FRANKFORT - The striped bass in Lake Cumberland haven’t had the best of times since repair work began on Wolf Creek Dam several years ago.
The rehabilitation work caused the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to drop Lake Cumberland 40 feet to relieve pressure on the ailing dam. At normal water levels, striped bass had acres and acres of cool, oxygenated water to inhabit. The drawdown reduced that wide open pasture of water in which stripers could feed down to a small paddock.
By late summer and early fall, the available cool, oxygenated water diminished greatly. This stressed the striped bass in the lake, leading to poor growth and the death of some large stripers.
The major repair work concluded this past March and the dire situation is easing. “We had a wet year this year and that extra water in the lake really helped the striped bass,” said John Williams, southeastern fisheries district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “They made it through the rough part of the year with much less stress. I think we are over the hump.”
Williams, who oversees the fisheries management of Lake Cumberland, said the body condition and growth rates of the striped bass improved greatly since last year. As a testament to the improved water quality, the fisheries division stocked 686,759 fingerling striped bass in 2013.
“Things are looking up,” he said. “The fishing has been good for keeper-sized fish up to 30 inchers.” Lake Cumberland has a 22-inch minimum size limit with a two fish daily creel limit on striped bass.
Anglers on Lake Cumberland caught stripers up to 15 pounds bottom fishing with live shad in 30 to 65 feet of water earlier this week.
“They are schooled up tight,” said Benjy Kinman, deputy commissioner of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Most have been catching them downrigging doll flies with a 4- to 5-inch curly-tailed grubs for trailers or bottom fishing on steeper banks.”
Doll flies are an old school term for a hair jig with a ball-shaped head. The originals were dressed in polar bear hair, but now manufacturers use craft or deer hair.
Kinman, who conducted striped bass research on the lake for many years, prefers white doll flies over all others. “I like a chartreuse grub for my trailer with a white doll fly,” he said. “I also like a pearl trailer.”
Creek channels in the major creek arms in the lower lake such as Beaver, Otter and Indian creeks are good places to troll doll flies right now. Areas where the creek channel swings close to the bank or a point are the most productive spots.
Water temperatures are in the high 60s right now, but when the longer, colder nights cool the water a few more degrees, the striped bass move shallower. Casting a 1/2-ounce doll fly or hair jig on points and channel banks produces strikes during this time.
“I always throw a white doll fly, sometimes with a little red thread mixed in with it,” Kinman said. “The most important thing is getting the lure in front of their nose.”
Just like earlier this weeek, bottom fishing live shad, alewives or large shiners on points and on channel banks is highly productive in fall and early winter for Lake Cumberland stripers.
“I use a slip-sinker rig for my bottom fishing,” said Ryan Oster, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “I use a lighter leader than most, usually 14- or 17-pound monofilament line. You want your bait off the bottom. Monofilament floats compared to fluorocarbon line and works better in this situation.”
Oster also said jump fishing, when striped bass herd schools of shad to the surface and rip through them, will improve with cooler water temperatures. “The water is still a little warm for those bigger stripers to pin the shad against the surface,” he said. “There is some jump activity going on now, but it will get better.”
A chrome casting spoon is a great choice to cast into the boils of feeding striped bass because you can cast them a long distance. White or chrome saltwater-sized chugger topwater baits work for jump fishing as well.
The striped bass fishery in Lake Cumberland is healing up. The high numbers of medium-sized fish portends excellent fishing in the coming years.
“You’ll catch a lot of fish right now and it is just going to get better,” Williams said.
Lake Cumberland will return to historic levels in the spring of 2014.
Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.