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Archived Fishing Report

Bluegill/Shellcracker Spawn Underway; Low Lake Levels Puzzle Anglers

Written by Steve McCadams | Originally published 05/03/2012

Spawning phases are underway on Kentucky Lake for two powerful panfish that pack a punch. Both bluegill and redear sunfish, known throughout the South as shellcracker, are sporting an attitude accompanied by an appetite.
Since last week’s warm up these species had a mood swing and rebounded with a vengeance as surface temps bounced back to the 73 to 75 degree range and triggered bedding time. Back in mid-April these rusty rascals had an early surge in activity when their biological clock advanced during unusually warm weather but cold fronts since then derailed their train.
Last weekend they got back on track and the bite is underway. Good numbers have been taken this week as it appears warm weather will dominate the fishing scene for several days.
Hefty stringers of bluegill have been caught this week but shellcracker are somewhat illusive, a likely scenario due to low lake levels that have left popular spots such as weeds and buck bushes high and dry along shorelines.
Most of the bedding is taking place in 3 to 5 foot depths and out away from shorelines and traditional areas. All fishermen are somewhat puzzled this week about the low lake levels as TVA was supposed to have the reservoir at summer pool by May 1. 
Meanwhile, casting light tackle armed with bobbers or just dragging the bait across bottom has paid dividends. Baits of choice have been crickets but redworms and wax worms have worked well on both bluegill and shellcracker that appear to be doing their thing in deeper depths due to the low elevation and clear water color.
Surface temps this week climbed from the mid 60’s last week back into the low to mid 70’s and will continue to rise with the warm weather conditions projected. Water color remains clear across the reservoir.
At a time when lake levels should have been rising just the opposite has happened and the reservoir actually dropped a few inches since last week. Observed elevation at Kentucky Dam is projected to be a mere 356.1 this weekend while falling back to 355.8 upstream at New Johnsonville.
Rainfall has been down across the TVA valley and while we’ve had droughts before it usually hasn’t had this much influence at this time of year. Lake levels should be resting at 359 right now.
I cannot recall Kentucky Lake ever being this low at this time of year nor have any old timers I’ve talked with. The present situation is unprecedented and there are a lot of unknowns associated with it ranging from fishing patterns to spawning and recruitment as usually the shoreline habitat provides sanctuary for those young of the year.
It has been a dramatic contrast to last year at this time when we were experiencing flooding and on the way to record high lake levels that occurred in mid-May!
Bass patterns right now are more akin to summer fishing as the lion’s share of heavy stringers are coming from ledges and deeper water. A lot of anglers are tossing big deep diving crankbaits on the drop-offs as if it were June.
A combination of factors are likely contributing to the summer patterns as it appears the bulk of the bass have spawned and already backed off the banks but low lake levels and clear water have no doubt been factors.
Texas rigged worms and Carolina rigged worms, lizards, and craws have worked well, along with Alabama rig fished on sloping points and main lake drop-offs. Hopping a jig has also produced some bigger bites.
Not all the bass are deep as several limits have been taken by anglers tossing spinnerbaits, shallow running crankbaits and some assorted topwater around shallow pockets and clean mud banks but most of the heavier stringers are coming from deeper venues.
Like all the other anglers bass fishermen have been thrown off by the lack of water as one of the popular patterns this time of year is usually pitching or flipping a jig or lizard around shallow shoreline structure or tossing a topwater jerk bait.
Crappie patterns have been mixed lately as a few scattered male crappie were lingering around shallow structure in 5 to 7 foot depths. However, the crappie have been inconsistent in shallow cover and midrange depths.
Several small fish were still biting but the larger fish were quite scattered. A few decent fish were taken in 10 to 14 foot depths but it has taken a lot of stops to accumulate a decent stringer.
Watch for crappie to improve some in the weeks ahead, however, as more fish return to a structure oriented moods. Some fish were still coming in from drift boats and those slow trolling long lines trailing twister tail grubs and Road Runner style jigs.
Action from the main lake ledges had diminished the last week to ten days as the deeper venues were not producing.
Catfishing improved this week as more big females move up to spawn. Rock banks and bluffs will produce some good fish in the next week to ten days.
Some hefty ones have been hitting around those bluegill beds this week as they prowl toward shallow areas too. Once the bluegill beds get hot it seems the catfish move in too as they’re likely attracted by the smell and food source of both the eggs and tiny fry that begin hatching out.
Lake levels are low but the interest level of anglers is high. Bedding bluegill, big catfish and biting bass will do that to you!

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