The 2018 FLW Tour event presented by Costa Sunglasses on Kentucky Lake will always be remembered as a ledge tournament – the one where Jason Lambert broke the 100-pound mark and ran away with it in record-setting fashion. The rest of the pros in the top 10 more or less competed for second place. While most of them caught their fish offshore, a few other shallow patterns resulted in Sunday paychecks. The shallow bass got tougher to catch as the tournament went on. The ledge anglers enjoyed more fresh fish coming out from the spawn each day.
Here’s the rundown.
2. Martin finds a shallow gold mine
Clewiston, Fla., pro Scott Martin fished farther from the Kentucky Dam State Park takeoff location than anyone else in the top 10. Martin began the tournament on some ledges near the New Johnsonville bridge, but when that bite started to slow down, he adjusted and fished an area adjacent to an island on an inside bend of the Tennessee River channel a few miles south of New Johnsonville.
“There was a good ledge there and a shell bar that were key,” Martin says.
The ledge was typical of the Tennessee River – a drop-off that fell into the main channel. The shell bar was located on the backside of the island where a large flat stretched out into shallow water.
Though Martin encountered a few local anglers on the spot, he says the lack of pressure from other Tour pros was a big reason why his southerly spot was so good. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, he had his best luck when he Power-Poled down and lined up for one specific cast to the shell bar.
“To be honest, I’m not sure why they were so good on that cast,” he says.
On Sunday, heavier flows dirtied the water and made the bite a little bit tougher. Martin didn’t get near as many bites as he did the previous days.
By the end of the week, the key baits for the former Cup champ included a LIVETARGET Blueback Herring Swimbait, which he cast to the occasional schooling fish, a 1/2-ounce bucktail jig, and a new creature bait from Googan Baits called the Bandito. He fished the Bandito on a Carolina rig. Switching to the slow-moving rig was a smart move.
“I hadn’t thrown a Carolina rig in a long time,” he says. “I usually flip it [the Bandito], but I put it on the Carolina rig and caught a lot of fish on it.”
Martin finished with 73 pounds, 9 ounces – 28 pounds behind Lambert.
3. Douglas camps on community hole
Minnesota’s Josh Douglas lived on a community hole adjacent to the main river channel directly north of the bridge at Paris Landing. It’s where he caught nearly all of his keepers en route to weighing in 72 pounds, 12 ounces.
“They were biting today [Sunday] all day, so I never went anywhere else,” he says. “I got a bite every half-hour.”
On the final morning, when the current was flowing and the wind was blowing out of the south, Douglas sat out deep (35 to 40 feet) and caught fish on a drop-shot with a straight-tail worm. Later, once the current slacked and the water flattened out, he switched to a 3:16 Rising Son line-thru swimbait and a Carolina rig and cast up on top of the drop, fishing along the break in 18 to 20 feet. Previously in the week, Douglas also used a Strike King Shadalicious swimbait on an Outkast Tackle Goldeneye jighead. He stroked the swimbait to ignite the school.
4. Neal grinds on key ledge
Things started slowly for Michael Neal, who weighed in just four keepers for 10 pounds on day one.
“The first day I fished scared. I was trying not to totally blank,” he says. “I lost a 4-pounder and only weighed in four fish.”
On day two, Neal ran ledges that were too shallow to graph and turned things around with 19-4. The final two days, he fished a mix of shallow drops and a key offshore school outside Paris Landing to finish up with 19-10 and 23-5 for a 72-3 total.
His shallow spots were 7 to 8 feet deep on top. The key ledge was 20 to 22 feet. A Sunday flurry boosted him to his best day of the tournament.
“I started deep and didn’t catch any, so I went shallow and caught a 3-pounder,” Neal says. “Then I went back deep and filled out my limit with a drop-shot. I actually found the fish while I was casting the drop-shot. I saw them [on the depth finder], and I backed off and cast a swimbait and whacked ’em for a little bit.”
Neal’s swimbait was a 7-inch Big Bite Baits Suicide Shad Swimbait in the blue gizzard color, and he fished it on a 1-ounce Ledgehead. He also used a Big Bite Baits Fighting Frog on a swing-head jig. All were fished on 20-pound-test Sunline Super FC Sniper Fluorocarbon.
5. Rose starts slow, turns it around
Like Neal, Mark Rose suffered a slow start because he found himself intimidated by the tough conditions on Kentucky Lake. He admits that the Asian carp that are prevalent on the lake distracted him from simply concentrating on locating fish. As a result, he never really figured anything out in practice and started the tournament with four fish for 12 pounds, 5 ounces.
On Friday, Rose found new life on Kentucky Lake. He started searching deeper ledges and righted the ship with 17-15. The next two days, Rose cracked 21-14 and 19-9 to wind up with 71-11. He also salvaged his Pennzoil Marine Angler of the Year hopes and remains in the lead with 1,074 points. Scott Martin is currently second with 1,010 points.
“I felt really good going into today [Sunday],” he says. “I had two really good schools. When I say really good schools, I mean they had a lot of fish on them.”
Unfortunately, a local angler who’d been following Rose earlier in the tournament decided to pull in and fish some of Rose’s best water.
“It got me in a mental rut, and it kind of affected me too much,” Rose says. “I ran him off pretty much. When he left, I caught five despite me being mad.”
After that, Rose fished “single-fish spots” that don’t hold schools, but usually are home to one or two keepers.
“I’ve got a lot of places like that, and those are the kind of places I really like to fish on Kentucky Lake,” he says.
A final stop on a deep ledge – one he hadn’t fished in a few years – on the way back in produced two 4 1/2-pounders.
Rose says the real key for him was adjusting to fish deeper areas that were 22 to 25 feet deep. There weren’t as many schools in the 17-foot range where he fished on day one.
6. Davis does it on one drop
Alabama’s Alex Davis didn’t see a whole lot of Kentucky Lake during the tournament because he basically camped on one spot and only one spot near Danville for four days. He weighed in 67 pounds, 13 ounces for the tournament.
“They started getting deeper, and every day more came out there,” he says. “I fished a 10-yard spot for three days, and sat there for five hours every day. I found one more spot today [Sunday], but the first day I never moved more than 10 yards the whole time.”
7. Gussy goes offshore
An experienced offshore smallmouth angler, Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson felt at home on Kentucky Lake this week; not catching smallmouths, but camping on ledges near Big Sandy and the main lake south of Paris Landing.
On Thursday and Friday, Gussy caught most of his bass on shallow bars, sitting in 10 feet and casting to six. Over the weekend, he had to follow the fish out from the mouth of Big Sandy onto the main river channel as they continued through their postspawn transition. He ended up finding fish on a key spot that was void of bass on the first day, but started to load up throughout the event.
“I caught a lot of my weight off one spot the last couple days,” he says. “I pulled up this morning [Sunday] and caught two really quick. I thought, ‘Man, they’re still here.’”
Unfortunately, those were the only two he caught on the spot. Gussy spent the rest of the day running new water on the main lake. He weighed in a four-day total of 67 pounds.
This week Gussy fished a 3/4-ounce football jig with a double-tail grub trailer, a 1/2-ounce bucktail jig and a Castaic Jerky J.
8. Meyer drags a worm
Cody Meyer’s tactics on Kentucky Lake might be the simplest of all. He spent four days dragging an 8-inch Strike King Bullworm (plum apple) on a 3/8-ounce Owner Shakey Football Head. He used 15-pound-test Seaguar Tatsu and a 7-foot, 6-inch Daiwa Tatula Elite with an 8.1:1 Tatula reel.
“That was literally it,” he says. “I was running around fishing any of those offshore points. I never caught another fish off the same spot as a previous one.”
All of the points Meyer fished were in the Paris Landing area and Big Sandy. He fished 15 to 20 feet deep and made extremely long casts. The 8.1:1 retrieve ratio of his reel was necessary to take up line quickly when setting the hook “way out there.”
“In practice I idled so much, and I never found a school. I was so confused over what was carp and what was bass,” he says. “So on the first day I just went to Big Sandy and had never even fished there in practice.”
Meyer’s four-day total was 64 pounds, 8 ounces.
9. Cox surprises no one, fishes shallow
Don’t dangle a shallow bass in front of John Cox and expect him not to try and catch it. The DeBary, Fla., pro brought a brand-new deep-V aluminum rig to Kentucky Lake instead of his typical modified V just to make it possible to run down south and flip bushes and other shallow cover if the weather turned ugly.
He spent the week in Big Sandy and a few other creeks between Paris Landing and the railroad bridge.
“I was fishing everything,” Cox says. “I was running every pocket that looked amazing. I’d start on the point and flip everything in between and sort of swim the jig back. And I’d fish any docks.”
Each day, Cox expected to get at least a couple bites flipping, but he didn’t get them on day four. He says he saw some nice fish up around flooded bushes, but he couldn’t convince them to eat. His better fish the first three days came on something different each day – laydowns, docks and bushes, in that order.
Cox finished with 59 pounds, 8 ounces.
10. Arey junk-fishes to top-10 finish
If you ask Matt Arey to explain how he caught his fish on Kentucky Lake, expect a long answer. The North Carolina pro did a little of everything, from bed-fishing to ledge fishing, dock-fishing to targeting riprap, gravel and fry guarders. His fish were all over the place, in both Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake.
He says 85 percent of his fish came shallow, and the rest were offshore.
“There were a few fish on everything, but there weren’t a lot on anything,” says Arey, whose tournament total was 55 pounds, 2 ounces.