Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kentuckys on the Wire

It’s a hot, muggy August Friday night, just as I settle in the phone rang.
“What are you doing tomorrow?’
“Nothing why?”
“Want to go to Center Hill?”
“Ok, meet me at the house. We are going to the blind drawing at Old Hickory then head out.”
  This is my buddy Jimmy. He is a fishing and hunting machine and Center Hill Lake is his favorite, it’s full of good smallmouth which is what we usually try for. But August in Tennessee is not when daytime smallmouth fishing is best. But any day at the lake as they say.
   Center Hill, like every major lake in Tennessee except one, is a flood control lake, meaning it is man-made. It is also extremely deep with spots 100+ feet deep almost against the bank common. The bottom is mainly rock and rock ledges and a great place for bass of all flavors.
   I headed to his house the next morning with a couple of light spinning rods in hand since that is what he says to bring. No tackle box, no casting rods, just a couple of 6 ½ foot spinning rods loaded with 8 lb test. We get into the truck to go draw for duck blinds with a pleasant 90% humidity, clear skies, mid 90 degree heat without a speck of air moving. Since we had no boat I figure we will go back by the house to pick it up. Turns out, I was wrong.
   After the drawing heat waves are shimmering off the pavement I am wondering (1) why we are starting so late and (B) what in the world he is thinking when he says we aren’t going back for the boat. Center Hill is deep, I am pretty sure we aren’t going wading, he just tells me to wait and see. There are a number of good creeks in the area but we have never, in years of fishing, gone to one but I’m thinking this might be where we are headed. He says what we need is in the truck, that he is going to show me something new.
   It’s past midday, the heat is over 100 as we pull up to the dock where we normally launch the boat, get out and start to unload. Opening the back of the truck I see a large cooler, Jimmy opens it to reveal his secret. Small live crawfish. There had to be a couple of hundred crawling around in there. He transfers these to a minnow bucket, grabs a small plastic tackle box, a landing net and heads toward the walkway leading to the boat slips with me tagging along. We stop near the deep end of the slips, Jimmy opens his tiny box of goodies and removes a couple of #8 short shanked hooks. We tie these on as he explains what we are going to do.
   The Kentuckys (spotted bass) like to find shallower spots to hold during summer months where they feed on baitfish without working. They find local docks perfect for this. The one problem is the docks are in deep water with no bottom cover available to orient to. So the bass hold on the one constant, the steel cables running from the dock to barrels of concrete used as anchors. Schools of spots will stack up around these cables during the hottest part of the year. Jimmy had accidentally found this out one July 4th when he snuck away from a family picnic to fish. Now it’s a matter of finding the depth fish are holding so you can drop down a lively crawfish. While spots feed on baitfish not one of them will turn down crawfish, period.
   The rigging cannot be simpler, a single small hook with no sinker or if you must a tiny bb split shot added 12-15 inches up your line. A 1 ½ - 2 inch crawfish hooked in the last tail segment is dropped to swim freely to the lunch line. When it is at a depth you want to try don’t close the bail on the reel, instead, lay the line on the tip of your index finger to detect strikes. When you feel a light tap or two straighten your finger to allow the fish to run for a couple of feet then set the hook. Having 8 lb line helps when a fish weighing 5 lbs or more decides crawfish is a dandy snack. A net is a must in the tight confines of the boat slips. It might take some trial and error to find the depth but once established you can normally count on it for the rest of the trip.

  Another friend joined us as we set about locating the Kentuckys. After about 20 minutes of trying a few slips we caught the first fish 12 feet down. Once that was figured out we all started fishing that level and it was an eye opener. Jimmy caught three or four in minutes with one close to five pounds. Now everyone is catching fish, most of them keepers. Of all the bass we catch Kentuckys are the only ones we keep, they are great in a fish fry. We take a break to get drinks from the dock restaurant and get out of the heat for a few minutes.
   As we sit around a table, Jimmy tells me you can catch Kentuckys like this from after the spawn till mid September. When he found the fish were using the dock he caught close to 200 over that first weekend. He told about one slip where a tree had drifted in that in two days he caught 75. He went back several times that first year and developed this method of finding and catching Kentuckys. You will catch a few largemouth but we have never caught a good smallmouth. We headed back out for a few more then wrapped it up. When we left we had 3 limits totaling 15 fish that weighed 48 lbs. I was amazed. Simple rigging using live bait from a couple of tournament guys. We went home planning to come back in a few days.
   On our next trip we fished a different part of the slips but nailed them right out of the gate. First 9 casts produced 9 strikes, 8 fish landed totaling 24 lbs. Now the question was, will this translate to other lakes. The simple answer, yes.

   I fish another lake with a good population of Kentuckys, I went there to give this technique a shot. Since I didn’t have permission to fish from the dock I used my boat to probe the outer edges and find the cables holding it in place. Just like Center Hill the fish were holding on the cables and readily took crawfish. These fish are aggressive, possibly from the number of fish in the area, so getting them to hit is just a matter of depth. The lake I fish is very different in depth but still contains a lot of rocky areas. Like Center Hill, this is a warm water technique for the post spawn period, once the water starts to cool the fish move out.
   I know some purists are turning back flips about using live bait but I am not an elitist in any form, just a fisherman. I use what works for the conditions. I love throwing crank baits or plastics but like crappie fishing there are times you can’t beat nature. If the use of crawfish is legal in your area a trip to the local creek will get the bait you need. Throw the larger ones back, 2 inches is the largest you want. A good #8 short shanked hook, a spinning reel loaded with 8 lb test along with a 6 ½ foot rod and you are set.


texwisgirl said...

That's pretty cool that your friend shared his secret with you, and now you've shared it with the fishing world. The docks will be clustered with catfish-wielding fishermen thru the heat of the summer! :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun and effective way to catch fish!

Jake Culp said...

Good tip. Sounds like a lot of fun. Like the new theme as well!

heyBJK said...


I want to wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas! Have a safe and enjoyable weekend!

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Born and raised in middle Tennessee.I'm a working wildlife and landscape artist specializing in watercolors. Now making cedar lures and custom turkey calls.



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