New faces and new technology show up early
in the morning as tournaments showcase the growing popularity of bass fishing
Two things I know about Tom Stratton.
Bass and speed he loves.
Heading across Herrington Lake last year at a bass fishing tournament sponsored
by Touchstone Energy® electric cooperatives, he hollered, “If you’ll turn
to notice behind the boat, there’s a fine ‘rooster’s tail’ up now. Basically,
ma’am, this means we’re airborne.”
Stratton is marketing services coordinator
for Blue Grass Energy co-op based in Nicholasville. He’s also a dedicated bass
fisher and organized the tournament-a fund-raiser for United Way.
Following Stratton’s instructions,
I reluctantly glanced back over my lifejacket at the arch of white water jutting
skyward from our stern-which was, of course, airborne.
We might catch some bass today but
they weren’t going to catch us.
I wasn’t the only fresh face at the
tournament. Bass fishing for skill or skillet is appealing to new demographics.
Novices are becoming the next wave in one of the state’s fastest rising trends
in pastimes, vacations, and fund raising.
Women of all ages, young couples,
and children are creating a whole new market for travel, clothing, and equipment.
With Kentucky’s world-famous lakes, rivers, and streams, bass fishing is as
natural and historical as the Commonwealth itself. The pursuit of the fish with
the stripes, mouths big and small, floats a lot of boats.
“Bass are everywhere,”
says Ted Crowell, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department
of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Part of the reason for bass fishing’s popularity
in Kentucky, he says, is that “wherever you have water, you have largemouth
bass in this state. Lakes, streams, ponds, they are all over in Kentucky. In
most of our lakes, largemouth bass have been our number-one game fish for a
long time and will be in the foreseeable future.”
Crowell credits bass fishing’s national
popularity to increased media coverage and the promotional work of the Bass
Anglers Sportsman Society.
“It is hard to turn on a TV
now and not see bass fishing,” says Crowell. “The cork came out of
the bottle when Ray Scott invented B.A.S.S. in 1967. Now that the ESPN TV sports
channel has gotten into bass fishing, they have a full-blown marketing plan.”
Bass fishing is good for families,
says Lee McClellan, information officer for the Kentucky Department of Fish
& Wildlife Resources.
“Bass fishing is a good way
to bond with your children,” says McClellan. He cautions that its sometimes
slow pace may not be right for very young, active children. But for early and
pre-teens, he says, “Fishing teaches patience and shows kids that they
are part of a web of life that is interconnected.”
Fishing can be great for couples,
too, says McClellan. He calls it “an excellent way for a couple to get
away from it all for a weekend and not spend a ton of money. Plus, if the fish
aren’t biting, you can swim, picnic, water ski, hike, or whatever.”
Bass enthusiast Bruce Weller, of
Bluegrass Guide Service of Gilbertsville, says fishing fund-raisers have been
growing in prominence for 30 years. He has a special feeling for the tournaments
around the country supporting the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
“I have a niece that just turned
30 the first of this month,” says Weller. “When she was 9 years old,
the doctors gave her six months to live. Thanks to St. Jude, she is alive today.
“There are about 15 benefit
tournaments around the country just for St. Jude-not to mention benefit tournaments
for the Children’s Miracle Network, Easter Seals, Relay For Life, and many more,”
says Weller. “It seems bass fishermen have a soft spot in their hearts
Weller says that despite the large
bass population, hooking the fish can still challenge those with a lot of experience.
He says bass “are as fickle
a fish as they come when it’s up to changing where they are at in the water
at a certain time of the year, what kind of bait they will bite, and how the
bait must be fished.”
This hasn’t stopped anyone from making
it one of the most well-rounded fishing bargains in the country for prizes and
“Thanks to organizations like
Bass Anglers Sportsman Society and FLW Outdoors, which is located right here
in Gilbertsville, the sport has grown to national proportions with the money
in tournaments being very lucrative,” says Weller.
The newfound participation in fish
and wildlife has inspired a program just for women. Becoming An Outdoors-Woman
offers activities from firearms safety to archery, wildlife identification to,
yes, fishing. For more information on Becoming an Outdoors-Woman, call 1 (800)
A noteworthy Kentucky Department
of Fish & Wildlife program is “Hooked On Fishing, Not On Drugs.”
The department provides training, volunteers, materials, and equipment to organizations,
churches, clubs, and others to carry the message that fishing can be a positive
life experience as opposed to turning to drugs for entertainment or social acceptance.
I grew up with an image of fishing
based on the opening of TV’s The Andy Griffith Show: father and son ambling
down a road, poles over their shoulder, whistling, and Opie tossing a pebble
into the water.
Fast forward to springtime in the
21st century and the tournament at Herrington Lake. Speedboats and the lingo
of power and strategy for rods, reels, lures, and engines skitter across the
water and the docks. Computer screens scan the lake’s bottom with moon-rover
technology. The rods and reels glow with neon hues; many are a slick ebony finish
on graphite. The lures are as eclectic and bright as alien costume jewelry.
Cell phones are turned off so as not to spook the fish. We’re not in Mayberry
anymore. I’m thinking Star Trek.
Despite the modern trappings, this
large gathering at Chimney Rock Marina has as much a down-home feel as my uncle’s
old dry-goods store. High-fives, fish stories, country and rock music fill the
air. The fish got tossed back but we kept the memories.
The chilled fog lifts from the lazy
morning water. No one is really wide-awake here, except for the 113 fishermen
whose dreams are of the prize that awaits the biggest catch. After the 7 a.m.
launch, a grill master fires up the coals and readies the food for volunteers
By noon the sun is high and jackets
begin to peel off. The aroma of seared meat from hot dogs to deer steaks, simmering
chili, and green beans wafts above the lakeside cliffs.
Stratton drives a boat out of the
marina and it gurgles to the edge of the no-wake zone. My personal summertime
aphrodisiac, the gas/oil of the motor mingling with lake water, fills my senses.
I’m gazing at the familiar light-blue metal span-one of those lovely old “singing”
bridges that crisscross the Kentucky River as it moseys through the state.
With a brief “warning,”
our bow raises and we gracefully turn 40 miles an hour into a smooth-as-glass
ballet down the wide section of Herrington.
Our pilot cuts the engine from a
blur to a bubble, allowing the trusty Ranger to visit alongside some bank fisherman.
There are always a lot of fish under those roots and rocks. “Big rocks,
big fish,” Stratton murmurs.
He explains that with lures, all
artificial, not live, it’s not about hunger for the bass: it’s simply striking
a response. Hmm. The depth finder says it’s about 200 feet deep (I cinch my
flotation device). Why all the quiet bank fishing? Bass have no eyelids, they
like the shade. Eeeww!
The variety of the people and community
spirit at Chimney Rock is impressive. A group of young people from Nicholasville
cheer their friend as he hands his fish over to be weighed. A quiet but very
big man from Harrodsburg claims he didn’t get a bite after 10 a.m. He takes
the steep hill to the final moment of the day in boots and overalls. A clap
of thunder is the only applause he gets.
The dark clouds dip toward us. The
wind whips the water and won’t let go until the grand prize is handed over in
an envelope. The winners, Mark Taylor and Wayne Wesley of Danville, are shy
yet satisfied with the generous $2,500 grand prize. While they’re securing their
boat near the ramp, I ask what they plan to do with the money. Buy more equipment,
among other things. Taylor remarks that he wants to dedicate the victory to
his dad, who taught him to fish. Okay, so we’re back in Mayberry.
Bass fishing on the Internet
A guide to bass fishing tournaments
in Kentucky, a link to “The Ultimate Bass Fishing Resource Guide,”
and more can be found at the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources
Web site www.kdfwr.state.ky.us.
When you get there, click on the “fishing” button.
Where the bass are
The following information comes
from last year’s population studies as reflected in the 2002 Kentucky Fishing
Forecast from the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources.
Dewey Lake: The lake bottomed
out a few years ago, but now has an excellent rating for largemouth bass. There
is a 15-inch minimum size limit on largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Yatesville Lake: This lake has many
largemouth bass that are over 15 inches as a result of the 15-inch minimum size
limit on largemouth bass. Great trophy potential. The best fishing is on deep
structure in lower lake in early fall and in the flooded timber in early spring.
Paintsville Lake: This is a great
lake for those wanting numbers of fish to catch. The lake has an excellent population
of Kentucky (spotted) bass. The newly implemented 12- to 15-inch protective
slot limit will help the numbers of bigger fish in the future.
Kentucky Lake: One of the best
bass fisheries in the upper nation. Considered by many to be one of the top
10 in the nation. Excellent trophy potential for all black bass.
Lake Barkley: In the shadows of its
famous neighbor, but just as good to fish. Stay in channels when navigating.
Look for channel dropoffs that are well offshore. There is a 15-inch minimum
size limit on smallmouth bass.
Taylorsville Lake: Increasing
number of 15- to 18-inch fish as a result of the 15-inch minimum size limit.
Try timbered coves. Good fishing despite high fishing pressure.
Guist Creek Lake: Excellent trophy
potential. Fishing will improve in the future.
Kincaid Lake: A hard lake to fish,
but phenomenal numbers of trophy fish.
Barren River Lake: Lake is a
little down compared to past but should rebound in the future. Good trophy potential.
There is a 15-inch minimum size limit on largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Herrington Lake: A hard lake to fish,
but many 3- to 5-pound fish with good trophy potential. It keeps producing year
Green River Lake: Good numbers of
15-inch or larger fish available. Fish the upper parts of creeks in the spring,
deep points in summer and winter.