Kentucky continues to provide excellent bass fishing in virtually all of our managed lakes, plus there are lots of rivers, streams and farm ponds with good fishing as well. Here are two of the best of the best for outstanding April bassing — and a bonus choice in the eastern part of the state.
The bass fishery at Barkley is, year after year, one of the best in the region. Even when the fishery is cycling down a bit, it is still far above average compared to many other lakes.
The largemouth populations here is rated “excellent” by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR). The overall number of bass is down some compared to past numbers, but the potential for hooking a quality or trophy bass is still very high. Adam Martin, fishery biologist for the KDFWR, said there are lots of big fish and lots of small fish, but not a lot in between. This has made it difficult to catch large numbers of keeper bass, but even so, data from bass tournaments on the lake indicate there are still plenty of quality fish present.
The lake also produces some pretty hefty smallmouth each year. However, bronzebacks only make up a small percentage of the overall bass population, as the fishery is dominated by largemouths. Most of the smallmouths are found near riprap, other rocky locations and on main lake points. The smallmouth fishery is rated fair by the KDFWR.
One of the biggest problems anglers have had to contend with is the proliferation of Asian carp. The numbers of this invasive species have increased tremendously. In fact, year before last bass anglers were reporting a severe shortage of shad in the lake, although the forage fish did rebound a lot last year. Bass angler Gary Hightower said there have been many times he and his fishing partner pulled up on a spot to fish and there were so many Asian carp present, the anglers simply left the area.
Regardless of the ongoing battle with these carp, bass fishing on Lake Barkley is absolutely incredible in the spring. Largemouths begin moving out of deeper water and gradually making their way toward shallow water to spawn. However, this movement is dictated almost entirely by water temperature.
Hightower emphasizes this and adds that “spring can be a tricky time.” He has been fishing Barkley for many years, recreationally and as a tournament angler. He said, “It is spring, the water is warming and fish are starting to move. Water temperature and lake level need to be considered. A steady or even rising lake level as well as water temperature are constantly on my mind at this time of year.”
Bass often use points as they transition from deep water to the backs of coves because tapering points allow the fish to move up or down in the water column without having to travel much. They are first found on main lake points, then the first points near the mouths of coves and then progress to shallower water. Eventually they show up on shoreline structure, up in the many button ball bushes and even on some of the fish attractors placed in the lake.
Hightower said, “In April, I’ll start to look for fish on the points and work towards the back of the bay to see how far back I can get bit. With the electronics today, just idling and paying attention to your electronics can also be very helpful.”
There are a variety of baits and techniques that work well in April, but again what works best depends on water temperature and bass activity on a given day. Hightower always keeps a diverse selection on hand. Some favorites include spinnerbaits, crankbaits, lipless cranks, jigs and plastics.
“A creature bait like a Brush Hog on a Carolina rig works well, but a square bill crankbait can also be deadly at times. Pulling a jig or hopping it can also produce the bruiser bites that we are all looking for. Patience is the key for this time of year. Flats close to deep water have been tournament winners for me in the past. Fan casting with the baits I’ve mentioned across the flats can sometimes trigger a fish that is up shallow warming in the sun or feeding in preparation for the coming spawn. Rocky banks with chunk rock also tend to hold fish because the rock warms the water just like a flat.”
Stick with a 3/8-ounce or at most a 1/2-ounce spinnerbait in April. Chartreuse and white or just white tends to be the most productive on Barkley.
A trailer or stinger hook added to the back helps get a hookup on short strikes. Hightower added, “A 1/2- to 3/4-ounce lipless crank in red or hot mustard and a DT6 in hot mustard can also be good.”
GREEN RIVER LAKE
There is nothing but good news regarding the bass fishery at Green River Lake. The largemouth population is rated “excellent” by the KDFWR, and with good reason. There are lots of fish in the population throughout a wide size distribution, including trophy fish. The lake had good largemouth spawns in 2014 and 2015 and then an exceptional spawn in 2016. The 2016 spawn was the second-best recruiting class in the past 20 years. Fish from this latter spawn are edging into the keeper size range this year, so anglers should expect very good catch rates, plenty of keepers and frequent quality fish. KDFWR sampling indicated “exceptional numbers of 18-inch-plus fish.”
Along with the great largemouth fishery, anglers also enjoy catches of hefty smallmouths and spotted bass. Smallmouths are rated fair and spots are rated good. Numbers are lower on brown fish, but there are some really nice bronzebacks present in the fishery. Better than average numbers of spotted bass in the 12-inch range are present with some fish topping 15 inches.
Largemouths are widely distributed throughout the lake, so finding a good spot to hook into some bruiser bigmouths does not require a lot of travel. They are abundant from the head of Robinson Creek to the head of the river. Smallies are most abundant in the middle to lower sections of the Green River and Robinson Creek arms. Spotted bass are scattered, but the best numbers are in deeper water near the dam. They are also found along many of the rock walls, especially near the state park.
Like Hightower, Robbie Harmon is a local angler who has fished Green River Lake for many years and competes regularly in bass tournaments. In fact, he and his partner won the points race this past year in the Green River Bass Club. He loves fishing the lake year around, but spring is magic time.
Harmon said, “The biggest thing about April is warmer water temps. If Green River Lake gets a warm spring rain that raises the water in the shoreline cover, it can be unbelievable. With spring rains comes warmer water and coupling this with fish starting to eat for the spawn, April and May are fun months for largemouths.”
The best spring baits, according to Harmon, are spinnerbaits, flipping jigs and creature baits.
“The biggest factor when picking bait color is to consider the water clarity. Use black and darker colors when the water has a dirty tinge and green pumpkin, watermelon seed and brown when the water is clearer. Baits mimicking any kind of craw or lizard work fine and will produce bites.
“I prefer a white/chartreuse tandem blade spinnerbait in most all applications in the spring on Green. When water temps are cooler, I tend to slow it down and let the bait get lower in the water column so that lethargic fish don’t have to move as much to get it. I’ll even stop the bait in and around cover and let it flutter down. As the water warms, the retrieve can get faster and higher in the water column. Spinnerbait size usually ranges from 3/8- to 1/2-ounce. I like to fish 1/2-ounce spinnerbaits in deeper water or when fish are more active.”
Flipping is also a deadly technique this month. Jigs may not always produce the most bites, but sometimes they produce the big bite that makes the wait worthwhile. Patience and perseverance are key to success. Harmon suggests anglers concentrate on watching for the bite when flipping, because some fish may have just moved up and the bite is not always very detectable. Remember, by moving around and finding different water temperatures, the action and methods may be totally different from one location to the next.
Harmon added, “If Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate and give us high dirty water during April, I usually fish flats and rock walls close to spawning coves. When trying to cover water in the spring, I tend to lean on a mid-range crankbait, one that runs 6 to 12 feet, like a Norman Deep Little N or Strike King Series 4. If you like throwing a crankbait or fishing deeper water, keep in mind that not all fish move up at once and fish can still be caught out deeper in the spring. Fishing crankbaits on flats and rock walls or points will often produce good bites and the occasional smallmouth and spotted bass. As always keep an eye on shad and other forage such as bluegill and sunfish as bass are looking to feed up after the cooler weather and to get ready for the spawn.”
There are several ramps on the lake, but anglers new to Green River Lake, can do well by launching out of Holmes Bend Marina. It is a good ramp with plenty of parking, and best of all, it provides easy access to some of the best fishing spots on the lake. The marina also offers several lodging choices.
The largemouth fishery at 2,314-acre Yatesville Lake in Lawrence County has been rated good in recent years, but KDFWR fishery biologist Kevin Frey said the largemouth population is on the cusp of getting an excellent rating. There is very good size distribution and good numbers of 15- to 22-inch fish.
Some assessments indicate largemouths make up 97 percent of the bass population. There are some spotted bass available and the occasional smallmouth turns up on the end of a line or during fishery sampling efforts. This lake gets lots of bass fishing pressure from the tristate area of Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia, but Frey said the lake just continues to be a consistent producer of bass.
Primary forage for largemouths here are bluegills and gizzard shad, so baits resembling those food sources are always good bets. Some of the best fishing locations include near standing timber in coves, submerged roadbeds and, after rain, any flooded new grass or terrestrial vegetation. There are also fish habitat structures in the lake and GPS coordinates for these may be found on the KDFWR website.