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Archived Fishing Report

High Water Dominates Fishing Scene; Bluegill/Bass Bite Holds Up

Written by Steve McCadams | Originally published 05/11/2017

After a week of abnormally high lake levels anglers are adjusting their battle plans on a daily basis as lake levels recede.

Despite a lot of fluctuation the bite has held up pretty good for spawning bluegill and redear sunfish, along with decent action for both catfish and bass. Crappie have been scattered in their typical post-spawn phase but a few boats managed to find enough to keep it interesting too.

Kentucky Lake went on a rising rampage earlier in the week when discharge rates diminished dramatically out of Kentucky Dam. Barkley Lake was in the same situation.

Flooding along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers caused TVA to pull back on discharge, a scenario that saw the reservoir rise more than four feet above normal summer pool elevation. The quick rise had a lot of floating debris out there for anglers and boaters to dodge.

Piers, boat docks, campgrounds and several launch sites were victims of the rise.

Late last week lake levels began rising, throwing a curve to fishermen that woke up to a new lake each morning. Normal summer pool is 359 and the reservoir finally crested on Wednesday with a reading in the 363.4 range at Kentucky Dam.

Upstream in the New Johnsonville lake levels have been running about 6 inches or so below readings at Kentucky Dam.

TVA is revising its forecast on a daily basis but odds are a dramatic drawdown will begin soon as the agency will attempt to pull the lake back down to normal summer pool as quickly as possible.

That means a lot of current will be present in the main river channel the next several days. And, bass fishermen can sometimes use that to their advantage when targeting island rims where grassbeds, buck bushes and willow trees will be holding shallow bass.

Odds are the fish will pull out of extremely shallow cover and relate to the outside structure lines as lake levels fall. That should help anglers establish a pattern in the days ahead.

Some main lake ledges and humps could also be holding bass that pull out and reside in deeper venues.

It’s that time of year when bass patterns range from pitching and flipping jig and pig combos or Texas rigged craws and lizards around visible stickups to tossing big spinnerbaits or slinging big deep diving crankbaits as fish transition toward main lake humps or secondary ledges.

Spawning bluegill and red ear sunfish have been hitting good for anglers working shoreline habitat. The fish scattered for a day or two when high water pushed them to the endless shallow shoreline cover but at midweek the bite bounced back once fish began fanning beds.

Watch for the bite to continue but bluegill and red ear will move back toward a little deeper water in the days ahead. Some of the open water beds that haven’t produced very well this week will see fish return to them once lake levels fall back down to normal elevation.

Once water levels surged fish blitzed toward the abundance of shallow shoreline structure. That puzzled a lot of bluegill and shellcracker fishermen for a few days. The fast rise had a negative impact but it was short in duration.

Surface temps are now in the 73 to 76 degree range. The warming trend now in progress should stimulate more aggressive activity from the confused but aggressive male bluegill that have attempted to fan spawning beds.

Female bluegill and red ear were bulging with eggs at midweek. Several were attempting to spawn during the full moon and should continue for several more days.

Water color has been a bit dingy in most areas but watch for it to clear rapidly these next few days. Falling lake levels will pull the dingy water out of bays and feeder creeks.

There’s still a lot of good fishing ahead for bluegill and red ear anglers.

Catfish have really been on the prowl this week, moving up to shallow venues and following the rise. Some dandy stringers have been taken in 2 to 4 foot depths. A lot of bluegill anglers have been tying into them on a regular basis too.

Watch for spawning catfish to acclimate toward rocky bluffs in the week ahead. Some may hang around bushes but it’s high time they made a move toward rocky banks to deposit eggs.

Although scattered, crappie have been taken this week by some boats dragging long line presentations of 
Road Runners and curly tail grubs.

Fish were scattered and suspended during the rising lake levels too but slow trolling allowed anglers to cover a lot of water and the post-spawn crappie were suspended in depths of 8 to 14 feet.

A few boats were picking up scattered fish while using vertical presentations of jig and minnows around submerged structure but having to make lots of stops.

Not many anglers like rapidly changing lake levels but it appears the reservoir is headed back down about as fast as it came up.

Once the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers crested it opened the door for TVA to flush a lot of the excess water it had been holding back.

Both the fish and the fishermen are learning to adjust but is has been challenging to say the least.  Hopefully the roller coaster ride will end soon! It appears we’re headed in the right direction.

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Shy Doe
Photo by J. Kent Harmon

The dense forests in Land Between The Lakes make the perfect hiding place for deer and other native species. You never know who might be peeking at you from the treeline.