Kentucky Fishing Heats Up When Fall Arrives
August 16, 2017
September is a great time to get on the water for some hot Kentucky fishing — the weather gets nice and fish actively feed to put on weight for the upcoming winter.
By Norm Minch
August in the Bluegrass State can temper most anglers' interest in being on the water, except possibly at night.
Hot air and hot water doesn't mean blazing fishing; it just means blazing.
However, when summer starts giving way to fall, anglers get renewed passion to greet the opportunities that September's cooler temperatures invite, meaning it is time to consider getting back on the water across the Commonwealth.
Connecting with Kentucky Lake bass in late July and August generally means fishing deeper water along main lake channels. Bass suspend in cooler water along cover. Cooler September evenings, though, bring water temperatures to more comfortable levels at the surface, which causes bass to spend more time in shallow water.
Rocky points and shorelines are attractive to largemouth early and late where bank cover and forage fish are found. When fish are feeding aggressively, cranking medium runners in shad and crawfish patterns is effective on gravel points adjacent to a creek channel. Fishing soft-plastic baits along shoreline cover or vegetation is another good way to pick up bass on cloudy days.
As September progresses, anglers should pay attention to baitfish locations, as largemouth won't be far behind. Often shad will school either off a point near the surface, or in the back of a bay depending on water conditions. Bass entering the fall feeding period keep pretty close tabs on food sources, staying on creek ledges, underwater humps, roadbeds and debris at the head of coves.
Kentucky Lake's largemouth population is in excellent shape, and well balanced between numbers of fish and size distribution. Western District Biologist Paul Rister advises nowhere else in his district provides better chances for a limit of high-quality bucketmouths in September and October.
"Our spring production over the last few years has given us a very positive effect for a sustained, very solid bass fishery," said Rister.
Another benefit, according to Rister, is that September also brings in the start of the archery deer season, dove season and other activities some sportsman begin taking part in rather than fishing. That lends to less activity on the water, which many times is key to more enjoyable fishing in many spots. After Labor Day Weekend, there is a noticeable difference in pressure on most all of the state's major reservoirs.
An early warm up this spring found many Taylorsville Lake anglers on the water, as crappie fishing was excellent in the shallow cover beginning in March. Mid-September on, crappie tend to return to the same type of habitat and water found in early spring, with fish staging up from deeper haunts as water cools a little more each day.
Fallen trees, stump beds and stick-ups in creeks hold crappie at mid-range depths throughout the fall. Fish that have spent a good bit of the summer suspended out on main lake channel drops begin to become less scattered and move to submerged creek cover, such as brushpiles. The fall urge to increase food intake takes them to shoreline cover, similar to spring when the spawn hits.
"It would be great if we could control it, but that's a little above our expertise," said Jeff Crosby, Central Fishery District biologist, speaking of the spring crappie spawns at state lakes. "We were, though, fortunate to see a very good 2015 spring spawn for both white and black crappie on Taylorsville."
What a good spawn means for anglers is that in the next couple of years, with good growth, crappie begin reaching the 9- and 10-inch range, providing keeper fish, which must be at least 9 inches at Taylorsville.
"I think 2017 will be a banner year for crappie, assuming we have normal fishing conditions," Crosby said. "We heard of good things this spring, and believe that the fall period should be just as productive."
Minnows and jigs are effective in brush during the fall period at Taylorsville, as crappie start to follow baitfish into shallow cover to put on fat for the upcoming winter. It's instinctive behavior for all types of fish, and it makes them more vulnerable. In addition to the 9-inch limit, remember that the daily creel on black and white crappie combined is 15 fish.
Catfish are often thought of as a mainstay summertime species because they remain active despite warm water temperatures. Most channels and flatheads, which are both found in Buckhorn in good abundance, get caught after dark along the banks and creek channels by fishing various live or organic baits, or using jugs, noodles and limb lines. These last methods are very popular in Eastern Kentucky reservoirs, including Buckhorn Lake near Hazard.
Catfish are also a very good bet during the fall when they move to heads of creeks around woody cover, or to the shallows of timbered coves around irregular rocky shorelines or riprap banks. At Buckhorn, the tailwater is quite good for catfishing as well, so don't overlook that opportunity.
Reports of flatheads in the 40- to 50-pound range are not unusual along main lake drop-offs at the mouths of creeks. Live sunfish work well, fished deep during the day near changes in bottom contour. Follow the main lake channel and locate sharper turns and spots where the main lake joins creek channels. Catfish tend to congregate in those areas during the day, before they move up closer to the bank at night to cruise downed trees, logs and other cover for food.
Some anglers troll live bait slowly over flats in open water adjacent to the main lake channel. The fall uptick in feeding pulls catfish up to where schools of baitfish cruise as water temperatures moderate. Watch for a shelf-like bottom, or flat areas at the tip of a sloping point, and vertically fish those areas or troll around the tip of the point just above the bottom.
Drifting cutbait near the dam is also productive. Low light periods are generally when channels are most active. Worms, nightcrawlers, chicken livers are all favorites for cats. Toss weighted lines out to the bank, and progressively fish deeper in the rocky bottom, or around other submerged cover, until finding the depth fish are holding.
Southeastern Fishery District Biologist John Williams says smallmouth bass at Lake Cumberland are doing well, and that anglers in the fall period will start picking up more fish as bronzebacks get back up on main lake points more consistently starting late this month.
"We still have a good number of fish in the population up to the 18-inch mark, and a respectable percentage of larger smallmouth," Williams said. "Progressively cooler water at the surface encourages smallies to come to the rocky points and nose out crawfish and pursue baitfish at medium depths."
Williams advises to avoid the bluebird days that often come in September, or stay with night fishing. Cumberland is an exceptionally clear lake in September, and tougher to fish in bright sunny conditions. Bouncing jigs down points with deep water access nearby, or using the float-n-fly method on cloudy days are two proven methods. Fishing continues to get better into October and early winter.
Those who like live bait fishing should drift large minnows on the bottom along the face of Wolf Creek Dam around bigger rock. Reports of large smallmouth being caught there during cooler months are common. Some fish can even be caught from the bank. Smallmouth prefer the colder water near the dam that is present year 'round, but will come shallow to feed when more of that habitat is available starting in September.
Anglers who embrace the challenge of the "fish of a thousand casts" return in earnest as muskie activity ramps up in September. Green River Lake, near Campbellsville, is one of only three major reservoirs these giants are found in Kentucky. There are several good methods to connect with muskie, although to take just two in a day is truly superb.
Fishing open water around remnant vegetation with large spinnerbaits is an excellent way to get the attention of a muskie looking for a meal. The flash and vibration sometimes attracts them from long distances, but many casts may have to be made to get them to commit.
Trolling big broken-back topwater plugs or deep-diving crankbaits in the creeks over standing timber are also good in autumn, and is also a good way to cover a lot of water fairly quickly. Don't be intimidated to run a bait through open water along the main lake banks, as muskie primarily use larger size baitfish for natural forage, and schools of shad are often found in open water near the top during autumn. Trolling is also a good approach to use.
KDFWR fisheries biologists are approaching the conclusion of a study begun in 2010 to determine the effect of modifying the minimum keeper size on muskellunge in three major reservoirs.
The muskie research project is to evaluate the response of muskie to the regulation change to a 36-inch minimum length limit across the board. Cave Run Lake and Green River Lake were formerly 30-inch length limits, while Buckhorn Lake was formerly a 40-inch length limit. The regulation changes started in spring 2010, with the research project ongoing through 2020, which is longer than most studies.
The length of the study is needed since muskie are a long-lived species that exist in low densities. KDFWR hopes to see an overall increase in the number of fish between 30 and 36 inches and greater than previously occurred, and likewise create an increase in angler satisfaction.
The three lakes are stocked annually with 12-inch muskie at .33 fish per acre. Each individual year-class is marked to allow biologists to track the condition of the fish and various population parameters. Annual sampling at each lake, with a minimum of two creel surveys will continue throughout the study period. — Norm Minch
One plus of going after muskie at Green River at the onset of the fall cool down is that bigger muskie seem to be taken more often.
"We have a fair number of legal-size fish, and the fall is also excellent for chances of a trophy class 40-inch-plus muskie," said Eric Cummins, KDFWR southwestern fishery district biologist.
Muskie don't reproduce in Green River, but the fish and wildlife department stocks fish each year to maintain the population.
Bass anglers catch a fair percentage of muskie when fishing shoreline cover in the creeks on big crankbaits, as muskie are a woody cover oriented fish and use the same kind of habitat as largemouth when surface temperatures are in the 60s to mid-70s.
Good fishing comes in many forms when September nights moderate water temperatures stimulate fish to be more active. A general key to successful fall outings is to be observant of what the food fish are doing, and where they are found. This time of year is crucial to the survival of fish through winter. Predators stay in close contact with food sources as tougher times near, as nature tells them eating is becoming more important as the weeks pass, which is great news for anglers.
Read more articles by Norm Minch