Lake Cumberland offers some of the best striped bass fishing in Kentucky, and springtime is a good time to test your tackle with this exciting, hard-fighting species.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has been stocking striped bass in Lake Cumberland for many years, and the resulting population has done well. Yet, just because there are plenty of fish in the lake to catch doesn't make them any easier to catch.
Striped bass are roamers. They move long distances, from one area of a lake to another, usually in schools. This characteristic can frequently cause anglers frustration, because where you find fish one day there may be none the next.
One key to being successful in catching striped bass is locating baitfish, which in turn help you locate stripers. Stripers are usually heavy feeders and select shad as their main food source. As water temperatures begin to warm in the spring, shad begin congregating in spots where the water warms the quickest. Areas such as the backs of bays and creeks where it's both more shallow and warm rain enters the lake are places to look. Baitfish may also come up to the surface off rocky banks and points where the sun warms the rocks and heats the water faster.
Sometimes when you find schools of shad, striped bass may already be present and actively feeding. Often though, rockfish (as the species is also known) may not move into the area to feed until they're ready. Likewise, a feeding spree may only last a few minutes, or could last hours. The usual rule of thumb, however, is once you find good numbers of shad in a particular area the stripers won't be far behind.
When you observe schools of baitfish on the surface, a good technique to try is casting a top-water plug near the baitfish and retrieving the lure slowly to resemble an injured shad. If rockfish are feeding, they will readily come to the surface for an easy meal. Catching a rockfish on top is one of the most thrilling experiences any angler can have. Watching a big fish explode on a top-water lure is an incredibly exciting sight.
If your surface fishing doesn't entice any action, you can switch to several other methods that have proven effective beneath the surface. Probably the most consistent way to take stripers is by fishing live shad. You should locate in a likely area, such as in a creek with lots of baitfish present, or off a main lake point toward the middle or lower end of the reservoir.
Shad hooked through the lips or top of the back can be fished on a straight line lowered beside the boat. One way to find out the depth where more fish are holding is to put out three or four lines at various intervals. When a couple of stripers are taken, adjust the depth of the other lines accordingly.
Another variation of fishing with live shad is to drift a line or two behind the boat, using a balloon for a float. This technique allows you to cover a little more area and fish more lines at once, since the balloon will cause the line to drift out further from the boat. Tie the balloon up the line from the bait the same distance as the depth you want to fish.
Now in addition to working live bait, you can also connect with stripers using artificial lures. One of the more effective and proven is the lead-head jig and twister-tail combination This lure can he casted or trolled, depending on preference. The quivering action of the twister-tail imitates a wounded shad fumbling through the water and it's often irresistible to stripers on the prowl for an easy meal.
Cast or troll the jig combination off points or along drop-offs in creek channels for best success. Working this lure under or near schools of baitfish increases the odds of catching fish. When casting, bottom-bumping is often the best presentation.
Fishing for striped bass can be one of the most challenging and rewarding kinds of fishing around. It takes patience and some knowledge of the species' habits to be successful. But, with a little practice and time on the water, you can learn the general patterns of striped bass and have as good a chance as anyone in connecting with these silver-sided gamesters.
Catch and Release
For the conservation-minded angler, it is important to note that recent studies on striped bass indicate catch and release of fish over 15 inches rarely results in a fish that will survive the trauma and stress of being caught.
For some reason, larger stripers just don't do well when released, and as many as two-thirds of those caught and turned loose during the summer die shortly after being returned to the water.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources supports catch and release of all sport fish except striped bass over 15 inches. Of course, anglers may keep legal fish but should discontinue fishing for rockfish upon taking a limit. This way, fewer stripers will be lost from hooking mortality, although all of them may he put back seemingly in good shape.