Jason Lambert won the Walmart FLW Tour event presented by Mercury on Kentucky Lake in dominating fashion by eschewing the intense fishing pressure being put on Kentucky Lake’s primary schools and searching for smaller pods on the outsides of the mega-schools. Lambert’s four-day total of 97 pounds, 2 ounces set a new Walmart FLW Tour record for Kentucky Lake.
Lambert wasn’t the only one trying to avoid the constant barrage of lures along the Tennessee River channel. Others in the top 10 found fish that they described as being “off the beaten path” or on “sneaky stuff” that did not have as many fish, but also did not get near as much attention from sonar cones and idling outboards.
These off-the-wall areas included secondary breaks back in bays and creeks, secondary bars off the river, shallower shell bars, back-channel ditches and the edges of flats. Here is a look at how the rest of the top 10 fished on Kentucky Lake.
2. Brandon Hunter fishes off-the-wall spots for runner-up
The pro who came closest to tracking down Lambert at Kentucky Lake was Brandon Hunter, who checked in daily limits of 22-11, 19-03, 24-12 and 22-12 for a total of 89-06.
Hunter’s plan for the week was to pluck fish from any community schools that weren’t already occupied, but when things got stingy on the main river, he had other “of-the-wall” places in his back pocket to hit. Many of his alternative places were secondary breaks in the mouths of bays and creeks and the edges of flats that fell of into 17 to 18 feet of water.
He grinded the tops of these areas with Lucky Craft’s 3.5 XD and 6.5 XD crankbaits on 10- and 14-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper. Other lures in his ledge arsenal were a 6-inch Basstrix swimbait on a 3/4-ounce Nichols swimbait head and a Nichols Magnum Spoon that he fished on 20-pound-test Sniper.
“The biggest problem with my off-the-wall stuff was it was going away so fast,” Hunter says. “It kept getting hotter, and those fish were leaving. One of my best places didn’t even produce a fish on the last day – they were gone. That’s why I’d bounce out to the main river from time to time, to keep those community holes honest. They’re community holes for a reason. They can load up at any time.”
3. Mark Rose goes shallower for third
Perennial summertime ledge favorite Mark Rose scored yet another top 10 on Kentucky Lake with weights of 22-10, 15-08, 20-06 and 21-12 for a total of 80-04.
Rose believes Kentucky Lake was behind schedule in terms of mega-schools out on the main river. He believes that cooler water, late bass spawns, bream spawns and mayfly hatches kept a lot of bass shallower, and the main-river program was not quite in full effect.
As a result Rose focused on what he called “early summer staging and feeding spots” that fish use just before they slip off to the main river.
“I fished a lot of 15-foot bars on secondary channels on the backside of the main river channel,” Rose says. “A lot of them had good shell bars on the points of the bars that attract a lot of gizzard shad activity this time of year. I did drop-shot some 22- and 23-foot water on the second day just trying to survive to get in the cut, but my better fish came from those shallower bars down the lake.”
4. Rampey finesses big ones for fourth
Jayme Rampey’s scorecard for the week included catches of 19-03, 15-12, 19-14 and 24-08 for a total of 79-05.
Rampey found success on shallower bars and ledges in 8 to 10 feet of water in the southern portion of the lake. He spent 13 hours a day in practice scanning the shallower bars, looking for just a few “dots” on his screen that might give away the location of a bigger group of fish using the tops of shell bars and lips of flats.
“I tried graphing out there deep on the main river, but I really didn’t see much,” Rampey says. “So I started scanning up in that 8- to 10-foot range. I’m sure the boat spooks them a little bit, but if I could ever get a few dots – almost like I hit the edge of a bigger school – there were usually more there.”
Amazingly, Rampey caught most of his big fish on a drop-shot rigged with a Zoom Z-3 Swamp Crawler (morning dawn) tied to 6-pound-test HI-SEAS Fluorocarbon. He also caught a few fish on a 3/16-ounce Buckeye Magnum Spot Remover with a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm and a 1/2-ounce Buckeye Football Jig teamed with a Zoom Z Craw.
“I couldn’t get them to bite anything else,” Rampey says of his finesse approach. “I could throw moving baits in the exact same areas and never get a bite, then pick up a drop-shot and catch a 6-pounder on the first cast with it.”
5. Canterbury goes deep for fifth
Scott Canterbury experienced “ledge fishing at its finest” for catches of 19-15, 16-10, 17-05 and 24-03 to finish fifth with a total of 78-01.
Canterbury probed the Tennessee River’s deeper haunts, from 18 feet down to 30 feet. He alternated drop-shots, crankbaits, worms and jigs for his catches. His bigger fish came on 6-inch hollow-bodied swimbaits rigged on 1-ounce Dirty Jigs Tackle Scott Canterbury Swimbait Heads as well as a Dirty Jigs Tackle Luke Clausen Casting Jig teamed with a NetBait Paca Craw. When things got slow he resorted to a NetBait T-Mac worm on a 1/4-ounce shaky head and a drop-shot.
On the final day he went with swimbaits and crankbaits for his best bag of the week.
6. Thrift runs main-river schools for sixth
Bryan Thrift’s weights for the week were 22-05, 20-01, 20-12 and 14-04 for a total of 77-06.
Thrift mostly mined the stubborn schools along the primary river channel, patiently waiting for small windows of feeding opportunities to occur. One well-known community spot (which also gave up fish for Lambert and Terry Bolton) produced much of Thrift’s weight.
Thrift hunted the big schools down to depths of 22 feet with an 11-inch Damiki Mega Miki worm (green pumpkin) on 12-pound-test P-Line, a Strike King 10XD (sexy blueback herring) and a Damiki Gizzard Shad on a 1-ounce Luck-E-Strike Scrounger Head.
7. Wheeler goes south for seventh
Jacob Wheeler finished the week with catches of 21-02, 16-00, 16-14 and 22-13 for a total of 76-13.
Wheeler says the key to his week was fishing places that were shallow and “sneaky” far to the south end of the lake.
“I really focused on secondary stuff – shallower flats and bars off the main channel, back channels and inside creeks,” Wheeler says. “I wanted to find that sneakier stuff that does not get hammered as hard as the main-river ledges. The depth I was fishing was more of the 8 to 10 to 15 feet.”
Wheeler says he pushed the shallower limits of his DownScan, scanning some fish as shallow as 8 feet.
“Even if I just saw three or four fish on my graph, I’d stop and fish it because there were probably more there,” he says. “I think what happened was I sort of hit the edge of the schools with the graph. There were more there, and once the boat passed through, they would set back up, get comfortable and I would fish my way back to them.”
He would first cast the spoon up on top of the flat or bar, then grind it with the DT20, work a hair jig down the sides and, as a last resort, try a drop-shot down the deeper breaks.
8. Knight cranks back channels for eighth
Brad Knight led the tournament on day one with 23 pounds, 6 ounces and then brought in limits of 15-00, 15-04 and 23-03 to finish eighth with a total of 76-13.
Knight chose to avoid the school game on the main river and instead fished back-channel ditches through flats on the south end of the lake. His key lures included a Strike King 6XD (citrus shad) cranked on 12-pound-test Gamma fluorocarbon and a Strike King Bull Worm fished on a 1/2- or 3/4-ounce football head with 16-pound-test Gamma.
“I mostly focused on twists, turns, points and shell bars in the back channels,” Knight says. “My boat was mostly sitting in about 14 to 18 feet, and I was casting up into 8 to 10 feet. The first three days I mostly fished the 6XD, but on the final day I caught more on the Bull Worm.”
9. Bolton gets “sneaky” for ninth
Terry Bolton of Paducah, Ky., has been fishing Kentucky Lake for the better part of three decades, and he used that knowledge to seine daily weights of 22-01, 22-12, 16-14 and 14-11 to finish ninth with a total of 76-06.
Bolton avoided fishing pressure and relied on some of his “sneakier” areas back in creeks and bays the first two days to grab the lead in the event after day two.
“I pretty much whooped all my sneaky stuff the first two days,” Bolton says. “I was fishing several deep points and channel turns back in creeks and bays that still had a few fish on them. Those places receive less pressure, but they just don’t replenish very fast. They’re good for about one day.”
Bolton relied on 5 1/2- and 6-inch swimbaits, including Zoom’s new Swimmer, threaded on 1-ounce VMC swimbait heads tied to 17-pound-test Sufix fluorocarbon. His other ledge lures were a 5/8-ounce hair jig on 12-pound-test Sufix, a Zoom Ol’ Monster and a Zoom Magnum Trick Worm (both plum). He fished the worms with 1/2-ounce VMC tungsten weights.
10. Morgan keeps it simple
Living by his creed “keep it simple,” Andy Morgan posted a 10th-place finish with daily weights of 16-11, 23-03, 15-06 and 15-08.
For Morgan there were no mega-schools or mini-schools or hours of scanning. He simply went fishing with his “old school” fishing method. Instead of scanning for fish, he fished his way to them using GPS maps, following contours back into shallower flats and back channels and using his sonar to mark stumps, root wads and brushy junk along the way in 10 to 20 feet of water.
His two primary weapons included a Zoom Ol’ Monster (plum) with a 1/2-ounce weight fished on 14-pound-test fluorocarbon and a 9/16-ounce War Eagle casting jig teamed with a Zoom Salty Pro Chunk, also on 14-pound test.
“I’m more of a cover fisherman,” Morgan says. “And that’s what I looked for this week. Instead of scanning around out there on the main river looking for big schools, I moved up off the river and fished contour lines of ditches through flats that have old wood cover still on them that has not been washed away by current. I tried cranking that stuff, but I just got better quality bites on a big worm and jig, so that’s what I committed to.”