State biologists help our correspondent pick what may very well be the Commonwealth's eight best bass lakes this season. Read on for his top picks. One is sure to be near you! (July 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
Tying into a brute largemouth and battling it into the boat is the thrill bass anglers live for, and one of the main reasons we all take to the water. Thankfully, all across the Bluegrass State, we have some tremendous waters to seek bass. Much of the credit for our great bass fishing goes to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) for its excellent management of the resource and for the information it provides on these quality fisheries.
Some bass lakes seem to always offer great largemouth fisheries each year. Others are cyclic to a degree, go through periods of great fisheries and then slip into a down cycle, due to bad spawns or other conditions.
Luckily, the KDFWR constantly monitors our fisheries and keeps us well informed of what to expect. Each year, the KDFWR publishes an annual fishing forecast for all the major waters across the state, including almost all game fish that are present in the body of water. The forecast gives a prediction on how good or bad the fishing will be for each species for the coming year.
These predictions are not just random guesses, but are the result of much hard work and years of comparing data. Fish species are "sampled" by fisheries biologists through various methods, depending on the species. Gill nets, hoop nets, and electro-fishing are all used to collect fish, record data, and then return them to the water unharmed. The sampling is performed at different times of the year, according to the species being sampled.
Electro-shocking is the primary method used for largemouth bass. Biologists position boats in sampling areas and then use a device to send an electric charge into the water. This temporarily stuns the fish and allows the researchers to collect them. Various data are assembled such as numbers of fish, age, length, weight, body condition, and more.
The KDFWR has developed an assessment method to rate the largemouth fisheries across the state. The data collected during sampling then allows the biologists to rate the fishery as either poor, fair, good, or excellent.
The assessment and subsequent rating is based on 5 parameters, the first being the length of bass at 3 years of age. This is the growth factor, which lets biologists know how fast the bass in the lake are growing, compared to other lakes. It also allows them assess how fast spawned fish will move into groups of various sizes.
The second parameter is the number of 1-year-old bass collected. This is the recruitment factor, which tells biologists how good the spawn was the previous year. This and all size parameters except the length of age 3 bass are based upon the number of fish collected during one hour of electro-shocking. Years of sampling at the same locations and same time of year help biologists develop comparable figures to reveal patterns.
The remaining three parameters are based on length. One is the number of bass between 12 and 14.9 inches. Next is the number of bass 15 inches and longer. The final parameter is the number of bass 20 inches and longer.
These show the size structure or distribution of bass within the fishery. This lets biologists know if there are missing or diminished year-classes, the strength of each size group, and the trophy potential for that body of water. Size distribution helps paint a picture of how good or bad the fishing will be and helps biologists plan long-term management strategies.
During assessment, each of these individual parameters receives a rating of 1 through 4, based on the results of the sampling. The total of the ratings for all five parameters determines the rating for the lake.
Any lake with an overall assessment rating below 8 is considered poor. Between 8 and 12, the fishery is rated fair. A rating of 12 up to 16 means the fishery is good. To be considered excellent, a fishery must receive an assessment above 16.
There were a total of eight different lakes whose bass fisheries were rated as excellent for 2007. These are some of our top waters across the state. Following is an alphabetically organized look at each of the "excellent" largemouth bass fisheries.
It may surprise many anglers to learn that Lake Barkley actually has twice the largemouth bass fishery, as does neighboring Kentucky Lake. There is a tremendous bass population at Barkley, although the sizes of the fish generally don't run as high as at Kentucky Lake. But there are good numbers of decent-sized bass, so anglers at Barkley are likely to have a blast this year.
Lake Barkley has seen average spawns over the past several years, and the fishery remains stable from year to year. Fisheries biologist Paul Rister says the largemouth population is in good shape and should yield some great angling opportunities. An increase of aquatic weed growth is helping the fishery by increasing the percentage of surviving bass fry.
Fish sampling from 2006 showed very good growth rates and good numbers of fish. The number of fish in the 12- to 15-inch range was exceptionally good. There were also plenty of fish above 15 inches. All in all, 2007 should be a great year to be on the water at Lake Barkley.
Fisheries sampling has shown some excellent results from Lake Beshear in Caldwell and Christian counties. There are good numbers of bass, and the size distribution is good, too. The numbers of bass in the 15- to 18-inch range has increased in recent samples. Over the past two decades, the lake has consistently had good numbers of bass in excess of 15 inches.
Big fish come out of Lake Beshear fairly regularly, and stories of 10- to 12-pound fish surface every year. While electro-shocking, fisheries biologists have consistently sampled fish in the 7- to 8-pound range. Lots of bass at Beshear are in the 3- to 5-pound range.
Many anglers believe Lake Beshear has more large bass because of the effects of the reservoir's clear water. But that water clarity can sometimes make fishing success difficult. Therefore, some believe that because the bass are not caught as frequently, they remain in the lake long enough to reach trophy size.
Another reason may be the ample amount of forage in the lake and the fact that largemouth bass are the lake's top predators. A good catfish population preys on forage fish as well, but there are no smallmouths, spotted bass, or other large predator fish.
CEDAR CREEK LAKE
The 784-acre Cedar Creek Lake in Lincoln County is unlike any other water in the state. After all, from the very start, this lake was impounded with the intention of producing a trophy bass fishery. The lake is being managed as such, and the results are really going to pay some huge dividends in the near future.
Cedar Creek Lake has regulations in place to protect bass and allow them to reach quality size. Anglers may not keep any bass less than 20 inches and even then must observe a one-fish daily creel. The lake was impounded and stocked in 2002, so the 20-inch length limit has virtually made this reservoir a catch-and-release lake so far.
Bass numbers continue on an upward swing, and the quality of these fish is starting to become really impressive. There is very good density of bass between 16 and 19 inches. The numbers of bass over 12 inches are also up.
Biologist John Williams believes 2007 will be a good year at the lake. Some of the larger bass may reach 7 to 8 pounds. He believes that Cedar Creek is the best bass lake in his area right now and offers the best chance to tie into a nice-sized largemouth this summer.
Largemouth bass have been doing exceptionally well at Dewey Lake for the last several years, according to fisheries biologist Kevin Frey. Assessments have been showing a real improvement. And that has led to the "excellent" rating the lake received for 2007. Anglers have a lot to look forward to at Dewey Lake this year.
There has been good size distribution of bass at the lake for several years in a row, with good numbers of bass throughout the size distribution. The lake has consistently produced excellent numbers of bass in the 15- to 21-inch range. The upper end of the distribution has been slowly climbing as well, and sampling has shown fish up to around 23 inches.
There are some really nice fish taken at Dewey Lake each ear. Anglers consistently catch plenty of bass in the 3- to 5-pound range. Bass up around 7 to 8 pounds are not all that uncommon and occasionally, a lucky angler will even land a fish around 10 pounds.
The lake has an infestation of zebra mussels, which has been increasing the water clarity. This has led to an increase of aquatic weeds, which in turn has helped increase habitat for young fish. Weeds help small fish find protection, food, and give them a chance to grow. The fishery has definitely benefited from the increased fry survival.
One of our premier largemouth lakes is obviously Kentucky Lake. This western Kentucky reservoir has long been a favorite of bigmouth anglers. The Kentucky Lake largemouth fishery has gone through some down years, but it is currently on an upswing, and things are looking tremendous for this year.
Biologist Paul Rister expects the bass fishery to improve by leaps and bounds. He says the bass population looks great now, and all indicators point toward banner catches over the next few years.
One of the main reasons for the improvement is the return of aquatic vegetation to the lake. Not only has coontail and naiad growth improved, but also last year saw a strong increase in the amount of Eurasian water milfoil. The latter plant is a huge benefit to the survival of bass fry.
Recent good spawns and subsequent good survival has resulted in very good density in the fishery. Size distribution is improving each year. There are now good numbers of bass ranging between 12 and 17 inches. Anglers will find good numbers of bass over 15 inches, and ones over 18 inches are not uncommon. Barring something catastrophic, look for continued improvement in this bass fishery for the next several years.
Lake Malone's 767 acres were once a little-known commodity in the Bluegrass State. Even though this lake has long been home to a great bass fishery, for a long time it was not as heralded as some of our other high-profile reservoirs. Now, however, there are few bass anglers in the state who don't know about the potential at Lake Malone.
Sampling surveys in 2006 showed a slight decrease in the number of bass, as compared to figures from the samplings in 2004 and 2005. However, the decrease was insignificant. The bass population is still tremendous, and the fishery remains rated as "excellent."
There are excellent numbers of bass above 15 inches at Lake Malone. Many trophy fish are also present. Each year, a number of bass in the 7- to 8-pound range are caught at the lake. Some local anglers tell stories of bass up to 10 pounds being caught at times, especially during the late winter and early spring months.
Lake Malone has always been a great bass lake, and fish grow exceptionally well at this western Kentucky reservoir. A slot limit has helped remove some of the smaller bass, while protecting bass within the 12- to 15-inch limit. This has helped create a fishery with around 30 percent of the bass population being longer than 15 inches.
PAN BOWL LAKE
Biologist Kevin Frey said he is really impressed with largemouth bass at Pan Bowl Lake.
The number of big fish there also impresses him. Anglers this year will be impressed, too.
Frey says there is excellent size distribution of bass at the lake all the way to around 24 inches. Lots of small fish are coming on, but spring electro-shocking shows that of the bass in the lake, around 30 to 40 percent are above 12 inches. Frey says that out of every 10 fish caught, around three to four are "keeper size."
Anglers this year should enjoy terrific numbers of bass in the small to mid-size range. Fish up to around 5 pounds are real common, according to Frey. Occasionally anglers will hook into some real brutes, up to about 8 pounds or so.
Aquatic vegetation is a real plus for the bass fishery. There may be as many as six to eight different types of aquatic plants at the lake in a given year. Not only do these plants help small fish survive, but they also provide structure, cover, and forage areas for larger fish. Targeting these aquatic plants can lead to some exciting action for bass angers in 2007.
WOOD CREEK LAKE
Our last lake, Wood Creek, is a recent addition to the excellent category for bass. Assessments made in 2006 showed good numbers of bass in the 14- to 18-inch range, with many other fish exceeding 18 inches.
The trophy potential for this 672-acre Laurel County lake looks really promising.
In addition to spring electro-shocking, biologists have also been sampling the largemouth fishery in the fall. Biologist John Williams said they are developing an index of the bass fishery and will use this data to determine the need for supplemental stockings. Obviously, the goal is to keep a balanced fishery with good size-distribution and the potential for large fish.
Williams said that while samp
ling the lake, they see a lot of bass in the 3- to 5-pound range. The potential is there for anglers to land some really nice fish as well. Bass are fairly well distributed throughout the lake, but Williams says they see most of the largest fish in the end of the lake toward the dam.
Just because these eight lakes were the only ones to receive an "excellent" rating doesn't mean they are the only ones with great bass fishing. These lakes received their rating based on a combination of all the assessment parameters.
Other lakes may be better for numbers of bass or strictly trophy-sized bass. Angler preference plays a large part in how one feels about a fishery being "excellent."
The 2007 Fishing Forecast, compiled by fisheries biologists across the state, is an excellent source of information to locate waters that have bass populations that match the requirements of individual anglers. The rating for each lake is listed, along with comments from the biologists regarding the fisheries, as well as fishing tips for the lake.
Additionally, the KDFWR is currently making the assessments for each lake available on the Department's Web site at www.fw.ky.gov. Anglers can find the assessments by accessing the "Fisheries Management" section of the Web site, and then click on the link to "Sportfish Assessments."
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