Kentucky Lakeís fishing scene experienced a pretty good week weatherwise
as April hit the home stretch and May knocks at the door. A thunderstorm
or two and a little wind at times upset the applecart but temperatures
and lake levels have been in the normal range.
Lake stages had actually been above normal the last week or two and
climbed to summer pool ahead of schedule this spring. However, TVA
dropped the reservoir a few inches the last few days as readings were
359 last weekend but fell to 358.5 at midweek.
That may not sound like much of a decline to some but to others itís the
difference in shoreline habitat having enough water on it to attract
bass and bedding bluegill or shellcracker to bushes and grassbeds. Often
time fish will pull back off the bank a bit due to falling lake levels.
Surface temperatures climbed into the 73 to 75 degree range this week
and continue to rise, triggering the early phases of shellcracker and
bluegill spawning phases. A few nice shellcracker, biologically known as
red ear sunfish, were taken from shallow shorelines and buck bushes
where submerged grass was present.
May is peak spawning time so anglers can expect action to improve weekly
as more fish head to spawning territory and begin fanning beds.
The time for dusting off the light spinning tackle and cricket boxes is
A few crappie were still coming in from a variety of anglers who were
trolling crankbaits out over deeper flats in the 12 to 13 foot depth
range or long lining Road Runner style jigs in similar depth ranges.
Fish were scattered but those type anglers were still landing a few.
Also accounting for a few crappie were vertical fishermen dangling jigs
or jigs tipped with Berkley Power Bait or live minnows around deeper
stakebeds and brushpiles. A few fish have been taken in 5 to 7 foot
depths up Big Sandy around the Country Junction sector and in West
Deeper depths in the Paris Landing area are producing most of the fish
with low numbers coming from shallow areas. The 13-foot depth range has
been the most productive in the Paris Landing sector.
Some anglers casting jigs caught a few fish the last week or so but
shallow fish have been scattered as well.
Spider riggers accounted for some fish at times as they meandered over
main lake flats and in the backs of bays attempting to locate some late
spawning slabs. Establishing a clear pattern has been somewhat
challenging for most all type anglers lately.
Most crappie fishermen have been somewhat dismayed these last few weeks
as to when and where the peak of the spawning phases took place. Last
weekend some decent size females that had not spawned were caught from
13 foot depth ranges, a scenario that was somewhat puzzling.
Water color has been quite clear in many areas. That may have influenced
crappie to spawn a bit deeper lately.
Several anglers report difficulty in finding decent numbers of spawning
fish in their traditional shallow areas this spring. It has indeed been
unusual as both the fish and the weather have been a bit different at
times compared to patterns of yesteryear.
The lionís share of crappie fishermen report below average numbers
caught across the reservoir these last few weeks regardless of what
technique used or location. There have been a few success stories but
far below what Kentucky Lake normally produces.
Catfish are on the prowl and moving up to shallow rocky bluffs and banks
this week. Several nice stringers have been taken around shorelines and
rip-rap areas as the fish move up in preparation for spawning in those
Expect good catfish action these next two weeks all along Kentucky
Lakeís rocky banks. Places like the old Danville railroad levee on the
Tennessee River east of Big Sandy and the east side of the Ned McWherter
Bridge at Paris Landing are other good spots to consider.
Bass fishermen had a slow down this week as a lot of anglers beating the
banks were having a challenging time finding decent numbers of keeper
size fish. A lot of fish are in their prespawn phases but some of the
larger females may well have been on the bed lately and avoiding lures
cast their way.
Some anglers continue to fish out away from shorelines and work
secondary points and sandbars with Alabama rigs, crankbaits and jig and
craw combos, swim baits and more but the bulk of bass anglers are
hitting the shallow areas.
The shoreline cover has looked quite appealing lately with the abundance
of yellow flowers exposed and submerged. Lake levels dropped a few
inches this week and that likely diminished the shallow bite pattern a
bit but it could resume in the days ahead if lake levels rebound.
SHELLCRACKER/BLUEGILL BEDDING TIME NEARS
Transition time is at hand for Kentucky Lake anglers as spawning time
nears for two popular panfish that really pack a punch.
Bass are still biting and a few crappie are coming in too but itís these
rusty bull bluegill that are getting the attention of anglers all across
the reservoir, not to mention the olive drab giants commonly referred to
Biologically speaking the shellcracker are known as red ear sunfish.
Bream is the common term used throughout the south when referring to
bluegill. Whatever name you choose the common denominator among the
ranks of these powerful panfish is a feisty attitude with a never ending
Theyíre fun to catch and good to eat.
Every year when April fades to May sees the early spawning phases of
shellcracker kick in. Generally speaking, shellcracker begin a week or
ten days prior to bluegill. Surface temperature plays a big role as to
the biological clock. So does length of day.
May sees peak spawning time kick in for both these popular species here
on Kentucky Lake and it appears the timetable is about on schedule
despite a most unusual spring. Warm days lately have boosted surface
temperatures up into the 72 to 76 degree range.
A few hefty shellcracker were taken this week across the reservoir where
anglers are working the shallow buck bushes and grassbeds in the backs
of bays and small pockets off the main lake area. Lake levels have been
ahead of schedule the last week or two and already resting at the summer
Summer pool elevation puts water around the shallow shoreline habitat
and that provides enough cover to attract shellcracker who love to spawn
around shallow shorelines where a combination of grass and bushes exist.
Sometimes they occupy a submerged log or take advantage of a blown down
tree that fell out into the lake.
Bluegill often mix and mingle in the same areas yet bluegill are more
opportunists and will fan their craters in open gravel or a mud bottom.
They may choose an area around bushes and grass too but the shellcracker
have a reputation of being a bit more finicky.
Shellcracker are illusive and downright timid at times. They spook
easily in clear water and wonít tolerate a lot of excess noise and
Although there are similarities between the two, shellcracker can be
peculiar as to their bait choices. They sometimes take a cricket when
competing with bluegill in the same area but often times their bait of
choice is a red worm, wax or meal worm or small larva style bait.
Presentations differ at times too. Bluegill will smack just about any
similar bait cast their direction or depth range whereas shellcracker
usually prefer a bait on or near the bottom. Perhaps itís their normal
feeding habits of sucking freshwater mussel type morsels off the lake
Often times boaters experience higher catch rates when laying back off
the banks or spots and casting with ultra-light or light spinning
tackle. Anchoring the boat away from the bedding areas works best,
although some illusive fishermen use small aluminum boats and quietly
scull along the parameters with long telescopic poles for pinpoint bait
Sometimes shellcracker and bluegill occupy a spot thatís not easy to
reach. Casting into a very small pocket with a little wind present is a
recipe for disaster. Snags and bushes love to test your tackle long
before the fish get a chance to.
Thatís why keeping ample amounts of terminal tackle on hand is pretty
much mandatory. Expect to tie on a few hooks and rerig several times
during the course of a day. It just comes with the territory.
Keeping a pair of long nose pliers in your arsenal is a must as well.
Youíll need them to extract swallowed hooks or crimp split-shot sinkers
when rigging tackle. And a hand towel should be on the list too.
Bobbers are popular for regulating depth, especially for bluegill. They
are excellent indicators of light strikes too, not to mention the thrill
of seeing it disappear at the blink of an eye.
Yet some shellcracker enthusiasts choose to crawl their small bait
presentations along the bottom without bobbers or even fish a bait on
telescopic poles utilizing a tightline technique. Others might use a
bobber but still set the bait deep and on the bottom after establishing
that perfect balance without too much excess line dragging.
When fishing very shallow water veteran anglers opt for natural cork
type bobbers as colorful plastic or foam ones can scare finicky fish as
they enter the area and disrupt the placid paradise. Sometimes you canít
be too coy in shallows while other times, when wind is present or deeper
depths are paying dividends, you can get away with just about anything
racket or carelessness.
Active bedding areas can be quite forgiving. The fish are determined to
occupy and protect the beds. Spawning dominates their whole attitude so
the fish sometimes let their guard down.
As May enters the fishing scene along Kentucky Lake comes peak time for
these two popular panfish that are sure to bring a smile.
Their fight to the finish attitude brings out the kid in all of us as
poles bend, bobbers disappear and for a few short hours we revisit
youth, returning to the shady creek banks of life where the only worry
was whether the bait would hold out and who would clean the fish?
Make plans to partake of this great fishing phase and introduce someone
else to the sport while youíre at it! Itís a great entry level time.
Odds are if you hit the recall button youíll remember your first fishing
trip and fond memory came courtesy of some bluegill or shellcracker
Would I be right on that?
Also check out our past:
Kentucky Lake Fishing Reports
Steve McCadams is one of the nation's best known Crappie Fishermen
and a full time resident of Paris, Tennessee. Steve is also a
professional hunting and fishing guide here in the Paris Landing area.