Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Along with the air temperatures, stream smallmouth bass fishing heating up
FRANKFORT, Ky. – With California Chrome
set to chase history in the Belmont Stakes this coming weekend, the stream
smallmouth fishing season is in full bloom.
A late spring following a brutally cold winter
caused some hit and miss stream smallmouth fishing this past spring. With the
warm winds of June now here, stream smallmouth are settling into their summer
patterns with water temperatures stabilizing in the mid 70s.
Years of perfect
flow conditions for reproduction bequeathed a quality cohort of smallmouth bass
14 inches and longer in Kentucky streams.
“We saw good
numbers of 14-, 15- and 16-inch smallmouth this spring in our Elkhorn Creek
population sampling,” said Jeff Crosby, central fisheries district biologist
for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We saw fish up to
18 inches and the overall catch rate was the highest since the mid-2000s.”
Those who love to
catch stream smallmouth bass are blessed to live in Kentucky. Many flowing
ribbons of smallmouth water course through our state. If a local stream has a
rocky bottom, pools and riffles and water at least waist deep in some holes, it
likely holds smallmouths. You can jump across many productive smallmouth
streams in Kentucky in spots. Most get little fishing pressure.
fishing boils the pursuit down to its essence and that is the beauty of it. No
electronic sonar units, GPS maps nor expensive boats needed. Just a handful of
lures, a light to medium-light power spinning outfit spooled with 6-pound line
and an ability to read flowing water is all you need. Choose a rod with a
forgiving tip and a strong butt section. Noodle rods don’t cut it for stream
Wading is a cheap
and highly productive way to fish these streams. Wading boots or a worn out
pair of hiking boots protect the feet while wading. Avoid open-toe sandals or
flip flops as your feet need a buffer from sharp rocks, glass or pieces of
barbed wire deposited in the stream bed during the last flood.
bass reside in three main places in summer: the flowing areas upstream and
downstream of a riffle and in the flowing shoals. The tranquil areas in deep
holes hold fish at rest, not those actively feeding.
The seam water
where fast water meets slow just downstream of a riffle is one of the highest
percentage spots to try in summer. Smallmouth bass will hang behind a rock, log
or undercut bank near these spots and scarf any disoriented baitfish, crawfish
or sculpin that comes tumbling downstream.
Work a black
4-inch finesse worm in this seam water by simply letting the current move the
worm. Use enough weight so the worm gently strikes bottom occasionally. A 1/8-ounce leadhead is a good start, but
switch to a 1/16-ounce if the current isn’t moving the worm and imparting a
3-inch curly-tailed grub worked in the same fashion draws strikes as well as
Beaver-style creature baits in the green pumpkin color.
After working the seam water below the riffle, wade upstream
above the riffle and cast these lures. Current breaks created by rocks, logs
and stumps should be probed as well as any small pocket holes.
pocked with rocks, cracks in the bottom and scour holes hold stream smallmouth
all summer long. Shoals with a good undercut bank running along one or both
sides of the stream is all the better. Rapala-style floating/diving crankbaits
are deadly in flowing shoals.
Work them with a
steady retrieve or with an aggressive pause and jerk. In low water, a gentle
twitch followed by a long pause works best. This lure draws them out from
behind in-stream rocks and undercut banks.
along undercut banks in flowing shoals make the most exciting stream smallmouth
fishing. The Rapala-style lures work well in this situation, but chuggers and
the cigar-shaped lures designed for the walk-the-dog retrieve work better.
Yellow and red colored deer hair poppers cast on a fly rod along these banks
also brings great sport.
Wade with stealth
in the low and clear conditions of summer. Wear drab clothing and move slowly.
Don’t create pressure waves from your body moving through the water too quickly
as these can spook smallmouths. Slide your feet along the bottom to avoid
lifting rocks with your toe that might slam the bottom when you wade.
For a list of
productive smallmouth streams and access spots, visit the Kentucky Fish and
Wildlife homepage at fw.ky.gov and
click on the “Fishing” tab.