Looking back at old photos from the 1950s and 1960s in Happy Hunting Ground magazine, the precursor of Kentucky Afield magazine, you see anglers wading in the Dix River in spring with strings of fat white bass tied to their belts. The spring white bass runs in the headwaters of Lake Herrington and up into the Dix River drew anglers from all over central Kentucky and beyond when the dogwoods bloomed in late March and April.
The drought years of the late 1980s and early 1990s impacted the strong spring flow that white bass need to spawn. White bass populations all over the South declined, precipitously in some waters.
Herrington Lake was one of those waters where white bass populations fell dramatically. By the late 1990s and the early 2000s, the famous white bass runs dwindled to a shell of their former greatness. The population bottomed out, but once regular spring tides returned, so did the white bass runs.
"There are now fantastic white bass at Herrington," said Kathryn Emme, assistant central district fisheries biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "We see many fish from 14 to 16 inches. The Herrington Lake white bass are bigger and better than most of our lakes in our region, except Taylorsville."
Anglers targeting white bass in Herrington may launch at Bryant's Camp Boat Ramp and continue upstream until the lake returns to the rocky pool and riffle of the Dix River. They may encounter white bass jumping anywhere in this stretch.
White bass showed up in Taylorsville Lake in the early 1990s. They didn't appear in the early years of the lake, but now they make one of the strongest spring runs in Kentucky.
"We saw some dandy white bass in Taylorsville, up to 16 inches long and healthy," Emme said. "The run up the Salt River should be strong this spring if everything cooperates."
Boating anglers after Taylorsville Lake white bass may launch at the Van Buren Boat Ramp and continue upstream. Bank anglers may use the Palmer Road access off Pleasant Grove Ridge Road via KY 248. They may also access the river at the KY 248 Bridge. Both of these access points lie inside the Taylorsville Lake Wildlife Management Area.
The spring white bass run into the headwaters of Nolin River Lake is arguably the best in Kentucky. The lake holds high numbers of 12- to 16-inch fish. The section from the Broad Ford boat ramp all the way upstream to KY 224 Bridge at Millerstown is highly productive. Anglers may bank access the Nolin River Lake headwater at the Bacon Creek Boat Ramp and also at the Broad Ford Bridge on KY 1214.
Boaters venturing upstream of the Bacon Creek Boat Ramp must tread carefully as Nolin River Lake quickly becomes the Nolin River, full of rocks, riffles and shallow shoals.
Other waters in Kentucky offer productive spring white bass fishing. A stocking program begun in 2006 placed tens of thousands of white bass into the Kentucky River. They congregate in spring below locks and dams on the river with some fish up to 12 inches long. The fisheries division of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife recently received reports of white bass showing up below locks and dams in the lower sections of Green River.
The tailwaters of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley also have good spring white bass fishing. The upper end of Cave Run Lake will have excellent white bass fishing this spring with many fish 12 to 14 inches long with some fish longer than 16 inches. Fisheries biologists witnessed more white bass in Cave Run Lake this past fall than in the past 15 years. Be careful boating in the upper ends of this lake as it contains significant amounts of submerged timber.
With water temperatures pushing up through the 50 degree mark, the spring white bass runs are right at the doorstep. "With the warm winter we've had, the runs are probably going to be early this year," explained Emme. "They could start soon."
When white bass make their spring spawning runs and show up in numbers, the fishing is practically non-stop. They churn the water surface from bank to bank when they get into the "jumps" and gorge on baitfish. Any lure cast into this frothy water gets immediately crushed, hence the extreme popularity of white bass fishing in spring.
White bass hit small topwaters such as shad-colored propeller baits, chuggers and popping baits. They also strike small silver casting spoons, chrome lipless crankbaits and white or chartreuse in-line spinners.
The most reliable and versatile lure is an old standby: a white 3-inch curly-tailed grub rigged on a 1/4-ounce leadhead. A little heavier leadhead gives an angler extra casting distance.