From Herrington to Cedar Creek, plus three other hot picks, here are top bass lakes that produce lunker largemouths without much fanfare.
Photo by Tom Evans
By Jeff Samsel
Big things sometimes come in small packages. Everybody knows that can be true about birthday presents and children's hearts, but it also can prove true about bass-fishing lakes. As outstanding as the fishing unquestionably is on some major reservoirs, there also are some fabulous smaller-sized lakes sprinkled all around Kentucky.
Smaller waterways don't get the acclaim of mega-reservoirs like Kentucky Lake or Lake Cumberland; however, that doesn't mean they don't deserve the same kind of attention. Some serve up first-rate bass-fishing action that most anglers never know anything about. Local bass fishermen usually know about the best waters that are close to them, but they don't go out of their way to spread the word. (In fact, sometimes they go out of their way to keep such information from becoming too widely known.)
Because most small lakes haven't built up huge reputations, they often provide good places to get away from the crowds. In addition, they are often easier to figure out than big reservoirs, and they are fine destinations for anglers who have smaller boats or boats equipped with smaller motors. Even an angler who has only a car-top boat matched with an electric motor can fish these small waters effectively. Most importantly, small lakes are simply fun to fish. An angler can get to know a single small lake well and really learn how to fish it effectively.
Kentucky anglers have dozens of smaller waterways to pick from, many of which offer good public access. Such waters are spread from one end of the state to the other. We've selected a handful of lakes that promise to serve up especially good fishing this spring and over the next couple years for one reason or another.
Lake Herrington has always been known locally as a bass factory, said Kerry Prather, central Kentucky fisheries biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). The bass fishing has gone through a few down years, as have many Kentucky reservoirs, but the bass population is back on the incline.
The dip in the bass population came as a result of extensive flooding in 1997 and less severe flooding in 1996 and 1998, which caused poor spawns on Herrington and several other Kentucky lakes all three years. The bass population is back in good condition, however, and fishing prospects look very good for this spring. Growth rates are outstanding at Lake Herrington, Prather said, and it typically has loads of 2- or 3-pound bass with a few very big bass in the mix.
The biggest of the small lakes covered in this profile, at 2,500 acres, Herrington is unlike any other lake in central Kentucky. It impounds a deep limestone gorge on the Dix River. Its banks are, for the most part, vertical, and its waters are very deep overall. It is also quite fertile, especially through its upper end. The upper lake has the milky green color that is typical of a highly fertile lake. The lower end is much clearer.
Prather pointed toward the very narrow, but somewhat shallow, upper half of Lake Herrington, as offering better overall bass fishing than the lower end. The upper end offers more quality bass habitat, and it tends to produce more big bass.
Deadfalls provide some cover along the banks of Herrington, primarily in the creeks. In addition, the KDFWR has done limited work adding fish attractors. The department put in one group of Christmas trees and stakebeds last year and has plans to put in a couple more attractors this winter.
Because of Herrington's sheer banks and deep water, many anglers find it a very difficult lake to fish. During May, however, post-spawn bass tend to be aggressive and in shallow water, thus they are much easier to find and catch than at other times of the year.
Shallow-running crankbaits, spinnerbaits or topwater plugs fished right against the bluffs are apt to draw big strikes. The same types of baits, plus a variety of bottom-bumping offerings like worms and jigs should also work well near the edges of flats, most of which are located either in coves or well up the lake.
As spring gives way to summer, Herrington's bass will move deeper overall, which makes catching them more difficult. The edges of flats and the ends of points, fished with Carolina rigs or big, deep-diving crankbaits offer good prospects for summer fish. Probably the best solution to summer woes, however, is for anglers to turn to nighttime hours, when bass will return to the flats and feed more readily.
Lake Herrington is privately owned by Kentucky Utilities Company. Sixteen boat ramps provide good access to all parts of the lake, but a nominal fee is charged at all ramps.
"It'll make your eyes bug out, doing spring electro-shocking out there and seeing all the big bass," Prather said of Kincaid Lake in Pendleton County. Prather believes Kincaid is probably the best overall bass lake in the central part of the state.
Kincaid is a small lake, covering only 183 acres; however, a very large watershed creates high nutrient levels, allowing Kincaid to support a lot of baitfish and a great bass population. In addition, Kincaid Lake is located in a fairly remote area, which keeps fishing pressure modest. "You have to want to get there," Prather said.
Most anglers who spend time fishing for bass on this lake possess a passion for Kincaid bass. Anglers seemingly have a very high release ethic at Kincaid, Prather said, and he believes that this has contributed to the high number of large bass in the population.
Kincaid, unlike several other lakes in central part of the state, was not affected by the flood years. Therefore, bass from all year-classes are well represented. Prather said that bass up to 4 or 5 pounds are abundant and that 7- or 8-pound fish are not uncommon.
"The sheer number of big fish is just amazing," he said. "Now, whether anglers are able to catch those fish any given day might be a different story, but they surely are in there."
Because of its great fishing, Lake Kincaid actually attracts a lot of tournament pressure for a lake of its size. Central Kentucky clubs have tournaments on Kincaid's fertile waters virtually every weekend through the spring. And any angler who has spent much time on Lake Kincaid knows that if he doesn't have at least 20 pounds of bass to bring to the scales, he isn't likely to even be in the money.
r pointed toward stumps and fallen trees as important bass-holding cover on Lake Kincaid and suggested that anglers focus on obvious visible cover. During May, he suggests anglers work from the banks out to about 5 feet deep, noting that the bass might not be right on the banks, but that they also probably would not have moved to very deep water either.
For fishing around downed trees and stumps, a plastic worm or lizard on a Texas rig is pretty difficult to beat. Topwater lures also work well at this time of year, however, even when nothing has been feeding on the surface.
Prather also noted Kincaid Lake supports a fair amount of aquatic vegetation, and that bass make heavy use of the grass from late spring through the end of summer. During May, when some submerged vegetation will have begun to reach the surface and mat up, anglers can do very well while fishing soft-plastic jerkbaits or floating worms. As summer progresses and the grass becomes denser, flipping the thickest stuff will become more important.
Lake access is through Kincaid Lake State Park. Along with boating and bank access, the park has a campground and a marina that rents boats. For more information, call (859) 654-3531. There are no special regulations over Kincaid's bass. The statewide 12-inch minimum size and six-fish limit apply.
CEDAR CREEK LAKE
Kentucky's newest lake, Cedar Creek Lake offers good prospects already, and it only promises to get better and better. The lake, which was recently opened to fishing, will cover 784 acres when it is completed. It is located in Lincoln County, between Stanford and Crab Orchard. Cedar Creek Lake is part of a project to realign U.S. Route 150, which runs between the two towns.
A joint project of the KDFWR, the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet and the Lincoln County Government, Cedar Creek Lake has been developed specifically for fishing. Timber was left standing; other cover was put down in several strategic places prior to closing the dam. The lake has been stocked a couple of times already to create good fish populations. Special regulations also have been established to help form a high-quality bass population.
With woods completely surrounding it, Cedar Creek Lake has abundant natural cover along its banks in the form of downed trees, stumps and flooded woody cover. Bottom structure is likewise outstanding. The terrain flooded by the lake was gently rolling, thus the lake has lots of humps and dips. In addition, because the lake is brand new, its creek channels are very well defined.
Cedar Creek won't produce many big bass just yet, but it promises to offer very good action over the next several years. In each subsequent year, the first bass stocked will grow a little bit bigger. Fishing should be fairly elementary initially, with bass being in all the places that look like they should hold fish.
Three fine boat ramps provide great access to Cedar Creek. Eventually, there will also be a marina. The daily limit on Cedar Creek Lake is three bass, with a 15-inch minimum size.
Dewey Lake was one of only a handful of lakes to earn an "excellent" rating for largemouth bass in the most recent KDFWR Fishing Forecast. The report, which is published annually and based primarily on biologists' surveys, noted that bass numbers and size distribution are both good on Dewey.
A long, narrow impoundment of Johns Creek, which is part of the headwaters of the Big Sandy River, Dewey Lake sits deep in the mountains. A few creeks form very small coves, but the overwhelming majority of Dewey's 1,100 acres are in its riverine main body.
Gizzard shad are the most important forage species for largemouths on Dewey Lake. Interestingly, the shad don't tend to grow very large on this lake, which actually helps the bass. Gizzard shad grow too large in many lakes to provide any food value to largemouths, except while they are young. Natural cover is quite limited on Dewey, as it is a very old lake, but the KDFWR has added a lot of cover in the form of brushpiles and downed trees.
While time has robbed natural cover from Dewey's banks, the aging process has had one positive effect. Sedimentation has created some shallow bars along the edges of the main channel, which now offer good spawning habitat. The same areas also provide good habitat before and after the spawn, especially where cover has been placed on them.
Through May, fishermen can do well on Dewey Lake by simply working visible cover, especially around creek mouths and over the tops of points. Crankbaits or spinnerbaits in shad patterns are always good bets on Dewey, and topwater action may occur at any moment at this time of year.
Dewey Lake has received supplemental stockings of 5-inch largemouth bass since 1999. The stockings have been experimental to see whether they would add fish to the adult bass population, and it's too early to measure the extent of the stockings' success. If the stockings work out as hoped, many stocked bass should reach harvestable size for the first time this spring.
Half a dozen boat ramps provide good access to all parts of Dewey Lake. Jenny Wiley State Resort Park provides boating and banks access, cottages, lodge rooms, a campground and a marina. For information, call (606) 886-2711. A 15-inch minimum size and a five-fish limit applies to largemouth and smallmouth bass on Dewey Lake.
Upstream of Dewey Lake in the same watershed, Fishtrap Lake is the most easterly reservoir in Kentucky. It may also be the best bass fishing lake in the eastern part of the state, according to Kevin Frey, the KDFWR biologist for this region of Kentucky.
Like Dewey, Fishtrap is quite small, covering 1,131 acres. Also like Dewey, Fishtrap Lake is quite narrow and sits tucked between mountains. Unlike Dewey and most other mountain lakes, however, Fishtrap has a fair amount of good shallow habitat, mostly through its upper third and near the mouths of creeks.
Anglers need to pretty much ignore the banks on Fishtrap. The bass won't be far from the banks, necessarily, but they won't be right on the shore simply because the shoreline has little cover to hold fish. Instead, most bass will be in brush, which anglers have spread all over most of the lake's flats. A good technique for finding brush and bass is to make long casts with Carolina rigs and drag them across bottom. When fishermen catch bass or get hit, though, they should take note of the spot; fish it more thoroughly with other types of offerings and give it a good look with a graph.
Because of coal-mining influences, Fishtrap Lake stays off-colored much of the time, except in its far lower reaches. That allows anglers to fish bigger lures and use a little heavier line than they could get away with in most mountain lakes. In fact, when spring rains turn the stain into mud, big, bright-colored plugs, and "thumper"-type spinnerbaits offer the best bets.
Through Fishtrap's lower reaches, bass fishermen a
lso can target smallmouths. While smallies don't make up a big portion of the lake's black bass population, the lower end of the lake holds decent numbers, with some very good quality fish in the mix. Biologists have shocked smallmouths up to 22 inches from Fishtrap.
Grubs fished on 1/4- or 1/8-ounce leadheads and medium-running crankbaits offer very good prospects for smallmouths during May, but anglers also shouldn't overlook topwater plugs. Probably the best overall offering, however, is a live shiner fished 5 or 6 feet from the surface on a slip-cork rig and cast around boulder and bluff banks.
Five boat ramps provide good access to all parts of Fishtrap Lake. A 15-inch minimum size applies to largemouths and smallmouths on Fishtrap Lake.
BEFORE YOU GO
A great way to discover small waters that are close to you is to check out the Fishing Forecast, which is published annually by the KDFWR. The forecast, which is available online at www.kdfwr.state.ky.us/, looks at fishing prospects for 50 different waterways in all parts of Kentucky. More than 30 of the listings are for lakes that are smaller than 3,000 acres.
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