Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Reservoir smallmouth bass don’t mind the cold fronts
This is the fifth installment of a series of
articles titled “Fall Fishing Festival” profiling the productive fishing on
Kentucky’s lakes, rivers and streams in fall.
FRANKFORT, Ky. – A look at the surface
of Lake Cumberland right after dawn reveals a big, calm lake. Although the old
Cumberland River now lies under at least 100 feet of water throughout most of
the lake, the old river is still churning.
finds weakness as anyone with a leaky basement can attest. The water in that
long flooded river channel wiggled and shimmied through the porous rock at the
base of Wolf Creek Dam for decades, necessitating a drawdown and repair
beginning in 2007 and ended last year.
drawdown, saplings, bushes and other vegetation sprouted on the former lake
bottom. This vegetation is now submerged, providing habitat for young sport
fish, food for baitfish and ambush cover for predator fish such as the
burgeoning population of smallmouth bass in the lake.
Bruce Johnson, of
Richmond, grew up fishing and exploring Lake Cumberland from the back of his
grandfather’s farm along the West Fork of Indian Creek. Last Saturday near
Conley Bottom, he caught a 22-inch smallmouth bass, his largest ever.
“We were fishing
live shiners on the bottom on a gently sloping bank with cover,” Johnson said.
“The bank had saplings on it from when the lake was down. The fish was really
fat, it had gorged on shad.”
southeastern fishery district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and
Wildlife Resources, said the lake now holds more smallmouths longer than 20
inches, the minimum length to qualify in Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Trophy
“The drawdown put
the smallmouths in close approximation with the baitfish,” Williams explained.
“They are in excellent condition now. I predict a boom for all black bass in
the next few years in the lake.”
Fall, winter and
early spring are the best times to fish Lake Cumberland or any of Kentucky’s
other world class smallmouth lakes such as Laurel River Lake and Dale Hollow
Lake. Some of the largest specimens in the world swim in these lakes.
Hollow is one of the crown jewels of the smallmouth world, Williams said he
would choose Laurel River Lake for smallmouth larger than 6 pounds. “We hear
increasing reports of smallmouths in the 7-pound range coming from Laurel,” he
said. “It seems to improve each year.”
like the one that produced Johnson’s fish, are the places to fish now with
water temperatures on these lakes hovering around 60 degrees. Live alewives,
shad or shiners bottom fished on a slip sinker rig with a 1/0 circle hook work
well. Shiners rigged through the nose on a size 1 octopus style hook and cast
onto these banks produces many fish. Place two BB-sized split shots about 18
inches above the hook.
Circle hooks are
fine for still fishing, but for casting live bait, the octopus style hook works
points also hold big smallmouth bass in fall and winter on these lakes. Trophy
smallmouth suspend over these points, waiting for schools of shad or alewives
to cruise by and provide dinner. A 3-inch pearl Slider grub fished hook exposed
on a ¼-ounce ball head is deadly in this situation. Start fishing well off the
point and count the lure down in the water column. Points formed by a creek or
the old river channel are best.
Retrieve the lure
with a slow and steady cadence until you feel little pecks and nips from small
fish. Count the lure down a little deeper and retrieve in the same manner.
Eventually, you will hit the zone of actively feeding smallmouths.
produces large smallmouths in late fall and early winter. You can repeat this
pattern throughout the lake on similar points.
On Laurel River
Lake, the sloping banks and extended points around Hightop Boat Ramp in the
Laurel River arm of the lake, in the lower sections of Spruce Creek and the
long points near the dam are all excellent places to try.
Williams and crew
sampled some nice smallmouths in the Illwill Creek arm of Dale Hollow Lake
recently. The sloping banks and points in lower sections of Illwill and the
Wolf Creek arm hold smallmouth bass as do the channel points near Phillips
Any sloping bank
or extended point on Lake Cumberland from Fishing Creek to the dam produces
smallmouth bass in late fall.
Fishtrap Lake in
Pike County is a sleeper smallmouth bass lake with an improving population of
fish up to 22 inches. The lake undergoes a severe drawdown in fall, making the
lower section of the lake from Hurricane Creek down to the dam the best section
to fish during the cold months.
Don’t let the fall
winds get you down. They are blowing in the reservoir smallmouth season.