FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentuckians are blessed with many good things: the best bourbon, the swiftest racehorses and two of the best smallmouth bass reservoirs in the world in Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow Lake.
The beauty of fishing for smallmouth bass is they bite best when cold winds blow the heat off these lakes beginning in fall. By the time Christmas rolls around, the best smallmouth fishing of the year is here on these two lakes.
Many people have time off over the next few weeks and nothing makes a person forget about work or family responsibilities quicker than a 22-inch long smallmouth bass pulling line from your reel. Two excellent state resort parks on these lakes offer affordable accommodations for anglers who want to sneak away for a smallmouth bass fishing trip during the Christmas holidays.
Lake Cumberland State Resort Park: The location of Lake Cumberland State Resort Park in the lower one-third of the lake is ideal for smallmouth anglers. Smallmouth bass live throughout the lake, but in winter, the stretch of Lake Cumberland from the state resort park down lake to Wolf Creek Dam makes for highly productive fishing.
Chad Miles, host of the Kentucky Afield television show, is a world-class smallmouth bass angler and catches many fish each year over 5 pounds from Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow Lake in the winter months. Viewers of the show see him catch these fish routinely.
“This year, due to abnormally high rainfall, smallmouths are not in their typical winter locations yet,” Miles said. “A lot of fish are suspended in the water column in the mouths of creeks as deep as 40 feet.”
On Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow Lake, Miles loves to throw an old school hair jig. “The hair jig’s sparse profile is what smallmouths prefer in winter on these lakes,” he said. Several manufacturers in the region produce hair jigs, some made from craft hair and some with bucktail. Bucktail seems to work better in the coldest water.
Pair the hair jig the smallest trailer you can find. The small, Beaver-style creature baits make good jig trailers in winter, as do 2-inch crappie grubs with a boot-shaped tail.
A black and purple hair jig with a black trailer is a great combination as is a green pumpkin colored hair jig with a green pumpkin or brown trailer. A 1/4-ounce hair jig is a good weight to start, go a bit heavier in wind.
Cast the jig to points in the lower reaches of the major creek arms, such as Beaver or Indian, and let the jig sink to the bottom. Swim the jig just above the bottom and watch the line intently. If the line jumps, feels spongy or goes limp, set the hook. Fluorocarbon line really shines for this presentation.
For simply the joy of catching fish, a medium-sized commercially bought shiner is the best presentation to throw for winter smallmouth bass. Live bait attracts both numbers of smallmouths and trophy-sized ones as well.
“A live shiner would be a good bait to use now with the fish deeper on Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow,” Miles said.
Tie on a size 1 Octopus-style hook on 6-pound fluorocarbon line and attach two BB-sized split shot weights 18 to 24 inches above the hook. A 7-foot medium-light power spinning rod works great for this presentation. Cast the shiner in the small coves and cuts along the main lake from the mouth of Beaver Creek to the dam.
Let the shiner fall to the bottom slowly. Often the shiner wiggles violently as a big smallmouth approaches. You will feel a slight thump and the line moves. Set the hook and its game on. This is a thrilling and incredibly fun way to catch smallmouths.
Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park: The David L. Hayes Boat Ramp at Dale Hollow State Resort Park lies near the spot where David L. Hayes caught the 11-pound, 15-ounce world record smallmouth bass about 10 a.m. on July 9, 1955. The weedbeds in the cove adjacent to the ramp hold smallmouth bass all winter long.
“When fish are on the bottom, I am pulling jigs or a small swimbait in 20 feet of water in the weedbeds,” Miles said. “It is my favorite way to fish in winter on Dale Hollow.”
Weedbeds abound in the 6,614 acres of the lake in Kentucky, particularly in Sulphur and Illwill creeks and the Wolf River arm.
Miles throws 3-inch swimbaits rigged on 3/8-ounce up to 1/2-ounce tungsten football heads right into the heart or edges of these weedbeds. He lets the swimbait sink into the weeds and pulls the lure through the beds until a smallmouth picks it up. The bite is extremely subtle; set the hook if anything feels funny. Hook sets are free.
Drifting medium-sized shiners over these weedbeds is likely the best way to catch one of the many 3- to 6-pound smallmouth bass in the lake. Large crappie minnows work as well.
Tailspinners, a lure in which the weight comes before a rotating spinner blade at the tail, is a deadly winter bait on Dale Hollow. They perfectly imitate shad or alewives, the dominate baitfish species in Dale Hollow and Lake Cumberland.
“Tailspinners are great to fish in winter,” Miles said. “If you see a ball of baitfish on your electronic sonar unit, you can throw a tailspinner and count it down to the proper depth and slowly work it through those baitfish schools. This method can produce huge smallmouth bass.”
The Christmas holiday season is not just for presents and eating too many sweets. It is also time for trophy smallmouths on Lake Cumberland or Dale Hollow Lake and the two state resort parks offer the perfect accommodations for a fishing trip.
“This is my favorite time of year to fish,” Miles said.
Lake Cumberland State Resort Park:
Dale Hollow State Resort Park: