5 Hybrid & Striper Hotspots in Kentucky

Hold onto your fishing rod as our expert highlights five top places to set the hook on hard-charging hybrids and striped bass this season.

Photo by Ron Sinfelt

By Ed Harp

Commonwealth hybrid and striped bass anglers should have a good year in 2004. It looks as if several bodies of water will continue to produce good fishing, while one relatively recently stocked reservoir (Rough River Lake) will move up as one of the best hybrid striper hotspots in our state. At least that is the report from Jim Axon, assistant director of the Fisheries Division for the Kentucky Department of Fisheries and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). Most local anglers agree.

Hybrid stripers are rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after species swimming in our waters. They are plentiful, feed ravenously and fight as hard as any fish out there. Hybrids are half striped bass and half white bass. The most popular cross for sport stocking is a striped bass egg fertilized by a white bass.

Stripers are less common but no less popular. In Kentucky, these saltwater transplants are found primarily in Lake Cumberland, the Ohio River and in the tailrace waters below the dams at Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.

Both stripers and hybrid stripers are members of the temperate bass family. White and yellow bass are also included. Many anglers experience difficulty distinguishing stripers from hybrids. Hybrids look like a white bass, with their deeper body shape, but are much larger. Most have broken lateral lines. Stripers generally have continuous lateral lines and are more streamlined. Checking their tongues will also help. True stripers have parallel patches of teeth on their tongues, while hybrid stripers have two lines of teeth. In most cases, they touch or at least are so close together you cannot tell them apart. Look for one patch on white bass.

Practice will make you better at noticing these distinctions. If you have trouble, especially at first, do not despair. Even professionals argue which is which at times. For creel and length limits it doesn't matter anyway. They are grouped together.

Perhaps the best hybrid striper bass fishery in Kentucky continues to be Barren River Lake. This 10,000-acre lake located in southern Kentucky, southeast of Bowling Green, continues to produce hybrids in great numbers and large sizes. Axon reports that one-third of the fish samples taken from Barren River Lake measure 18 inches or longer. That is an extraordinary finding.

Anglers wishing to sample Barren's hybrid fishing are further blessed with excellent facilities. Its high-quality launch ramps are complemented with excellent parking facilities as well as good access roads.

Experienced Barren River Lake anglers usually fish along the old river channel. The channel provides, in most years, consistent hybrid action for those anglers who are willing to take the time to work it properly.

Recommended techniques include fishing the inside and outside turns and bends of the channel with jigging spoons or blade baits. Anglers who are looking to catch a limit of hybrids should camp over the turns in the channel and work their spoons or blade baits with a vertical presentation. Vary your depth and speed until you find the magic combination for the day and time of year you're fishing.

At times, the hybrids will school and surface. For those who have never experienced surfacing hybrids or stripers, you will know it when you see it. Surfacing hybrids are best characterized as a large area of boiling water with small explosions coming from underneath. Always watch for birds. They move in for an easy meal of injured baitfish.

Recommended lures for schooling fish include jigs, as well as crankbaits and topwater plugs, such as walking sticks and poppers. Work your jigs in a swimming manner, crankbaits just fast enough to get them to wobble and the topwater baits as fast as possible.

The creel limits on Barren are generous. While the general rule in Kentucky is five stripers or hybrid stripers per day, with a possession limit of five and nothing under 15 inches in length, Barren River Lake is quite different. Anglers may legally keep 20 temperate bass per day - this includes white and yellow bass - with a possession limit of 40 fish. However, no more than five in the daily limit or 10 in the possession limit may be 15 inches or longer.

Anglers should check the regulations before departing. Current rules, regulations, creel limits, possession limits, length limits and licensing information can be obtained from http://fw.ky.gov.

Herrington Lake, located south of Lexington, is always a perennial favorite with hybrid striper anglers. Hybrid numbers are expected to drop in 2004 due to environmental conditions, but their size should be unaffected.

According to Axon, the heavy and constant rains in Herrington's watershed, as well as along the Dix River, in 2003 resulted in a substantial number of hybrids washing through the dam and into the river system. He emphasizes that there are still a large number of hybrids remaining. Therefore, anglers can still expect fine hybrid striper bass angling in Herrington's waters.

Herrington is legendary for its steep, indeed almost vertical, rock shorelines and deep waters. In places, your depthfinder will show 150 feet of water under your boat while you are no more than a long cast off the bank. As a consequence, most of the fish swimming in the lake relate in some fashion to the shoreline. Hybrids are no exception.

Experienced anglers on this impoundment, like Chris Dornbusch with over 40 years of fishing experience, choose heavy, brightly colored spinnerbaits as their first weapon of choice. While he agrees that the shoreline is important, Dornbusch points out "that doesn't mean they are on the shore. It means they relate to the shore. In many cases, you will find these fish out away from the bank, well off a point or suspended over open water."

Others anglers find success with jigs. Large, heavy, white bucktails are favored. Most anglers retrieve them with a swimming action. At times, a steady, horizontal retrieve will produce, while on other days, a lift-and-drop retrieve will work best.

A third choice is a simple in-line spinner. Nothing fancy here, just a simple spinner in chartreuse, white, gray or orange. Again, heavy weights are preferred.

Herrington's hybrids are known to inhabit deep water. That is why heavy weights in all of these lure designs are your best option. Hybrids are regularly caught at depths o

f 30 feet or deeper, sometimes much deeper.

Currently the creel limits on Herrington are the same as those on Barren River. Once again, check before you fish.

An emerging venue for hybrid fans is Rough River Lake. This northwestern Kentucky impoundment was first stocked with hybrid fingerlings in 1996. This program by the KDFWR is a resounding success.

Axon reports the population of hybrid stripers has exploded over the last seven years. Stocking rates for Rough River Lake, like most waters in Kentucky, average 20 fish per acre per year. The fingerlings are approximately 1.5 inches in length at the time of their release.

While those numbers may sound small and few, consider this: With a typical life span of seven or eight years, the hybrids in Rough River are just about at their peak. Further consider that hybrids have rapid growth rates, very rapid. Two-year-old fish frequently measure 14 to 15 inches and 3 year olds can reach 20 inches. Do the math.

Fishing information on this lake is just beginning to develop, but several anglers are reporting excellent success on the usual hybrid lures including in-line spinners, spinnerbaits, jigs and crankbaits. Crankbait selection centers around natural colors with some bright chartreuse or orange on the belly of the lure. Lighter weight wood lures in small sizes seem to work best.

For those anglers seeking true stripers, there is really only one place to start: Lake Cumberland. This 50,000-acre impoundment, located in central Kentucky near the Tennessee state line, is one of the top striper destinations in the nation.

Lake Cumberland is over 100 miles long and has an average depth of 90 feet, making it one of the deepest lakes in the Commonwealth. These waters are perfect for striper habitat. The lake has over 1,200 miles of shoreline. That is nearly as long as the east coast of the United States.

According to Axon, Lake Cumberland has been stocked with 20 fingerlings per acre for many years. The stockings are paying huge dividends. Stripers from Cumberland average above 10 pounds, with fish to 20 pounds being relatively common as well. Fish over 20 pounds, while not common, are not unheard of either.

Various techniques are employed to catch such huge fighters. Live bait is one of the most popular. Shad seem to be the bait of choice for those anglers who can keep them alive. If you have trouble keeping shad alive, here is a tip: Store them in a round bait container or at least one with curved sides. After that, make sure you have plenty of oxygen in the water. Invest in a quality air pump.

Rigging for live bait is largely a matter of choice. Some anglers prefer Carolina-style rigs, while others use a variety of techniques that employ everything from a bobber to a balloon. Asking around and experimenting may be your best bet to see what works best for you.

Stripers are also taken on jigging spoons and blade baits. True stripers can be deep-water fish, so a vertical presentation as deep as 60 feet will produce upon occasion.

When stripers school and surface, look out! The fish exhibit behavior that would put them in an institution under any other set of circumstances. They attack baitfish, roll, jump and dash to and fro with reckless abandon. Topwater baits such as walking sticks and poppers are generally successful. At times, swimming a jig through the school is your best bet, especially for big fish.

Favorite locations on Cumberland include the deep waters off long, sloping rock points, twists and turns in the old channel and open water. You must look around to find these brutes.

Cumberland has very strict size and creel limits for stripers. Only two stripers per day may be kept and there is a minimum size limit of 24 inches. Check before you fish.

For striper and hybrid striper action on the same water, try the Ohio River. It is unique and deserves special attention. The Ohio has an excellent population of stripers and hybrids due in large measure to increased cooperation between the states bordering its waters. Hybrids in the 5-pound range are relatively common and true stripers up to and exceeding 12 pounds are caught with some frequency.

The river runs from the northeast corner to the southwest corner of the Commonwealth. There are countless ramps and public access points along her path.

Perhaps the best pool on the Ohio is at the northeast corner of the Commonwealth - the Meldahl Pool. It runs from the Greenup Dam at mile marker 341 to the Meldahl Dam at mile marker 436.2. That's nearly 100 miles of water.

The two best spots in this pool, at least in the opinion of Ohio River expert Mike McPherson, are at the mouth of Cabin Creek (mile 402.9) and along the mouth of White Oak Creek (mile 423.9). He reports both high numbers and big fish at these locations. As a long-time northern Kentucky resident, and a pro team member for Plapp's Pro Outdoors, he has decades of experience on the river. His opinions are to be taken seriously.

McPherson opines that to be successful, striper and hybrid anglers on the Ohio River, anglers must learn to fish barges. Yes, that's right - barges. There is no other structure or cover that will consistently outproduce barges when it comes to fishing for stripers and hybrids on this massive river.

McPherson suggests that the first step toward success with barges is analyzing current. The stronger the current, the more likely the fish will be found under the barges. The trick is to get your bait under the barge.

Begin by selecting the right bait. Most anglers opt for an in-line spinner, a weighted soft-plastic jerkbait or perhaps a light, wooden crankbait. Approach the barge from a 45-degree angle on its outside edge. Throw your bait in front of, and across, the nose of the barge. Retrieve it slowly. Allow the current to wash it under the barge.

Work the bait just 1 or 2 inches below the bottom of the barge. You can easily determine how much water the barge is drawing by reading the depth gauge painted on its side. If the water is at the 4-foot mark, the barge is drawing 4 feet of water. Your bait should be running just slightly deeper than that.

Stripers and hybrids, as well as a few black bass, will dart from under the barge to attack your bait. After that, the fight is on.

A second skill is patience. In the Ohio River, it may be necessary to work an area several times to begin catching fish. "The trick is to just keep fishing, back and forth along an area. In most cases, if you are fishing a good spot, you will finally catch fish," McPherson said.

A third skill that must be developed is an appreciation for shallow water. River fish will hold i

n shallow water. Stripers and hybrids are no exception. While these fish may suspend over deep water, or hide in deep water, in lakes and reservoirs, this is not the case in river systems. Hybrids and stripers are frequently found in water as shallow as 3 feet in the Ohio River.

The Louisville area also offers excellent striper and hybrid striper angling, either above or below the dam. This section of river is replete with holes, humps, rock obstructions and wing dams. Most of these areas will hold stripers and hybrids.

Fish these areas with spinners, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and topwater plugs. Many anglers say that the better fish are taken during early morning or late evening on topwater baits. Big, fat walking sticks with white bellies and blue or black backs are the local favorites. Work these lures fast in order to create lots of splash.

A final location for success on the Ohio is at the lower end of the river near Paducah. This portion of the river includes the downstream end of the Smithland Pool, as well as the mouths of the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers. These river mouths are legendary big-fish spots.

Paducah is commercialized with scores of barges in the area. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the barge pattern is especially popular and effective. Just inside the mouth of the Tennessee River, there is a huge repair facility. It is one of the best hybrid spots in all of Kentucky. Fish around the barges found here, especially when there is a little current.

Creel limits are very generous on the river. There is a 30-fish daily limit so long as only four of these fish are 15 inches or longer. This includes white and yellow bass. Check before you fish.

The striper and hybrid outlook is excellent for 2004. Give them a try this year. You will be hooked once you hook one or more of these great fighters!

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