March signals to most bass anglers an almost insatiable itch to get back on the water, because they know throughout the Bluegrass State, both largemouth and smallmouth are waking from their long winter naps, and they're hungry.
Only question is: Where are the places that "need to be scratched" most? Kentucky holds all or part of nearly 20 major reservoirs with 1,000 surface acres or more. Smaller lakes are in great abundance, and where waters tend to warm sooner, bass often become active earlier. Late March is one of the state's prime, trophy largemouth-catching periods, especially on what biologists call "state-owned" public waters.
Among all the choices, let's see what Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department fisheries managers have to say about what you can expect in 2015 across the Commonwealth, and highlight several waters where bucketmouth and bronzeback fishing should be good this year. Large or small, many locations offer excellent opportunities that anglers will want to get in on, starting very soon.
In 2014, one of Kentucky's most popular fishing and boating lakes was finally back up to snuff, after several years of being kept well below normal summer pool for major dam repairs. The prolonged drawdown period had many effects on Lake Cumberland, but most notably it allowed a tremendous amount of shoreline vegetative habitat to regenerate.
When the water came up last year and submerged more ground, small trees, bushes and other cover provided what bass (and other species) dearly love. Suddenly, there were more places to hide, spawn and feed.
"It would almost be impossible for that many positive factors to occur all at once, and the largemouth population not benefit," said John Williams, KDFWR district biologist. "With so much fluctuation in lake levels in recent past years, attempting to sample some species with any consistency has been really hit and miss. But, we do know that the bass population remained stable during that period, and going into 2015 as the second year of normal pool, we expect fishing to begin to significantly improve."
It will take some time to see what kind of results the new acreage and cover will have on largemouths, but Williams believes that the lake will experience something similar to a "new lake" effect, with potential increases in reproduction and growth rates, resulting in higher quality fish.
"I'd rather wait and see for sure, but it's a reasonable possibility that fishing in 2015 will be dynamite on Cumberland," William said.
Cumberland's 50,000 acres also offers one of the state's premier smallmouth fisheries, thanks to the coldwater habitat it holds. While some species that depend on cold water more heavily did not fare as well during the prolonged draw down, smallmouth were not as adversely affected. They, too, should thrive and be available in the newly opened habitat that the spring's rising lake levels will afford.
Elsewhere in the vicinity, Williams notes that Kentucky's one trophy largemouth managed lake is still producing some superb fish. Cedar Creek Lake will be monitored this year with a creel survey to keep continued watch on largemouth quality. Interestingly, it just so happens that Kentucky's only trophy largemouth lake (20-inch size limit) also happens to offer a good bit of bank fishing.
When the lake was developed, they attempted to make it as conducive to fishing of all kinds was kept in mind. As such, bank anglers can connect with a bass of a lifetime just as easily as guys sporting the most sophisticated means and methods. There is plenty of cover to fish from the shore, and both spring and fall brings largemouth in reach of the shallows.
Also nearby at Laurel River Lake, the biologist points to a trend of improved largemouth bass fishing over the past 10 years, and mentions that connecting with a few high-quality smallmouths should continue in 2015 as well.
"Laurel has actually turned into a pretty good bass lake for our region now, and anglers are doing better on bass in recent years, even though this is a deep, clear lake most of the time," said Williams.
The health of the largemouth fisheries in the north-central region, or the area, roughly between the Louisville, Lexington and Northern Kentucky triangle, will also be quite good, according to KDFWR Central District Fishery Biologist Jeff Crosby.
Despite what certainly qualifies as heavy fishing pressure, Crosby notes that at Taylorsville Lake the numbers of 15- to 18-inch bass are good as spring approaches the Bluegrass.
"We are seeing increasing numbers of bass greater than 4 pounds right now, and I think anglers are going to be pleased with what they find on Taylorsville over the course of the next year," said Crosby. "This would definitely be one of my top choices for bass, even though this reservoir is not terribly large and gets fished pretty hard."
Another hotspot Crosby notes in this region is Kincaid Lake, an approximately 180-acre "phenomenon" of a bass lake. One of the most stable high-quality largemouth fisheries anywhere in the state, Kincaid in Pendleton County continues to produce "excellent numbers of quality-size largemouth from 3 to 5 pounds," said Crosby.
It also has "a good potential for trophy largemouth bass from 7 to 8 pounds."
Why is it so phenomenal? Kincaid Lake has been managed under the statewide 12-inch minimum size limit on largemouth for years, and it's located in the middle of more anglers than any other region. Anglers tend to believe that a good bass lake must have a 15-inch minimum size limit, and not get hammered day in and day out to remain a good producer for nice largemouth. However, this is not always true.
Kincaid defies traditionally thinking, and is consistently at the top of the list for holding high-quality bass. More than its fair share it seems. Put it on your list for this time around, maybe a night summer trip working the banks with a plastic worm or lizard in June. Kincaid also has good bank access and camping, making it a good possibility for a summer weekend with the kids.
Looking back a bit, studies conducted in 2013 on Cave Run Lake indicate this reservoir in northeastern Kentucky to have electroshocking catch rates of bass over 15 inches and 20 inches that were higher than ever previously recorded. Since KDFWR fishery managers have been monitoring Cave Run Lake for a long time, that is a pretty big statement.
For 2015, many of the fish in this quality fishery will still be there, and it is clearly a top bass fishing choice. Biologists typically find larger-size bass in the North Fork and Licking River portions of the upper lake. Early in the season, fish rocky banks in these areas.
In other areas of the lake, good bass can be taken around woody structure, fallen trees and shoreline clutter, and around vegetation later in the summer. Topwaters on overcast days, or plastic worms at night along the edges of weed beds are excellent approaches. Remember that Cave Run is currently under a 13- to 16-inch protective slot limit on largemouth.
Casting eyes to the western third of Kentucky, it is very difficult to come across a major waterway where largemouth aren't expected to be in superb shape. Kentucky and Barkley lakes come to mind, because if there's anywhere anglers can catch bass consistently in Kentucky, it's in one or both of these mega lakes.
Paul Rister, KDFWR's biologist for the region says good year-classes in recent history and the general productivity of these twins means anglers should find an above average volume of 15-inch plus largemouths, and excellent numbers of 20-inch fish for 2015. However, the excellent numbers of really big bass caught in Kentucky or Barkley, simply doesn't give a true picture of just how good the fishing can be, and what's available.
In the spring, when the water comes up into shoreline brush or vegetation, anglers can catch good bass just about all day long under favorable conditions. In summer, largemouths are susceptible to floating plastic baits, topwaters and diving stick baits cast in the mouths of creeks, off points and into weed beds on overcast days, or early and late in the day.
"We're very fortunate to have the kind of bass fishing resources we have in western Kentucky," said Rister. "I have good confidence in what we've seen in the populations that 2015 will be another potentially incredible year for largemouth. These two lakes are so well suited for this species, and unless we just have some terribly unfortunate weather or other occurrence, like several bad spawning periods in a row, they are pretty resilient year to year, and provide great recreation for bass anglers, as well as other fishermen."
Anglers who want to fish a lake that is a tad smaller can move a bit further east of the sister lakes to Malone, which is at the top of the "state-owned" lake list for the potential of catching a trophy largemouth. It holds extremely good numbers of better than average largemouth, and is a traditional producer of bass 5 pounds and above, according to Rister.
Of course, anglers to many of these lakes, especially Kentucky and Barkley should watch the weather, as conditions can be dangerous at times.
To round out the best potential bass fishing locations in the Bluegrass for 2015, the last region to take a look at is in the west-central section of the state. There are essentially four major reservoirs, two in the south and two more in the north section of Kentucky. All four are getting very high marks for bass from biologists.
Green River Lake outside Campbellsville, a southern lake, is reported to have great numbers of largemouth above 15 inches, and again, better than average volume of fish over 20 inches. Another waterway in high cycle right now for both bass numbers and quality, an angler could do way worse, based on KDFWR reports, in selecting a place for a good chance of catching several large fish. Downed woody cover in the spring and fall, and rocky banks or points at night during the summer is productive.
Further west, Barren River Lake is the city of Glasgow's shining jewel, and it's nearly a carbon copy of what the story is on Green River. The bass fishery is in stable shape with very reasonable numbers of quality fish, and anglers can expect to take more 15- and 20-inch bass here, than are usually found in most other waters.
Traveling almost directly north to Nolin River Lake, and then Rough River Lake, bass anglers will find things much to their liking in 2015, with numerous harvestable size fish in both waiting to be boated. Though Nolin and Rough are ranked slightly behind other reservoirs in Kentucky, both are excellent lakes despite their proximity to Louisville. In fact, there is no reason to pull a boat 100 miles or more, considering the price of gas, when these lakes are so good.
Night time summer fishing is generally good on Nolin and Rough, and often big largemouth are found in very shallow water even when the weather and water gets hot in July and August. Look for fish cruising cover, or irregular rock shoreline features, where bass are searching for bluegill, shad or other easy prey after sundown.
As 2015 bass fishing gets set to kick into full swing, remember you have several very good options out there in about every nook of the state. For more information about facilities on these waters, the most recent news about fishing activity and biologists reports, visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department website or call 800-858-1549.
Be sure to ask about lake reports, regional biologist information and if fish attractor maps are available.