Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Striped bass coming back in Lake Cumberland
– A jointed Thunderstick or Redfin lure slowly worked on the surface along
a main lake bank on Lake Cumberland at 3 a.m. in late April may provoke a
reaction from a striped bass that feels like it could rip your arm off your
The savagery of a
surface strike from a striped bass on a late spring night on Lake Cumberland is
one of the outdoor experiences that sears into the brain, leaving a lifelong
scar that itches every April.
The U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers completed the repair work on Wolf Creek Dam in the past year
and the lake level is inching its way back up, making the striped bass happy.
“It looks full to
the eye,” said John Williams, southeastern fisheries district biologist for the
Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “I think it is going to be
a really good year for striped bass fishing.”
Now, with lake
levels approaching the historic summer pool, the stripers are gorging
“The striped bass
are much healthier this year with better body condition and better growth,”
Williams said. “Most anglers will notice a significant increase in size this
year over last year. They grew better last year than the year before and I
think the water quality is even better this year.”
population sampling for striped bass revealed a good population of fish from 25
to 32 inches long. “A couple of years ago, it was all 22 to 25 inchers,” he
explained. “I don’t think they will be throwing many back this year.”
22-inch minimum size limit with a two fish daily creel limit is in effect on
striped bass in Lake Cumberland.
Anglers right now
are catching striped bass in the back of creeks by trolling live shad or
alewives on down rods or planer boards from 5 to 25 feet deep. Stripers are
also striking white doll flies cast to the banks in the creeks.
Live shad or
alewives fished on the bottom on secondary points in the creeks also draw
striped bass right now. Williams said they saw many stripers along the face of
the dam recently during largemouth bass population sampling.
The night fishing
bite is just starting.
haven’t really come up yet, so the night fishing for stripers hasn’t really
taken off,” Williams explained. “They are catching some right now, but the
cooler nights we’ve had will spread out the night bite out longer this year.”
The lower lake
levels during the drawdown impacted the regionally renowned night fishing for
striped bass on Lake Cumberland. The areas where striped bass at night used to
pin spawning alewives and shad against the surface and rip through them changed
during the drawdown.
“If the bait is
not there, the stripers will not be there,” said Ryan Oster, fisheries program
coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “I believe that many of those bluff
banks that people used to fish became more of a sloping bank during the
drawdown. They didn’t draw the spawning baitfish like before.”
anglers toss 5- to 7-inch medium-depth running crankbaits such as the Rapala
Sliver along bluffs, steep banks and deep points earlier in the season. Stripers
move progressively shallower as April moves into May, but always listen for the
sound of striped bass hitting the surface.
If you hear
something that makes you think someone dropped a large creek rock into the lake
from a plane at 5,000 feet, then a striper just hit on top.
Switch to long,
minnow-shaped lures such as the Redfin or the Jointed Thunderstick and fish
them slow enough to barely create any action from the lure. Hold on tight to
hook themselves from their fierce strike, but resist the temptation to set the
hook immediately. Feel the weight of the fish before setting the hook. Large
walleye, many of them well over 5 pounds, often hit these lures at night as
well. If you set the hook too fast, you will lose the walleye. If you miss one
and the lure has sharp scratch marks on it, you just lost a walleye.
“The night fishing
usually lasts up until the end of May and sometime into June, but I think it
will last longer this year,” Williams said. “Night striper anglers now have to
contend with all of the flooded trees that make it difficult to cast a lure to
the bank. The fish are there, but finding the right bank that you can
effectively fish is key.”