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Finding The Fish In Lake Cumberland

John Coffey issues fishing invitations that are hard to refuse. In my case, he sent a photo of himself holding a 5-1/2-pound smallmouth bass taken from Lake Cumberland this spring.

Coffey, who runs Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Camp Currie on Lake Cumberland, is already enjoying a superb season of fishing. His technique is simple but deadly: take half a dozen fishing poles, bait them with alewives (live bait) fished on the bottom or under a bobber, and spread the offering around a point.

“Sometimes I have four fish on at once,” he says. “I’ve got one fishing pole in my hand, another clinched between my knees, and I’m stepping on the handles of two others. There’s nothing like it.”

Usually, it’s tough to find a good place to try Coffey’s technique. However, Lake Cumberland now has miles of exposed gravel shoreline perfect for bank fishing. That’s because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dropped the lake level while repairs to the lake’s dam are under way. It’s now easy to beach your boat on a point, bring out the lawn chairs, and spend the day fishing from the shore.

“That’s how the guides catch big stripers in May,” notes Benjy Kinman, fisheries director for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

Some people are staying away from Lake Cumberland because they think there’s no water left. While the lake is smaller because of the drawdown, there are still 37,000 acres of water.

“There’s the same number of fish in a lot less space,” Kinman says. “I think the fishing is going to be outstanding this year.”

May is one of the best months of the year to catch fish in Lake Cumberland. Walleyes are still near the shoreline, so anglers should try trolling chartreuse and orange crankbaits wherever there’s muddy water along the banks. Anglers also can cast points with crankbaits for walleyes, concentrating on the area from Conley Bottom to the dam. This is also a good technique for bass hiding in the same areas.

Bass anglers will also want to search out stump beds that have been preserved while they remained deep underwater. These stumps are now shallow enough for fish to use, and are prime places to probe for bass with an artificial worm.

As for my fishing trip with John Coffey, it was a disappointment. The biggest of several smallmouth bass caught only weighed 4-1/2 pounds. “Go get your grandma,” Coffey whispered to the fish as he released it back into the lake.


For the latest information on what’s going on with Lake Cumberland, visit the Web site of the Kentucky Commerce Cabinet at and click on “Newsletter on Lake Cumberland/Wolf Creek Dam.”

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