Back in action on Kentucky Lake as Stop 3 gets underway - Major League Fishing

Back in action on Kentucky Lake as Stop 3 gets underway

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Stop 3 action is underway at Kentucky-Barkley lakes. Photo by Rob Matsuura. Angler: Alec Morrison.
April 19, 2024 • Jody White • Invitationals

CALVERT CITY, Ky. – Though the weather conditions are perhaps not ideal, with cooler weather and north winds on tap for the week, that shouldn’t do much to hurt the fishing. Today, the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals pros start Stop 3 Presented by Phoenix Boats on Kentucky Lake, which promises to be a fascinating tournament. Set to showcase the resurgent fishery, MLFNOW! will also give us the first live look at the offshore smallmouth spawn on the lake, and we’ll get to see what else the big Tennessee River reservoir (and, don’t forget Barkley) has to offer.

The state of the largemouth bite

Spring has definitely sprung in Kentucky. Photo by Jody White

With warm weather through practice, green leaves all over the place, and water covering up Kentucky Lake’s famous yellow flowers, you might expect the fishing up shallow to be really good. According to Tommy Dickerson, you’d be right.

“The largemouth bite has been awesome,” Dickerson said. “The last three days, you could just catch all you wanted on the bank, and there have been some really nice ones, 3 to 5 pounds. They’re in every little pocket you can find. I’ve been told there’s no sense in fooling with them, so, I’m sure most people are not. But, I’m going to start in the morning and try to catch a couple smallmouth, and then go try to catch largemouth the rest of the day. It’s been really good.”

According to Dickerson, there should be plenty of fish headed to the bank.

“There’s quite a few buck bass on bed,” Dickerson said. “So, I think they just got there. I’ve been watching the Toyota Series, and the BFL, and it’s been cold here. This week is warm, but it’s been cold. So, I think the fish just got there. The moon is a few days away from being full, the water temperature is 65 to 66 degrees, everything is lining up perfect.”

Dickerson isn’t alone in his optimism – Steve Floyd is planning on making a go of it on the bank, and it sounds like he’s getting plenty of bites. Kentucky has been a smallmouth lake lately, but it’d be pretty fun if this week turned out to be a largemouth week.

Committing to smallmouth

The star of last year’s Toyota Series event on Kentucky, smallmouth spawning on the main lake are going to attract a lot of attention this week. With the lake in a comeback phase, it seems as though the smallmouth population is in better shape than the largemouth. So, it has anglers like Brett Carnright, who is known as the best bed-fisherman on Champlain, going all-in on a potential strength.

“I spent maybe 20 minutes largemouth fishing, and I caught two on a swim jig and that’s it,” said the New York rookie. “The reason I didn’t want to do largemouth that much is because the water level was maybe a foot or two lower than what it might need to be. And, I’d never been to the lake. A lake this big, I didn’t want to get caught running around and doing a bunch of stuff. Once I determined you could see fish on your electronics while idling, I just figured that would be my best bet.”

So, after finding a couple smallmouth on beds with his electronic eyes early on the first day of practice, Carnright went all-in.

“I started my practice with 1,118 hours on my motor, and right now I have 1,152 hours,” he said. “So, I idled for 34 hours during practice. I was pretty much a one-trick pony. I’m going to either live or die on spawning smallmouth.

“I took the approach of finding as many beds as I could find, with side scan and LiveScope, and did not catch many of them,” Carnright added. “But, based on research, it seems like a lot of them are pretty quality fish, so I figured I’d rather spend my time not catching them and just marking as many as I could. I have a goal weight of maybe 18 pounds, if I can get to that, I might layoff a little bit and try to conserve fish for Day 2, and hopefully Day 3.”

Based on what Carnright has been able to learn about these fish, and what he knows about other brands of spawning smallies, it sounds like he’s made a good choice.

“There are quite a few of them out there, and, from what Alec [Morrison] told me, they’re pretty aggressive,” he said. “That tells me they’re not toward the end of the spawn, they’re more toward the beginning. And, the water temp, I saw like 63 to 66 degrees. But, I’ve never fished for these smallmouth before, they might behave a little differently. You do have a big population of largemouth on this lake, but, when smallmouth are spawning, that’s typically the way to win tournaments. You pretty much have to stick to it, or have the majority of your fish be spawning smallmouth. Another thing I know about smallmouth spawning is they really use the same dates every year. The water temp does matter, moons can matter, but if they’re going to be be spawning on April 20th of 2024 and 2023, they’re going to be spawning on April 20th of 2030.”

According to that logic and data, this event could look a lot like a souped-up version of last year’s Toyota.

Jake’s take on the lake

A previous winner on Kentucky Lake, Jake Lawrence is the tournament favorite

The preeminent angler on the fishery right now, and the tournament favorite, Jake Lawrence, is expecting the smallmouth spawn to win out, but with a lot of variety in the mix.

“They are doing everything,” he said. “There are some on the bank, there are some staging, there are some spawning. It is a wide-open ballgame. I think it’s going to be a lot harder for me to win, but I think you’re going to see the weights be a lot better down the list.”

One thing that Lawrence has his eye on this week is the water level, which he thinks is in a bit of an unusual position.

“The water level is the one thing that is a bit of a curveball in this one,” he said. “For the last 13 or 14 years, they’ve been shy to bring the lake up to summer pool this early in the spring. We had two major floods, one of which was almost going over the dam. They’ve been holding the water lower, for a lot longer the last several years. For whatever reason, on the majority of the chain, they’ve let it come up this week.

“Instinctually, the bass are going to follow the rising water,” he said. “They may not go to the bank, but they’re going to look in that direction. So, we have a big push of them going shallow, but the lake is cleaner than I’ve ever seen it this time of year. So, it’s interesting that the water is rising, yet it’s extremely clear. Traditionally, with rising water, you can find the deepest piece of wood and catch them. But this time, you can see the bottom up there. There are definitely fish to be caught, but that better grade, 3- and 4-pounders, are a little more skittish in that clear water.”

For Lawrence and a number of other folks, the offshore smallmouth game is a key part of the plan. This week, at least one pro caught a 6-pound smallie in practice, but, in theory, a kicker largemouth or two could go a long way. It’s what helped Lawrence win last spring’s Toyota. According to him, a fish like that is likely to be a lightning strike, rather than the result of an afternoon of big swings.

“I feel like it’s going to be won out there, but the person that wins could have 13 smallmouth, or 15 smallmouth,” he said. “There are several largemouth out, there will be some mixed in. But, I don’t know if someone can catch some smallmouth, and then go head hunting shallow. I feel like when you get a good green one, shallow, or out, you randomly catch one.”

What does it take to win?

With a big college tournament out of Paris Landing in the rearview, there should be a manageable amount of boats on the water for the pros, but you can’t really replace a spawning smallmouth once it has been moved around.

Despite that, and even considering the possibly excellent largemouth bite, Lawrence thinks the offshore smallies are still the smart play.

“I feel like it’s going to get harder and harder,” he said. “Most of what I’m seeing, they’re spawning. If it’s not spawning, it sure is close. I was figuring this deal out in the Toyota, during the tournament last year. The class out there is the right class – they’re almost all 3 1/2 to 4 1/4, you don’t really need to get that many bites. If you get a dozen bites, you should have about 18 pounds.”

Carnright also has high hopes for that bite.

“I think it’ll take 59 pounds, 14 ounces to win,” he said. “The cut weight, I thought it would be like 31-ish pounds. But honestly, I’m thinking it’s going to be higher than that now, just because the last two tournaments, the guys tend to exceed my predictions. So, I’m thinking more like 34, I think you’re going to want 17 or 18 a day to make that cut.”

That’s on track with what Lawrence is seeing, and by the end of the week, we should really know what Kentucky Lake smallmouth are capable of.

“I really think we’re going to see a lot of people fishing the same places,” Lawrence said. “There are 10,000 stumps in the lake, but only so many of the right one. So, it could take 64 to win, or it could take 56, based on how much is coming.”