Water temperatures across the state are slowly edging upwards and that means bass fishing is sure to be improving over the next few weeks. Here is our look at some of the best bets for bass fishing in Kentucky this year.
KENTUCKY & BARKLEY BASS FISHING
Starting with our two big twin lakes out in the western end, the short version is bass fishing there is still great. The largemouth fisheries at Kentucky and Barkley are rated excellent and the opportunity to catch a true trophy is very good. That said, there have been a few hiccups.
The size distribution at both lakes is very similar, according to Adam Martin, the fishery biologist in the Western District for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). There are a lot of big fish and lots of small fish, but not a lot in between. Martin said anglers are finding it difficult to catch great numbers of bass, but the winning tournament weights are still very high and in some cases record-setting.
At the end of 2017, there were very few shad left due to the overabundance of Asian carp. However, the shad populations rebounded last year, which really helped improve the quality of largemouths toward the end of the year. Additionally, the KDFWR began trying out some new fish habitat techniques last fall and winter that they hope will improve the inconsistent spawns seen at the big lakes in recent years.
The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) also began stocking Florida-strain largemouths into the southern portion of Kentucky Lake recently. Martin said the KDFWR is closely watching the stocking efforts. He said, “I am very skeptical of their suitability to a lake as far north as Kentucky Lake, but TWRA will be doing some follow-up genetic tests to determine whether they are successfully creating an ‘intergrade’ population.”
3 RIVER LAKES FOR BASS
The largemouth fishery at Barren River Lake is rated good/excellent and there are plenty of fish in the range of 15 to 17 inches. Biologist Eric Cummins said Barren was not sampled last spring due to high water, but early fall sampling suggested a good spawn of largemouths based on the number of young-of-the-year bass. The largest sampling of these fingerlings occurred in the Beaver Creek area of the lake. Barren also had a very good spawn in 2016, one of the top five recruiting classes seen there in the last 20 years, so those fish will provide excellent quality bigmouths this year.
A set of twin lakes in the west, Nolin River and Rough River, are both rated good and there are abundant numbers of bass at both lakes. The numbers of bass between 15 and 20 inches is increasing at Nolin River Lake and the numbers over 20 inches are very good. Biologist Rob Rold said the largemouth population looks as good as it has in the past 17 years.
“Discounting the normal annual variability, we have more fish greater than 15 inches and greater than 20 inches in the population than we’ve ever had. This trend began in the late 1990s when we implemented the 15-inch size limit.”
Bass numbers and sizes are also above average at Rough. It has been several years since any of these lakes have been creel surveyed, but one was implemented at Rough last year. The results are not yet available, but early on the creel clerk reported “many nice largemouths caught there, especially in the spring and summer.”
NORTHWEST AND CENTRAL BASS
Regarding the Northwestern Fishery District, Rold said, “Our best bass lake, as it always has been, remains Lake Malone. Electrofishing catch rates range from 40 to 60 fish per hour for largemouths greater than 15 inches and from 6 to 9 fish per hour for largemouths greater than 20 inches.” The bass fishery there is rated excellent by the KDFWR assessment system.
“The top lakes in the Central Fisheries District for largemouth bass are Kincaid, Bullock Pen, Guist Creek, Taylorsville, Elmer Davis and Herrington Lake,” said biologist Jeff Crosby. “In my opinion, Kincaid, Bullock Pen and Guist Creek lakes are the standout largemouth bass fisheries in the Central Fisheries District. These fisheries are stable and continue to produce good numbers of quality size fish in these lakes, as well as good, stable tournament fishing results.”
Kincaid led the way in sampling results for highest number of bass caught over 20 inches, over 15 inches and over 12 inches. Bullock Pen, Guist Creek and Elmer Davis locked down the second, third and fourth spots in all three categories. The two bigger reservoirs, Herrington and Taylorsville, placed fifth and sixth respectively in the categories of over 20, over 15 and over 12.
GREEN RIVER & MORE
Green River Lake remains one of the top bass destinations in the state and is rated excellent by the KDFWR. Cummins said the lake had a very good spawn in 2016 and these fish should creep into the 15-inch size range during 2019 and add to an already exceptional quality bass fishery. Incidentally, the spawn of 2016 was the second-best recruiting class in the last 20 years at Green.
Cave Run Lake has a high abundance of small fish and a few “over fish” as indicated by sampling, according to biologist Tom Timmerman.
“Anglers need to understand that the data we collect and the creel surveys are showing high numbers of smaller fish, too many, and they need to be harvested out. With an increase in angler harvest of the smaller fish, we will see an increase in the numbers of larger fish. That being said, since the implementation of the slot limit, we have seen an increase in the numbers of fish over 15 inches and over 20 inches.
“Anglers need to trust our regulations and harvest smaller bass when a slot limit is in place. The fact of the matter is that our electrofishing surveys collect thousands of fish year after year after year. We know what is out there and our regulations reflect what is best for the population.
Anglers can help themselves by abiding by, and working with, the regulations and the management strategies in place.”
On Lake Cumberland, catch rates of largemouth bass sampled in the spring of 2018 were down compared to 2017. However, catch rates of largemouth bass over 15 inches is still high compared to the historical average and catch rates of largemouth bass over 20 inches has remained consistent over the last decade.
Spotted bass have really come on in Lake Cumberland the last few years, especially in the lower end of the lake near the dam. Catch rates of spotted bass over 14 inches in 2018 were the highest seen on Cumberland, according to biologist Marcy Anderson. KDFWR collected fish in the 17-inch class last spring. This lake holds and abundance of spots in the 11- to 14-inch range, so spotted bass fishing on Lake Cumberland should be good the next several years.
The fisheries for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass are all rated good at Laurel River Lake. The lake is known for catches of quality smallmouths, but Laurel has been consistently producing largemouths over 15 inches for the last decade. The KDFWR began aging some of the largemouths last fall and there has also been a creel survey ongoing at the lake to see what anglers are catching and to get their opinion on the fishery.
“At Cedar Creek Lake, the number of large fish continues to decline; however, it remains one of the best options for catching large fish in Southeast Kentucky,” said Anderson. “Catch rates of bass over 15 inches dropped to 32.7 fish per hour in 2018, which is lower than the historical average for the lake. We had a few years of low recruitment from 2011-2014, which may be one of the reasons we are seeing lower numbers in the 12- to 15-inch size range at Cedar Creek Lake right now. There have been some strong year classes recently, which should help bolster the bass population going forward.”
EASTERN DISTRICT BASS
In the Eastern Fisheries District, Yatesville Lake remains the standout bass fishery again this year. This lake gets pounded with fishing pressure, yet the largemouth fishery still maintains a rating of good each year. Biologist Kevin Frey said the largemouth fishery is on the cusp of getting an excellent rating. There are also smaller populations of smallmouths and spotted bass.
Other lakes in the area to consider are Dewey Lake and Fishtrap Lake, both of which have largemouth fisheries with a rating of good. Dewey is seeing improving numbers of largemouths in the 15- to 20 inch range. Fishtrap has fair numbers of largemouths through an excellent size range. There is a population of smallmouths there too; they are in lower numbers than largemouth, but provide an excellent chance at a trophy up to 22 inches. Paintsville Lake’s bass fishery remains below the desired level, but this is an excellent place to land a 6- to 7-pound bigmouth in the springtime according to Frey.
These are our picks for this year, but this is far from a complete list. Space here does not allow us to cover all the great bass fishing available in Kentucky. Whether fishing one of our picks profiled here or another in-state favorite, there is lots of great bass fishing to be had in the Bluegrass State.
ASIAN CARP BARRIER
One of the largest concerns for anglers is the tremendous impact Asian carp are having on our sport fish. These fish have proliferated and spread at an alarming rate and agencies across the country have been scrambling to halt their progress through any means possible. Beginning this year, a type of barrier is being tested below Barkley Dam to judge its effectiveness at slowing the spread of these toxic invasive fish.
According to the KDFWR, “In response to the looming threat of invasions, several federal and state agencies and universities are working together to test a sound and air bubble system (bio-acoustic fish fence) that could be installed below lock chambers to deter fish passage. These systems have not been tested on Asian carp below dams, and the research is needed to assess the technology’s efficiency at reducing fish movement beyond the system.
Several agencies are combining funding, technology or staff to construct a research plan that should put a BAFF system in the downstream approach to the lock chamber in early 2019.