Top 10 baits from Kentucky Lake - Major League Fishing

Top 10 baits from Kentucky Lake

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Spinning rods and smallmouth were king on Kentucky Lake. Photo by Jody White. Anglers: Andrew Nordbye, Robert Matsuura.
April 25, 2024 • Jody White, Rob Matsuura • Invitationals

CALVERT CITY, Ky. Stop 3 Presented by Phoenix Boats on Kentucky Lake went to plan, with spawning or staging smallmouth accounting for most of the successful patterns on the week. Caught mostly off the bank with the aid of forward-facing sonar, the pros learned a lot about the bite as the week went on, which made for an interesting tournament that really added a lot to what anglers know (or at least think they know) about fish behavior.

Here’s what got it done for the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals pros.

1. Nordbye runs stumps with a minnow and a Ned

For the win, Andrew Nordbye ran stump fields with a handful of baits.

Relying heavily on Garmin LiveScope, Nordbye used Lew’s rods and Lew’s Custom Lite SS Series reels to present a variety of finesse offerings. His primary baits were a 5-inch Strike King Z-Too in Arkansas shiner, a Mach Skooler and a Strike King Ned Ocho.

On the final day, Nordbye caught a 5-15 smallmouth off a barge tie. Otherwise, almost all of his weight came from smallies spawning on stumps, which he located in practice with side imaging.

2. Spawning smallmouth also play for Ebare

A lock for the Top 10 basically every time he launches the boat, Dakota Ebare nearly got the win last week.

For baits, he did most of his work with a Strike King Baby Z-Too on a drop-shot, wielding it with Lew’s rods and reels. The Texas pro also mixed in a Ned rig.

Notably, Ebare didn’t live on the main-lake flats as much as his competition, fishing around the mouths of bays on the east side of the lake a decent amount as well as working south past Kenlake State Park on the final day.

3. Miller mixes and matches baits

Catching 20 pounds three days in a row, Colby Miller ran the smallmouth spawn program like everyone else and used a buffet of baits to do it.

He used a Strike King Z-Too in morning dawn and a pearl color, rigged both on a jighead and on a drop-shot with a 3/8-ounce Epic Baits weight. He also used a Neko rig with an Epic Baits Nail Weight. He used Edge rods, Shimano reels and braid with a 12-pound Shimano Mastiff FC leader.

“I was mixing up, really,” he said. “Some of the fish I was fishing for were pressured. It was a lot harder to get them to bite, so I would show them a couple of different baits, the drop-shot being one, and a Damiki a little bit, as well as a Neko rig. Mixing it up, just to try to get the fish to react to a certain bait. Every fish was different, and each day was different. The first day, I caught some on a Neko, some on a drop-shot and some on a Damiki. Day 2, I caught everything on a Damiki. Day 3, I caught everything on a drop-shot.”

Though fishing for fish spawning on objects was a big deal in the event and a big point of interest leading up to it, Miller successfully added to the playbook.

“It was obvious — the smallmouth were spawning around stumps, or logs, or whatever it may be,” he said. “Those were the ones that were getting pressure, because everybody could just see the structure and cast to it. But, I was able to find a handful of fish that were not on any cover whatsoever and would just have a bed away from everything.”

Miller also said that while those fish were not always bigger, sometimes they were, and other people were not fishing for them.

“Those ones were a lot easier to catch,” he said.

4. Spawning smallmouth produce for Morrison

Alec Morrison finished fourth in the event and moved up to second in Fishing Clash Angler of the Year. To do it, he relied on two of his strengths – sonar and smallmouth – albeit on a lake he’d never fished an event on before.

To pluck spawning smallmouth, he used a 4-inch Z-Man Scented Jerk ShadZ on a 1/8-ounce head, a 1/4-ounce Beast Coast O.W. Sniper with a Reins Ring Craw and a drop-shot with a Hayabusa DSR132 hook, a 3/16-ounce Reins weight and an OSP Dice Rubber (non salt).

“I really just spent all of practice idling,” Morrison said. “Day 1, I spent the majority of the day idling and partially fishing. It only took a couple hours to realize that I was indeed finding beds on side scan and was able to locate them on side scan. So, I took the rest of practice to idle and mark as many as I could. I didn’t catch many of them, because I was a little nervous about whether or not they’d be like the northern ones and you could go back and catch them again easily.”

On derby day, Morrison caught fish he had marked until he got to his target weight, and then went looking. He ran the sort of game plan northern smallmouth fisheries like Champlain have trained him to run.

“In the tournament, I pretty much just ran ones I had marked and idled around and tried to expand in some of those good areas,” he said. “Day 2, I assumed a lot of real obvious ones on stumps and stuff like that had gotten caught, so I tried to focus on branching out and looking for beds that weren’t on any kind of structure – they would just make their bed in the sand. Maybe there would be a very small piece of wood there, but I was trying to locate ones that would be harder to see.”

Though he ended up having a very good event, Morrison thinks that recognizing how much the spawners were replenishing might have allowed him to do even better.

“I felt like once some areas got burnt out, that you wouldn’t be able to go back through and find very many,” he said. “I feel in hindsight there was a good amount of fish moving up every single day. Maybe if I would have went back through some of that obvious stuff, I could have picked up a few more.”

5. Shaky head does the damage for Campbell

Staying scorching hot, Brody Campbell did his best work with a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Hit Worm on a 1/4-ounce shaky head.

“I was fishing bedded smallmouth like most of the guys,” he said. “Simple, nice and easy.”

Targeting fish in 9 to 12 feet of water, Campbell may have learned something on the week.

“What blew my mind is they were spawning that deep with the water clarity not that clean,” he said. “It kind of opened my eyes; I’ve never caught one on a bed that deep where the visibility is that bad. You learn new stuff every day, I guess.”

6. Walker minnows for smallies

Fishing isolated cover for smallmouth, Jacob Walker fished between Kenlake and Blood River for the most part, staying out of the crowd at the north end.

His key baits were a Megabass Vision 110+2 and a 5-inch Deps Sakamata Shad (which is now widely available) on an Owner Range Roller jighead. He fished the minnow on a G. Loomis GLX 823 with a 7-pound leader and 11-pound braid.  

“In practice, I threw the jerkbait around spawning fish. I had my hooks cut off, and I didn’t have to make a far cast to work the bait down,” he said. “I could hit it about four times and get it on top of one, strictly to get the fish to rise up. I could get the fish to rise up from isolated cover, and I would mark the fish.”

On derby day, Walker’s first cast was with a minnow, and he used several colors.

“The green pumpkin and chartreuse one, that’s the deal when they’re spawning,” he said. “They would eat that first pitch if they’re hot. But, sometimes you had to go to something a little more natural. My first cast would be with a bright one, to see if they would bite. Then, I would go to one that was more natural with maybe a lighter head to move it slower.”

Notably, Walker didn’t have much company in his section of the lake, and he was able to improve his weight every day.

“People would stop and fish those obvious points, and I was going down the bank a few hours every morning and marking structure down the bank,” he said. “There’s always stuff that isn’t obvious — isolated cover or new current breaks that aren’t on the map. I found one little section that was a current break — not on LakeMaster, not on Navionics — and it blocked the cover, and there were three pieces behind it. One of them was a washed-up tree. I saw it all three days of the tournament, and every single day I did not see a fish on it, until the third day, and that was that 6-pound, 4-ounce smallmouth I caught. I think there was a wave of big females pulling up every day in that section down there.”

7. Hall ‘Scopes up another Top 10

Always in the mix with LiveScope, Kyle Hall started his tournament fishing for largemouth and somehow ended up with brown fish.

“I caught all largemouth in practice, and they all turned into smallmouth,” he said. “I don’t know what happened.”

Fishing alongside many of the other top finishers, Hall used a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Flatnose Minnow on a 1/8-ounce head as well as a Berkley PowerBait MaxScent Hit Worm on a Neko. He used an Abu Garcia Revo Rocket reel, Full Send rods, Berkley X9 braid and Berkley Trilene 100% Fluorocarbon.

8. Swimbait leads the way for Meunier

Earning a Top 10 on a lake he knows well, Kevin Meunier ran farther south than anyone else in the Top 10 every day, battling big water to get away from the crowd. Down around Paris, he caught most of his fish on an old-school 3/4-ounce Revenge head and a Gambler Big EZ in Tennessee shad. The Indiana pro also caught a few on a Gambler Sweebo Worm on a shaky head. He used a Halo rod and 14-pound Vicious Pro Elite 100% Fluorocarbon for the swimbait.

“I was running pretty far south, trying to get away from the traffic,” he said. “I was fishing 7- and 8-foot bars. They were more on hard bottom. I was doing a little ‘Scoping and just fishing in areas I know about. I didn’t have to ‘Scope them; they were areas I’ve been fishing before, I know how they lay.”

9. Backup plan works for Parrish

Rolling up the leaderboard every day, Jaden Parrish sacked 21 pounds and change on Day 3 to move into the Top 10.

Utilizing a 6th Sense Provoke 106 Sinking Jerkbait, a drop-shot with a 6th Sense Glitch (smallie smoke) and a jighead with a 3-inch 6th Sense Whale (pearl white), Parrish used Pride Rods for all his presentations.

“Day 1, I thought I had a main-lake point deal, tossing a swimbait around,” he said. “Not ‘Scoping, just fishing around – I caught some big ones in practice doing that, and it didn’t pan out for me the first half of the day. So, after that, I went out to the bars and went to the beds I had marked, and found new ones as I was rotating through the waypoints.”

Committing to the offshore spawn game on Day 2 was good for him.

“If I was on one waypoint and caught one, I would see another bed on my way to the next one,” he said. “It was like the fish were coming as the tournament was progressing and making new beds overnight.

“I would throw the jerkbait over them, first cast, to see if the fish would come up out of the bed and show itself,” he said. “Then I would rotate through the other baits to get them to bite.”

On the final day, fishing new water, Parrish ran across a deeper stump on the river ledge with a school of largemouth. Catching a 6-pounder on it buoyed his bag, but he couldn’t catch the other fish he saw.

10. As usual, Gill makes an appearance in the Top 10

The leader in Fishing Clash Angler of the Year points on the Invitationals, Drew Gill cruised into the Top 10 yet again, putting a bunch more miles on his trolling motor and ‘Scoping up a bunch more bass.  

This time around, a Neko with a Big Bite Baits Finesse Worm and a drop-shot with a Big Bite Baits Shaking Squirrel Worm did his damage.

“I’d throw the Neko at bed fish and throw the drop-shot at fry guarders,” he said. “I got a little bit higher bite percentage on the drop-shot with fry guarders, and I got a way higher bite percentage with bed fish on the Neko.”

Fishing his way south, Gill mixed species more than most.

“I was looking for pretty specific stuff in terms of how an area would set up for me to catch good ones, not just 2-pounders,” he said. “So, I had to keep running down the lake a little more every day for me to keep finding more stuff. Once I ran through an area, there was no going behind myself and catching more fish. A big thing for me was finding stuff on the east side of the lake as much as possible, because then I could fish for both largemouth and smallmouth without having to discriminate.”