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101: Smallmouth Bass Fishing

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Smallmouth Bass Fishing

Although both lakes have populations of Smallmouth Bass it is generally recognized that Kentucky Lake has a bigger population of these great fighters. 

Lake Barkley has a fair population of Smallmouth Bass which seems to be getting better over the past few years.  Smallmouth Bass typically prefer deeper water and rock and pea gravel structure.  This is probably one of the reasons that Kentucky Lake has the bigger population.

Although Smallmouth Bass may be taken anywhere on the lakes, most of the Smallmouth are taken from the deeper water bays and areas along the old river channels.  The primary forage of Smallmouth Bass on Ky/Barkley is threadfin and gizzard shad with crayfish also being a favorite opportunity meal.

Spring Patterns

Spring Smallmouth patterns can be broken down into three major periods which can be categorized as prespawn, spawn and post spawn.  Prespawn typically begins on Ky/Barkley in mid to late February when the morning water temperatures on the lakes is between the mid to high 40's.  

This pattern continues until the morning water temperatures reach the high 50's to low 60's which normally occurs during early to mid April.

During early prespawn (from mid to late February through late March) the Smallmouth can be primarily located near deep water main lake points, especially pea gravel points.  These fish typically will be suspended under or near large schools of baitfish.

This is the time of the year that many trophy Smallmouth are taken.  Although the Smallmouth tend to feed voraciously during this period they are reluctant to chase fast moving lures.  The savvy Smallmouth anglers will target these fish at this time of year with suspending jerkbaits and suspending crankbaits.

Anglers should be aware that many times these fish will be suspended more than a cast length off the points and should keep an eye on their fish finders if fishing close to the banks for targets suspended in deeper water. 
If there is heavy current present on the lakes (which happens quite often this time of year) anglers should look for current breaks and eddies on the down river side of the points as gathering places for the schools of hungry fish.

During late prespawn (from late March thru mid April) these fish can still be located near the deep water pea gravel points but typically will be shallower in the water plane as the water is warming up.  As the water nears the low 60's these fish will move onto the pea gravel flats on the main lake and in the front halves of the bays to prepare their beds for spawning.

This especially occurs on warm sunny days.  These late prespawn fish can be taken on suspending jerkbaits, crankbaits, jignpig, tube jigs, and curly tail grubs.  With the warming of the water the fish's metabolic rate raises and these fish will more aggressively chase faster moving lures.

The Smallmouth typically spawn when the morning water temperatures are in the low 60's which normally occurs around mid April.  The Smallmouth beds can be located on gravel flats especially near rocks or wood cover.  These beds are normally found in 3 to 10 ft of water but can be deeper.

Slow rolled spinnerbaits, crankbaits, tube jigs and grubs are favorites for catching these bedding fish.  During post spawn the females typically leave the nest after the eggs are laid and move to nearby deeper water and suspend to rest up after the spawning ritual.

The male Smallmouth stays near the nest and guard it from predators for about a week then they also move.  The rest up period for the Smallmouth is shorter than the for the Largemouth and they are usually ready to start feeding again by the end of April.  These late post spawn Smallmouth can be found early and late in the day near primary and secondary points near the mouths of the bays and on the main lake.  Topwater lures, crankbaits, Carolina rigged soft plastics and tube jigs can all be good choices in these areas.

Summer Patterns

When the morning water temperatures move into the mid to high 70's, the Smallmouth Bass can be found during the day along the old river channel ledges.  These deep water summertime Smallmouth will tend to congregate near rocks close to deepwater drop offs into the old river channels.

These fish can be taken on jignpig and Carolina rigged soft plastics, especially during periods of current flow.  Probably the most productive time to fish for summer Smallmouth is at night as they are more prone to feed at night during the summer than during the day.

At night the deep water Smallmouth will move shallow to feed and can be found on rocky main lake points and on rocky secondary points in the deeper bays.  These fish can provide some very exciting fishing with slow rolled dark spinnerbaits, jignpig and tube jigs fished in these areas.  The Smallmouth normally remain on this pattern until the water temperatures drop below 70 degrees which normally occurs in mid to late October.

Fall Patterns

When the water temperatures drop below 70 degrees large schools of Smallmouth will often move shallow in the bays early and late in the day to feed on the large schools of baitfish.

These schooling fish can be taken surprisingly shallow on topwater lures, spinnerbaits and lipless crankbaits.  During the day the fall Smallmouth are taken on main lake rocky points and deep rocky secondary points near the mouths of the bays on crankbaits, Carolina rigged plastics, jignpig and tube jigs.

These fall patterns normally last until the morning water temperatures drop below 50 degrees.

Winter Patterns

Although many times overlooked the winter Smallmouth fishing on Ky/Barkley can provide the winter bound angler with a great alternative to watching fishing shows on TV.

Smallmouth, although not feeding voraciously in the colder waters of winter, are typically much more active than their Largemouth cousins.  Winter Smallmouth can be located near deep rocky main lake points and bluffs.

One should downsize their lures when fishing for the winter Smallmouth as they tend to not feed on larger meals this time of year due to their reduced metabolism.  Some of the most productive ways to fish for these cold water sport fish is to use small hair jigs on light spinning tackle worked slowly on deep points and banks near the points (especially those with rock and wood cover).

Another technique that hasn't caught on here on Ky/Barkley as readily as it has on the deeper mountain lakes such as Dale Hollow is to fish for the winter Smallmouth with the float-n-fly.  This does work on the lakes here by locating suspended Smallmouth off deep rocky points and bluffs with your fish finder and zeroing in on the depth to present your fly at or just above the suspending fish.

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Fishing 101 Credits: ong>

Written by Dave Stewart, Bass Buster Guide Service
Edited by Shawn Dunnaway
Fishing 101 may not be reproduced or reprinted and is provided exclusively by ExploreKentuckyLake.com

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The Homeplace
Photo by Melodie Cunningham

The Single Pen Cabin is one of many historic buildings at the Homeplace 1850's working farm in Land Between The Lakes.