FRANKFORT – Dale Wilson cast a black spinner bait embellished with a split-tail pork eel trailer into Wood Creek Lake and started working it back to the boat with lifts and drops.
Lurking in about 5 feet of water near the base of a boulder, a largemouth bass found the lure and presentation irresistible. It struck. Wilson set the hook.
The 13-pound, 10.4-ounce lunker pulled from the Laurel County lake that April morning became the new Kentucky state record. Its status remains intact three decades later.
Kentucky boasts plenty of lakes known for producing high quality largemouth bass. Foremost in many anglers’ minds are Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, but it wouldn’t surprise Gerry Buynak to see the next state record largemouth bass come from one of the state’s smaller lakes.
“Our last three state records came from either Greenbo Lake or Wood Creek Lake,” said Buynak, assistant fisheries director for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “My gut tells me Fishpond Lake, Greenbo, Wood Creek and potentially Cedar Creek Lake.”
Spring is an optimal time to pursue a hefty largemouth bass from bank or boat.
The lengthening periods of daylight and water temperatures warming into the 60s trigger an instinct to move shallow and spawn.
Buynak’s experience has taught him that largemouth bass like banks that receive the most sunlight in spring. The warmer water also attracts bait fish.
“It’s the most vulnerable time for the bass because they’re up on the bank where everybody fishes,” he said. “The big females always tend to spawn first. So, if you find a lake where spawning is just starting, that’s when the big fish are going to be near the bank.”
With water temperatures slow to warm after the long winter, largemouth bass are still in pre-spawn mode in many lakes.
That’s good news for anglers.
“This pre-spawn period is probably your best bet, and there are some big bass out there,” said Chris Hickey, black bass biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “They’re going to be pretty voracious right now to regain that energy, those reserves that they lost over the winter.”
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s 2014 Fishing Forecast classifies more than a dozen lakes under 1,000 acres as good to excellent for largemouth bass.
Fishpond Lake in Letcher County falls into that category.
The 32-acre lake averages about a dozen fish over 20 inches during a one-hour population sampling, but the lake’s clear water can make daytime fishing challenging.
Largemouth bass will cozy up to Fishpond’s steeper shorelines in 6- to 8-feet of water in spring, Eastern District Fisheries Biologist Kevin Frey said.
“As the spring progresses, sometimes the algae near the shorelines can get really thick and create mats,” he said. “Casting to the edge of those algae mats or underneath them can be good for bass.”
Bullock Pen Lake in Grant County and 183-acre Kincaid Lake in Pendleton County offer anglers the potential to catch a largemouth bass over 20 inches.
“They’re almost identical to a degree, other than I think Kincaid is a little bit better,” said Jeff Crosby, central fisheries district biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “There are just incredible numbers of fish over 15 inches at Kincaid, so your chances of catching a quality fish are excellent.”
A population sampling trip Monday evening on 134-acre Bullock Pen Lake turned up good numbers of 18-inch fish and quite a few 2- to 4-pound fish, Crosby said. He suggests working water willow beds and submerged timber with jerk baits, soft plastics and jig-n-pig combos for the bigger fish.
Shad-imitating lures worked along the edges of water willow and lily pads can be productive this time of year at 760-acre Lake Beshear in Caldwell and Christian counties. Lake Malone in Muhlenberg, Todd and Logan counties boasts good numbers of 15-to-20-inch fish in its 767 acres. Soft plastic baits fished near water willow along with spinner baits and jigs fished near submerged timber and brush also make good bets in spring.
The “Where to Fish” feature on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website fw.ky.gov offers anglers mapping of the location of fish attractors in many Kentucky water bodies.
Ample numbers of big largemouth bass were observed during saugeye sampling last week on Guist Creek Lake in Shelby County. Then there is Cedar Creek; the 784-acre lake in Lincoln County managed by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife for its trophy largemouth bass potential.
“Every year we keep catching more and more over that 20-inch limit,” Hickey said.
Smaller lakes and big largemouth bass go hand-in-hand in spring. Now is the time to give them a try, but make sure to have a valid Kentucky fishing license. The new license year started March 1.
“This time of year,” Buynak said, “I’d be up shallow after those bigger fish.”
Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is an avid angler with a passion for muskellunge and stream fishing. Get the latest from Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.