Some of the Bluegrass State's best bassing takes place on other waters overshadowed by Dale Hollow, Barkley and others. Here are four to consider! (May 2010)
The stories of friends or neighbors around our backyard grills on a typical Memorial Day holiday weekend in May sometimes include the tales of catching big bass on one of the state's premier largemouth waters like Kentucky, Barkley and Dale Hollow lakes.
These highly touted, large reservoirs have produced many a trophy- class largemouth and have become spots bass anglers routinely think about immediately when reeling off places where the potential of 5-pound-plus bass seems best in the Bluegrass State. And it's rightly so. These are superb bass waters.
Here's a little secret, though: Not all big bass live in these expansive waters. Kentucky has a few other waterways that also produce hefty largemouth, and it's a combination of factors that causes that to be the case. Even in lakes that tend to get a good deal of fishing pressure, that doesn't preclude these particular waters from having the correct conditions to produce larger bass.
Certainly in spring, the potential of boating bigger female bass is greater just because it's the time of year when increased feeding and the biological urge to spawn tends to put more bass in reach of the average shoreline fishing approach. The month of May gives us all those advantages.
There are many schools of thought about behavior of big bass and the best ways to catch them. Most anglers will find that the methods they employ on one reservoir to pick up better fish in the spring will also work elsewhere. After all, especially in the spring, largemouth at least are a little more predictable in where they will spend time and why. This is part of the biological advantage that the spawning period provides.
ROUGH RIVER LAKE
Let's take Rough River Lake, for example, where biologists note there are good numbers of higher quality largemouth present in the population. Rough River is a relatively narrow, sprawling reservoir than fans out with many finger creeks and embayments covering a little over 5,000 surface acres at summer pool.
When water temperatures start to climb into the low 60s and stay there pretty consistently, largemouths are going to start rolling up out of the security of creek channels for two reasons. One, they should already be in a much higher feeding mode than in previous weeks, and more active, plus they will be seeking out spots along the banks or on points to nest.
Baitfish like shad and panfish such as bluegills will already be frequenting cover on rocky banks. They will also be starting to feed more heavily. Since big bass tend to prefer slightly deeper water and sometimes thicker cover, one feature to try to find is where the steeper channel drops are that wind close to a bank or point.
If bass want to feed, they will move up the ledges until they find food around brushpiles, stumps, and logs beneath the surface and whatever else is available. Sometimes big bass move into surprisingly shallow water, which is not uncommon on Rough River where a lot of deep bays aren't present as in other major reservoirs in Kentucky.
The drive to spawn and come into shallow water works the same on smaller bass as larger bass, except that oftentimes, bigger bass are found in those spawning spots that have deep-water access close by. They may run right up into 2 feet of water to feed, and eventually to nest, but won't venture too far from the safety of a good dropoff or steeper point.
Rough River has many spots where the main channel or a creek channel isn't far from creek bank cover or a rocky point. Big bass are also drawn to the backs of coves where waters warm faster, or often offer better color that gives bass the feeling of more safety when flow from runoff increases after spring rains.
Bigger and older largemouth function quite a bit like older, mature whitetail bucks. They lay low for much of the year in out of the way places, where contact with danger is less. Clearly it works well, otherwise they wouldn't be so big.
The spawn, though, changes the fishing playing field for at least a while, especially when that's coupled with the urge to feed. That's not to say big bass can't be caught at other times, but food and sustaining the species does help increase the odds of fooling bass easier.
Some areas to hook up with better bass on Rough River will include Long Lick and Tates Creek on the north fork of the lake, and Cave Creek near the dam, and Peter Cave Creek well upstream on the south fork. You also won't want to bypass extended points along the main channel where you locate some shoreline cover, and even better cover out off the bank at a channel bend.
Another top lake where anglers report chunky bass pretty routinely is 3,050-acre Taylorsville Lake in north-central Kentucky. Taylorsville has given up its share of big largemouths, and is an example of a lake where bass fishing is very popular. Even with this fishing pressure, some of the lake's bass will still grow big.
Taylorsville has a lot of woody habitat, a very good forage fish population. It gets a lot of nutrient loading from agricultural land run off around the reservoir. This sets the stage for largemouth to be well fed, have better growth potential than many lakes, have lots of places to hide as smaller fish and come up the ranks quicker than waters with less fertile habitat.
Careful May anglers that can navigate through the stickups into both the smaller feeder creeks, as well as larger ones like Beech and Little Beech creeks, or Ashes just up from the dam, will find a good bit of cover that hold either pre-spawn or spawning largemouth early in the month. Later, when the spawn concludes, big fish will return to the creek drops and ledges.
This type of woody cover calls for a couple of basic spring approaches that pick up early season big bass. It's hard to go wrong with the jig-and-pig approach fishing around submerged cedars, stumps, or stick-ups in close, particularly in stained water.
If the activity is slower, matching the mood of bass with a slower, easier to hit lure is going to catch more bass. If fish are more active, going with a big-bladed spinnerbait, perhaps with a trailer, will get the attention of a bass that is cruising for food along a bank, or lying in a brushpile waiting for something easy to snag and worth the effort.
Spring lizards worked around stumps and fallen trees, or twitched gently through the down or washed in timber found in the heads of coves perk up bass trying to put on a little weight. Another excellent method for good bass is bump
ing a large crankbait along the bottom of rocky points or banks. Spring warmth pulls bass up around sloping points, or shallow roadbeds and rock slides which sometimes don't look like much and most anglers may not stop to try.
Big crankbaits sometimes don't catch a ton of fish, but do tend to catch the larger bass that can handle them. It never hurts to keep one tied on and cast it a few times before you vacate an area. Sometimes the difference it attracting a little more attention with action and sound than smaller baits produce.
KINCAID & CEDAR CREEK LAKES
I've grouped Kincaid and Cedar Creek lakes together for a couple of reasons. One is because they are both very good for potentially catching trophy-sized largemouth, and secondly because they are both a couple of smaller lake options to consider for the late April through early June period.
That being said, the contrast between these two waters is quite interesting, though both are growing a lot of lunker largemouth.
Kincaid Lake is a 183-acre impoundment that opened to fishing in 1963. It is a seasoned reservoir and shows those signs with some areas that have silted in and become shallower. The lake doesn't have nearly the easily definable habitat and cover characteristics that new waters usually do.
Kincaid is not managed in any special way to increase the chances of growing bigger largemouth, such as a higher minimum size limit or a smaller than statewide creel limit. It's a fairly tough lake to fish, but fisheries studies on the lake show it contains a good percentage of bass well above 15 inches. In spring, there's a strong chance some of those big bass are going to get caught.
Cedar Creek Lake, at 784-acres, is very new in terms of "lake age." It's chock full of visible cover of every kind, and contains a ton of underwater habitat to attract and hold bass. The state fish and wildlife department has taken a totally different approach for bass at this reservoir, going with very strict regulations to maximize trophy production.
The official report from the agency on the health and number of 4-pound plus bucketmouths here rates Cedar Creek as "excellent." It's pretty hard to argue with that rating.
So one thing to glean from this knowledge is that while lake environments can be very different, largemouth bass can and will still do quite well; there can be lots of reasons why big bass surge in numbers at times. Sometimes the conditions are just right in a long-established reservoir. Sometimes it may be a result of high-intensity management. But what's clear is that both these smaller waters are giving up some big bass, and May is prime time to be there.
"Bass in Kincaid tend to grow older and live a good while, and that's part of why it holds a good number of big fish more so than other lakes I could mention," said fisheries biologist Jeff Crosby.
"You could certainly do worse, if being where we have seen really big bass interests you, than spending a spring day on Kincaid, even though some anglers think it's a hard lake to fish," said the biologist.
"Cedar Creek Lake has steadily improved in the volume of fish over 20 inches, which is the minimum size limit to keep one, and overall anglers tell us they have been pleased with their success.
"There's so much habitat around the shoreline, along with islands and roadbeds and underwater structure it gives fishermen lots of options, so that once the pattern is figured out, most anglers are going to catch several bass. Some of those are going to be very good bass," Crosby said.
Kincaid Lake is one of those waters that anglers will likely have to spend more time to learn and find the haunts of larger bass at different times of the year. It's a lake where big bass come to the bank early, well before the spawn when the water just starts warming up a little, and go shallow again when the spawn is on, and once it's over go back to deeper comfort zones in the summer months.
Cedar Creek fishing on the other hand, since there is so much cover at various depths, may hold big bass in any kind of cover starting in early April on through June. The night bite picks up on both lakes when surface water temperatures climb into the 80s and higher.
Throwing crankbaits and slow-rolled spinnerbaits on Kincaid to the bank and then progressively deeper until you get on fish is a good approach not just because these are proven fish catching techniques, but because you can cover more water faster. Fishing in the upper parts of the feeder creeks, or the headwaters in early May that get warmer faster is also a generally productive way to go.
Cedar Creek's make-up lends itself to jig fishing, lizards, grubs and worms slipped into cover, and sometimes topwater baits that get strikes from fish in shallow cover lurking there around a nest site. As bass become more active, sudden attacks on surface disturbing lures become more frequent in low light or cloudy conditions.
"When bass get in that feeding mode, the big fish drop their guard and don't hesitate to go after a topwater if it looks easy to get," said Crosby.
"Sometimes when nothing else works, I have to fire one out there just to see if I can get a hit, and it's really exciting when that pattern works on lakes like this where big bass are more abundant."
It's easy to always lean toward heading out to a Kentucky, Barkley or Dale Hollow lake in spring because there's lots of room, lots of bass and these world-class fisheries provide some great fishing experiences. At the same time, there's a lot more fun out there, and good potential for trophy catches elsewhere when you take a look around.
Sometimes other waters might be more convenient and during the spring period, all the factors for better fishing and success on wall-hangers come together on more than just the "name brand" waters.
Rough River, Taylorsville, Kincaid and Cedar Creek are all on the short list for big bass possibilities in the Bluegrass State this spring. The "big boys' are great, but these other "under the radar" hotspots can be surprisingly good as well.
For the latest update on bass fishing at any of these reservoirs, along with launching locations, marina information and basic maps of these lakes log on to fw.ky.gov and look under the fishing and boating tab.