FRANKFORT – The grass is the deep forest green that only reveals itself in early spring. Keeneland opens this week and the Kentucky Derby is not far away.
It is early April in Kentucky and the fish are biting all over the state.
“I caught a limit of striped bass last Saturday and another on Sunday and did the same the weekend before on Lake Cumberland,” said Joe McWilliams, an avid striped bass angler who has owned a house on the lake for nearly 20 years. “Most of them ran 24 to 26 inches, but my biggest was 30 1/2 inches.”
Stripers ranging in length from 24 to 26 inches weigh roughly 8 to 11 pounds while 30 inchers run about 14 pounds. McWilliams fishes the area from White Oak Creek down lake to Fall Creek most of the time.
McWilliams bottom fishes live alewives or shad he catches in a cast net in the pre-dawn hours to catch striped bass. He has a milk run of sloping banks, channel banks and points and changes locations and depths until he finds fish. Store bought large shiners work for bait as well.
He employs a simple slip rig with a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce egg sinker on the main line above a barrel swivel. He ties a leader of 20-pound monofilament line to the barrel swivel with a 4/0 octopus style hook on the business end.
“I’ve caught smallmouth bass up to 4 pounds recently on this rig as well,” McWilliams said. Stripers are also hitting 1/2-ounce white and blue bucktail jigs worked down channel banks in the lower lake.
Crappie are biting on Taylorsville Lake and other lakes across Kentucky. “They are catching many limits of crappie,” said David Baker, Central Fisheries District biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “There are many 10- to 11-inch crappie, both whites and blacks.”
Anglers reported catching black crappie over the last week by casting to rocky banks with 2-inch lime green or chartreuse curly-tailed grubs. The black crappie are hanging in 4 to 8 feet of water in the mid-lake region. Minnows fished in woody cover draw strikes from white crappie on Taylorsville.
“The lake has settled down and that’s really helped the crappie,” Baker said. The less turbid sections of the lake provide better crappie fishing.
Crappie are also shallow and active on central Kentucky’s Herrington Lake. The canyon-like lake is known more for its largemouth and white bass fisheries, but the lake holds an excellent population of black and white crappie.
“We saw many 9- to 14-inch crappie in Herrington this past week,” Baker said. “Look for shoreline cover or stumps just under the water. The fish are relatively shallow for Herrington in 5 to 8 feet of water.”
He said the fish are fat with excellent body condition. Cast pearl-colored 2-inch curly tailed grubs to the stumps and fish the shoreline cover with live minnows. Black crappie predominate the lower lake while anglers will find more white crappie in the upper lake above King’s Mill Marina.
Anglers report catching black crappie on the famous crappie twins of west Kentucky, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, by casting chartreuse and lime-green curly-tailed grubs rigged on 1/8-ounce leadheads to pea gravel banks. White crappie are still staging in the deeper sections of creek arms in 8 to 14 feet of water, but should move shallow anytime with water temperatures now cresting 60 degrees.
There is an old saying, “the white bass run when the redbuds bloom.” Baker saw many anglers catching white bass on Herrington Lake by trolling medium-running shad-colored crankbaits between Kings Mill Marina and Dunn Island. “One guy even complained to us he was sick of catching them,” he said. “My father-in-law caught 36 this past Sunday on Herrington. They are impressive with many of them 12 to14 inches. They look great.”
The run has likely not commenced into the lake’s headwaters, Baker said.
The white bass run at Taylorsville Lake has been spotty so far. The smaller male white bass made a run in the last two weeks that seems to have petered out.
Nolin River Lake in west-central Kentucky holds arguably the best white bass population in Kentucky. The white bass are staging in the upper lake from Cane Run to Bacon Creek Ramp and the smaller males are up in the Nolin River. Eventually they will run upstream as far as Wheeler’s Mill.
The spawning runs of white bass into the headwaters of Herrington, Taylorsville and Nolin River lakes should start in earnest once a prolonged warm front raises water temperatures a few degrees.
White bass strike anything that flashes during their runs. White in-line spinners, white or chartreuse curly tailed grubs, silver casting spoons or small chrome topwater lures all draw strikes. Small 1/32-ounce feather jigs in pink, white or chartreuse suspended under a bobber and allowed to drift in the current is also a deadly presentation for running white bass.
The redbuds are blooming, the grass is green and fish biting everywhere. Get out and enjoy, winter is gone for good. Don’t forget to buy your 2016-2017 fishing license if you haven’t already.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally 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.