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Dominating the conversation lately among the ranks of fishermen on Kentucky Lake has been the annoying cold front. It was a mean one!

Since late last week anglers have donned overcoats, coveralls and rain suits as they battled the elements. Mid-May weather wasnít supposed to be like this but bone chilling northwest winds blew in a dramatic weather change that saw daily highs some 8 to 10 degrees below normal for five to six days back to back.

Surface temperatures had a significant drop too. Readings at midweek were in the 66 to 68 degree range, which is also well below average for this time of year.

The good news is a warming trend is now in progress and the mercury is projected to climb back into the mid 70ís this weekend and perhaps reach the 80-degree mark early next week. A rapid rebound is indeed underway.

Water levels have been normal this week but thatís about the only normalcy fishermen faced. Projections for the weekend show the reservoir will stay at summer pool range of 359 at both Kentucky Dam and New Johnsonville area barring any drastic rainfall.

Most of the reservoir is sporting a good color for fishing. A little stain is present in some areas due to wind or small feeder creek runoff.

Just about all type anglers experienced a negative impact from the unusual weather change this past week. The popular panfish species of redear and bluegill had a mood swing. Redear, commonly referred to as shellcracker, really backed off their bite and spawning phases that were in high gear last week pretty much hit the brakes.

Bluegill action slowed some too but didnít shut down like the shellcracker. Some good stringers were still taken most days but anglers had to fish a bit harder to entice finicky fish to bite. Strikes were sluggish as the bluegill backed off the banks a bit and occupied slightly deeper venues.

Since the cold front descended late last week bluegill seemed to drop back off shallow fanning beds and resided in 4 to 7 foot depths at times. Anglers had to slow their presentation as stubborn males that normally display an aggressive behavior were timid and reluctant to bite at times. Fish wouldnít even take a bobber under most mornings.

With the arrival of the first full moon of May, which occurs on Saturday, watch for spawning phases to resume for both bluegill and shellcracker. The warming trend will no doubt have a positive influence. A lot of the big female shellcracker were spawning prior to the cold frontís arrival but odds are a few will get back into the swing of things by this weekend and early next week.

Both these species are sensitive to quick surface temperatures changes. Itís not unusual to see dramatic changes in their mood when cold fronts pay uninvited visits and linger several days, which is what happened late last week and most of this week.

Catfish have been hitting good lately as their spawning phases continue. Good numbers were taken despite the cold frontís impact this week.

Shallow pockets off the main lake areas are attracting a lot of catfish that are on the move and searching for rocky or gravel type bottoms in which to deposit their eggs. Shoreline anglers are catching them around rip-rap banks but a lot of bluegill and shellcracker fishermen continue to ty into some dandies on a daily basis while casting light tackle.

Bass action slowed this week as the fish were a bit turned off by the cold spell too. Still, anglers are targeting post-spawn fish that have backed off the banks a bit and relating to secondary structure or midrange ledges.

Tossing big deep diving crankbaits and swimbaits has paid dividends lately as have some big Texas rigged worms, jig and craw combos and Alabama rigs.

Not all the fish have left shallow shoreline habitat. Some decent bass were still residing in weedbeds around island rims. A few fish were responding to topwater presentations or suspending jerk baits.

Some boats were pitching and flipping shallow bushes and blowdowns while others were tossing spinnerbaits around visible cover.

With warmer weather on the way and rising surface temperatures, the ledge bite should improve next week across the reservoir.

Crappie anglers continue to find a few scattered post-spawn fish in midrange depths. While low numbers of shallow crappie have been taken in 7 to 8 foot depths, most successful anglers were working the 13 foot depth range with either vertical presentations of jigs and minnows around stakebeds or slow trolling crankbaits for suspended fish out in the main lake area.

In the wake of mean cold front that wore out its welcome, Kentucky Lakeís fishing scene is rapidly returning to stability where warm days dominate and light winds are the norm. Time to shed the jackets and get the sunscreen back out.

May is usually a mild, predictable month for fishermen but it has been a weird spring! Can I get an Amen on that?


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 as shellcracker.

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 appetite.

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 pool mark.

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 disturbance.

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 bottom.

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 presentations.

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 somewhere.

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.

Gone Fishing