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Overlooked Bassing on the Dix River

Overlooked Bassing on the Dix River

From largemouth bass to smallies, a long stretch of the Dix River provides fabulous bassing from now through the summer months.

By Ed Harp

Located some 30 miles to the south, and just a little west of Lexington near Danville, is one of the best largemouth bass rivers in Kentucky. Often overshadowed by the big waters, it is under appreciated by many anglers, but not by those in the know.

The Dix River winds seven miles or so below the dam at Herrington Lake through some of the most spectacular scenery in the country. Bluffs tower over its waters, in some cases rising up 200 feet or more. Heavy forests, interspersed with rocky outcroppings, line the river's banks. If that wasn't enough, the Dix River is full of big bass. Largemouths from 4 to 5 pounds are common, with some bass ranging up to 7 pounds or more.

According to Steve Riley, local resident and long-time Dix River angler, there are a number of reasons for the extraordinary population of quality largemouth bass in this venue.

First and foremost, in his mind, is the configuration of the river itself. A channel winds to and fro along its length ranging in depth from 12 to over 20 feet. The many sharp turns and bends along the way break the current and provide holding areas for bass. Many of these twists and turns have collected wood debris from the surrounding countryside. This creates a lot of fish-holding structure and cover.

Secondly, there is an extraordinary amount of shoreline cover along the Dix River's length. An angler will look long and hard to find a stretch of barren bank along the Dix. Nearly every foot of its banks are covered with laydowns, stumps or wood of some sort.

In the few places where wood is scarce, there will likely be an abundance of rock. The type of rock that is sharp and jagged, which provides shelter and current breaks for both forage and bass.


Local fishing expert Steve Riley with a pair of good-sized Dix River largemouth bass. Photo by Ed Harp

Last, but certainly not least, according to Riley, is the river's nearly constant current. This final stretch of the Dix is fed from the dam at Herrington Lake. The current varies in strength, according to the generation schedule at Herrington, but there is always some current. Riley theorizes that this keeps the water fresh and highly oxygenated.

Spring bassin' begins with a detailed analysis of the shoreline cover. "Spring bass relate to the shore," Riley says. He points out that when the bass are in their pre-spawn mode, April in most years, they are staging along the channel in areas that are near spawning grounds.

Begin your search by locating the channel bends and twists that are near the bank. Then further isolate those areas where the bank provides current breaks and suitable areas for the spawn. Riley suggests looking for rocky areas or outcroppings. If there is sand or gravel in the substrate, that's all the better. Once you find a suitable area, the rock breaks can be depended upon to remain stationary, even during periods of high water or very swift current.

According to Riley, buzzbaits have a well-deserved reputation as a hot lure in the early season on the Dix. Anglers would be well advised to carry several with them on their spring outings. The most productive buzzbaits are those that ride high in the water and are easily customized. Riley advises anglers to adjust their baits to generate more or less splash and to vary their retrieval speed until they find the magic combination. Color selection is basic: White, chartreuse and black will cover most situations.

Tubes also account for a substantial number of early-season bass. Medium-sized baits in purple, green or pumpkin seem to work best. Many anglers dye the tips of the tentacles chartreuse for increased visibility. Texas rigging is, by far, the most popular.

Later in the spring, toward early summer, deep-diving baits will bring arm-wrenching strikes. Lures that dive 6 to 8 feet deep on the retrieve are favored. Again, natural colors seem to work best.

Riley further recommends that anglers do not depart the dock without a jig-and-pig tied on at least one rod. He emphasizes that jigs are effective all year, including spring. They can be pitched and flipped into the heavy shoreline cover to effectively work a short strike zone, should the fish be holding tight on cover.

His personal favorite is a rubber-skirted 1/4-ounce jig in pumpkin or green, with some red flake in the bait. If the water is especially dark or heavily stained, this Dix River angler will upsize his jig and switch to a black/blue combination.

Spring is well known for producing cold snaps that will drive bass back to deeper water. A number of anglers will search for cooperative fish along the channel bends when this happens. Along with jigs, blade baits are popular under these conditions. The most popular size is a 1/2-ounce bait in silver. Work them with a lift-and-drop action. If you lift them straight up, more or less, you will experience fewer hang-ups.

The universal favorite bait on the Dix is, however, a trick worm. The season matters not. Riley readily gives credit to his friend and fellow Dix River angler Gary Mulberry for developing and refining the specialized technique that makes it so effective.

Mulberry's technique is not especially difficult, but it is precise. He inserts a small nail in the head of the worm before rigging it Texas style. This allows the bait to spiral in a gentle circle as it drops down, past the fish, through the strike zone and onto the bottom.

Mulberry fishes this rig back and under the heaviest cover he can find. He skips the bait to get it back where it needs to be. In some cases, this will be 20 to 25 feet under the trees and brush.

Once in place, the worm is allowed to sink, ever so slowly, to the bottom. After resting it for a while, the worm is eased up off the bottom several inches and then "floated" back down to the bottom on a semi-tight line.

Mulberry never, not ever, takes his eyes off his line. At the first sign of a bite, he sets the hook. He does not wait or allow the bass to "take" the worm. He believes that many fish are lost due to inaction on the part of anglers. (Who is going to argue with a guy who once caught two 5-pound bass on the same worm from the Dix in a matter of an hour or so?)

Mulberry's technique sounds simple enough. It does, however, require skill and patience. It is not as easy as it sounds to skip a bait so far and then work it back that slowly, cast after cast and hour after hour.

As for color, Mulberry has a very firm opinion. In his words, "Almost any shade of green will do the job."

While you are fishing the Dix for largemouths, don't be surprised if you catch a fine smallmouth or two as well. There is a reasonably good population of brown bass in its waters. They can be vicious, especially in the early spring. Most are caught within a mile or two of the headwater. If you want to target smallies, use the same techniques and baits - just downsize a bit.

Equipment is a matter of personal choice. Most anglers use light- or medium-weight baitcasting equipment with 10- or 12-pound-test line. For skipping worms, Mulberry recommends open-face spinning tackle with 10-pound-test line.

Access to the Dix can be gained from the launch ramp near Lock and Dam No. 7 on the Kentucky River. It is open to the public and has an "honors box" to pay the $4 launch fee. It is adequate to handle any size fishing boat. This ramp can be difficult to find, especially if you are not familiar with the area. For specific directions, contact Steve Riley at (859) 533-5530.

After launching, travel upstream a couple of miles. The mouth of the Dix will be on your right. From there, you can fish all the way to the headwater.

While small, the Dix River is big enough to handle almost any size fishing boat. On a recent outing, Riley and Mulberry saw craft ranging from a canoe to a 21-foot bass boat powered by a 200-horse outboard.

There are no facilities in the area or on the water. Make sure you have plenty of fuel and everything else you will need. After that, enjoy your trip.

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