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Trophy Bassing in Kentucky

Trophy Bassing in Kentucky

Are our state regulations paying off with bigger smallmouth and largemouth bass? Here's the lowdown on this weighty subject!

Commonwealth anglers are fortunate to have fine fishing for both smallies and bucketmouths. Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Travis Faulkner

Kentucky has been truly blessed with some of the finest bass angling that can be found across our great nation. The Bluegrass State is dotted with a multitude of lakes, streams and rivers that provide fantastic bass fishing opportunities throughout the course of the year. In fact, you don't have to travel very far across the Commonwealth to experience some rod-thumping action from spirited largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Have you noticed how the popularity of bass fishing has exploded over the past few years? Highly advertised tournaments with televised weigh-ins and enormous payouts have dramatically increased public interest in the sport. Today, legions of high-end bass rigs can be found roaring across the lakes at blistering speeds. Each of which are fully loaded with technologically advanced gadgets and gizmos designed specifically to make life hard on the bass. Everyone seems to be hitting the local lakes passionately with the hope of becoming the newest sensation on the tournament trail.

Growing numbers of bass fishermen pound our lakes hard and this increase in fishing pressure can potentially take a toll on the overall bass population. For this reason, state wildlife agencies are faced with meticulously regulating and setting limits to ensure that healthy numbers of bass will continue to prosper. For example, Kentucky lakes currently have myriad of bass regulations that vary across the state from each body of water.

Are these regulations improving our bass fishing by producing greater numbers of quality largemouths and smallmouths? Let's take a look at five Kentucky lakes to answer this question. Each lake will be systematically broken down to include detailed information pertaining to regulations, quality of fishing and predictions from our state's leading bass biologist.

According to Jeff Ross, a black bass research biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), the state's regulations are producing desired results and are definitely needed. "Our regulations are working and strive to improve the number of large bass in Kentucky lakes and streams. Because of differences in each lake, regulations have to be specifically tailored to each body of water," explained Ross.

"The regulations are designed based on our knowledge of the fish populations and angler opinions on each lake. Occasionally, Mother Nature will throw us a curve like flood, drought or highly fluctuating water levels. This may result in a poor year- class here and there," said Ross.


"It is this fluctuation in year-class strength that causes the up and down fishing years. Regulations tend to help even out the high and low periods. Our regulations are definitely paying off. Without them, increased fishing pressure and fluctuating environmental conditions would be a heavy burden for our bass populations to overcome," commented Ross.

"The creation of a new fishing regulation in Kentucky begins with a valid need for the regulation. This might be a biological need, a public need or a combination of both. In addition, there must be a clear benefit derived from the regulation. Once we establish a need and benefit, we will analyze our current and historical field sampling along with angler creel data," said Ross.

"In doing so, we are looking for changes in bass densities, size structure of the bass population, growth rates, mortality rates and reproductive success. We also look at the characteristics of the anglers. How many and what sizes of fish are they catching? How many are they releasing? How many are they keeping? Finally, we look at the productivity of the lake, since it has a strong influence on many of these factors," noted Ross.

"Following our research period, the regulation is proposed to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission. If the commission accepts the regulation, then it goes through a review and public comment period. We want to make sure the majority of the public is in favor of the regulation. This is important, since angler compliance is critical to make the regulation work. If there are no further comments or concerns, the regulation passes and becomes effective the next spring," explained Ross.

Tucked away in the Cumberland Mountains lies Dale Hollow Lake, a deep and crystal-clear bass fisherman's dream. Over the years, Dale Hollow has earned a renowned reputation as being one of the country's premier smallmouth fisheries. For good reason, Dale consistently produces trophy-sized smallmouths each year. In fact, the 11-pound, 15-ounce world-record smallmouth bass was taken from Dale and was responsible for creating the lake's legendary status.

Dale Hollow has all the necessary ingredients to produce trophy-caliber smallmouths. For example, the lake encompasses the excellent habitat, water quality and forage that are needed to sustain these bronzeback warriors. We are talking about a lake that is clear, deep and contains well-oxygenated water throughout the year. Throw in prime rocky structure and you've got a smallmouth paradise.

However, the lake is also loaded with an abundant supply of hard-hitting largemouth and spotted bass as well. Anglers have close to 30,000 acres of surface water and approximately 620 miles of shoreline to chase after the bass. In addition to having plenty of water to cover, Dale Hollow also leads the state with some of the toughest regulations that will help keep it a topnotch fishery.

For example, there is a 15-inch minimum size limit on largemouth bass and a 16- to 21-inch slot limit on smallmouths. An angler can only keep one fish over 21 inches and one fish less than 16 inches. You know it's rough when a 20-inch smallmouth doesn't make the cut. Fishermen should also be aware of the five-fish daily limit placed on black bass. This limit includes largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky (spotted) bass. However, your daily limit can include any combination of black bass, but you can only keep two smallmouths.

Dale Hollow is probably one of my favorite Kentucky lakes and the bass fishing is sensational. My father and I have caught numerous largemouths that have weighed over 6 pounds and several smallmouths around the 5-pound range. In fact, my wife recently caught a 5-pound, 4-ounce smallmouth last August. A fishing forecast released by the KDFWR rates the bass fishing on the lake as being excellent with a good number of smallmouth bass that are larger than 3 pounds. Dale Hollo

w is truly a unique lake that has the potential of producing some wall-hanger bass.

Laurel Lake is located in Whitley and Laurel counties and has been known to yield numbers of trophy bass. For example, Coolie Williams of London, Kentucky caught the state-record smallmouth bass from Laurel back in 1998, which weighed an impressive 8.46 pounds. The lake is relatively small when compared to other Kentucky lakes like Dale Hollow or Cumberland. However, Laurel makes up for its limited size by continuously producing trophy bass each year.

This deep and ultra-clear lake has 6,060 acres of surface water and is loaded with excellent structure that will attract and hold bass. Rocky points, cliff-lines and long hollows filled with standing timber, logs and blowdowns create the ideal bass environment. Laurel also has restrictive regulations in place that enable bass to live long enough to grow to trophy size. There is a 15-inch size limit on largemouths, and a smallmouth bass must measure at least 18 inches to be a keeper.

These strict regulations are paying off with bigger largemouth and smallmouth bass on Laurel, according to recent figures gathered by the KDFWR. "In 2002, the number of largemouth bass 15 inches in length collected by our biologists at Laurel River Lake was the highest since the 15-inch regulation went into effect in 1997," explained Ross.

The recent bass fishing forecast from the KDFWR states that the best largemouth fishing can be found in the upper Laurel River arm. Most of the largemouths in this area will be in the 12- to 15-inch range. In addition, there are solid populations of 12- to 15-inch smallmouths that can be caught at the mid and lower sections of the lake. There are also numbers of 18-inch and larger fish available.

I grew up fishing this beautiful lake and worked my way through college at Grove Marina. I can tell you that the bass fishing can be extremely tough at times, but anglers have an excellent chance of hooking some of the monster bass that call this lake home. Over the years, I have witnessed numerous largemouths that exceeded the 8-pound mark and a few that reached the 10-pound range.

In fact, my father has two largemouths from Laurel on his wall that weigh well over 8 pounds. I have also caught greater numbers of 15-inch-plus largemouths and more quality smallmouths during the past two years at Laurel. Bass fishermen should definitely take a good look the great bass-fishing opportunities that this lake has to offer.

Cumberland Lake touches the boundaries of Russell, Wayne, Clinton and Pulaski counties and offers bass anglers 50,250 acres of fishing opportunity. The primary inflow of this large reservoir is the Cumberland River. However, the Big South Fork River along with Wolf, Fishing, Indian, Otter and Beaver creeks serve as supplemental inflows. The lake has an average depth of 90 feet, but still contains excellent bass structure.

Large portions of the lake have a limestone bottom and deadfall along with rock structures that provide the bulk of the cover. Bass anglers can find first-rate bass fishing throughout the lake. Cumberland also has some demanding regulations in place to ensure a healthy bass population will continue to prosper. There is a 15-inch size limit on largemouths, and smallmouth bass are required to be at least 18 inches long.

The fishing forecast report from the KDFWR predicts that there are fair numbers of largemouth bass around the 15-inch range across the lake. In addition, a number of 14- to 16-inch smallmouth bass are present, plus some 20-inch-plus fish can be caught. Numerous smallmouths that weigh over 6 pounds are taken from the lake each year as well. Cumberland can potentially generate some sizzling bass action. Anglers should devote some of their fishing time here this summer.

There are 8,270 acres that make up Cave Run Lake, which is located about 50 miles east of Lexington in Bath, Menifee, Rowan and Morgan counties. The lake contains enormous areas of standing timber that was left before impoundment and provides awesome cover for the fish. The entire shoreline is undeveloped with the exception of recreation sites.

In the past, Cave Run has been famous for its excellent muskie fishing, which has often overshadowed the bass angling. However, the lake also supports a solid population of bass that continues to grow. According to the KDFWR, Cave Run has implemented rigorous regulations and all largemouth bass between 13 to 16 inches in length must be released. "The largemouth bass population in Cave Run Lake has improved since the 13- to 16-inch slot limit, which was implemented in 1996," said Ross.

In fact, anglers have been catching more quality largemouths. Hopefully, this trend will continue over the next few years. The KDFWR fishing forecast states that during 2002, bass anglers caught bigger largemouth bass than in recent years. These quality fish were primarily caught around the Eurasian milfoil beds.

Furthermore, the forecast also reports that a greater number of largemouth bass can be found in the upper portions of the lake. The mid to lower sections of the lake do not hold as many bass, but give the angler a better chance at catching bigger largemouths. There have also been excellent reports of bass tournament catches through midsummer of 2002. Cave Run should continue to be another hotspot for largemouths this summer as well.

Consequently, the smallmouth bass were not introduced into the lake until the mid-1980s, but populations are continuing to grow. Most of the smallmouths can be caught in the lower portion of the lake, from Beaver Creek extending on down to the dam. With new regulations the overall number of smallmouth bass are expected to increase, according to the KDFWR.

"The smallmouth bass population was not improving under the 13- to 16-inch slot limit. It appeared that too many small fish less than 13 inches were being kept. Because of this, the smallmouth bass regulation on Cave Run was changed to a 16-inch minimum size limit. It will take a couple of years to see the impact it has on the smallmouth bass," explained biologist Ross.

Dewey Lake offers bass anglers 1,100 acres of bass fishing in Floyd County and is expected to have another productive year. Dewey is fairly small in size, but provides anglers with some sensational bass fishing opportunities throughout the year. The lake currently has a minimum 15-inch size limit on largemouth and smallmouth bass to keep the populations in check.

The KDFWR was unable to collect spring bass data on Dewey Lake in 2002 due to high and muddy water. However, from 1985 to 1996 the field samples averaged 5.2 largemouth bass at least 15 inches per hour of electrofishing. In 2000, the number climbed to nine bass per hour and 12.6 bass per hour in 2001. It seems that the regulations are having a positive impact on the overall largemouth bass populations.

"From 2000-2001, we saw increases in all size-classes of large

mouth bass in the lake. In 2001, the number of largemouth bass greater than 15 inches was at its highest level since 1998. The bass population has fluctuated over the years in Dewey Lake, but has shown dramatic improvements recently. We have also heard positive comments from anglers in the last couple of years," noted Ross.

The KDFWR fishing forecast predicts another excellent year for largemouth bass on Dewey Lake. The bass are continuing to show good numbers and size distribution across the lake. In addition, anglers who fished bass tournaments experienced solid catches during 2002. Dewey Lake is another small body of water that is often overlooked by many bass anglers each year.

Sometimes strict regulations make it tough on bass anglers and tournament fishermen. However, an integral step in ensuring a healthy bass population is achieved by placing limits on size and the number of bass that can be taken from any lake. Extensive research and in-depth observation from the KDFWR will continue to improve the trophy bass fishing that exists across the Commonwealth. So hit your favorite lake or lakes hard this summer. Be a true sportsman and follow all regulations. Remember that a wall-hanger bass may only be a cast away!

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