State record largemouth bass

Mark Ward caught the state record 14-pound, 9.5-ounce largemouth bass while bank fishing at Highsplint Lake in Harlan County on Good Friday in 2019. The next six weeks offer excellent opportunity to bank fish for black bass on major reservoirs and on Kentucky’s smaller state-owned lakes.

Bass anglers fishing from the bank of a reservoir often look longingly at boats ripping up and down the lake. Big bass boats pull onto a point, fish for 10 minutes and roar off. Watching these boats from shore may inspire envy – but it shouldn’t. At times, a bank angler has an advantage.

After all, Mark Ward caught the current state record largemouth bass – 14 pounds and 9½ ounces – while fishing from the bank of 6-acre Highsplint Lake in Harlan County.

The next six weeks are some of the most productive times of the year to bank fish for bass. The warming water brings fish shallow for their annual spawning migrations – and within reach of a shore-bound angler.

The “Find a Place to Fish” page is an invaluable resource for finding a lake for bank fishing. This page offers excellent maps for many Kentucky lakes as well as the locations of habitat placed in the lake by the Fisheries Division of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Bank fishing forces you to boil your lure selection down to the basics. You only have what you can carry, so your lure choice is limited. You’re not spending most of your time during fishing lulls constantly switching lures from several bulging tackle bags.

Charlie Brewer, the true father of finesse fishing, believed you should pattern your fish close-by. He felt a bass angler should have the lure in the water – concentrating on its presentation and fooling black bass into striking – instead of running and gunning. He was a World War II veteran and didn’t believe in wasting gasoline or time.

Some of his best days came from a balky motor, when circumstances made him pick apart the likely fish holding structures within trolling motor distance of the ramp. Bank fishing for black bass is the same.

Brewer firmly believed in using the lightest lure weight possible as he felt lighter lures better matched the natural movements of crayfish and baitfish. It is difficult to properly fish lighter lures from a boat unless it’s anchored. By the time a light lure gets down to the strike zone, you are out of position in a moving boat. Lighter lures also don’t get hung on the bottom as much, an important consideration for a bank angler.

Lighter, smaller jigs thrown on spinning gear with reels spooled in 8- to 10-pound line make good choices for bank fishing for bass. A 1/8- to 1/4-ounce football jig in green pumpkin, as well as the locally popular Oops color, or a combination of chartreuse, orange and green are good jig colors. Black jigs with hues of blue or purple produce bass year-round.

Points are high-percentage places to fish a jig. Here you can intercept largemouth bass migrating in the spring, as well as spotted and smallmouth bass in lakes that have them. Points near public boat ramps may offer access by foot.

Points located near the major channels of old rivers or creeks are productive places to bank fish with jigs. Some of these areas are within walking distance of an access or recreation area on major reservoirs.

Fish the nose of the point first. Cast to the deep water then crawl the jig to the shallows. Pop the jig with a sharp jerk if you strike a rock or stump. This can provoke a strike from a bass that is following your jig. Next, fish the sides of the point at different depths until you find bass.

Crawling a jig along the edge of a submerged channel, or across flat bottom areas near the channel, also works well in spring. Flats warm up quickly in spring. Crayfish emerge after the water temperatures break 50 degrees, which in turn draws hungry bass.

The Ned rig is deadly when fished from the bank in spring. The soft plastic lure looks like someone cut off the last three inches of the business end of a cigar, but it works like a charm.

A traditional Ned rig has the hook exposed. It uses a J-shaped hook with a mushroom or aspirin-shaped leadhead. Lighter jigs of 1/10- to 1/16-ounce are preferable with the exposed hooks. If the wind is blowing slack into your line, or the bottom proves sticky with wood or rocks, change to one of the newer styles of leadhead Ned rigs. These have an offset hook for weedless rigging. Fish these in 1/8- to 1/6-ounce weights.

Green pumpkin magic, watermelon and red, coppertreuse and blue craw are productive colors for Ned worms.

Kentucky has numerous small state-owned lakes good for bank fishing for spring bass. Dams are high percentage spots to try at these lakes. Algae grows on the rip-rap rock along the dam, which attracts the small creatures that baitfish feed upon. Baitfish attract largemouth bass. A spinnerbait or bladed jig worked parallel to the dam draws strikes in spring, as does a medium-running crankbait in the clown color.

Consult the 2022 Fishing Forecast for lakes near you with good populations of black bass. Major reservoirs rated “excellent” for largemouth bass include southeastern Kentucky’s Dale Hollow Lake, Taylorsville, Herrington and Green River lakes in central Kentucky, Barren River Lake in southcentral Kentucky as well as Lake Malone and Lake Beshear in western Kentucky.

The new license year started March 1, so remember to purchase your fishing license before hitting the water. Licenses and permits can be purchased online via fw.ky.gov and in person at various locations throughout the state.

– 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.