Running Bass Down on Cave Run: Take Your Pick

Running Bass Down on Cave Run: Take Your Pick
Infographic by Allen Hansen

kentucky bass
Cave Run Lake in Kentucky supports fishing for all three main black bass species, including largemouth bass. (Photo by Scott Bernarde)

Kentucky anglers are lucky to have so many good choices for bass fishing. Among those choices and one of the state's larger reservoirs, Cave Run Lake's 8,000 plus acres offer plenty of opportunity this spring to catch largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass.


Not all of the state's lakes are able to support the three varieties of black bass, since it requires both warm- and cold-water habitat. Cave Run does, however, giving bass fisherman a broad range of action that spans all year 'round.



The spring draws much attention on Cave Run mostly focused on largemouth, and in May anglers on different portions of the lake may find these bass either in pre-spawn, spawning or even post spawn modes. Each stage requires a different approach to be successful, and to know which to use at a given time during the month, observation of water temperatures and fish activity is important.

Regardless if bass are about to go on the nest, already in the process or just coming off the beds, most will be found in feeder creeks, on points and in the backs of coves. It is likely a portion of the bass will be highly aggressive, some nearly impossible to interest and others already starting to look for deeper habitat during the daytime as the month wears on.


>>Read more about Kentucky Bass Fishing

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's Tom Timmerman, district fisheries biologist for the Northeast Region of the state, says regardless of what stage anglers find largemouth, there are a few major keys in catching bass on Cave Run anglers should keep in mind.


"First, I'd try to get away from where everyone else is fishing, not be afraid to try something other than the usual fare, and learn where the habitat is," said Timmerman. "As far as habitat goes, all fish are utilizing habitat at some point. You have to fish it, and move on if nothing is happening."

In early May, fishing bank and shoreline cover in the creeks with spinnerbaits and jig combinations for feeding bass prior to going on the nest is effective. Stick up timber, stumps and woody debris in the backs of coves can be productive. Using soft plastics along the bank fished super slow for bedding bass is a proven tactic.

Bass in post-spawn generally begin to move off the banks to deeper habitat, which is one item Timmerman and many area lake "partners" have helped improve in recent years.

"We began the habitat improvement project here in 2013 and finished our initial round last year," Timmerman explained. "The focus was on the lower lake portion, primarily between the confluence of the Licking River and Beaver Creek down toward the dam."

The KDFWR has had a long-term Christmas tree donation program across the state, where anyone needing to dispose of a tree can drop it off to create fish attractors. Over the years, biologists have become pretty creative in trying various combinations of materials and researching which work best in what situations to hold fish.

"The key to improving fishing and the population is having a variety of habitat, and since our fisheries are diverse in Cave Run, the effort is aimed at helping all the species, including the black basses," said Timmerman.

Bass anglers have already begun seeing improved success. Timmerman notes most are having the best success boating bass off the submerged habitat at times and depths where baitfish are present as well.

"This is why I suggest checking your graph frequently when you locate underwater cover, and determining if there are baitfish on it," said Timmerman. "If not, I move to the next bunch of stuff, look, fish it a bit and stay mobile until I find bass, and then follow that pattern."

He believes the anglers who are on the water during all seasons will have the most consistent good outings. If anglers keep track of what depth they catch bass, on what kind of structure and the conditions at specific times of the year, the chances greatly improve later when conditions are similar.

"Interestingly, from a biological standpoint, Cave Run is one of the best lakes in Kentucky for bass production according to how many younger fish we see anglers catching," Timmerman said. "But, we are likewise similar to most lakes in this third of Kentucky, and our growth rates are significantly slower than other more fertile reservoirs west of us."

bass fishing

Those two factors are primarily what warrants the current 13- to 16-inch slot limit for largemouth on Cave Run. That approach is designed to remove a portion of the smaller fish and reduce the competition for food, so those left can grow into higher quality bass, giving anglers a better percentage of the high-quality bass over 16 inches to pursue.

"Spring fishing, particularly in May, can be a situation where you've potentially got to prepare that bass may be about to spawn, in the spawn or past the spawn" said Mike Hardin, a frequent visitor to Cave Run and KDFWR assistant director for the agency's fisheries division.

Hardin reminds anglers to pay special attention to the water temperature and color, because the hills and hollows can shade portions of the lake and make a big difference in surface temperatures.

"Just a three- to five-degree difference can make a lot of difference in what the bass are doing, and where the more active fish might be," said Hardin. "The larger bass are going to want to be in water that is more comfortable, and almost always associated with some kind of cover as they come in to the banks."

Pro Angler Brandon Palaniuk: Adjust for Changing Conditions

Named in honor of the agency's first fishery biologist Minor E. Clark, who became KDFWR Commissioner in 1958, the 300-acre fish hatchery facility at Cave Run Lake operates 124 acres of ponds.

The Clark hatchery is one of the largest state-owned, warm-water facilities of its kind in the United States. It's located eight miles southwest of Morehead on KY 801, and open for public tour weekdays from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

This hatchery produces 4 to 5 million fingerling fish each year, including striped bass, hybrid stripers, walleye, white bass, muskie, largemouth, smallmouth and crappie. These fish are raised to specific sizes based on need, and released in various waters statewide. 

Interestingly, the facility also produces thousands of pounds of minnows and goldfish used to feed sportfish until they are ready to be loaded, trucked and released for anglers to eventually catch in a lake, river or tailwater in the Commonwealth.

Clark is one of two state-owned and operated hatcheries by the KDFWR, in addition to the federally operated and state supported Wolf Creek Hatchery at Lake Cumberland.

Get Your Fish On.

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