Just got back from spending a week in Paris. No, I didn’t make a trip to Europe but I was in Paris, Tennessee competing in the Boat. U.S. Collegiate Open presented by Pepsi on Kentucky Lake. The Boat U.S. tournaments are very popular among collegiate anglers and feature some of the stiffest competition you will come across at the collegiate level. The tournament had 65 boats, 36 teams, from all different parts of the country. There were teams from as far away as Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina participating in the tournament. Most of the Boat U.S. college tournaments have been held in the south the past couple of years so when I heard there was one coming to Kentucky Lake I thought this might be my only shot at getting to fish one and see what it was all about.
The first day of practice I didn’t get to determine a whole lot as I had some motor troubles that ended my day a little short. I had a stuck solenoid that I was able to fix myself when I got off the water. During the day I was only able to locate a couple of schools of smaller bass that wouldn’t have amounted to much for the tournament.
The second day of practice I hit the lake a lot harder and I spent the whole day fishing off shore points, ledges, and steeper banks. I was able to catch a couple of 3lb fish on a few stretches but fishing out deep seemed to be like finding a needle in a haystack. One of the problems that you run into on the southern part of Kentucky Lake is that there is just so much bottom structure. You can fish for miles ledges that look just perfect that have bait and fish on them and not get a bite. My depth finder on my consul also wasn’t working properly and I don’t own GPS yet so eliminating stretches of the ledges was a lot more work than it probably had to be.
After a tough day of fishing deep I decided to go out on my third day of practice to see if I could get on a shallow topwater bite. It’s been my experience that there can be an early bite on Kentucky Lake in the shallows and that you can catch some nice fish on a topwater. During this day of practice I had hooked into about 3 keepers in the 3lb range and caught about 40 fish in the first two hours or running some flat banks in the backs of the creeks. I spent some time flipping some shallow cover and docks that I now wish I had spent that time and effort fishing out on the ledges.
The last day of practice I put in and did some more searching for an early topwater bite and didn’t end up finding any more areas. I also spent some time cranking some ledges and caught one skinny 15inch bass that came off a shell bed. The ledge was a ways off the main river channel and I didn’t see it being something that would replenish from day to day with new fish so I wrote it off.
So after spending four days of searching I had found one early morning spot that I hope would produce a couple of fish and one ledge that I thought might hold some fish for the tournament. It was a pretty rough practice for me but there was no way of knowing what kind of potential my spots would have as I didn’t fish them hard at all during practice. Whenever I stuck a fish I would just leave the area or keep on moving.
My partner Mike McCarthy got down the night before the tournament and I told him that we would start shallow and then go hit a ledge that I though would have some fish on it. Mike wasn’t able to get down to practice with me cause he couldn’t get away from work.
We blasted off and headed to my early morning spot and Mike was able to hook up with a nice fish in the 2 and a half pound range on a rattle trap. The fish came off the hook at the boat and I got the net on it just in time. We pounded out the area some more but we only had that one keeper fish to show for it. I was hoping we would get a couple more fish in the morning but the wind had changed directions on tournament day and the fish were not schooling up like they were just days before on top.
I decided it was time to make a move out to the ledge were I had caught some keepers in practice. We got to the spot and the wind was blowing right across the ledge which made holding on it a bit difficult. I had to keep my 70lb thrust trolling motor going on high the whole time. Mike was able to put another keeper in the boat that went about 3 and a half pounds and one more keeper off the spot. I was catching a couple of shorts but Mike with a fresh outlook on things had turned us onto throwing brush hogs on the back of our jigs. For some reason they seemed to be liking the way that brush hog was falling. We stopped getting bites and decided to let the spot rest.
We fished on down the ledge for about a half an hour and then came back to the sweet spot and I finally caught a keeper that went about 5lbs on my Omega Jig tipped with a brush hog. What was interesting about the fish was that it had one of my Omega football jigs in it’s gullet from a couple of days before. I had broken off a fish on the spot in practice and well I guess I caught the same fish again. We fished the spot for about another half an hour without a bite and I decided it was time to make a move.
We ran to my next spot and Mike was able to boat our 5th keeper and I was able to catch another keeper that didn’t count for our limit. We thought we had about 15 to 16lbs. Everyone that I had talked to said that the bite was pretty though so I though that we might be able to crack the top 10 after the first day with what we had. We weighed in our fish for 16.36 lbs and ended up in 11th place after day one. If we could have another day like our first day I felt that we would be able to stay in the top 10.
The second day of the tournament things just went bad from the start. The underwater tree that we caught almost all our fish off on day one had gotten moved from the current about 25 yards or so from where it was originally. They hadn’t been generating water all week and the evening of the 1st day they were drawing a lot more water that moved the tree. The tree was now on a 9 foot flat instead of having it’s branches extending into 14 feet on the left and 18 feet on the right with the base of the tree in 9 feet. All those depth changes on the tree before probably had helped to make it a bass magnet.
The tree was still holding some fish but we continued to have bad luck as Mike hooked up with a fish that would have been over 4lbs that somehow managed to wrap itself around the underwater tree we had been fishing all week and break him off. The fish had been wrapped around the tree on his line for a good 10 minutes and just wouldn’t swim out or unwrap itself. We took the boat into the spot and probably spooked the fish in the area in the process. We left the spot and then came back about an hour later and our bad luck would continue as I lost one about 3 and a half pounds off the tree. The fish bit me as I was pausing to take a drink of water and I reeled down and hammered him but he managed to shoot up about 3 feet out of water and throw the 1oz football head.
We went a while without a bite and I was starting to get bit again by dragging the jig on the bottom really slow. I caught a couple of shorts and finally got keeper number one in the boat. It was a 16 inch fish that fell victim to a 1oz brown and orange Omega football head that I pulled off a ledge. We returned to our primary area and didn’t get any more fish and the day was wearing on. We went back to the take off and fished the release area a bit as it wasn’t off limits. Mike managed to bag up 3 more keepers back there on the brush hog to give us 4 fish for about 10lbs.
Our lost fish on the second day bumped us down to 15th place on the tournament. We could have had about 15 to 16lbs on the second day if we had managed to get those key fish we missed in the boat. While I never got onto that 22 to 24lb sack of fish that was needed to win I didn’t feel too bad about having a shot at 16lbs a day on a part of the lake that I have never fished before.
After talking to the winners it seemed like most of the anglers were on just one spot the whole week that produced their fish. It wasn’t like anyone was running a pattern all over the lake and just catching fish off a bunch of spots. The fish seemed to be pretty grouped up down there right now and if you can find the spot on a spot you will do well. I know that the team that got 1st place and 4th place fished boat to boat on the same spot all the way up by the dam. Other teams in the top 10 went even further south to catch their fish.
Even though things didn’t work out. I am walking away with more experience with deep water ledge fishing on Kentucky Lake as well as knowing what it’s like to camp out in 90 degree plus heat all week while sleeping in your truck. The skeeters were just thirsty for blood and I didn’t get much sleep. I went into the tournament with a 200 dollar budget. That was for gas in the truck to get to the lake and back, gas in the boat, food, fishing licenses, and tackle. For all you younger anglers out there that want to compete just remember that you will get want you want if are willing to sacrifice. Where there is a will there is a way.
One tip I have for you if you are planning on hitting up Kentucky Lake soon is to add some orange to your baits. It seemed like the bass at Kentucky Lake were liking some orange in your jig. I was able to modify my jig skirts during the week with the Naked Bait Company Skirt expander and it seemed to help put more fish in the boat as my practice went on. Try a PBNJ skirt with about four strips of orange in it or a green pumpkin brush hog with orange in the tips.
Omega Jig: 7 foot Medium Heavy AiRRUS Co Matrix Rod 15lb fluorocarbon line.
Brush Hog: 7 foot Medium Heavy AiRRRUS Co Matrix Rod 15lb fluorocarbon line.
Rattle Trap: 7 Foot Medium Copperhead Cranking Stick 12lb fluorocarbon line.
Spencer Clark is a collegiate angler for Truman State University. He is sponsored by Naked Bait Company, AiRRUS Rods, Omega Custom Tackle, Smack Tackle, Tru-Tungsten, and Honey Hole Hooks.