Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY


April 2, 2014

Warmth draws fishermen to water

GLASGOW — Peter Creek at Barren was like a boat city Tuesday as fishermen were in pursuit of spring crappie. Four members of our Oldtimer fishing group were among them, with Larry Spencer acting as our driver and guide on his pontoon. Larry, Glenn Debiak, Keith Skiles and myself were out on this most beautiful of days and with the wind blowing us around, we too sought the protection of Peter Creek. (It’s always been Peters Creek for most of us). There must have been more than100 boats scattered out from one end of the creek to the other, many camped out under the power lines that border the state park.

We had intended to fish stump rows on the main lake by long-line trolling, but the wind wouldn’t permit it, so we joined all those others in Peter.

Eventually we ended at least a mile up where Glenn scored the biggest catch of the day, a nice largemouth we estimated at more than four pounds, which he put back. But we weren’t having much luck on crappie and only had a couple at that point.

Finally we decided to go in around 2 p.m. and Larry suggested we make one more pass at that stump row on the main lake. That’s when the action began. Over the next hour, we managed to boat over two dozen quality crappie in the 11- to 14-inch range with only a couple of throwbacks. I believe it was Keith who took the “big fish” honors for crappie with a 14-incher. We ended up with 28. There may have been some who caught more, but I don’t think anyone caught any better quality.

What had started as a slow day suddenly turned into something very special thanks to Larry’s skills as a guide. You can’t beat a successful fishing day with great Christian friends. It don’t get any better. And I have the filets in the freezer to prove it.

While the four of us were hunting crappie at Barren, two others of our number, Ed Darst and Wilbur Carroll, were fishing Cumberland River for trout. They found the river in perfect condition at Burkesville and each had their five-fish limit in a couple of hours. They caught a lot of trout in the slot limit, which had to be released and also caught and released a couple of brookies, trolling and casting crank baits.

As an added bonus, thanks to Wilbur, I ended up with some trout filets, which I like to grill.

Biologists with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources predict the return of Lake Cumberland to its normal summertime level will prove a boon to fishing in the coming years.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced last week that the lake should return to its old level of 723 feet above sea level by mid-May. Lake Cumberland had been held at a lower level since 2007 while repairs to Wolf Creek Dam were underway.

John Williams, southeastern fisheries district biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, said the return of historic lake levels will boost fishing both in the lake and in the tailwater below it.

“It is going to flood all of that shoreline cover that’s grown up during the drawdown,” he said. “It is going to help black bass, sunfish and crappie. They will utilize that cover now and it will make for fun fishing.”

Nutrients provided by decaying plants will help fuel growth at the base of the food chain, a boost that biologists refer to as the “new lake effect.”

Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, noted the surface area of the lake will grow from 37,000 acres at its lowest to 50,250 acres this summer.

“This will greatly increase the amount of fishable water in the lake,” he said. “The backs of creeks, coves and areas in the upper end of the lake that were dry during the drawdown are now available for fishing. The fishing will get better each year for the next several years.”

The higher lake level will expand the amount of oxygenated, cool water that striped bass and walleye need to survive as the lake warms in late summer through early fall.

“This will improve the water quality for these two species,” Williams said. “The regular releases will also benefit trout in the tailwater. It should get the tailwater back to what it was before the drawdown in a few years.”

The plan to raise the lake to its old level stalled early this year, when researchers discovered the endangered duskytail darter had moved downstream from the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River while the water was down. Raising the lake back up could impact these fish.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acted rapidly to complete a plan to ensure the survival of the darter.

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deserve a lot of credit,” said Ron Brooks, director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “They worked overtime to make this happen this quickly.”

Normally, it can take up to 135 days for a review. In this case, a biologist opinion was issued in less than 45 days.

Brooks said the duskytail darter will be monitored by the Corps for three years.

“The Corps will increase the water level slowly to allow the duskytail darter to migrate back upstream,” he said. “They are going to collect some of the darters and hold them at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in case they are needed for restocking in the future.”

As part of a remediation plan, the Corps also plans to rework two tributary streams to reduce the drainage of contaminants into the Big South Fork and stabilize areas where trail crossings divert sediment into the water.

“The return of the water is going to help the forage species, it will help fishing and will be much better than during the drawdown,” Brooks said. “The lake is on its way back now.”

The three largest smallmouth bass on the ESPN/Bassmaster Top 25 Smallmouth Bass list came from one water body: Dale Hollow Lake, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee line in southcentral Kentucky. In this week’s Kentucky Afield report, Lee McClellan talks about trophy smallies.

The all-tackle world record came out of Dale Hollow, an 11-pound, 15-ounce behemoth. Leitchfield’s David L. Hayes caught that fish by trolling points in the Kentucky section of the lake on the morning of July 9, 1955. Dale Hollow produced John Gorman’s second place smallmouth, a 10-pound, 14-ounce fish caught in April 1969. Gorman fooled the smallmouth with a white doll fly fished in the Obey River arm of the lake. Paul Beal’s 10-pound, 8-ounce third place smallmouth struck a smoke-colored grub in April 1986 from the Hendrick’s Creek arm of the lake.

In all, six of the top 10 smallmouth bass on the list came from Dale Hollow.

“The upper Cumberland River system has great smallmouth bass genetics,” said John Williams, southeastern fisheries district biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Since this general area produces the biggest smallmouths on record, the genetics are excellent for producing huge specimens.”

Kentucky is blessed with three world-class smallmouth lakes: Laurel River Lake, Lake Cumberland and the upper section of Dale Hollow Lake that produced the world record. Williams and his crew oversee the smallmouth bass management on Laurel River Lake and Lake Cumberland and assist with the Kentucky portion of Dale Hollow Lake.

In spring, smallmouth bass move from their winter hideouts – along steep points, bluffs or suspended above channel drops – toward their spawning grounds on gently sloping banks that run from shallow to medium-depth water.

Long, extended points that run well out in the lake also make good spring areas in these lakes as do the shallow ends of small coves that run off the main lake or a major creek arm.

Jerkbaits and swimbaits also fool smallmouths on sloping banks in spring. Anglers report catching smallmouth bass above 4 pounds recently on Dale Hollow using Tennessee shad-colored swimbaits and clown-colored jerkbaits fished on gently-sloping pea gravel banks. Those banks with some grass on them are best.

“If I wanted to catch a smallmouth bass 6 pounds or better, I would go to Laurel River Lake,” Williams said. “I hear regularly of smallmouths over 7 pounds coming from the lake and it seems to improve every year.”

Small, pearl-colored swimbaits rigged on quarter-ounce lead-head jigs are deadly in spring on long, sloping points in Laurel. Blade baits ripped off the bottom and allowed to settle again also work well in these spots. Watch your line intently when the blade bait sinks to bottom again as smallmouth often pick it off as it settles.

“Laurel is harder to fish and can be terribly frustrating and you’ll leave convinced there isn’t a smallmouth in it,” explained Williams, who caught his personal best 6-pound, 3-ounce smallmouth from the lake two years ago. “Then, you catch a monster and you are motivated again.”

The smallmouth population in Lake Cumberland is consistently good year after year. “The lake’s smallmouths are in great condition with many 20-inch and longer fish in the population,” Williams said.

The sloping banks near Low Gap Island, in the middle and lower sections of Otter, Caney and Wolf creeks all have excellent trophy spring smallmouth potential.

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