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Lake Level Receding; Week of High Water Catches Anglers Off Guard

Written by Steve McCadams | Originally published 05/02/2013

Kentucky Lake went on a rampage earlier this week after two days of heavy rains saturated the region, sending lake levels some five feet above normal. The drastic change happened in a short time too, catching anglers off guard as normal fishing patterns were completely off the radar screen.
Things have happened quickly this week in the fishing world as bass and crappie anglers were scrambling in hopes of finding scattered fish that were roaming with the rapidly rising lake stages. Things were pretty tough for all anglers while the lake was coming up as floating debris added another challenge to boaters.
Good news arrived Wednesday, however, as the reservoir crested and is now falling fast. TVA will attempt to pull the reservoir back to its normal summer pool elevation of 359 but that will take a few days.
And how have anglers fared in this roller coaster ride? Most fishermen were victims of the rapid change earlier this week but were adapting better as the lake crested and began to recede. Although crappie anglers are still struggling in the post-spawn phase, bluegill and shellcracker action has really heated up, along with some hefty stringers of catfish and bass being caught.
Surface temperatures this week responded to some pretty weather in the aftermath of last weekend’s thunderstorms and rose to into the 66 to 72 degree range. That warm up really stimulated the bluegill and redear bite as these fish were a bit behind on their bedding attempts due to a cool, messy April.
Water color is in good shape out on the main lake areas but some larger bays had muddy to dingy water lingering after last weekend’s thunderstorms sent runoff into the reservoir. Some areas had chocolate milk colored water in the upper ends of bays for a few days but that has improved.
Lake levels crested around 363.7 at Kentucky Dam on Wednesday but were a bit higher in the New Johnsonville area where the elevation rose to 364. Normal summer pool is 359.
Projections going into the weekend show a decline of at least a foot at Kentucky Dam where an elevation of 362.7 is forecast. However, TVA is revising its forecast on a daily basis and increasing its discharge. Anglers can expect a lot of current in the main river for the next several days. Upstream at New Johnsonville the elevation will be 364 as water is still rolling through the system.
Bass anglers were learning the whereabouts of high water fish and stalking the abundant habitat such as willow trees, buck bushes, and shallow grassbeds. Fish have moved up fast into the shallow structure as an abundance of baitfish moved up with the high water too.
Tossing spinnerbaits has been a popular choice as anglers tried to cover a lot of water. Pitching and flipping lizards, worms, craws, and jig and pig combos has been popular too.
Some bass were holding in buck bushes and suspending in the middle as water depth around some of the original shoreline was more than five feet deep. Although stained water was present in some bays, others were quite clear and anglers were tossing some topwater jerk baits and buzzbaits.
With falling water now entering the picture bass should pull to the outside cover and that should help anglers formulate a better pattern. Some river islands have been holding bass too so playing the current will be a factor.
A lot of bass have already spawned. No doubt the bass were thrown off too by the recent changes in weather and water levels but things are improving fast.
Bluegill and redear sunfish, referred to locally as shellcracker, were biting good at midweek but anglers had to change their approach. Normal bedding areas were unproductive as the high water caused fish to move up behind the original shoreline where bushes and trees recently inundated were more appealing to the powerful panfish.
Some dandy catches were coming in as a few anglers adapted and learned to fish right down in the submerged structure. As lake levels recede watch for the fish to slowly transition back toward normal bedding areas by early next week.
Catfish have been on the prowl as the rising water really brought fish to the upper ends of bays and toward shallow shorelines. Anglers are tying into some dandies while fishing near feeder creeks. Several bass and bluegill fishermen have battled some big catfish this week as they got a surprise when ole’ whiskers grabbed their hook.
Spawning time is here for catfish and they sprinted toward shallow areas this week. Watch for those rocky banks to hold fish the next week or two.
Crappie anglers normally see action subside once the post-spawn phase arrives and the late April and early May time frame can be challenging even in normal years. Add drastic weather changes and a flood to the fishing scene and it teams up for trouble and crappie fishermen got a big dose of that this week.
Fish have been extremely scattered lately and not relating to structure. Catch rates dropped off drastically as stakebeds and brushpiles became less appealing for vertical fishermen dunking jigs and minnows. However, boaters trolling with both long lines and spider rigs were also struggling to put a pattern together.
Some crappie moved back into shoreline buck bushes once high waters arrived but even there fish were scattered.
Action will likely improve as the reservoir falls back to summer pool and fish get back on a more structure oriented patter but until then crappie fishermen are likely to have tough sledding. After a spring like this one many crappie anglers are learning to give more consideration to the late May and June period when stable weather and lake levels are the norm.
The nice fall months of September and October are often overlooked and underrated by crappie anglers who have the “spring only” mentality. After all the unruly weather and lake levels this year those other months are sure begging for respect.
As the big pond slowly recedes anglers will wake up to a new lake each day until TVA gets it back down to summer pool. Adapting to the rapid change isn’t always easy but for those anglers willing take a different approach and capitalize on the movements of fish in transition the time can be quite productive.

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Colorful Bridge
Photo by Shane Dunnaway

In the back of Hematite Lake in LBL are a series of boardwalks and bridges. In autumn, spectacular colors of foliage are scattered throughout, as seen here on this "colorful" bridge.