Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Five things to consider for reservoir smallmouth bass season
FRANKFORT, Ky. – The recent spate of rainy and somewhat
dismal days sends many minds toward the grim reality that winter is here to
Sunless, dreary days with bouts of
rain in December, January and February give most people the blues. However,
desolate winter days bring joy to the heart of a reservoir smallmouth bass
angler. These are the days to catch the big ones.
Kentucky is a blessed region for
smallmouth bass as the 11-pound, 15-ounce all-tackle world record came to the
net of Leitchfield’s David Hayes on a July morning in 1955 on Dale Hollow Lake.
The genetics of the upper Cumberland drainage produce some of the largest
specimens in the world and winter is arguably the best time to catch them.
Here are five simple tips that will
help get more smallmouths in your hand this winter.
The uglier the weather, the better: Leaden
skies that seem to scrape the tops of the tallest trees bring with them great
wintertime smallmouth bass fishing. The falling barometric pressure that
usually accompanies such conditions puts predator fish on the prowl. Dark clouds
that obliterate the sun limit light penetration into the depths of Kentucky’s
better smallmouth lakes such as Laurel River, Dale Hollow, Fishtrap, Green
River and Barren River, as well as Lake Cumberland. This creates better
conditions for predator fish to ambush prey. A light rain or snow makes this
scenario even more conducive to catching large smallmouth bass. Bright, shining
days just after a frontal passage often offer comfort, but are the worst days
Find the bait, find the smallmouth bass: Electronic
sonar units, commonly called “fish finders,” improve each year. Users can
manipulate the sensitivity of even inexpensive units to find schools of
baitfish in reservoirs. These resemble cotton balls on the screen. However,
astute anglers also look for gulls diving to the surface to discern the
location of baitfish. If all else fails, fishing a point near the old river
channel on the main lake presents a good chance of an angler intercepting a
school of roving baitfish and the smallmouth bass following it. Fishing points,
sloping banks or channel ledges near schools of baitfish greatly increases
angling efficiency and boost the chances of a large smallmouth striking your
lure. Dropping a jigging spoon or blade bait near the baitfish school often produces
Keep lure selection simple: One of
the best things about winter smallmouth fishing is you can fit a day’s worth of
productive lures in a cigar box. A selection of ½-ounce football jigs for
bottom fishing, some 3/16-ounce hair jigs for a swimming retrieve, a few blade
baits like the ½-ounce Silver Buddy, a couple of jigging spoons and a bag or
two of swimbaits with some ¼-ounce ball heads are all you need. These lures
consistently produce reservoir smallmouth bass all winter long. Concentrate on
fishing slowly and thoroughly probing likely smallmouth structures instead of
changing lures every half-hour. If all else fails, try live shiners or large
crappie minnows rigged on a size 1 Octopus-style hook with a few split shots
crimped about 18-inches above the hook.
Have the right mentality: Winter
fishing for smallmouth bass is a big fish game, not a numbers game. You’ll have
lulls in the fishing and a lot of empty casts. It is the nature of the game.
Boredom and frustration can worm their way into the mind and you’ll find
yourself going through the motions. Trophy smallmouth bass often bite when you
aren’t mentally prepared. Keep concentration on the task at hand, so you won’t
be flatfooted and consequently panicked when the 22-incher hits. This is
especially important during that prime time of 3:30 p.m. to dark. Smallmouth
anglers in winter often go fishless until this time of day, then land several
before dark with the shortest one measuring 19 inches. Keep on your toes and
mentally push through the lulls.
Big, deep water = big, fat smallmouth
bass: Large smallmouth bass use acres and acres of deep water as their
sanctuary much like white-tailed deer use heavy thickets. Anglers confused
about where to prospect for winter smallmouth bass should stick to the main
lake of the lower one-third of a reservoir nearest the dam. This is especially
true on Kentucky’s mid-depth hill-land smallmouth reservoirs such as Barren
River or Green River lakes. You can’t go wrong fishing main lake points or small
covelets just off the main lake nearest the old river channel in winter for
smallmouths. Anglers without boats can fish these areas from the bank in winter
with just a few lures or some large crappie minnows and do just as well as
those in expensive boats.
Florida and California offer largemouth bass anglers an authentic chance of
catching several larger than 10 pounds. Trout anglers fishing the reservoir
tailwaters of the Ozarks have an opportunity for the fish of a lifetime.
is one of the few places in the world where anglers can routinely catch
smallmouth bass heavier than 5 pounds with a chance at much larger fish. Its
waters produced the largest smallmouth ever caught and documented and produces
world class fish year after year.
out this winter and keep these simple tips in mind. A battle with a 5-pound
smallmouth bass on a December day sure beats remodeling the basement.