BY Lee McClellan
February days in the 60s make for crowded boat ramps and golf courses during a time of year usually spent indoors.
Everything, nature wise, seems a couple of weeks ahead of schedule. Buds show on lilac bushes, green grass already grows in bunches and the sound of lawn mowers permeates an afternoon backyard barbecue.
The rare winter temperatures may alter white bass spawning runs as well.
“With the weather pattern so far, I would be looking at the white bass getting going a little earlier than usual,” said Rob Rold, Northwestern Fisheries District biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “When we’ve had consecutive warm days, the white bass run up a bit into the headwaters above Nolin River Lake, but when it cools they go back down in the lake. They will do false runs until it gets right.”
Water temperatures are in the low 50s on Nolin River Lake, while other lakes such as Taylorsville Lake are flirting with water temperatures in the mid 50s.
“It should be getting close,” said David Baker, Central Fisheries District biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We are doing a creel survey on Herrington and the white bass are staging in the upper one-third of the lake, waiting for the next temperature spike. A good warm front with water temperatures getting into the upper 50s, they will start moving to the shoals in the upper lake of both Herrington and Taylorsville.”
Baker said Herrington gets the nod for size of white bass. “There are a lot of really big white bass in Herrington, many up to 14 inches long. For catching a big white bass, Herrington is better than Taylorsville,” he said. Taylorsville Lake produces numbers of white bass, but less size.
Anglers may access the upper section of Herrington Lake and Dix River via Bryants Camp Boat Ramp in Garrard County. Bank anglers may access the Salt River above Taylorsville Lake via River Road on the Taylorsville Lake Wildlife Management Area until the opening of spring turkey season April 15. Boaters use Van Buren Boat Ramp on Taylorsville Lake.
Nolin River Lake holds arguably the best white bass population in Kentucky.
Rold said the Cane Run area, known to locals as the “Three Fingers,” in the upper lake upstream to Broad Ford at the KY 1214 Bridge is usually where the white bass runs begin.
“The length of day really dictates when they will run, even if it is not the preferred water temperature,” Rold said. “They start staging around Cane Run. It is a bit early, but they will come on soon.”
Rold said bank anglers use the access at Bacon Creek for productive white bass fishing. “Go to Bacon Creek ramp and walk the bank up or down,” he said. “The Corps property goes all the way up past Broad Ford. At winter pool, Broad Ford is the first shoal on Nolin River upstream of the lake.”
The tailwaters downstream of the locks and dams on the lower Green River also provide excellent white bass fishing. “The water below Lock and Dam 1 at Spottsville, Lock and Dam 2 at Calhoun and Lock and Dam 3 at Rochester all have decent white bass,” Rold said. “The mouth of Pond River downstream of Calhoun at Jewel City has a big white bass fishery. They run up into Pond River.”
Anglers may access the mouth via a public boat ramp at Jewel City. The tailwater below Lock and Dam 2 has a boat ramp and limited bank access at the end of Second Street in Rumsey, across the river from Calhoun. The tailwaters below Lock and Dam 3 at Rochester offer excellent bank access just west of town on Boat Ramp Road via KY 70.
The smaller male white bass make the initial runs. You will catch many fish during this time, but most will be of similar size. You often catch fish on consecutive casts when the males are running.
“By the first weeks of April, the females show up and it is prime,” Baker said. “This is the best fishing of spring runs.”
Running white bass hit anything that resembles baitfish with abandon, one of the keys to their enduring popularity. When the spring white bass runs peak, nothing else compares to the furious fishing.
White, chartreuse or gray in-line spinners are hard to beat during the runs, but 2-inch white curly tailed grubs rigged on 1/16-ounce leadheads also produce many white bass. Anglers also suspend 1/32-ounce white and red, pink or yellow feather jigs from 18 to 24 inches deep under small bobbers and allow them to drift in the current. Some anglers tip the feather jigs with small crappie minnows to make them more attractive to white bass.
As the runs peak, small topwater propeller baits draw vicious strikes, but you get more consistent action with subsurface presentations.
The next long sustained warm front will get the white bass running. It is time for the most exciting fishing of the year. Remember to buy your fishing license. The new license year began March 1.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.