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Kentucky Afield Outdoors:
Now is the best time to catch reservoir smallmouth bass

Scott Hurley of Lexington holds a 20.5-inch, 4.6 pound smallmouth bass he caught recently from the Cumberland Point area of Lake Cumberland. The period from Thanksgiving to Christmas is one of the best times of year to catch trophy smallmouth bass at Laurel River Lake, Dale Hollow Lake and Lake Cumberland.

    FRANKFORT, Ky. – Many Kentuckians probably don’t much care for the recent cold, wintry weather. Days of leaden skies, light rain or sleet and temperatures that don’t crack 45 degrees make most people stay inside and sulk. For a reservoir smallmouth bass angler, however, days like these bring a smile and a rush of excitement.

    Now is one of the best times of the year to catch a trophy smallmouth bass from our mountainous lakes such as Dale Hollow, Lake Cumberland and Laurel River Lake. The period from Thanksgiving to the New Year holiday is glory time for large smallmouth bass.
Anglers at Lake Cumberland report good catches of smallmouths from the upper lake. “I caught a 20 ½-incher that weighed 4.6 pounds, bottom fishing with shiners on the main lake near Cumberland Point last weekend,” said Scott Hurley of Lexington, who often fishes Cumberland in the winter months. “He hit it hard and bent the pole in half. He worked into some brush and I had to jump off the boat and run down the bank to free him. I got him to swim out of the other side of the brush after I walked far enough down the bank.”

    Hurley also caught a 19-inch smallmouth bass and five ranging from 15-18 inches long. “We moved around quite a bit,” he said. “We caught some of those near Houseboat Hollow at Conley Bottom. I lost two good ones there.”

    With water temperatures in the mid-50s, smallmouth bass fishing is picking up at Laurel River Lake. “I fished last Wednesday and caught a decent fish and lost a huge one that jumped and threw my bait,” said John Williams, southeastern fisheries district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “My fishing partner John Southern caught a really nice 21-incher. We should’ve caught six or seven that day, but that is the way it goes sometimes. We could feel them on the line, but just missed them. We had bumps and hits and hooked at least one about everywhere we fished.”

    Williams and Southern caught them on an old, reliable standby, a 3-inch white curly-tailed grub rigged hook exposed on a ¼-ounce ballhead. “We also caught some on hollow-bodied shad-shaped swimbaits,” Williams said. “They were mainly on main lake points in the middle section of the Laurel River arm of the lake and on the first few points in the creeks such as Rogers Creek and Spruce Creek.”

    Smallmouth bass are also moving up onto points at Dale Hollow Lake. Local anglers here in Frankfort report catching smallmouth in the 4-pound class by swimming ¼-ounce olive and brown hair jigs down main lake points in the mouths of Sulphur and Hendricks creeks. Points with weedy shallow flats near them hold the most smallmouth bass right now on Dale Hollow.

    Although jigs and grubs catch their share of smallmouth bass in early winter, live bait is the most consistent producer of trophy smallmouths. In the current era of bass fishing, some think it unsporting to use live bait. They also fear it will hurt their effectiveness in tournament fishing where contestants can only use artificial lures.

    Fishing live bait improves confidence and shows where smallmouth bass locate in a reservoir in different weather conditions, valuable knowledge that can only improve your fishing. Some people think you can toss a live bait rig practically anywhere and catch fish. However, if you do not present your live bait in the correct spots, you will not catch smallmouth bass.

    Plus, it is just plain fun. When you fish a jig, grub, crankbait or other artificial lure, you can lose concentration after a couple of hours if the fishing is slow. With a live shiner wiggling on the end of the line, you stay on your toes in anticipation of a strike. Few things fool trophy smallmouth bass better than the real thing.

    Use a long spinning rod spooled with 6- or 8-pound test monofilament or 10-pound fluorocarbon for winter live bait fishing for smallmouths. Tie on a size 1/0 circle hook and attach a small split shot weight about two feet above the hook. Add more weight on windy days. You want the rig to slowly fall through the water column, giving hungry smallmouths plenty of time to find your offering.

    Hook a large crappie minnow by the tail or medium-sized shiner through the upper lip and cast to a likely point. Let the bait slowly sink to the bottom. Reel the shiner or minnow in as slowly as boat movement allows.

    Smallmouths usually hit live bait with authority, but constantly watch your line. Reel in to tighten down on the fish if you see any sideways movement or if the line suddenly goes slack, the sign a fish engulfed your shiner and swam toward the boat. Fight the urge to set the hook with a circle hook; just keep the line tight and the smallmouth hooks itself, usually in the roof or side of the mouth. Circle hooks prevent gut hooking a big smallmouth.

    Get out this month and enjoy the world-class smallmouth bass fishing our state offers. Remember, Kentucky is the home of the all-tackle world record smallmouth bass, an 11-pound, 15-ounce brute caught by Leitchfield’s David L. Hayes from Dale Hollow Lake in 1955.  

Media Contact: Lee McClellan 1-800-858-1549, ext. 4443