Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - 2018 Kentucky Lake BASS Elite

I like Kentucky Lake, but my track record there is weak at best. It’s full of bass — nearly all species in fact — but it can be fickle at times. And it’s almost always due to fluctuations in water level.

Because this event was scheduled for spring, I had high hopes of fishing flooded bushes and willows. When the water is high on the “Twin Lakes” there’s no better place to catch big stringers of bass.

Our tournament waters included all of Kentucky Lake and most of neighboring Barkley. That meant more than 100 linear miles of water to access, and chances were good I could find something to myself … or so I thought.

This satellite view reveals how expansive the "Twin Lakes" truly are.

This satellite view reveals how expansive the "Twin Lakes" truly are.

Practice Begins

Based out of Paris Landing at mid-lake, I decided to start practice in nearby Big Sandy Creek. My first pitches were to flooded bushes along the shoreline in protected pockets. In minutes I had five bites — two of which were nice-sized largemouth that I was able to pull to the surface without hooking.

Satisfied I was on the right pattern, I raised the trolling motor to move to another cove. That’s when disaster struck.

My engine wouldn’t start. It had fuel and plenty of battery power, but for whatever reason, it wouldn’t fire. Repeatedly, I tried, but no luck. Finally, after more than 20 minutes, I trimmed the engine all the way forward to drain any excess fuel, then tried once more. That worked, barely, but I was able to get it to fire. Something was still wrong, as the engine struggled to get the boat on plane.

Limping back to our official take-off site, I met up with Mercury service tech, Jay Andersen. In minutes he found the problem: bad fuel. He immediately went to work on the repairs and with a fresh tank of gas, I was back on the water.

By this time it was midday. When I returned to the back of Big Sandy I noticed the bushes were a foot higher out of the water. My heart sank. I believed then that the flipping pattern would fall apart … or at least I thought it would.

Throughout the day, I moved from cove to cove, pitching and flipping as I went — all the while, watching as the water level decreased. By day’s end I had found only a few productive areas — places where, if the water continued to fall, would also become worthless.

On day 2, I decided to run north to some marinas to check for an early bite from bass targeting spawning shad beneath houseboats. I scored a couple of quick bites at the first marina by burning a spinnerbait just below the first set of floats. With each subsequent cast, clusters of small shad followed my lure. Realizing the potential, I pulled the trolling motor and headed for another marina where the pattern repeated itself.

Once the sun got above the trees the bite disappeared. So I ventured north to the dam to try my luck on several riprap banks. I caught plenty of fish, just none of the size needed to compete.

On day 3 I went south to New Johnsonville, to an area that used to feature vast fields of submerged vegetation. Unfortunately, the grass was gone. Not even a single blade remained. Seeing that, I moved to wood cover targeting laydowns and duck blinds. Neither produced.

Next, I tried some docks and the shorelines behind them. There I found a few bedding fish, but they were so nervous I felt they wouldn’t be worth returning to. Soon, it was time to head back to Paris for registration. I hoped the early morning shad-spawn pattern would jumpstart my efforts during the competition.

Marina docks were key to a morning shad spawn.

Marina docks were key to a morning shad spawn.

Competition Time

Having an early draw, I knew I’d likely be the first to reach the floating docks inside my best marina … and I was.

When I arrived, things were quiet. I eased inside to the first row of houseboats and, on a single pass, boated three nice keepers. A second pass yielded two larger 3-pounders. I felt I was on my way … then the problems started.

Out of nowhere, an irate marina manager came storming down the dock, telling me I had to leave. He claimed I was trespassing and in violation of a 150-foot no-fishing ordinance. Rather than challenge the letter of the law, I left, only to struggle throughout the rest of the day. I never bettered my weight.

Back at check-in, I asked the tournament director to look into the matter regarding marina fishing restrictions, and he consulted with the Fish & Wildlife Service. They stated that there were no ordinances restricting access to marina waters on Kentucky Lake, and that I had every right to fish in and around their docks. With that news, I left to prep my tackle for another try at the shad spawn inside that same marina.

The next morning came quickly. With the take-off order reversed, I watched as most of the field exited Paris Landing ahead of me. Finally, my number was called and I began the long run back to the marina. Upon arrival, I noticed an increase in activity on the docks — patrons were arriving for the weekend.

I moved quickly to the slips where I had had my best luck and began paralleling my casts along the floats and houseboats. By the time I reached the second slip, I had two 2-pounders in the boat. That’s when I noticed a small party barge headed my way. It was the dockmaster, angry and determined to confront me.

Immediately, he started yelling, telling me I had no right to fish there and that I was breaking the law. Calmly, I tried to explain to him that, according to the Fish & Wildlife Service, there was no such ordinance and that my fishing license entitled me to fish “public waters.”

He wouldn’t have it. In what became a 30-minute heated exchange – prime time during the shad spawn — the dockmaster jockeyed his small barge to obstruct my every move. If I went right or left, he did also … in a very aggressive manor. I tried to move to another section of slips, but he headed me off once more, threating to call the law. I asked him repeatedly to please do so. I wanted them there!

With no clear path to fish, I moved to the riprap breakwall to fish until authorities arrived.

An hour later, a park ranger showed up and told me I had no right to fish within 150 feet of any commercial marina dock. I told him what the Fish & Wildlife Department said, but he wasn’t hearing it. He told me to leave or be cited. I elected to leave.

As I idled away from the dock, I was approached by another boat — this one carrying an officer from a different agency. It was the Fish & Wildlife Service, there to inform me that I had every right to fish the marina and its adjacent waters. Relieved, I thanked him and asked him to speak with the dockmaster and park ranger, which he said he planned to do.

I resumed my work on the docks, but by that time, the shad spawn was over with. Uncertain as to what I should try next, I pulled the trolling motor and headed south toward Paris Landing.

Along the way, I tried a variety of structures and targets, including docks, laydowns and riprap. After testing them all, my only catch came off riprap using a Rapala SkitterWalk. It was a nice 3¾-pounder, but not nearly enough to get me back in the race.

This last-minute 3-pounder struck a Rapala SkitterWalk under overcast skies.

This last-minute 3-pounder struck a Rapala SkitterWalk under overcast skies.

At weigh-in, I put four fish on the scales — one shy of a limit. They weighed a whopping 10 pounds, 12 ounces, and through my fingers slipped another shallow water opportunity — the type of derby I crave.