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Kentucky Afield Outdoors: ‘Largemouth bass on the brain’ a common malady these days

Ryan Kausing, fisheries technician for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, holds a big largemouth bass found during population sampling in the headwaters of Barren River Lake. The numbers of largemouth bass over 20 inches in Barren River Lake continue to increase, and spring is the best time of year to catch a trophy. (Photo provided)


By Lee McClellan
Special to KyForward

You may notice some funny things happening around Kentucky now with the arrival of the first prolonged warming trend of the year.

A kid’s soccer bag left at the curb after practice where their dad picked them up. Doors left wide open; coffee cups forgotten on the hoods of trucks as they roll down the street in the morning; delicious smelling burgers burned to the consistency of the charcoal that grilled them. Men and women with glazed over eyes running into displays at the grocery store.

They haven’t been exposed to a dangerous substance nor have aliens implanted brain-eating worms into their bodies. They suffer from a malady that comes each spring with the warm winds: trophy largemouth bass on the brain.

Landing a big, fat largemouth bass is the only way to ward off this affliction. Here are some of the best places to try this coming year in Kentucky.

As consistent year to year as smelling cigar smoke at Keeneland, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley crank out fat largemouth bass. National bass tournament trails make annual stops at these lakes, yet an average weekend angler can fish these lakes and have a glory day.

Paul Rister, western fisheries district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said the largemouth bass in both lakes are in phenomenal shape.

“On Kentucky Lake, prior to 2010, we had a great density of 12- to 14-inch largemouths,” he said. “Now, those fish are 16 to 18 inches.”
Rister, however, gives Lake Barkley the nod for largemouth bass fishing. The largemouth bass population in Lake Barkley is a little more robust than Kentucky Lake. Barkley also has more shallow cover than Kentucky Lake. Black and chartreuse jigs pitched into this cover draw strikes in spring.

Fish 7- to 9-inch straight-tailed worms in the lime green or green pumpkin color on ¼-ounce Shaky heads on pea gravel points and channel banks for spring largemouth bass on Kentucky Lake.

Barren River Lake in southcentral Kentucky holds plentiful numbers of 18-inch or better largemouth bass. “Barren is a fantastic spring and early summer bass fishery,” said Eric Cummins, southwestern fisheries district biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The numbers of largemouth bass 20 inches and better are really good.”

Fish channel drops on the south bank of the Narrows Access Area with 5/16-ounce crawfish-colored jigs for spring largemouth bass on Barren. The shoreline cover on this lake gets beaten to a pulp; concentrate on areas away from the bank.

Although mainly known for striped and smallmouth bass, Lake Cumberland has a good population of largemouth bass from 14 to 17 inches long. However, this fishery is on the verge of an explosion when water levels increase later this year as the repair work on Wolf Creek Dam winds down.

The long drawdown allowed many saplings and bushes to grow on banks formerly submerged most of the year. Lake Cumberland will again submerge these plants, creating fantastic hiding places for largemouth bass. Flipping and pitching this cover with jigs and soft plastic baits will be the key to success.

Spurlington Lake, a small 36-acre lake in Taylor County, is a perfect destination for bass anglers in johnboats, canoes, fishing kayaks or float tubes. “It’s been a consistent little sleeper lake since I’ve been here,” Cummins said. “Seeing 20-inch plus fish is not uncommon.”

Another small lake to try for trophy largemouth is Letcher County’s 32-acre Fishpond Lake. Kevin Frey, eastern fisheries district biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife said one hour of population sampling usually yields a dozen huge largemouth bass from 6 to 10 pounds. An angler caught a 12-pound, 6-ounce largemouth bass from Fishpond last April.

Do not clear off the mantle for your trophy largemouth mount from Fishpond; the lake’s extremely clear water makes it difficult to fish. Spring is the most productive time.

Cure your trophy largemouth affliction this spring. Catch a big bass and feel better.

Note: The license year expired Feb. 28. You’ll need to buy a new fishing license, available in the sporting goods section of department stores and tackle shops to fish now. Licenses and permits may also be purchased online from the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage here or by calling 877-598-2401.

This column is from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ Spring Fishing Frenzy series.

Author Lee McClellan is associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.


The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. For more information on the department, click here.

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