Kentucky bass fishing opportunities offer numerous locations to put fish in the boat or on the bank.
Spring is pretty much here, and even though there might be a little more cold weather, it is still time to start looking into the upcoming bass season.
Bass fisheries across the state do not really fluctuate that much, but they do change somewhat in various waters. Luckily, there are many places where anglers can pursue black bass.
While bass fisheries don't fluctuate a lot, it doesn't mean they don't go through some up and down periods. Most times, the average angler does not see a big bump in fishing success, but sometimes it does make an impact. These fluctuations are definitely noticeable in Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources sampling data.
For instance, Lake Barkley's last exceptional bass spawn was in 2008. These fish are now nearing the end of life, but are around the 20-inch mark. There were flood conditions in 2010 and 2011 that knocked down spawning success, and while 2012 was a drought year, the spawn was better than the previous two years, according to Paul Rister, KDFWR fisheries program coordinator for the Purchase Region.
The 2017 spawn appeared to be good based on preliminary fall sampling. What that all boils down to is that there are a few hiccups from time to time. It takes a bass about five years to reach 15 inches at Lake Barkley, but as long there are a few good year-classes spread out over a five-year period, most bass fisheries will continue to be good.
"What I would predict for this spring is still good bass fishing, but maybe slightly less than the previous years, because the strong class of 2008 is dwindled, and there are fewer fish from the poor year-classes during the flood years," Rister said. "The 2013 year-class will supply a new group of bass right around the 15-inch mark. However, the poor year-classes of 2014 and 2015 will mean lower numbers of bass in the 12- to 14-inch range. That means in 2019, anglers might notice a fewer number of bass right around that 15-inch mark.
Rister says the story is about the same for Kentucky Lake with poor year-classes around the flood years and poor year-classes in 2014 and 2016. Biologists found stable numbers just above what they term "average" for bass greater than 15 inches, bass greater than 18 inches and bass greater than 20 inches.
"If the poor years around the flood years only caused slight drops in harvestable size fish five years later, I can only believe that the poor year classes of 2014 and 2016 will do the same, which is minimum changes," said Rister. "We continue to monitor the condition of bass with fall electrofishing. One concern is about forage and if the bass are getting skinnier due to effects of Asian carp."
Based on 2016 data, the condition of bass is still good. However, anglers have reported not seeing the normal balls of shad on depth finders last summer. Shad populations might be down a little, but biologists have seen normal numbers during fall sampling for bass.
The largemouth fishery at Cave Run Lake is rated good, but could get much better if anglers would embrace the 13- to 16-inch protective slot limit. Slot limits are put in place to encourage harvest of certain sizes of fish and limit harvest of others, with the desired outcome of producing a better overall fishery. However, if anglers refuse to harvest target-size fish, it defeats the purpose of the slot limit and leads to an overabundance of small fish and limited numbers of desirable-size fish.
"Cave Run Lake is still holding strong as far as the bass population goes," said Tom Timmerman, KDFWR biologist. "We see good numbers of bigger fish and there is still heavy recruitment on the lake. Anglers would see a benefit as far as growth rates of fish are concerned, which would result in more fish over the upper slot limit, if they would keep several messes of fish under the 13-inch mark and work on keeping some of the spotted bass.
The recruitment is among the highest in the state, resulting in slow growth rates, which is among the lowest in the state.
Jeff Crosby, program coordinator and fishery biologist for the Central Fisheries District, says the forecast for Taylorsville, Herrington and Guist Creek lakes are all very good.
"The numbers of quality-sized bass, greater than 15 inches, have increased and have remained at these levels over the past several years at Taylorsville Lake," said Crosby. "We expect these quality-sized largemouth bass numbers to remain at these levels due to stable recruitment observed over the past several years."
Herrington Lake and Guist Creek Lake remain very stable with excellent numbers of keeper bass, greater than 12 inches, and quality-size bass, greater than 15 inches, observed during spring sampling.
According to the last official forecast, Guist Creek Lake was rated good/excellent with very good numbers of largemouth bass above the 12-inch minimum. The potential for quality-size bass and even trophy-caliber bass is excellent. Herrington Lake bass were also rated good/excellent with good numbers of bass over 12 inches and many over 15 inches. The bass fishery at Taylorsville was rated good with very good numbers of 12- to 15-inch fish and good numbers of 15- to 18-inch fish.
"In the Eastern Fisheries District, the most consistent largemouth bass fishery would be Yatesville Lake," said Kevin Frey, Eastern Fisheries District biologist. "For a largemouth bass fishery with a current trend of increasing keeper fish numbers, then it would be Dewey Lake. Most lakes during the 2000s have been in a downward trend for spotted bass and smallmouth numbers. However, if targeting a lake for keeper-size spotted bass, then go to Carr Creek Lake. If target is keeper-size smallmouth bass, then try Fishtrap Lake."
According to Frey, Yatesville and Dewey lakes have had largemouth bass population assessments of "good" for last couple of years.
"The main prey or forage for largemouth bass in both lakes is gizzard shad and bluegill," said Frey. "Secondary or minor additional prey items for largemouth bass are log perch in both lakes if they elect to feed on the bottom and brook silversides at water surface."
There are a lot of mud flats in both lakes, as well as numerous points and channel break lines with the long, winding, narrow lakes. Both lakes also have some old submerged roadbeds and Yatesville has numerous coves with dead standing timber. Yatesville Lake has a good deal more scattered weed beds to fish.
"Yatesville offers double the acreage of Dewey, and some additional types of habitats have kept it a good, consistent producer throughout the 2000s," said Frey. "Dewey has had some ups and downs, but is on a current good or upward trend. Both lakes are monitored annually for reproduction and recruitment, and supplemental fingerling largemouth bass stocking is done when necessary to try to keep the fisheries as consistent as possible."
The largemouth bass fishery is doing very good at Nolin Lake according to Northwestern Fisheries District Program Coordinator Rob Rold.
"The number of largemouths over 15 inches collected during the spring sampling was higher than it's been in many years," said Rob Rold, Northwestern Fisheries District Program coordinator. "The number of largemouths 12 to 15 inches is up as well, so there is a good number of fish coming on. The number of largemouth bass over 20 inches has held steady for the last couple of years and is higher than it has been for the last several years."
The last sampling of Rough River Lake was in 2016, but data suggests the population is doing very well and has been holding steady the last few years, though numbers of bass over 15 inches and over 20 inches was down a bit. The area will be sampled again in 2018.
The Lake Malone bass population has held steady for several years. It always ranks as the best bass fishery in the district, but it is difficult to fish. Lots of quality bass are available, though.
"On Lake Cumberland, we had a high catch rate of largemouth bass over 15 inches, and fish up to 20 inches during our spring sampling last year," said Marcy Anderson, KDFWR fishery biologist. "Overall, the largemouth bass population looks good. There are good numbers of smallmouth bass in the lake with fish observed up to 20 inches during sampling. Although we struggle to sample smallmouth bass on both Cumberland and Laurel River Lake in the spring, anglers are still catching good numbers of smallies."
The biologist says the largemouth bass population at Laurel River Lake continues to impress. They have had consistently good catches of largemouth bass greater than 15 inches for the past decade. Combined with good numbers of 12- to 15-inch bass, the trend is expected to continue. There are still good numbers of smallmouth bass in the lake, but Laurel can be a tough lake to fish.
Although the largemouth bass population has plateaued at Cedar Creek Lake, it is still a good option for catching big fish. It is the best lake in the Southeast District for catching bass over 15 inches.
"During the spring sample, we had a catch rate of 35.3 fish per hour of fish over 15 inches," said Anderson. "We've had some good year classes the last couple of years, so fishing at Cedar Creek should be good for the next few years."
"Green River Lake's bass fishery looks very good, excellent according to in-house rating/assessment, with a very good largemouth bass spawn last year," said fisheries biologist Eric Cummins. "Coupled with good spawns from 2015 and 2014, it makes the future look bright."
Barren River Lake bass fishery also looks very good. Excellent spawns from 2013 and 2016, give good big fish potential and good future prospects. Population of 15-inch-plus fish is slightly dampened, but still remains high when compared to other bass destinations in Kentucky."
Though they are not top bass fisheries on most folk's radars, Metcalfe County Lake and Mill Creek Lake are consistent big bass producers.
"Metcalfe County Lake produces the best conditioned, fattest, bass in our area of the state," said Cummins. "However, they can be difficult to catch due to high abundance of prey.Metcalfe and Mill Creek lakes are within a half-hour drive of one another, making for a good day's fishing."