Kentucky Dept. of Fish & Wildlife Resources News
Kentucky Afield Outdoors:
Fall bass fishing picking up steam

Frankfort, Ky. – The commotion on the water’s surface catches the corner of your eye as you probe a Kentucky Lake point with a jig on a shimmering fall day. You lightly tap the foot pad of the trolling motor and it turns the boat from the point toward the disturbance. You see panicked shad flittering in the back of the cove around the bend from the point. You kick your trolling motor up a little and move toward the tumult.

A clown-colored Zara Super Spook soon hits the surface of the cove and you begin to rhythmically move your rod side to side to make the Spook “walk the dog” back to the boat. The flipping shad ahead of you still hold your eyes, but soon a slight slurp hits your ears and the rod pulls down in your hands. Setting the hook out of instinct for fear of losing your nice rod, you watch a gigantic smallmouth bass tail-walk across the surface, violently shaking its head. Almost instantly, the big topwater lure flies harmlessly back toward your boat and the rod loses all tension. Your can fell your heart pound deep in your ears

“Look for shad on the surface in fall,” said Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Shad move into the back of embayments and shallower flats at this time of the year. It’s a fairly consistent pattern all over Kentucky.”

Bass anglers should work a topwater lure, a crankbait or spinnerbait in the back of bays, creek arms and across flats in September and October where baitfish congregate. You could have the fastest fishing action of the year.
“You can open your arsenal to lures that can cover some ground in fall,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “You can cover a lot of water with topwaters, crankbaits and spinnerbaits.”
Falling water temperatures increase the effectiveness of these types of lures. Water stratifies in the heat of summer. The top layers of water are warm during the hot months, but hold good amounts of dissolved oxygen that fish need to breathe. A transitional layer known as the thermocline develops in the water column between the warm oxygenated water on top and the oxygen-free depths. Bass rarely venture under the thermocline in summer, but that situation changes with the shorter days and cool temperatures of fall.

“There is so much more habitat available to them after you lose the thermocline in fall,” Ross explained. “The fall bite is better, but they are in more areas.”

Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are great waters for fall bass fishing. Buynak, who served as black bass research biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife for 18 years, recalled that trap nets he set in the backs of bays on Kentucky and Barkley lakes bulging with threadfin and gizzard shad during fall crappie population sampling. A bass angler aiming for good action would be wise to throw a topwater such as a Zara Spook or a buzzbait or work a medium-running shad colored crankbait in these areas.

The flats in Rhodes Bay, Barnett Bay, Tischel Creek and Byrd Bay on the Land Between the Lakes side of Kentucky Lake would be good places to try. The extensive flats on the western side of the lake between Blood River and Bailey’s Hollow are also productive fall fishing spots. The stump-lined flats in Denumbers Bay, Willow Bay and Nickell Branch on Lake Barkley are good spots for this technique as are the shallows lining the shore of Eddy Creek and Little River.

In south-central Kentucky, Barren River Lake has extensive flats near channels that hold shad and, therefore, bass in fall. Flats near the channel north of Barren River Lake State Park hold fall bass as do the shallower areas around the islands adjacent to Bailey’s Point. The flats located in the middle sections of the Skaggs Creek arm of the lake are also excellent areas to try for largemouth and smallmouth bass.

Toss a topwater onto these flats if you see any signs of surface activity. A spinnerbait thumped just under the surface or swum just above bottom will also elicit strikes. Tick a deep running crankbait in firetiger, chartreuse and white or pearl along the channel lip near the flat if the topwater or spinnerbait fails to produce a strike. Barren River Lake holds excellent numbers of 12 to 16-inch bass and plenty of fish from 18 to 21 inches as well.

Taylorsville Lake is an option near Louisville and Lexington that provides good topwater action in fall. Ryan Oster, federal aid coordinator for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, recently fished a buddy tournament there. “We caught a lot of fish,” he said. “One boat caught 20. Another boat had their limit by 10 a.m. on buzzbaits. The topwater bite will only get better as fall progresses and the water cools.”

Most of the fish caught were still near the main lake, because the shad haven’t migrated to the backs of coves yet. “The shad will move all the way back in coves and creek arms as we get on into fall,” Oster said.

Zebra mussels are bad news. They blanket the bottom of a lake or river and crowd out native mussel species for food and living space. But, they also filter and clear the water which promotes the growth of aquatic plants. This happened over the last several years at Dewey Lake in eastern Kentucky and improved the bass fishing.

“We’ve been getting better numbers of bass and better quality sized fish,” Oster explained. “Both population sampling and creel surveys show this improvement.”

Dewey is a narrow, serpentine lake and a topwater fished over weedbeds on flats near the old John’s Creek channel will get crushed by a bass. A soft-plastic or suspending jerkbaits fished in the same manner works well as does a ¼ to ½ -ounce spinnerbait slow rolled over the greenery. Decent numbers of 14 to 18-inch largemouth bass swim in Dewey Lake.

Get out and work a topwater, spinnerbait or run a crankbait in the back of a bay or over a flat this fall. You’ll leave the lake with a rough thumb from gripping bass and a smile on your face.

Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet, has an economic impact to the state of $4.7 billion annually. For more information on the department, visit our web site at
[FONT=Arial] [/FONT]