Overgrown banks will improve Lake Cumberland's fishing
By Lee McClellan
Fisheries biologists sometimes lower a lake when its fish populations grow out of balance and need a shot in the arm. Drawing down a lake exposes the bottom to sunlight, which oxidizes the soil and releases stored nutrients when lake levels return to normal.
The sun’s rays also trigger grasses, brush and eventually tree saplings to take root and grow in the former lake bottom, providing valuable cover for largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill once the water resumes it normal level.
Because plant growth helps the fishing, the drawdown of Lake Cumberland by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for repair work on Wolf Creek Dam will make Cumberland a better lake. “The flats are already starting to turn green with vegetation,” said Benjy Kinman, director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “This is what you get when you flood a new lake. When lake levels return to normal, the plants rot and release nutrients and you get a pulse of highly fertile water. You get a couple of years of really good fishing.”
As Lake Cumberland aged, waves and erosion scoured the main lake shoreline of topsoil, leaving behind rocks and clay that won’t support plant life. Consequently, the back ends of coves and creeks and the species that reside there will see the greatest benefit from the drawdown.
“The coming plant growth is going to be an embayment type situation, not lake wide,” Kinman explained. “When topsoil washes off the hillsides, it goes in the creek arms and embayments. Your bass, crappie, bluegill and channel catfish are more embayment oriented.”
When the Corps lowered the lake for repairs to the dam in the late 1970s, the fishing improved markedly in the following years.
Sherrell Baker, owner of B&J Marine in Louisville, has fished Lake Cumberland since the late 1950s. He remembers what it was like after the first major drawdown. “It was tremendous fishing when the lake came back up,” he said. “Oh my goodness was it good. It was not uncommon to catch 10 bass and never move. I think it will rejuvenate the lake.”
To give nature a boost, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife officials plan to plant Lake Cumberland’s exposed banks with trees and grasses. Kinman said the department is seeking federal funding to help pay for the improvements.