by Ron Presley
When I think of Kentucky, the Kentucky Derby, Louisville Slugger and Mahumad Ali come to mind. For many avid anglers, outstanding fishing opportunities come to mind. From crappie to catfish, Kentucky Lake and the surrounding area offers some outstanding fishing.
A home base at Kentucky Dam Village or Moors Resort and Marina, both near Gilbertsville, will give you access to numerous fishing opportunities. And, both offer great lodging and restaurant opportunities. After all, anglers have to eat and sleep.
Good striper fishing exists below Kentucky Dam. I recently joined Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail director Jeremy Coe for some tailrace striper fishing.
One popular method of catching the scrappy stripers includes a simple three-way rig. Tie a three-way swivel to the main line of about 30- to 40-pound test braid. On the side of the three-way add about 12 inches of 20-pound mono and add a 2-ounce sinker. Finish the rig with 14 to 16 inches of 50-pound mono and a kahle hook.
With rig in hand Coe maneuvers his Alumacraft boat up near the dam in the discharge water. He locates a seam formed in the current and drifts backwards while controlling the boat with the big motor. He noted the importance of safety while fishing the rapid currents.
“We never turn the motor off,” said Coe. “If anything unexpected happens we want to be able to respond with the big motor. A trolling motor may not be enough.”
As the boat drifted backwards we kept the sinker bouncing along the bottom. If you can feel the bottom then you know you have the bait where the fish are.
Coe would drift back to the last set of pilings before moving back up to the dam and repeating the process. His bait of choice is a white curly tailed jig threaded on the kahle hook. If that setup is not successful he replaces the plastic with a live shad or minnow.
When I asked him how a striper bite felt he responded, “Don’t worry, you will know it.”
The striper outing on this day was not successful. A cold front had moved in and put a damper on the striper bite so we moved on to catfish, hoping they might not be so sensitive to the weather.
Like the stripers, catfish can also be targeted in the tailrace below Kentucky Dam. Eater size fish are abundant and an occasional trophy cat is boated. Local guides use a bottom bouncing technique to tempt the tasty cats.
A medium action rod, a baitcaster reel and a three-way rig is all anglers need to catch a mess of cats. Coe uses the same rig he ties for stripers on the catfish. Typical baits include night crawlers, minnows and cut baitfish. It is really a matter of personal choice, or what the catfish want on any given day.
To find the cats Coe moved out of the swifter current into some calmer water near a sunken piling. We were still near the dam, but the water was not moving as much. The new location resulted in several eatin’ size fish.
We had witnessed a guide boat catch several catfish earlier in the day while we were striper fishing. Once we located near the piling it did not take long to hook up. Coe hooked up first and a few minutes later I had a nice cat on.
We were strictly catch and release, but when we got back to the ramp there was more evidence of the good catfish fishery that exists below the Kentucky Dam. It was probably the guide boat that we saw earlier that had cleaned about a dozen or so cats for the cooler. Their filleted carcasses were left there in the shallow water.
Catfish do not seem to be targeted as much as other species on Kentucky Lake, but there are plenty there for anyone that wants to catch them.
Crappie are heavily targeted on Kentucky Lake. It is one of the best crappie lakes in the nation.
One of the great attractions for crappie anglers on Kentucky Lake is the many brush piles that have been sunk and man-made stake beds that have been installed all over the lake. Long time angler and guide Don Schnuck (Big Kahuna’s Fishing Guide Service-270-559-1366) is one example of many, that have been instrumental in building and sinking brush piles on the popular lake.
Crappie love any kind of structure that provides them with cover. More importantly, the brush piles provide a source of microscopic treats that baitfish feed on. Once the shad, minnows, and other baitfish show up, so do the crappie.
Brush piles help congregate the crappie and make them easier targets for anglers. And the stakebeds, because everything is vertical makes it easier for anglers to fish without getting hung up. Many anglers prefer the stake beds over the brush piles for that reason.
With many crappies in one spot, anglers can target them with the popular technique known as one pole fishing. There is nothing better than holding the pole, presenting the bait, and feeling the bite. Whether you call it one poling, jigging, or dipping, crappie anglers used the technique because they like to “feel the thump!”
With over 160,000 acres of water, Kentucky Lake is loaded with these man-made crappie hotels. Local and regular anglers on the lake are likely to have hundreds of waypoints marked where they can target crappie on brush piles. Occasional anglers don’t have much trouble finding some piles to fish by using their sonar.
Schnuck recommends a along crappie pole with a limber tip, because crappie don’t always slam it. “I like a sensitive tip to feel the light bites,” said Schnuck. “Sometimes your pole just straightens out when the fish takes the bait and swims up. You have to be able to see that.”
A light wire gold hook, a small sinker and a lively minnow is Schnuck’s rig of choice. He uses sonar to pinpoint the brush and determine the depth. If the fish are suspended at 10 feet he presents the bait just above them.
Savvy crappie anglers like Schnuck know that crappie are always looking up for their next meal and they will seldom go down to eat a minnow. Keep the bait above the fish and you will catch more slabs for the dinner table.
The fishing is great, but add in the beautiful scenery and hospitality of the Kentucky Dam area and it’s a bucket list destination for sure.
Lodging and Fishing
Lodging opportunities exist all over the Kentucky Dam area. I stayed at the Kentucky Dam Village State Park and Moors Resort and Marina during my visit. Both provided excellent lodging and food. More information can be found on their respective websites or you can follow them on Facebook.
Don Schnuck is a multi-species guide on Kentucky Lake. He operates the Big Kahuna’s Fishing Guide Service out of Moors Resort. Don goes above and beyond to put you on some fish. He can be reached at 270-559-1366 or visit him on Facebook.