches. Sampling done by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources indicated the number of largemouths larger than 20 inches is on the rise. Largemouths have been rated excellent by the KDFWR assessment method.

There are also smallmouth and spotted bass in Barren, but most people go there for the largemouths. Nonetheless, there are decent numbers of spots in the lake up to about 14 inches, and they are fairly widespread throughout the impoundment. Most of the smallies are found in the lower lake near the dam. Their numbers are not great, but anglers do occasionally catch some really decent sized bronzebacks.

There is a lot of structure to target at Barren and the shallow water fishing can be really good, especially in the spring. Plenty of logs, stumps, downed trees, and rocky structure exists at the lake. During spring with heavy rain, which has been plentiful of late, additional woody structure is often washed into the lake, giving anglers even more targets at which to chunk their baits.

One of the most productive ways to catch Barren River Lake largemouths is by using a jig with a trailer. Various jig head designs with either pork or plastic trailers work. But the setup needs to be as weedless as possible, due to the structure being fished. Lots of folks prefer a football head, while others choose a different option.

Plastic trailers have pretty much taken the place of pork, and green pumpkin seems to be the color of choice for locals on Barren for both the jig and the trailer.


Although some structure on the lake allows casting, most of the shallow water fishing is fairly closer range and require a more subtle presentation of the bait. Flipping and pitching get the bait in and under structure without creating as much splash. Pay close attention to the line as some bites may be fairly light.

A baitcaster spooled with heavy line up in the 25- to 30-pound range is a necessity to keep from breaking off in the structure. Even with the heavy poundage, check the line often for abrasion.

A flipping rod with lots of backbone helps horse the big boys out of the tangles.


Over in Muhlenberg and Logan counties is found a gem of a lake for bass anglers. Lake Malone has a very good bass fishery, which until more recent years was somewhat of a local commodity. Now, folks travel from all over to sample the great angling at this 826-acre lake.

Lake Malone has had a 12- to 15-inch slot limit in place for largemouths for several years to encourage harvest of some fish, while protecting others. Not all bass harvest is bad. In some lakes, it's necessary to take a few fish out to keep the fishery in balance, and provide good availability of larger bass.

"The bass population has been fairly steady the last few years," Fishery Biologist Rob Rold said.   "There are good numbers of fish greater than 15 inches and good numbers over 20 inches.

"There is an abundance of fish less than 12 inches, but very few anglers are keeping those and we have seen a decrease in growth rates," he continued. "We would like to encourage anglers to keep these fish to improve growth rates and prevent a stock piling of these smaller fish, which is the reason for the 12 to 15 protective slot limit."

Malone can be a little tough for newcomers unless they are aware of the bottom structure. There are not a lot of shallow sloping banks, like on many lakes. Instead, a short distance out from the bank, the bottom just seems to drop off, and then flattened out across the lake. One angler once described it as resembling a bowl underwater.

At this time of year, anglers can target the water willow and any shallow water structure they can find. Structure such as downed trees or rock outcroppings can often hold good bass.

Depending on weather and water temperature, a variety of baits work this month. Crankbaits, jigs, plastic baits, and spinnerbaits may all be productive throughout the next few weeks.

As the water temperature continues to climb, look for the bass to relate to any downed trees or other structure off some of the deeper banks. Malone has a lot of steep rocky banks that drop off quickly into deep water. Anglers need to use their electronics and spend a little time searching to find the best areas to target.


East of Lexington and just south of I-64 near Morehead, anglers find a lake that doesn't get its fair share of attention when bass fishing is discussed. Cave Run Lake is arguably our best muskie lake and there are some behemoth toothy predators lurking within, but there is also a very decent bass fishery that is overshadowed by the muskie notoriety. Largemouth and spotted bass populations are rated good by the KDFWR, and smallmouth bass are rated fair.

Smallmouths were introduced to lake in the 1980s and are protected by an 18-inch minimum size limit. Smallies are mostly found in the lower part of the lake, starting in the Beaver Creek area. They can be caught at this time of year with crawfish-imitating baits thrown around rocky areas on the main lake.

Largemouths are regulated by a 13- to 16-inch protective slot limit. All fish within the slot must be immediately released. The slot limit has really helped improve the fishery from what it was a decade ago. Now, the fishery is much healthier with good numbers and some decent quality fish available.

The largemouths are not only more numerous, but much more widespread than the smallmouths. They are more abundant in the mid to upper end of the lake. In the lower portion of the lake, they are found mostly in the bays off the main lake.

After the largemouths spawn, they begin moving back out to deeper drops and points. Anglers have good success throughout spring and early summer by targeting the numerous areas of standing timber as well as downed trees, stumps, and shallow rocky areas. Casting parallel to the edges of the beds of Eurasian milfoil is also productive.

Although most anglers don't target them, there are very good numbers of spotted bass at Cave Run and they make a nice bonus while fishing for the other two black bass species. Spots hit hard, fight ferociously, and are a lot of fun to catch.


In southeastern Kentucky near London is one of our best smallmouth destinations in the state. We've got a few lakes and streams that really have great smallmouth fisheries and Laurel River Lake ranks right up there with the best of them. Laurel River Lake was the home of the state record smallmouth for a time and still boasts the No. 2 smallie of all time.

Not only does Laurel have a great smallmouth fishery, but it also has very respectable fisheries for largemouths and spotted bass. In fact, all three black bass species populations are rated good by the KDFWR. Good fishing can be had for all three species right now, but that won't last long for the smallies.

Smallmouths can still be caught during the daytime right now by targeting some of the post-spawn areas with finesse baits, soft plastics, or crawfish-imitating lures. Shortly, most local anglers will turn to night fishing only for smallies. The lake has good numbers of smallies and many anglers come away from Laurel with a smile after catching the largest smallmouths of their lives.

Largemouths and spots are still biting well in shallow water and can be caught by targeting structure such as wood for largemouths and rock piles for the spots.

Anglers need to tailor their tactics according to how the spawn is progressing. As the spawn winds down, look for the bass to pull back out a little deeper and be found on the same structure they used on their way into the spawning areas.

The lake has lots of keeper fish up to about 18 inches and it's not uncommon to hook a quality bigmouth of more than 20 inches.

The spotted bass are usually found congregated in large schools at this time of year. They hang out near rock pilings or other suitable structure and can be caught on shaky heads or drop-shot rigs. Some anglers like to throw live minnows for spots, which works quite well. The mid to lower sections of the lake are best for spots and anglers find plenty in the 11- to 14-inch range, according to KDFWR sampling. A few reach 15 inches or more.


Anglers in northern Kentucky don't have the really huge reservoirs as are found in most other sections of the state. There is the Ohio River, which provides a lot of fishing opportunity. But for anglers preferring a lake setting, there just aren't any of the big waters covering thousands of acres.

However, in Grant County, anglers find a group of smaller lakes that offer some really good largemouth fishing.

Those lakes — often referred to simply as the Grant County Lakes — are more formally named Williamstown, Bullock Pen, Corinth, and Boltz lakes. These waters range in size from more than 300 acres at Williamstown to approximately 92 acres at Boltz. Bullock Pen has 134 acres and Corinth is 96 acres. These four ponds in Grant County offer a tremendous amount of fishing opportunity for bass anglers.

All of the lakes have good populations of largemouths, and May is a great time to target them. Bass can be found in shallow water relating to available structure, and can be caught with a variety of methods. Those include chunking soft plastics, throwing spinnerbaits or crankbaits, or working jigs and trailers through the cover.

Williamstown Lake hosts many bass tournaments and gets a good deal of pressure, as do all four of these lakes. There are three boat ramps on Williamstown Lake. It is found approximately two miles east of the town of Williamstown.

Bullock Pen Lake has two boat ramps and is home to a bass fishery rated good by the KDFWR assessment. There are good numbers of fish and the potential for some quality largemouths. Some exceed 20 inches.

Corinth Lake is also rated good, but doesn't have quite as good potential for big fish. The numbers are good though and there are plenty of fish in the 12- to 15-inch range. The lake has one boat ramp.

Boltz Lake also has one boat ramp, which is conveniently found just off State Route 467. The KDFWR rates the bass fishery there good and numbers of largemouths are abundant. Anglers find plenty of bass over 15 inches.

More information on these lakes can be found in the printed Kentucky Fishing & Boating Guide or on the KDFWR Web site. Additional info on the lakes, including area lodging and bait shops can be obtained by visiting or calling (859) 824-3451.

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