Kentucky Lake

With lower lake levels come exposed gravel banks that draw the attention of bass fishermen on Kentucky Lake during the late summer and early fall phase. An angler tosses a jig and craw combo on a steep gravel bank hoping to entice a bass as they begin to move up on shorelines while surface temps cool.  

Kentucky Lake anglers got a little pep in their step recently after starting the week off with fall temperatures that put a chill in the air.

Fall doesn’t officially arrive until Sept. 22 but no one is complaining about its early arrival. It has been quite some time since long sleeve shirts and light jackets were needed out on the lake, but that was the case earlier this week.

Temps started out around 67 degrees early Monday morning, escorted by a cool snap that began on Sunday powered by a north wind. Monday’s high reached only 73 degrees. A few nights at midweek dropped into the lower 60s.

Since then, a slight warmup has returned but cool nights are still hanging around and that continues to set the stage for fall’s official arrival next week.

The cool snap, although offering only a brief hiatus from the soon-to-be-gone summer, has indeed lowered surface temperatures a bit while raising the spirits of anglers. For several consecutive weeks, hot and humid conditions have dominated the fishing scene, keeping the bulk of fishermen off the lake and waiting for autumn conditions to slip in the door.

During the late August and early September time frame, the overall bite for bass, crappie and catfish has been slower than usual. So, most anglers just chose to stay off the lake.

Watch for an increase in activity this week and for the weeks ahead as surface temps are already falling. Surface temps started off the week around 81 degrees but have fallen back to 79 as midweek days have been mild.

Anglers and everyone across the TVA valley are watching the backwash of Hurricane Florence to see what, if any, rain might swing our way. It appears the Kentucky Lake region is out of harm’s way but we might receive some rain this weekend.

Although some warmer days are in the forecast for this weekend, the recent change will help kick-start the transition toward fall fishing patterns for all anglers. And, some recent rains that drenched a thirsty region helped the overall scenario, too.

Lake levels this week continued to fall slowly and were forecast to be around the 355.9 range at Kentucky Dam and upstream around New Johnsonville at midweek, but TVA has revised the projection to a higher elevation of 356.5. It appears TVA is anticipating some runoff to enter the watershed from the hurricane, at least to some degree.

Water color is clear across the reservoir despite some thunderstorms and rains this past weekend. Not much runoff occurred and there hasn’t been much current for catfishermen stalking the main river channel lately.

The summer catfish bite should rebound a bit this week as a little more current likely entered the picture at midweek.

Most of the catfish taken lately came from 35- to 40-foot depths by anglers using nightcrawlers and chicken livers for bait.

Crappie anglers started dusting off their rods and rigs this week when they felt that chill in the air. The bite has been sluggish the last two months for summer crappie fishermen yearning to rebound.

Tradition says crappie should begin to transition toward shallow venues in the weeks ahead as surface temps fall. Cooler conditions not only make it feel better out on the lake but also help the fish’s mood swing, too.

Shad should respond favorably to the cooler surface temps and begin phasing toward shallow flats and backwater bays. With them come bass and crappie, which usually follow their forage base.

Areas that have been stagnant should start producing more activity in the days and weeks ahead. Midrange depths of 8 to 14 feet are the norm for fall crappie. However, sometimes cloudy days and cool conditions can see the shallow bite improve quickly.

Other days when warm conditions have lingered, the fish might fall back to deeper sides of main lake ledges where depths of 14 to 18 — or even deeper at times — might be holding the bulk of the crappie. It’s not unusual for the fish to move around when climatic conditions change or lake levels fluctuate.

Generally speaking, a falling lake will pull fish back a bit deeper while rising waters will send them roaming toward shallow venues as that’s what the shad do.

Most crappie anglers are tipping jigs with minnows lately to entice bites.

Bass action has yet to bounce back from a sluggish summer. Some bass should start running shad along shallow gravel banks soon, especially during the early morning and late afternoon hours.

Sightings of schooling shad are down among the ranks of both crappie and bass anglers. Even catfishermen stalking the main river areas have not seen as many baitfish schools on their sonar as they’re accustomed to.

Meanwhile, fall bass patterns always seem to see some fish transitioning toward shallow flats this time of year. Watching for the gulls can sometimes lead you to the baitfish and ultimately the bass.

At the same time, some bass anglers are beating the banks in hopes of finding some shallow fish moving up on stakebeds, rock points and the abundance of gravel banks others are still clinging to the deeper, offshore patterns of main lake ledges.

Working the ledges with big deep diving crankbaits, jig and craw combos, Texas-rigged worms and mixing it up with some swim baits is still popular, too.

Mid- to late September is a month with a little fall and summer mixed in. The hot weather hasn’t vanished just yet but its days are numbered.

Most all Kentucky Lake fishermen are anxious to see the seasons change.

Fall is a season known for stability for both lake levels and weather conditions. Nice weather and light wind is the norm, which usually means overall improvement in the whole fishing scene.


STEVE McCADAMS is The Post-Intelligencer’s outdoors writer. His email address is

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