Green River, Laurel River and Wood Creek lakes are three great alternative waters for Lake Cumberland anglers
to try this summer season. (August 2007)
Photo by Tom Evans.
Because of planned drawdowns, getting onto Lake Cumberland this summer will be a good deal tougher than it was last year. So it's a good time for area anglers to get the scoop on other nearby bass fisheries that they'll likely want to try out instead of the big lake.
In the vicinity of Cumberland, fortunately, there are three good Bluegrass waters including Green River, Laurel and Wood Creek lakes. Each of them has something attractive to offer both those Cumberland fishing refugees as well as home-lake anglers during the heart of the bass-fishing season in the Bluegrass State.
As August arrives in Kentucky, a large percentage of the bass fishing anywhere in the state occurs at night. In the daytime, warm surface temperatures tend to drive bass deep, making them tougher to find and catch. But at night, when the daytime heat takes a few steps back, largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky bass become more active and often move to cover closer to the surface.
If you haven't tried after-hours fishing, give it a second thought or find a buddy who does. It may sound hokey to say, but the difference in July and August can be like night and day. During the normal summer weather pattern, the difference in bass feeding activity is that noticeable.
Anglers who can locate cover -- combined with baitfish on or near to that cover -- can do quite well in getting bass to take a lure. Sometimes you have to slow it down a little, and also refine your choices from how you did it back in the spring.
It's worth missing a little sleep on lakes that are getting good marks right now. Kentucky fisheries managers note that three hotspots like Green River, Laurel and Wood Creek should fall into that category this summer.
So let's take a look at these three reservoirs, see what's there and how the bass fisheries compare, and the best ways to put the odds in your favor at these south-central Kentucky waterways this season.
Let's start with the lake with the most water to fish.
GREEN RIVER LAKE
With just over 8,200 acres of surface space, Green River Lake gives anglers a lot of choices for bass fishing. In the throes of summer heat, bass tend to become less aggressive, spending most of their time in deeper water where oxygen is still sufficient.
They'll suspend around cover during the day, down far enough to escape sunlight penetrating, and then move up to find baitfish at night, or when overcast conditions darken the shallower water areas.
Green River holds all three species of black bass. Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resource (KDFWR) biologists report that this year, fishermen can expect to catch higher-quality largemouths. Green River is one of a very few major Kentucky reservoirs that follows the statewide 12-inch minimum-size limit on largemouth and smallmouth bass.
The reason for the anticipated improvement in numbers of bucketmouths above 12 inches and up to 15 inches stems from the better-than-average spawn in 2004. In 2007, that group of bass will start to attain that magic 15-inch size, which will give the overall largemouth fishery a boost. Even though a 12-inch fish could be kept in the creel, many anglers are now geared to 15 inches or better as the measure of what qualifies as a quality bass.
If you hit Green River this summer, go in knowing you may come home with a better percentage of bigger fish than have been available over the last couple of years.
In the summer, connecting more consistently with largemouths on Green River means fishing points close to river and creek channels. Largemouths, especially the older and bigger ones, spend increased amounts of time in spots where they can find food in close proximity to deeper water. At night, these bass prefer to move up to a point or out on a flat to feed, and then return to the safe spot along a channel where water is a little cooler, cover is present and the daytime light penetration is reduced.
During the summer months, a good number of Kentucky bass are caught from reservoirs like Green River early and late in the day. After all, spotted bass are voracious eaters. They seem to ignore the warm water as a deterrent to their feeding activity, and will key on groups of baitfish, at times even chasing them into shallow bank areas.
When you locate shoreline cover, watch closely for shad activity. Then use flashy lures around that cover to imitate a hurt preyfish. Sometimes a school of spots will be nearby.
Often you can come up with a fish or two nowhere near cover, especially when you find a school of shad breaking the surface out in the middle of a cove or off a main lake point. It seems as if you're casting to nothing. But beneath those baitfish could be cruising a group of Kentucky bass, which have herded them to the top.
Smallmouths are a third option for Green River anglers. The population is considered marginal, but this lake still carries a good reputation for producing trophy-sized bronzebacks. You'll need to focus on areas where cold-water habitat is located. Biologists suggest the lower and midsections of Robinson Creek and the Green River arms of the lake.
At night, smallmouths will turn out and move to points and banks where they can bang their noses on the bottom and spook out crawfish and minnows for an evening snack. Bottom- bouncing soft-plastic baits down a bank or ledge will get their attention. Crawling a worm, or twitching a jig combination over submerged cover often encourages strikes as well.
Sometimes a medium-sized crankbait dragged over rocks creates enough ruckus to give smallmouth something to home in on and find more easily under cover of darkness.
After the sun sets, many anglers also choose to drift live minnows off rocky banks and points, or along a creek channel in fairly deep water. Days when a light rain occurs are also good times for more condition sensitive smallies. Lots of bass anglers will use artificial lures only, but few will argue that live bait can't be just as effective or more effective in the dead of summer when the fishing turns tough. If you want to catch fish, you may have to exchange glamour for practicality. Go with minnows or soft craws on a simple cast-out, drift-down-and-back presentation.
When you stroke a 5-pound smallie that way while your buddy imitates the pros and comes
up empty, you can decide between yourselves who had the more productive outing!
LAUREL RIVER LAKE
Not too far away, nor too much smaller at 5,600 acres, Laurel River Lake has gotten a shot in the arm from some additional largemouth stockings.
Fishing is improving, says fishery biologist John Williams. He notes that the agency chose to stock largemouth fingerlings in 2005 and '06 when naturally spawned year-classes were small. As a result, much improved numbers of 14- to 17-inch largemouths are now present, and this is good news for anglers.
Like Green River, Laurel also supports smallmouths and Kentucky bass, offering wider variety and more opportunity for success. The lake itself is similar to other eastern reservoirs: It is very deep and becomes very clear when rainfall is less abundant in mid- to late summer. Doing exceptionally well, regardless of how good the fishery is, is fairly rare for daytime bass anglers. Odds greatly improve at night.
Largemouth anglers at Laurel Lake find their best success doing three things. First, those who leave at home their heavy-duty fishing equipment designed for jerking bass out of thick cover, in favor of lighter tackle, will fair better.
The "softer" approach works better for clear-water bass. You can continue to fish in cover, but the improved action of lures and less disturbance of lighter lines affords fewer spooked bass. Plastic worms and craws appear more realistic on lighter lines. And crankbaits imitate the real thing more closely, which is sometimes necessary to convince cautious bass to strike.
Look for woody cover in the upper end of the lake to hold more largemouths, and structure on points as a prime target to fish. If possible, time your fishing trip shortly after a good rain has gotten the flow up, bringing in a new round of food and staining the creeks a little. If you fish during the daytime, get on shaded banks or fish on a cloudy day.
If smallmouth fishing is your thing, stick to the lower lake points and the main lake channel to find what Williams says will be good numbers of 14- to 18-inch fish this year.
Look for large chunks of rock and pea gravel points that slope out into deeper water.
You may come up with some decent spotted bass in these areas, too. Spots look more like largemouths, but act more like smallmouths in the habitat they prefer. These fish are more tolerant of warm water than smallmouths, and you can often hook them at night in places of shoreline cover that appear to be classic smallmouth zones. Spots can handle staying closer to the surface longer. So for best results, hit the fallen trees, brush and shoreline debris with a spinnerbait or crankbait near deep-water access.
Finally, it's interesting to note that until the KDFWR decided to reinstate the legendary 11-pound, 15-ounce all-tackle state- and world-record smallmouth caught by David Hayes in 1955 in the Kentucky portion of Dale Hollow, Coolie Williams claimed the record with an 8-pound plus fish taken in Laurel River Lake.
There are trophy-class fish present, if you're fortunate enough to hook up with one. Laurel remains under the trophy smallmouth management approach of an 18-inch minimum-size limit. The largemouth size limit is 15 inches.
WOOD CREEK LAKE
At 762 acres, Wood Creek Lake isn't a massive Kentucky reservoir, but it certainly carries a pretty significant reputation for largemouth bass. Kentucky's best largemouth -- of 13 pounds, 10 ounces -- has stood the test of time for Wood Creek and Dale Wilson for over 20 years. Wood Creek is located in Laurel County.
The 15-inch size limit on both largemouths and smallmouths seems to be maintaining a very high-quality bucketmouth fishery at Wood Creek. The opportunity for a trophy 18-inch-plus smallie also exists, though smallmouth numbers are much fewer.
"We've seen good numbers of 14- to 18-inch largemouth in recent population checks," said Williams.
Compared to waters in the region, Wood Creek scores well as a bass-fishing destination. Also, it doesn't receive the fishing pressure that bigger waters do. Generally, the lines at boat ramps are shorter and pleasure boat traffic is less congested than on Laurel, Cumberland, Dale Hollow and Green River lakes.
During the week, things are even more conducive to fishing.
"We're glad to see that this lake's potential for good bass fishing is holding up," said biologist Williams. "We also know that the spotted bass fishery is doing OK, with most fish present being around 12 inches. The spotted bass fishery supplements the largemouth fishery."
It's not uncommon for biologists to describe clearer, less fertile waters in Kentucky's eastern half as good places for record-size largemouths and smallmouths to live. Sometimes their growth is slower. But in places like Wood Creek, bass may live longer, and some ultimately attain trophy-class sizes.
The really big bass are usually associated with areas of deeper water, where bass will stay much of the time during hot weather. That way, they tend to avoid being caught longer.
Until you spend enough time on the water to get really familiar with their movement patterns, it's often hard to find big bass haunts and determine their activities. But sometimes you fall into just the right place at the right time.
Wood Creek has good amounts of woody cover in different locations along the bank. This attracts baitfish and keeps bass around, too. The trick is fishing at the same time when bass are looking for something to eat. Bigger bass often go after one or two larger preyfish to satisfy their hunger, rather than expend a lot more effort in catching little ones. To capitalize on that pattern, you need to consider the size of the lure you choose, how it acts in the water, and the speed at which the lure moves.
As on nearly all other waters that contain both warmwater and cold- water habitat, largemouths will tend to be concentrated to the upper end of the lake. The lower reaches will hold a better chance of finding a smallmouth or spotted bass. That's not to say largemouth will be in the upper half only, just that usually in these types of reservoirs, more of their preferred habitat is found upstream than downstream.
Information about the layout of Green River and Laurel River lakes, plus launch ramp locations, can be found in the Kentucky Boating & Fishing Access Sites booklet, available from the KDFWR. Call 1-800- 858-1549 weekdays during state business hours to have one mailed to you for free.
Wood Creek has a ramp off state Route 80, west out of London toward Bernstadt. Watch for Swiss Colony Road on the right, then take Wood Creek Lake Road to the water. Along the way, there are spots to pick up supplies, gas and a license -- if you need one.
iologists suspect that Green River, Laurel River and Wood Creek lakes will receive more fishing action this summer than in past years, due to the Cumberland being drawn down by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for dam repairs.
Some tournaments may be relocated to other waters in the vicinity. Yet these three lakes look to provide good quality bassing for newcomers and regular visitors alike.
Regardless of why you decide to fish these spots this summer, remember these hot-weather bass fishing tips, and you should have a good chance of fishing success here as anywhere else in the Bluegrass State.