Lake Levels Soar; Anglers and Fish Confused and Off Balance
Written by Steve McCadams - Published on February 28, 2019
Kentucky Lake and the entire Tennessee River drainage area have been on a rampage this week in the aftermath of torrential rains. The reservoir has been swelling out of proportion and inundated roads, campgrounds, resorts and boat ramps. Just when the crest will occur is still an unknown. TVA has been pushing a massive amount of water through Kentucky Dam this week but more water has been entering the reservoir than the system can discharge. Both Barkley and Kentucky Lake are out of their banks. At midweek TVA projected the elevation to reach 366.5 at Kentucky Dam by March 2. TVA continues to revise their projections daily. It may go higher than that. Normal winter pool is 355 so the reservoir is currently more than eleven feet above normal for this time of year. Upstream in the New Johnsonville area and further south lake levels are even higher as the reservoir narrows. Lake levels at New Johnsonville are forecast to be in the 368.7 range this weekend. However, it appears a crest may come in the next few days as flows diminish upstream from Pickwick Dam now that flooding rains have diminished. Surface temperature warmed to the 49 to 52 degree range at midweek. Muddy to dingy water was present across most of the reservoir, although some bass and crappie anglers were out testing the fishing scenario when warm days and light winds descended earlier this week. A lot of debris was floating at the mouth of Big Sandy and along the main Tennessee River channel. Current is swift in the main channel area and will continue for quite some time as gates at Kentucky Dam are wide open. Boat docks, piers, campgrounds, duck blinds, launch ramps and low lying roads have all been adversely effected by the rising lake levels. Lakefront property owners are seeing an abundance of debris washing up on shorelines and once lake levels fall erosion will also be a factor. Anglers have battled some high hurdles lately. The drastic changes in elevation have thrown normal fishing patterns out the door with the dish water. Yet there are always a few fishermen rising to the challenges and willing to go to battle with the weather conditions and lake levels. Some areas were offering dingy water color but not too muddy for bass fishermen who are now stalking shoreline habitat in the form of buck bushes and trees that would normally be high and dry at this time of year. Tossing spinnerbaits, Texas rigged craws and jig and pig combos have become common lures in the bass angler’s arsenal. Several feeder creeks and ditches were still dumping fresh water into the reservoir at midweek, washing crawfish and various flows of plankton that attracted baitfish. Also popular have been loud colored Rattle Traps fan cast across the backs of bays and out front of flooded shorelines near feeder creeks where some bass were roaming or staging. A few anglers were already flipping and pitching jig and craw combos around bushes and trees as well. Most, however, were attempting to cover a lot of water with spinnerbaits as the rising waters usually scatter fish. Spring like patterns from those with spring fever! A few bass fishermen chose to venture up creeks on the east side of the lake and target some smallmouth that rode the rise and swam up the creeks where moving water was coming in. Crappie anglers have been casting a wide net in an attempt to locate fish but most have reported tough luck as fish are scattered and not relating much to structure. The few weeks a few crappie had been taken from main lake ledges where deep drop-offs with cover in the 18 to 25 foot depths zones paid some dividends. Anglers attempting to fish similar areas will now have to add another eleven feet or more of line to their presentation, not to mention battling some current. Other boats were spider rigging and attempting to slow troll jigs over open water areas searching for suspended crappie on the move but the abundance of floating debris proved to be a high hurdle when tangling lines and interfering with the overall presentation and technique. Some crappie should begin to move up into bays and perhaps occupy some midrange depths. Odds are water color will be better there too for fishermen hoping to dodge muddy conditions. With this much change taking place anglers are facing some pretty high hurdles in their quest to establish a pattern or location for bass and crappie. The fish are confused too. They’re riding the rise of new water, roaming and trying to follow their forage base. Adding to the hurdles will be another cold front with some rain for later this weekend that will put a chill in the air well into next week. Boaters are advised to use caution as there are a million and one underwater obstacles out there at the present time---ranging from submerged bridge piers to rock piles to all sorts of floating debris---so now is not the time to go blasting away at high speeds across the reservoir! Spring grows closer each day but for the immediate future Kentucky Lake fishermen are not only facing unstable conditions but just finding a place to launch their boat is proving to be a challenge itself!