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By Lee McClellan
Kentucky Afield Outdoors
This is the third installment of the “Spring Fishing Frenzy" series of articles, detailing productive fishing techniques and opportunities across Kentucky. These articles will appear on the second and fourth Thursday of the month. The series will continue until early summer.
Few outdoor activities in Kentucky can match the explosive strike of striped bass in Lake Cumberland: whether it's a night strike in that leaves an angler shaking, or the mayhem of four planer boards disappearing at once as stripers inhale the baits.
These thrills await anglers who chase Lake Cumberland's burgeoning population of striped bass this year.
“In our fall sampling last year, we had the highest all-time catch rate of fish over 25 inches," said Marcy Anderson, Southeastern Fisheries District biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Growth rates for all sizes of striped bass were very good last year in Lake Cumberland."
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife supports this southcentral Kentucky lake by stocking it with hundreds of thousands of striped bass fry every year. The effort is paying off. Striped bass in Lake Cumberland earned a “good" rating in the 2022 Fishing Forecast.
Angler Jeff Bardroff, who fishes the lake nearly every weekend from spring through fall, confirmed Anderson's findings about big fish in the lake. “We got a 36½-inch striped bass March 19 that weighed 25 pounds," he said. “My uncle Tim Healey caught it. I've had him on the boat three times and he's caught two trophy fish. We worked hard for them, though."
A striped bass must be 36 inches or longer to qualify for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife's Trophy Fish Award program.
Healey and Bardroff caught the lunker by trolling live shad and alewives under planer boards.
“I would recommend starting at the back of the creek arm and working your way toward the middle of the creek," Bardroff said. “Any big creek arm right now should have fish in the mid-creek or at the very back of the creek."
Healey's fish came from 25 to 30-feet deep, a typical depth for this time of year.
Bardroff said some anglers have found success by freelining live bait, letting it drift in the water column with no weight attached.
“Look for that water swell around the bait when free lining, then you know you are on fish," Bardroff said.
In mid-March, stripers typically hold in water temperatures of 48- 51 degrees. Bardroff said the stripers he caught that weekend were in the deeper, 50-degree water.
“The pattern will change to shallower water once we get warmer water temperatures," he said. “I look for clay banks on the sunny side of the creek arm - sometimes you get a little warmer water there. Fish are often there. I will wait until I get near the clay bank before I start fishing."
Once you do catch a striper, stick to the same combination of weight, depth and method until you find more.
“If you find some fish, circle around and go back through there," Bardroff said. “Adjust the other lines to the weight and depth of the line the fish struck."
Lake Cumberland has a minimum size limit of 22 inches for stripers. While the lake has its biggest documented number of stripers exceeding 25 inches, there's a gap in the 22- to 25-inch size range. Anderson noted this size range corresponds to the 2018 and 2019 year classes, which are low.
To increase angler satisfaction with the fishery, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is increasing the number of stripers being stocked in the lake beginning this year.
“We used to stock 350,000 stripers every year and a pulse stocking of 500,000 fish every third year," said Jeff Ross, assistant director of the department's Fisheries Division. “We are going to stock 500,000 striped bass in the lake this year and every year for the foreseeable future."
The number of keeper fish available to anglers are about to rebound as well.
“There are a bunch of stripers just under the size limit right now, which equates to more fish entering keeper size later this year and into next year," Ross said.
Bardroff said anglers should keep trying different locations until they find the fish. “You can fish from Indian Creek up lake to Faubush Creek," he said. “The fish are scattered right now, but they are there."
The new license year started March 1, so remember to purchase a fishing license if you plan to fish. Licenses and permits can be purchased online via fw.ky.gov and in person at various locations throughout the state.
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