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Assessing Our State's Bass Management

Assessing Our State's Bass Management
Kentucky's fish and game department has developed effective ways to evaluate black bass populations throughout our state. Here's what that means to fishermen.(January 2008).

Photo by Paul Moore.

Managing our state's black bass fisheries doesn't just happen. Rather, it is an extremely complex and scientific strategy that continues to be honed as the years go on.

As a result, we have some absolutely terrific fisheries in our state, along with a rating system that is easy for anglers to understand.

Fisheries biologists of Kentucky's Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) work very hard all through the year to make sure that fish populations stay in optimum condition and anglers have superb fishing opportunities.

The KDFWR catches a lot of flack at times when things don't go as some anglers perceive they should.

However, much hard labor and countless man-hours go on, unbeknownst to the general public.

Fisheries personnel are on the water netting, trapping, electro-shocking and surveying at numerous times of the year. And then they must analyze all of this data to understand what condition the various fisheries are in.

This eventually leads to the development of management and regulation strategies -- all done to ensure the protection and health of the fisheries while providing anglers with maximum fishing opportunity.

Our black bass assessment method is one such benefit of the sampling efforts.

Biologists sample and survey bass in our lakes, using a number of different methods.

Data is collected and then plugged into formulas to develop an individual rating for each body of water.

Because bass reproduce and grow differently in individual lakes, the same criteria can't be applied to every water. Therefore, the KDFWR uses separate criteria for lakes above 1,000 surface acres and those under 1,000 acres.


The biologists look at five different parameters, including growth, recruitment, and three separate size structures. Each of these parameters yields a score of 1 through 4.

Growth is measured when fish reach age 3.

Recruitment is the number of age-1 bass.

Size structure is broken into three categories: 12 to 14.9 inches, 15 inches and longer and 20 inches and over.

With five parameters and four different ratings per parameter, each water body can achieve a maximum score of 20. Biologists break down the final scores and assign the fishery an overall rating -- excellent, good, fair or poor -- based on these scores.

Any lake scoring less than 8 is considered "poor." From 8 to 12 is "fair." (Continued)

"Good" lakes rate between 12 and 16.

To be rated as "excellent," a lake must score 17 or higher.

This rating system is then incorporated into the annual fishing forecast compiled each year by the KDFWR fisheries biologists. Anglers can then study the forecast and determine the best areas around the state to target bass, or whatever game fish species they're looking to catch.

With so many great fishing opportunities statewide, it's hard to narrow your choices down to just a few.

With that in mind, here's a look at two lakes above 1,000 acres and two lakes under 1,000.

All of these lakes, as well as many more, should offer up some tremendous bass fishing this year!


Bill Stewart of London (Kentucky) loves chasing smallmouth. He fishes Laurel River Lake every chance he gets, regardless of the time of year. During the heat of summer, you might find him there in the middle of night. In fall, he might spend all day on the lake.

However, one of the very best times of year to tangle with Laurel's monster bronzebacks is during the heart of winter. Unlike some other species of fish, smallmouth readily take offerings throughout the cold months. The tough part, though, is finding them.

"If you can find them, they'll be wadded up," Stewart says. The bass will form schools during the winter months and will usually be found in depths ranging from 35 to 50 feet.

Stewart says to look for groups of minnows on the depth finder. The smallmouth will be under the baitfish.

For cold-weather smallmouths on Laurel River Lake, the preferred baits are generally small in size. A variety of baits will work, but the locals favor small plastics on leadheads. Small 1/4- to 1/2-ounce spoons resembling minnows will also work. A lot of people will rely on real minnows.

The float-and-fly method is starting to gain a following on the lake, too. The method, made famous on nearby Dale Hollow Lake, is starting to catch bass on Laurel Lake as well.

Stewart says the best days for float-and-fly are those that are windy. On windy days, the smallmouths can often be found in 8 to 12 feet of water. On calm, clear days, he says, other methods will outperform the float-and-fly.

A lot of big smallmouths are taken on the lake in January and February each year. Numerous 5-pound fish are caught every year, and each winter, at least one 7-pounder gets pulled from the chilly water.

As it gets closer toward springtime, the bass will begin transitioning out of the deeper haunts they've favored during the winter. By March, they will begin moving into shallower areas of the lake. This is a time of staging prior to the spawn.

However, Stewart says that smallmouth locations can quickly change, depending on conditions and weather patterns. "On two different days, it may seem like you're fishing two different lakes."

Once you find the bass, you can catch them on a variety of baits. Stewart says a variety of small baits will work equally well.

"Smallmouths are aggressive fish. Get a small bait in front of them, and they'll bite it," he says.

Stewart is a firm believer in the quality of the smallmouth fishery at Laurel River Lake. He says Laurel is "ever bit as good as Dale Hollow" -- and definitely better than Lake Cumberland.

The KDFWR assess

ment attests to the quality of the smallmouth fishery by giving Laurel River Lake an "excellent" rating for bronzebacks. The official fishing forecast rates the lake as an excellent winter fishery.

Biologists' surveys show good numbers of smallies in the 14- to 18-inch range, with some fish reaching 18 inches and above.


Another great wintertime lake with some hot fishing action is located in the heart of western Kentucky. Lake Malone sprawls some 826 acres across the counties of Muhlenberg, Todd, and Logan.

Lake Malone has long been known as a great largemouth lake, and with good reason. There are lots of bass in the lake and plenty of big ones. In fact, KDFWR surveys indicate large numbers of bass above 15 inches.

Bass reproduce extremely well at Lake Malone -- too well at times. Throughout the years, biologists have used a variety of harvest regulations for black bass. They have removed all harvest regulations, used various length limits, and even implemented a slot limit. Fisheries personnel closely monitor the bass fishery at the lake to make certain it remains in terrific condition.

Fertilization is one reason why the bass fishery is so good. Supplemental fertilizer was first added to Lake Malone back in the late 1960s. The KDFWR still annually adds some 1,800 to 2,500 gallons of liquid fertilizer each year.

Spawned bass get a good growth start, and this carries on into their first few years of life. Their rapid growth leads to bass quickly reaching 15 inches. The lake regularly produces tremendous numbers of bass between 3 and 5 pounds. The larger trophy fish naturally follow and are present in good numbers.

Each year at Malone, a fair number of bass are caught that weigh between 6 and 8 pounds. The locals banter about reports of occasional fish up to 10 pounds.

Malone can be a great lake for winter bass fishing, and often some of the biggest bass of the year are caught in February. Other trophy-quality bass are pulled from the lake between February and the time of the spawn.

Knowing how to fish the deeper water is the key for action early in the year. During the cold months, slow and deliberate presentation of the bait is essential.

As spring nears, the bass will begin moving up into shallower water. However, Malone doesn't have an abundance of sloping banks. Anglers should take advantage of those they can find.

Another mistake many anglers make is running all over the lake searching for fish. It's not necessary to try to cover the entire lake in one day. Almost every boat dock has nearby brushpiles and other submerged hidden structure. Anglers just have to take their time and fish these areas slowly.

Because Malone gets a lot of boat traffic after the weather begins warming, bass typically get pushed into secluded areas and are reluctant to bite large baits.

By downsizing your bait, looking for areas with the least disturbance and fishing slowly and deliberately, you can score big on largemouths at Lake Malone.


It's almost impossible to talk about bass fishing in Kentucky and not mention Kentucky Lake. Although the largemouth fishery was down there for a while, it's now coming back, and the next few years look to be much improved.

Considering the "excellent" rating the lake received for largemouths and the "good" rating it received for smallmouths, it is definitely worth citing as one of our top spots.

The largemouth bass population is improving for several reasons, one very significant one being the return of aquatic vegetation to the lake.

Vegetative growth had fallen way off and had greatly impacted the bass fishery there. Now, once the aquatic vegetation rebounded, the benefits became evident almost immediately.

A variety of growth has returned to Kentucky Lake. Naiad and coontail have seen a dramatic increase. Also, Eurasian water milfoil appears to be making a comeback. That's of particular importance because of its huge benefit to the survival of bass fry during a fragile stage of their lives.

Paul Rister, a biologist who oversees Kentucky Lake, is greatly encouraged when talking about the lake's largemouth population.

He says everything looks really promising for this year and on into the coming years. The lake may not be back to its heyday status, but it's definitely much improved and looking great for the immediate future.

There are terrific numbers of bass between 15 to 18 inches. Good numbers of largemouths above 18 inches are also present, though hard to catch at times.

Anglers should notice a big increase in the average size of bass caught, as compared to just a few years ago.

Anglers also can't forget about the great smallmouth fishery at Kentucky Lake. Though largemouth bass seem to take the spotlight when people discuss the lake, many diehard smallmouth anglers will say the bronzebacks there are equally impressive.

The official fishing assessment rates the smallmouth fishery as "good." However, there are some terrific smallmouths in the lake.

There are numerous areas around the lake that have great smallmouth structure. Look for fish around rocky areas, submerged stumpbeds, old submerged roadways, and along the river and creek channels.

Wintertime is probably the best time to tangle with ole Mister Bronzeback. Warm summer weather, soaring water temperatures and boat traffic push the smallies into deeper, cooler water.

During the summer, most anglers will resort to night fishing for smallmouths. Fishing deep around structure can be effective, as can probing more shallow areas at times.

Throwing spinnerbaits is the preferred method for many anglers. Black or other dark colors work best.


Anglers are always looking for new hotspots on their favorite lakes. With so much fishing pressure these days, it's sometimes difficult to find fresh water that hasn't been "fished to death."

Another way to get in on some untapped water is to hit some of our lakes that don't receive as much fishing pressure. One such lake is Wood Creek Lake in Laurel County.

Wood Creek's small size is one thing that keeps huge droves of anglers away, but it has much more to offer than most people realize.

Though Wood Creek is only around 672 surface acres, it hosts a tremendous population of largemouth bass.

Ken Harvey, director of Laurel County tourism, is a big believer in the lake's bass fishery. While fishing with him recently on the lake, I became a strong believer, too.

We were fishing during a terrible weather front that had practically shut down the fishing everywhere, and Wood Creek was no exception.

The bite was tough to come by, but seeing big fish was not. They were everywhere!

Harvey and I fished a lot of different types of structure, ranging from sloping points to heavy brush and wood structure.

We tried a variety of baits, but the bites were few and far between. However, we sighted numerous huge bass cruising through the shallows.

Biologists have been surveying the lake regularly and found the bass fishery there to be in excellent shape.

They have sampled good numbers of bass ranging between 14 and 18 inches. The biologists also report lots of trophy potential at the lake, with plenty of fish greater than 18 inches.

John Williams, the biologist who oversees Wood Creek Lake, says that the KDFWR is developing an index of the bass fishery there and will use the information gathered to determine the need for supplemental stockings.

The lake and bass fishery is in great shape and the state wants to keep it that way.

The goal, obviously, is to keep the numbers of bass strong, but at the same time, to keep the trophy potential as high as possible. Right now, anglers are enjoying some terrific fishing opportunities.

There are loads of bass in the 3- to 5-pound range. Other fish up to around 8 or 9 pounds are present.

Don't forget that Woods Creek Lake is where our state-record largemouth was caught. In 1984, Dale Wilson caught that lunker bass, which weighed in at 13 pounds, 10.4 ounces, and may now be seen on the wall at The Tackle Spot in London.


Our lakes have such great fisheries for black bass that you may have a hard time choosing where to go.

Fortunately, the annual fishing forecast compiled by the KDFWR helps narrow your choices.

Any of our lakes that are rated as "good," "very good," or "excellent" are obviously going to be the best choices.

Years of sampling and research have gone into these assessments, and they're the results of much hard work on the part of our KDFWR.

Remember to check fishing regulations for each lake prior to your trip. Though many of our lakes are governed by statewide regulations, many others have specific regulations that may include slot limits, length limits, creel limits or other site-specific requirements.

The fishing forecast may be accessed online at the KDFWR's Web site," To reach the KDFWR's toll-free information line, dial 1-800-858-1549.

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