Busy reservoirs like Cumberland, Kentucky and Barkley lakes need to be fished at certain times of the day (and night) in order for you to achieve top bass-catching results! (June 2006)
Going back into shady coves and quiet feeder streams may pay off with a lunker largemouth like this one caught by the author.
Photo courtesy of Travis Faulkner.
Diehard bass anglers often face a hostile environment when sizzling summer temperatures fall upon our local reservoirs. The summer months generally produce an amusement-park-like atmosphere composed of large, annoying crowds and enough ocean-style cabin cruisers and personal watercraft to conquer the Atlantic. Why, you are probably asking yourself, would anyone want to battle the summer crowds and grueling hot temperatures to fish for bass under such extreme conditions? The answer is relatively simple: With the right approach and game plan in place, bass fishing during the summer months can be electrifying.
In order to be successful, bass anglers must modify and fine-tune their fishing strategies and techniques to meet the demanding challenges posed by the summer season. For example, simply choosing the right time to be on the water can have a dramatic impact on your overall fishing success. With that in mind, let's take a look at a productive bass-fishing plan that will enable you to beat the heat and the crowds on Cumberland, Kentucky, and Barkley lakes this summer. The following tips and tactics will let you exploit bass on all three of these lakes under ordinarily tough summer conditions.
Without question, Lake Cumberland is one of my favorite Kentucky waters to bass fish during the hot summer months. However, the overwhelming out-of-state and local boat traffic makes fishing this lake almost impossible when the temperatures begin to climb. You'd think a large lake like this one would let bass anglers avoid large summer crowds. Unfortunately, this is not the case on this extremely popular summer lake. Failing to have a well-thought-out game plan can lead to a lot of aggravation and disastrous results.
One of the best times to target bass on Cumberland is during the hours after sunset. The night bite on Cumberland can be intense during the heat of summer. When the sun goes down, you can bank on the crowds clearing the lake and leaving behind a bass angler's paradise. After dark is the perfect time to break out your black light, throw on some clear-blue fluorescent line, and hang on for some rod-thumping action under the moonlight. All you have to do is formulate a productive game plan that will let you exploit summer bass.
A good starting point during June and July is to launch your boat at Fall Creek Recreational Area. This gives you quick and easy access to some prime nighttime structure, which generally attracts and holds large numbers of summer bass. I like to start out by targeting river-bend banks that encompass deep rocky ledges. Look for ledges that are also dotted with cover such as blowdowns and stumps. This type of structure is ideally suited for hard-hitting smallmouth bass and wiry Kentucky bass, which will absolutely jerk the rod out of your hand after dark.
A short-armed, single-blade spinnerbait rigged with a No. 11 pork chunk trailer can be deadly on river-bend banks. Color combinations ranging from blue/black, red/black, and green/black can fill the boat when the sun goes down. The trick is to cast the spinnerbait toward the structure and hold your rod tip at a 10 o'clock position, creating a slight bow in your line. This allows the blade to turn and vibrate on the fall and lets you detect a strike while the lure is sinking. In most cases, if the strike occurs on the fall, you'll notice a pop or twitch on the florescent line, which is clearly visible under the glow of a black light.
If a strike doesn't occur as the bait drops, simply retrieve the slack, raise your rod tip to a 12 o'clock position and repeat the process back to the boat. This lift-and-drop technique lets you cover a variety of depths and hit key underwater structure that serves as ambush points for feeding bass. With this technique, the bass will hit the spinnerbait like a runaway truck, creating some heart-stopping action that's hard to beat. Summer night-fishing for bass with this strategy can be extremely exciting -- and very addictive.
The Fall Creek area also provides several banks dotted with rock and brush slides, which can be nighttime hotspots for schooling bass. This type of structure is loaded with underwater cover tailor-made for bass in general. Anglers can expect to find large numbers of largemouth, smallmouth, and Kentucky bass from these key areas. Locating and marking several slides during the daylight hours can pay huge dividends after dark. Utilizing hit-and-run tactics on several slide banks throughout the night can be very productive.
A Texas-rigged 6-inch lizard that is weedless can be a phenomenal lure around the thick cover that's common around most slides. On Cumberland, you can't go wrong with a watermelon seed lizard with a dyed chartreuse tail. In addition, solid-black lizards with red or blue specs can also be a killer combination on dark nights with little or no moonlight. You will want to fish these baits slowly and methodically around the cover all the way back to your boat. Pay close attention to how deep most of your strikes occur and focus your efforts on those depths.
Another high-impact game plan for night-fishing Cumberland Lake is to launch your boat at Beaver Creek Marina on the southwest end of the lake. Here you'll want to target secondary points in small creeks that feed into Beaver and Otter creeks. Night anglers who concentrate primarily on main lake points and river-bend deep-water structure often overlook these secondary rocky points located in these small creeks, which have the potential of holding solid numbers of feeding bass.
Once again, it's hard to beat a single-blade 5/8-ounce spinnerbait with rattles on the arm and rigged with No. 11 pork chunk. When fished correctly, this lure is absolutely lethal on bass, especially those bronzeback bruisers that often stack up on secondary points during the late shift. Positioning your boat in about 30 feet of water and casting toward the shallow section of the point can be all it takes to get your arm yanked. Swimming the spinnerbait across the shallows, then using the lift-and-drop technique to work the deeper water can create some intense action.
DAYTIME SUMMER BASSING
There are also some exceptional fishing opportunities available during the daylight hours on Cumberland during the summer. Bass fishing before dusk and after dawn can be phenomenal throughout the summer. Utilizing a variety of surface lures such as buzzbaits, chuggers, and stick baits can generate some explosive top-water action around rocky points, riprap and submerged humps. Furthermore,
the lake traffic during these prime periods is generally not too bothersome.
Once the sun is up, this pattern typically loses its pizzazz, however, as the bass retreat back into the shady areas and deep-water sanctuaries. This is when you'll want to switch gears and target shaded areas that attract bass during bright and hot conditions. Covered boat slips, willow bushes, and blowdowns represent key structure that's ideally suited for sunny-day bass fishing.
Skipping tube baits and plastic jerkbaits around shaded structure can generate a lot of action during the midmorning hours. These lures create a sense of realism by directly mimicking the lifelike action of wounded shad and small baitfish, which usually drives summer bass crazy.
Kentucky Lake encompasses over 160,000 acres of prime bass fishing and serves as the western boundary of the 270-square-mile Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area. With over 2,000 miles of shoreline, a bass angler can take advantage of almost any type of cover imaginable. I'm talking about submerged vegetation, milfoil, buckbrush, eroded clay banks, gravel beds, ledges, submerged islands, bedrock, and a variety of wooded structure. With practically endless options of bass cover, the fishing on Kentucky Lake can truly be phenomenal during the summer months.
If you want to talk about Kentucky Lake and bass fishing, then you need to listen to Craig Hipsher on the subject. Hipsher, currently ranked 27th in the highly competitive BFL Tournament series, has fished 11 tournaments and won well over $8,000 in the process. This man knows Kentucky Lake like the back of his hand and is on the water year around.
Besides being a successful tournament angler, Craig also runs Hipsher Guide Service on the lake. Guiding allows Hipsher to log a lot of hours on the water and keep a close eye on what the bass are doing. During the summer months, Hipsher rates the bass fishing opportunities on Kentucky as being topnotch.
For the best night-fishing results, according to Hipsher, a great starting point would be to launch your boat at Kentucky Dam Marina. This portion of the lake offers access to key on deep-water structure and is the location of numerous weekly night-fishing tournaments that release bass from all over the lake after the weigh-ins. Hipsher recommends targeting deep-water ledges dotted with buckbrush on river-bend banks toward the dam. These banks generally hold large numbers of bass throughout the summer months.
Without question, Hipsher's favorite nighttime lure is a Stan Sloan's 5/8-ounce spinnerbait rigged with No. 11 pork chunk. His go-to lure is this spinnerbait in a black-and-blue color combination with purple chunk. Bouncing the spinnerbait along these deep-water ledges can be deadly on dark summer nights. If the spinnerbait bite is off then Hipsher changes to a 3/8-ounce black/red jig fished with a slow lift and drop technique for a more subtle approach. This strategy has enabled Hipsher to win a lot of money in local night tournaments throughout June and July.
Ken Lake Marina is also another good launching point for bass anglers looking for intense after-dark action. This is the closest marina to the lake's Blood River portion, which has built quite a reputation as a summertime hotspot. Hipsher feels that the best smallmouth fishing on the entire lake is located between the U.S. Route 68 bridge to Blood River on the east bank of the LBL (Land Between the Lakes) side. Once again, you can't go wrong with deep-water ledges on river-bend banks in this area. However, also try gravel points and bars that stretch across the mouths of coves. Bass will generally move onto these areas during the night to feed heavily upon schools of baitfish.
According to Hipsher, a black-and- red tube jig rigged with a rattle can really turn on the bass on a summer night. Popping the bait off the bottom creates an erratic action that bass simply can't resist. Another Hipsher favorite is a 3/8-ounce brown/orange jig-and-pig combination fished around gravel points and bars. In addition, Texas-rigged soft-plastic baits can also be highly effective. Anglers need to make a mental note that green pumpkin is an extremely hot color on Kentucky Lake during the summer months.
Craig Hipsher also notes that the daytime fishing on Kentucky Lake during the summer can be very productive. Targeting milfoil in the backs of hollows during the early morning and late evening hours can be a lethal daytime strategy. Weedless rats, flukes, and buzzbaits fished on and around the milfoil during these times can be magical. For more information about fishing Kentucky Lake, you can contact Craig Hipsher of Hipsher Guide Service at (270) 354-5221 or at email@example.com.
Bass anglers shouldn't overlook Barkley Lake for exciting summertime bass angling. In fact, Barkley has built quite a reputation as one of the top summer bass lakes in the Bluegrass State. A number of local bass tournaments are held on the lake throughout the summer months. Generally, it takes well over 20 pounds with a five-fish limit to win one of these tournaments. This translates to a 4-pound-per-fish average, which is pretty darn impressive for summer bass fishing. Let's take a quick look at how you can get in on the summer bass action on Barkley.
Ask any of the locals, and they'll tell you that Ramie Colson is the guru of bass fishing on Barkley Lake. Colson is also one of the premier bass anglers on the FLW and Stren Series tournament trail; he's currently sponsored by Ranger Boats, Yamaha Outboards, Zoom Baits and G-Loomis Rods. He grew up fishing Barkley and has developed an extensive knowledge of patterning and catching bass under any condition and throughout the season.
The following is a step-by-step plan of how Ramie Colson exploits summer bass on Barkley.
Colson likes to launch at Lake Barkley State Resort Park and target flats that are covered in stumps and brush. Bass will move onto these areas after dark and feed upon schools of shad and small baitfish. Anglers should also pinpoint offshore humps or submerged islands offering quick access to deeper water. These types of structure tend to hold large numbers of bass under cover of darkness. You can expect to catch a mixed bag of bass including largemouths, smallmouths, and Kentucky or spotted bass from these areas.
Colson typically fishes this type of structure with a 5/8-ounce spinnerbait rigged with No. 11 pork chunk. The popular color combinations are black/red and black/purple. Slow-rolling a spinnerbait across the flats and submerged islands can be very effective on dark summer nights. Colson adds that it's not uncommon to catch a big fish weighing around the 6- to 7-pound mark while using this method. The key is to fish the spinnerbait around stumps and brushy cover in these areas.
Another great starting point is to launch at Eddie Creek Marina, which gives anglers immediate access to two major arms of the lake. Eddie Creek and Little River are absolutely loaded with excellent night-fishing cover.
The south end of Barkley encompasses a
lot of willow bushes and flooded buckbrush that attract a lot of quality-sized bass during the summer months. Anglers should also focus on deep-water ledges that have stumps and brushpiles around Eddie Creek. You can often find bass in large schools around these areas, and the action can be fast and furious during the night.
If bass aren't hitting spinnerbaits, Colson often turns to a 10 1/2-inch Zoom Old Monster worm. The hottest colors seem to be plum and black/red combinations. Texas-rigging this large worm and fishing it around wooded cover can generate strikes from quality bass. Colson also fishes 1/2-ounce black-and-blue jigs with light wire hooks for deep-water bass. Both of these lures will generally produce when other popular nighttime baits are ignored.
With bass spawning around the first of May, the topwater action during the beginning of June can be explosive. Colson loves to use a buzzbait during the early morning or late evening hours around willow bushes and flooded buckbrush. This tactic will also produce during midmorning hours on overcast or cloudy days. Bass utilize the bushes as ambush points to feed on passing baitfish and shad. Fishing with small chuggers and stick baits can also be effective around bushes and under covered boat slips during sunny conditions.
Now you have a step-by-step game plan that will let you exploit summer bass on three of the commonwealth's top bass lakes. The hot summer months can still produce some phenomenal bass fishing for anglers who plan their trips properly and employ the correct strategies. This summer, don't allow the annoying crowds or high temperatures give you an excuse to miss out of some of the best fishing of the season. Good luck and good fishing!