Thursday July 25, 2024
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Now that the Kentucky-based teams are no longer in the NCAA basketball tournament, the Final Four isn’t nearly as exciting, and somewhat depressing, to watch.

The best cure for any bruised feelings left by March Madness is to get out in early April and chase largemouth bass. A huge largemouth bass shaking its head vigorously trying to throw your white spinnerbait soothes any broken basketball heart.

Water temperatures range from 52 degrees at Lake Cumberland in the east to 58 degrees on Kentucky Lake in the west. In other words, it is prime time.

“With water temperatures in the mid-50s, the big female largemouth bass are staging,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of Fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “They are moving from their deeper winter locations to spawning locations in the shallows. They definitely work their way shallow in stages, but a cold front can push them back for a short period.”

At this time of year, the male largemouth bass move shallow first to build nests, followed by the female bass to lay their eggs.

“Recently, I caught a lot of largemouth bass, but they were all small male bass,” said Easton Copley, aquatic education program coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “When you look at their lips, they were roughed up and bloodied. They looked like they had lipstick on them from making spawning beds.”

Copley recommends looking for those staging areas to catch the large female largemouths. Female largemouth bass stage where large mud flats drop-off into deeper water. This is especially true on smaller state-owned lakes.

“At this time of year, I am not looking for numbers of bass,” Copley explained. “I am fishing for big females.”

Ross said to hit the secondary points or ledges near shallow water on the larger reservoirs, such as Kentucky Lake or Barren River Lake. “When the females hit those secondary points in spring, they are pretty close to spawning,” he said.

Copley said when water temperatures climb to 60 degrees, the larger female bass move into their shallow water spawning areas. “I look for rocky banks and transitional banks from rocky to mud,” he said. “If you can find a laydown tree on this kind of bank, all the better.”

Copley throws a variety of lures when spawning bass are up shallow. “I’ve caught a lot of bass on a square-billed crankbait in the Sexy Shad color,” he said. “I also catch quite a few on jigs. Black and blue is my go-to jig color for lakes with some color to the water. In clear water, I like the Cumberland Craw color for my jigs at this time of year.”

White spinnerbaits with a white and chartreuse trailer also draw strikes from shallow spring largemouth bass.

“When the bite gets tough, I pull out a Shakey head with a black and blue 7-inch straight-tailed worm,” Copley said.

Anglers who plan to release their catch need to release the female largemouth bass back to the same area during the spawn. “Take a photo and get them back in the water as soon as possible so they can get back to their spawning,” Copley said. “They are full of eggs.”

Kentucky anglers have oodles of options to catch spring largemouth bass. Check the 2017 Fishing Forecast

Photo: Kentucky Department Fish and Wildlife

for productive largemouth bass lakes near you.

Copley’s favorite lake is south-central Kentucky’s Green River Lake. He also likes 784-acre Cedar Creek Lake in Lincoln County. “Guist Creek Lake near Shelbyville has lots of big fish, but can be tough to fish because of high fishing pressure,” he said.

Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley ranked number 4 in the Southeast Region for 2016 on Bassmaster Magazine’s Best Bass Lakes in the Country rankings. These lakes offer arguably the best chance in Kentucky to catch largemouth bass 4 pounds and larger

“We have many lakes where you don’t need a 20-foot bass boat to catch a big bass,” Ross explained. “Our smaller state-owned lakes, such as Kincaid Lake in northern Kentucky and Lake Malone in western Kentucky, are trophy largemouth bass lakes. Both of these lakes have excellent facilities for anglers at Lake Malone State Park and Kincaid Lake State Park. Beshear Lake, mainly located inside Pennyrile State Forest in western Kentucky, is always a big bass producer. Cranks Creek Lake in southeastern Kentucky also has some huge bass in it.”

The Final Four may be a bummer for Kentuckians this year, but warm days and trophy largemouth bass will put the NCAA tournament in the rearview mirror.

Remember to buy your 2017-2018 fishing license if you haven’t already.

Photo: KDF

Spring break for many conjures thoughts of traveling somewhere warm and catnapping on a beach between rounds of golf.

A staycation sounds much better if you’re a muskellunge angler from Kentucky. The state’s muskellunge fishery has earned a reputation that extends beyond its borders, and experienced anglers know spring is one of the can’t-miss times of the year.

“Your odds of catching a trophy are better in the spring and fall,” said Tom Timmermann, northeastern fisheries district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “In the fall, they’re packing on that weight to get through the winter. In the spring, if you catch those females before they release their eggs, they’re full of eggs. Either way, you’re looking at a chance at some bigger fish.”

Kentucky lies within the natural range of the Ohio strain of muskie, but the population in lakes and streams now is supported with stocking.

The bloodlines of these young predators trace to broodstock collected each spring from the Licking River. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Minor Clark Fish Hatchery at the foot of Cave Run Lake Dam raises every muskellunge stocked in Kentucky.

Buckhorn, Cave Run, Dewey and Green River lakes are managed as trophy fisheries and there is a 36-inch minimum size limit in place on each. A 30-inch size limit for muskellunge is in effect elsewhere in the state

Cave Run Lake reaches into parts of Bath, Menifee, Morgan and Rowan counties and it produced the current state record in 2008. The 47-pound bruiser measured 54 inches.

Mike Hardin grew up fishing the lake and this past fall released a 50-incher caught on a homemade inline spinner.

“I believe they’re probably right there and ready to go pretty soon,” said Hardin, an assistant fisheries division director with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The cold weather may slow things down a little bit but they’re already making that march.”

The longer periods of daylight and water temperatures climbing past 50 degrees trigger the muskellunge’s instincts to move shallow. Many anglers do well focusing on larger embayments, secondary cuts and flats because they warm up first.

Look for areas that offer food, vegetation or timber, warmer water and close proximity to deeper water. Scotts Creek, Warix Run, Buck Creek and Leatherwood on Cave Run Lake are popular spots in spring. Start at the points and work back to the shallows, casting to the bank and any structure or sub-surface features along the way.

“Those fish run up into the hollows seeking that flowing water,” Timmermann said. “The males are up there early and the females come up second. If you see a bunch of males, you know you’re still a little ways off from the big fish getting up there.”

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is studying the impact of a 2010 regulation change that adjusted the size limits on Buckhorn, Cave Run and Green River lakes to 36 inches.

The same size limit went into effect last year on Dewey Lake in Floyd County. It is maturing as a muskie fishery after receiving its first muskie stocking in 2014. Sampling conducted this past fall found some of those fish had reached the minimum size limit.

At Buckhorn Lake in Leslie and Perry counties, catch rates have been better in the lower lake due to the habitat. “We have some larger shallow flats and there’s a lot of woody debris on those,” Kentucky Fish and Wildlife fisheries biologist Joseph Zimmerman said.

At Green River Lake in Adair and Taylor counties, the areas around the Emerald Isle and state marinas produce some of the better catch rates on the lake while the upper reaches of the Robinson Creek, Casey Creek and Green River arms offer large shallow flats worth exploring.

“The area behind the state marina is a good spot,” said Eric Cummins, southwestern fisheries district biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “It’s wind protected and heats up quicker than some other parts of the lake.

“In the upper ends of the lake, you have warmer water dumping in at the mouths of those feeder creeks. If you have some stained water, muskie will slide up a little shallower and generally be more available to your shallower presentations.”

Many a bass angler pitching a crankbait or plastic frog has been surprised by a muskie. To have a fighting chance, it’s best to pair a 6-foot-6 or longer medium-heavy or heavy action rod with a 4.2:1 or 5.2:1 ratio baitcasting reel spooled with 65-pound or heavier braid. Wire leaders of 9- to 18-inches are a necessity because of the muskie’s sharp teeth.

Up-sized rattling lipless crankbaits, large soft-plastic swimbaits, minnow-imitating crankbaits, jerk and glide baits, spinnerbaits and in-line spinners are enough to cover just about any situation in the spring.

Anglers should dip the rod tip into the water as a lure gets to within a few feet of the boat and draw a figure eight. Muskie are prone to stalk a lure and the figure eight can entice a boat-side strike.

“I don’t know how many fish I’ve had hit right at the boat and I’ve never seen them until I’ve made the turn,” Hardin said.

A guide once told Timmermann that muskellunge anglers should not be married to one spot in spring.

“If you’re not catching fish, if you’re not seeing fish on your electronics, if you’re not raising fish, keep moving,” Timmermann said. “This time of year, jump from big hollow to big hollow.”

On Cave Run and Dewey lakes, anglers should inspect their boats and lures and discard any weeds before running to a new spot because of the presence of hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant. Hydrilla was discovered just last year in Cave Run Lake.

“This is not a good thing for the lake,” Timmermann said. “Pay attention to what you’re moving and when you’re moving it. Clean your motors and trolling motors off before you move to a new spot and clean those weeds off of your baits.”

Furthermore, boaters can fight the spread of hydrilla by clearing any plant material from their boats before launching and removing all plant material from boats, motors and trailers after pulling their boats from the water. Spray or scrub off any remnants of plant material on boats before storing them.

One more thing to remember before trying for the muskellunge of a lifetime this spring in Kentucky is a fishing license. The new license year started March 1. Consult the Kentucky Fish and Boating Guide for complete licensing information. It is available online at fw.ky.gov and wherever licenses are sold.

Photo from KDF

February days in the 60s make for crowded boat ramps and golf courses during a time of year usually spent indoors.

Everything, nature wise, seems a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. Buds show on lilac bushes, green grass already grows in bunches and the sound of lawn mowers permeates an afternoon backyard barbecue.

The rare winter temperatures may alter white bass spawning runs as well.

“With the weather pattern so far, I would be looking at the white bass getting going a little earlier than usual,” said Rob Rold, Northwestern Fisheries District biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “When we’ve had consecutive warm days, the white bass run up a bit into the headwaters above Nolin River Lake, but when it cools they go back down in the lake. They will do false runs until it gets right.”

Water temperatures are in the low 50s on Nolin River Lake, while other lakes such as Taylorsville Lake are flirting with water temperatures in the mid 50s.

“It should be getting close,” said David Baker, Central Fisheries District biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We are doing a creel survey on Herrington and the white bass are staging in the upper one-third of the lake, waiting for the next temperature spike. A good warm front with water temperatures getting into the upper 50s, they will start moving to the shoals in the upper lake of both Herrington and Taylorsville.”

Baker said Herrington gets the nod for size of white bass. “There are a lot of really big white bass in Herrington, many up to 14 inches long. For catching a big white bass, Herrington is better than Taylorsville,” he said. Taylorsville Lake produces numbers of white bass, but less size.

Anglers may access the upper section of Herrington Lake and Dix River via Bryants Camp Boat Ramp in Garrard County. Bank anglers may access the Salt River above Taylorsville Lake via River Road on the Taylorsville Lake Wildlife Management Area until the opening of spring turkey season April 15. Boaters use Van Buren Boat Ramp on Taylorsville Lake.

Nolin River Lake holds arguably the best white bass population in Kentucky.
Rold said the Cane Run area, known to locals as the “Three Fingers,” in the upper lake upstream to Broad Ford at the KY 1214 Bridge is usually where the white bass runs begin.

“The length of day really dictates when they will run, even if it is not the preferred water temperature,” Rold said. “They start staging around Cane Run. It is a bit early, but they will come on soon.”

Rold said bank anglers use the access at Bacon Creek for productive white bass fishing. “Go to Bacon Creek ramp and walk the bank up or down,” he said. “The Corps property goes all the way up past Broad Ford. At winter pool, Broad Ford is the first shoal on Nolin River upstream of the lake.”

The tailwaters downstream of the locks and dams on the lower Green River also provide excellent white bass fishing. “The water below Lock and Dam 1 at Spottsville, Lock and Dam 2 at Calhoun and Lock and Dam 3 at Rochester all have decent white bass,” Rold said. “The mouth of Pond River downstream of Calhoun at Jewel City has a big white bass fishery. They run up into Pond River.”

Anglers may access the mouth via a public boat ramp at Jewel City. The tailwater below Lock and Dam 2 has a boat ramp and limited bank access at the end of Second Street in Rumsey, across the river from Calhoun. The tailwaters below Lock and Dam 3 at Rochester offer excellent bank access just west of town on Boat Ramp Road via KY 70.

The smaller male white bass make the initial runs. You will catch many fish during this time, but most will be of similar size. You often catch fish on consecutive casts when the males are running.

“By the first weeks of April, the females show up and it is prime,” Baker said. “This is the best fishing of spring runs.”

Running white bass hit anything that resembles baitfish with abandon, one of the keys to their enduring popularity. When the spring white bass runs peak, nothing else compares to the furious fishing.

White, chartreuse or gray in-line spinners are hard to beat during the runs, but 2-inch white curly tailed grubs rigged on 1/16-ounce leadheads also produce many white bass. Anglers also suspend 1/32-ounce white and red, pink or yellow feather jigs from 18 to 24 inches deep under small bobbers and allow them to drift in the current. Some anglers tip the feather jigs with small crappie minnows to make them more attractive to white bass.

As the runs peak, small topwater propeller baits draw vicious strikes, but you get more consistent action with subsurface presentations.

The next long sustained warm front will get the white bass running. It is time for the most exciting fishing of the year. Remember to buy your fishing license. The new license year began March 1.

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