Like any fishery, Kentucky Lake changes a little bit from year to year. But if you're going bass fishing in June, there's few places on the planet you'd rather be.
The Bassmaster Elite Series visits the famed impoundment that straddles the border of its namesake state and Tennessee this week for the fourth time in 5 seasons. The action is always superb this time of year as wads of 3- and 4-pounders, fully recovered from their annual spawning ritual, gang up on the many ledges to wile away the summer.
The event is the seventh on the eight-tournament schedule, so the pressure is on for any angler needing to make a substantial jump in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) race to qualify for the postseason or the 2011 Bassmaster Classic. And unlike next week's finale at the Arkansas River out of Oklahoma, Kentucky Lake and connected Lake Barkley are known commodities.
Those who come in this week with bags averaging less than 3 pounds per fish will surely be on the road to the Sooner State by the weekend. The winner will likely weigh at least 90 pounds over 4 days and the century mark certainly isn't out of reach.
This is the lone Wednesday-through-Saturday event on the schedule this year. With a drive of nearly 500 miles to Muskogee, Okla. for next week's derby, BASS is allowing a full travel day for those who make the Top 12 here.
Before more discussion about the bite, here's the rundown on the lake itself.
BassFan Lake Profile
> Lake Name: Kentucky and Barkley lakes
> Type of Water: Flood-control reservoirs
> Surface Acres (full pool): Kentucky = 160,000; Barkley = 80,000
> Primary structure/cover: Shallow – flooded buckbrush, vegetation, willows; Offshore – ledges and humps
> Primary forage: Shad, some crawfish and bluegill
> Average depth: Kentucky = 15 feet; Barkley = 8 feet
> Species: Largemouths (mostly), smallmouths (some jumbos), spotted bass (not usually a major factor)
> Minimum length: 15"
> Reputation: Big lake with lots of fish that can be caught many ways
> Weather: A mix of clouds and sun, along with some thunderstorms
> Water temperature: Low to mid 80s
> Water visibility/color: A little more tint than usual due to recent high-water event
> Water level: Full summer pool
> Fish in: 1 to 25 feet
> Fish phase: Summer and post-spawn
> Primary patterns: Crankbaits, Carolina-rigs, football-head jigs, spoons, worms (particularly large ones), swimbaits, flipping
> Winning weight: 90 pounds
> Cut weight (Top 12): 58 pounds
> Check weight (47th): 32 pounds
> Fishing quality (1=poor, 5=great): 3 for Kentucky/Barkley
> Biggest factors: Timing – hit it right and the bigger fish will bite
> Biggest decision: Run and gun, or wait for the big ones to put on the feed bag
> Wildcard: Giant bites – they've been showing up frequently this year
Bobby Lane, a self-described "bank-beater" from Florida, found a single loaded-up ledge that carried him to victory last year with a total of more than 97 pounds. He caught immense bags very quickly on each of the first 3 days and then spent the rest of those days sitting around in his boat, guarding the location. He threw a crankbait, a swimbait and a worm.
In 2008, Kevin VanDam rotated through about a dozen ledges on the Southern end of the lake and held off a charging Tim Horton to win by a little more than a pound. He threw a crankbait, a spoon and a jig to compile nearly 85 pounds.
In 2006, Morizo Shimizu alternated between shallow and deep locales with a worm and a jig to win with a relatively paltry 66 1/2 pounds.
Flood Effect Positive
Kentucky Lake experienced near-record high water levels this spring when the region was beset by floods. It was 10 feet above full pool at one point, but the level has since receded to normal for this time of year.
"It came down those 10 feet in 10 days and it's been back down for about 2 weeks now," said Sam Lashlee, a former Classic qualifier through the Opens who's amassed a long and impressive list of victories here. "It pulled all the fish right out to the river and the ledges there are red-hot – more so than the creek drops."
Another local ace, David Gnewikow, agreed.
"If anything, (the flooding) has probably made the ledge bite a little better," he said. "All the fish were scattered for awhile, but when the water got back down they got concentrated again."
Action Might Move North
The southern portion of the lake in the New Johnsonville area was where the best action was a year ago. The epicenter might shift a bit northward in 2010.
"Last year the big bags were coming from way down south and a lot of the (Elite Series) Top 10 were down there," Gnewikow said. "Then right after that the FLW Tour came and (Keith) Williams won down there, and a lot of local tournaments were won down there. It's really been pounded over the last 12 months.
Steve Kennedy's career ledger includes a pair of FLW Tour wins at Kentucky Lake.
"I don't feel like it'll be won that far south this year. I think it'll be better up in the Paris area (the site of the launch)."
The south isn't a complete dead zone, though – at least for those who know what they're doing. Lashlee made the long run all the way from Barkley during a recent event and sacked almost 26 pounds in half-an-hour.
"The fish are from 12 to 20 feet deep, depending on the part of the lake," he said. "Around New Johnsonville the drops are shallower so they're in the 12-foot range, but they're deeper around Paris.
"The deeper the drops, the deeper the fish."
Another thing that's been a little different about the lake this year is the inordinate number of giant fish that've shown up. Earlier this spring, when there were big populations of bass in the shallows, several 35-pound bags came to the scale.
"I think the wild card this year is going to be the really big bite – we've seen a lot of fish in the 9- to 11-pound class come out this year," Gnewikow said. "If you can get four 5-pounders and then a 9 or a 10 to go with them, then you've got an unbelievable bag.
"You can get well in a hurry with one of those big bites."
Meanwhile, the more run-of-the-mill 3- and 4-pounders are in a minor transition period, according to Lashlee. Many are moving from the tops of the ledges and starting to slide down the sides.
He said most of the action thus far has been on crankbaits (particularly a Strike King 6 XD in sexy shad or blue/chartreuse), but it's about time to start plumbing a little deeper.
"This is when a big worm or a 3/4-ounce black and blue jig really shines. And I haven't picked up a spoon yet this year, but they can be really effective."
Good Bags not a Given
Despite the near-optimal condition of the lake, some Elite Series anglers had a less-than-easy time finding groups of quality fish in practice. There were several factors working against them.
For one, because of the Wednesday start, practice opened on Sunday, which forced them to work their way around hundreds of local competitors and recreational anglers that day. Also, very little water was pulled for power generation early in the week, so they were without the ever-important current. And lastly, the weather was bright and calm. Any or all of those conditions could change once competition gets under way.
Here's a sampling of what a few anglers reported about their practice sessions:
> John Crews – "I can catch one here and one there, but I can't find them grouped up and I don't know what to make of it. At the end of the day the weights are decent, but I'm not sure how repeatable the days are.
"I've found two schools, but I'm not sure how many fish they have."
> Boyd Duckett – "It's always harder to fish here when they shut the water off because the fish on the main river are so oriented to the current. It's been easy to catch fish, but hard to find big ones.
"I haven't gotten as many big bites as last year and I think it's because we haven't had the current. I haven't hardly seen anything over 3 pounds."
> Bobby Lane – "I think it's about the same as last year. I had one area where I thought I could catch them and there's one area I found yesterday that has a big school of big ones. It'll be a question of whether I can get around them or not – if not, I might not be able to catch more than 15 or 16 pounds.
"I'm not the best offshore fisherman, but last year I stumbled onto the Mother Lode. This year I haven't found anything like that yet."
Kelly Jordon needs one of his usual strong finishes here to get back into Bassmaster Classic contention.
Top 10 to Watch
With the above in mind and more, here are BassFan's recommendations for the Top 10 to watch in this event.
1. Kevin VanDam – This pick is as easy as 1, 2, 3 – which correspond to KVD's finishes here on his last three visits (2008, '09 and '06, respectively). He should be considerably higher than 26th in the Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year (AOY) race when this one's over.
2. Skeet Reese – The AOY leader is no slouch here himself, with a pair of 4th-place finishes in Elite tournaments. He should bounce back with a bang from his stinker at Clarks Hill.
3. Jeff Kriet – He moved inside the 12-angler cutoff for the postseason with a 14th at Clarks Hill, and look for him to stay there. He's been supremely consistent this year but has yet to fish a day 4, and that could change this week.
4. Steve Kennedy – He has a pair of FLW Tour victories here and was 6th in last year's Elite stop. Needs to move up half-a-dozen spots in the AOY race to make the postseason and is a fair bet to go to Oklahoma next week with a single-digit ranking.
5. Aaron Martens – At 15th in the points, he's another guy who needs to claim a bit of ground to grab a postseason slot. His last two finishes here have been in the teens and another one will likely put him inside the magic number.
6. Kelly Jordon – Three consecutive missed cuts have dropped him to 50th in the points – well outside the Bassmaster Classic cutoff – so he's in need of a good finish. He hasn't ended up lower than 15th here in three Elite Series tries.
7. Mike McClelland – He's been inconsistent here, which is somewhat surprising considering his deep-jig chops. This season has also been unusual for him in that it hasn't produced any single-digit finishes. He came close to making the final-day field at Clarks Hill and could get over that hump this week.
8. Edwin Evers – He finished 68th here last year, but that was during a season in which almost nothing went right for him. He's had a superb comeback campaign and his two previous visits resulted in Top 12s. His graph-reading skills are top-notch he should be able to use them to his advantage again.
9. Morizo Shimizu – He's had a strong season, he's been particularly hot recently and he won here in '06. He can pretty much lock up his initial Classic invitation with a strong outing.
10. Jason Williamson – He loves to fish offshore structure, but has yet to prove he can put together back-to-back strong outings. This represents a perfect opportunity for him to follow up his Clarks Hill win with another solid performance.
Anglers will launch each day at 6 a.m. CT from Paris Landing State Park (16055 Hwy. 79 N., Buchanan, Tenn.). Weigh-ins will start at 3:30 p.m. at the same location.
> Wed., June 9 - Scattered T-Storms - 84°/69°
- Wind: From the W/SW at 12 mph
> Thurs., June 10 - Scattered T-Storms - 88°/71°
- Wind: From the S/SE at 5 mph
> Fri., June 11 - Isolated T-Storms - 88°/73°
- Wind: From the S at 5 mph
> Sat., June 12 Partly Cloudy - 88°/73°
- Wind: From the S at 11 mph
> BassFan Big Stick John Murray missed the money here by one spot on each of his last two visits. To read his practice report, click here.