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Archived Fishing Report

Historic High Lake Levels Now Receding; Anglers Embrace Drawdown

Written by Steve McCadams | Originally published 05/05/2011

What goes up must come down but Kentucky Lake anglers were beginning to wonder if the adage had merit. After climbing to historic high lake levels at midweek the reservoir crested Wednesday and the descent has begun.
Rumors had been flying for days as to just how high lake levels would rise, which also fueled false stories about lake closures. Seems the fish are always open for business and despite the rapid rise anglers were never denied the opportunity even though finding boat launch locations were challenging.
Kentucky Lake reached its all-time record elevation Wednesday morning with readings of 372.6 at Kentucky Dam, according to TVA data. Upstream at New Johnsonville levels peaked at 372.5.
Prior to Wednesday’s historic peak the high water mark had been 369.9, which was recorded back on May 11, 1984. Records are made to be broken but most of us on Kentucky Lake wished this record had been left unscathed.
Good news is in progress. Lake levels are fast receding as TVA will begin pulling the plug as the weekend approaches. Expect lake stages to fall a foot each day if not more.
TVA is projecting an elevation range of 369.5 going into the weekend at Kentucky Dam. New Johnsonville will be in the 369.7 range. TVA will continue to revise its forecast on a daily basis.
While most anglers have a negative opinion of falling lake levels no one is questioning the rapid drawdown as high water has inundated marinas, campgrounds, boat ramps, access roads and all low lying areas far too long.
How will this effect fishing? Every angler is asking that question and despite crazy changes lately the catch rate has been quite good for bluegill fishermen who are landing big numbers.
Spawning time is here for the popular panfish that seemed to adapt this week to the roller coaster ride. The bluegill moved up rapidly but never quite made it to shallow shorelines, choosing instead to set up housekeeping in 5 to 10 foot zones.
The bite has been quite good and will likely improve in the days ahead as surface temps are rising as lake levels fall and the fish are ready to spawn. Popular areas have been somewhat steeper banks or sloping gravel areas that appeal to their crater fanning habits.
Although bluegill action has been good the shellcracker bite has been off somewhat. Seems the shellcracker did a blitz as lake levels jumped and managed dodge the hooks of most fishermen. Action should improve next week as the high water retreats, pulling meandering fish back to their usual spots of buck brush and grass bed combos.
Surface temps cooled at midweek due to annoying north winds and dropped back to the 64 degree range for a day or so. However, look for readings to reach the 70 degree range by this weekend and next week’s forecast has warmer weather on the radar screen.
Water color is good in most bays but dingy in the main Tennessee River channel areas. Current will be present for quite some time in the main channel areas and island rims.
Bass have been extremely scattered but had a nice surge of activity in the early phases of the rise. Odds are the meandering fish will pull back to ditches and shoreline structure near deep water in the days ahead.
Once rapid drawdown kicks in gear the fish tend to prefer outside trees and bush lines that offer quick access to deeper water. That pattern should work in favor of bass fishermen who have been battling scattered fish with far too much cover in which to hide and roam.
Tossing spinnerbaits over submerged grass and bushes will be one popular technique in the days ahead as covering a lot of water will be the key to catching transition fish that may be here in the morning and there in the afternoon.
Pitching and flipping a jig and pig combo, crawfish or lizards will be other good choices. Storm’s Brush Hog and similar style baits have been popular with color choices such as green pumpkin-pepper, black/blue, and cotton candy producing.
Working crankbaits and Carolina rigged lizards in the mouth of feeder creeks or submerged ditches will likely produce as will some sloping points. Out on the main river current may push some baitfish around island points as well.
Bass fishermen have reason to be concerned as to bedding fish depositing eggs around structure that may be left high and dry in the days ahead. It appears some fish attempted to spawn a few weeks ago but there are always a few late ones that may be confused with all the change taking place.
Crappie action has been slow with a few fish taken by boats trolling crankbaits and Roadrunner style jigs in open water areas. No doubt the fish have been scattered and suspended so covering a lot of water may be the best bet as very few fish had been staying put and relating to structure.
Watch for action to improve in a week or so once lake levels get back down near summer pool but it’s likely another week or so of tough sledding for crappie anglers.
Catfish have been good during the high water period as they were on the prowl up feeder creeks and roaming shallow cover. Soon fish will head to rocky banks for spawning.
The fishing scene on Kentucky Lake is changing rapidly but should continue to improve for a lot of anglers who fell victim to very unusual circumstances. If you’ve had tough luck lately you’re not alone so don’t sell the boat and toss the tackle box over just yet. Better days are ahead.

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Geese in Flight
Photo by Murray Blake

These Canadian geese are just beginning their yearly migration south to avoid the long, cold winter. They will return in spring to the welcoming waterways of the Kentucky Lakes Area.