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Home Column - Beatin' the Bank With Bernie Schultz Beatin' the Bank with Bernie Schultz - Kentucky Lake BASS Elite

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

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June 25, 2010

With only two events remaining in the BASS Elite Series, I went into Kentucky Lake with nothing but structure fishing on my mind. I had a lot of ground to make up, and in this event, every angler knew the winning stringer would come by fishing open-water ledges.

Just one problem: Kentucky Lake is so overwhelmingly massive—it’s more than 175 miles long! Finding a needle in that haystack would require more than skill and luck combined.


Arguably the best structure lake in the country, Kentucky Lake consists of countless points, ridges, ledges, channel breaks, humps and a multitude of other subsurface features. During the summer months, the key is to find ledges with shells or mussels at the right depth with adequate current.

In prior events held there, I struggled with whether to go shallow or deep. The lake has countless pockets, coves, and islands strewn with bushes and willow trees, and the bass use them nearly year round. Because my strengths lie in shallow water tactics, it was tough to eliminate the bank and fish ledges exclusively. So I compromised by fishing the shallower ledges found in the upper reaches of the lake. With less water to read, I felt my chances were better at finding the more productive areas, especially with the time constraints of our limited practice period.

During last year’s event I found a great area; a shallow ledge adjacent to a large grassy flat that fell directly into a secondary channel. I caught 20 pounds of bass from it on the second day of that tournament, so with high expectations, I made it my first stop in practice.

Unfortunately, things had changed. Due to an extended period of high, muddy water, the grass appeared to be gone. Also peculiar was the absence of other competitors. Last year it seemed like most of the field was within visual range. What was once the hottest part of the lake now seemed like a ghost town.

Evidently, I never received the memo on where the fish had moved to…

After an hour or so of trying, I did catch one big fish between 7 and 8 pounds, along with a couple of other nice keepers. But the numbers were clearly gone.

The ledge I was fishing features a shallow bar about 3 to 4-feet deep. The channel side drops abruptly into 20-30 feet of water, while the other tapers gradually into 8 to 10 feet.  I guess, because of the absence of grass on the adjacent flat, the numbers of fish just weren’t there to replenish the bar. Reluctantly I moved on, hoping to find a better area.

Weather Played A Roleschultz-kentucky02

Due to its massive size and prevailing summer winds, weather can become a factor on Kentucky Lake. The first day of practice was blustery with low clouds. With a southerly wind helping to accelerate the natural flow of current, fish were biting pretty well.

I started with the same lures that produced the year prior; a Rapala DT Flat 7 and DT Flat 9. These flat-sided crankbaits work extremely well in the summertime, especially when bass are feeding primarily on shad. They cover lots of water quickly and efficiently.

When I get a bite or two from the right size fish, I’ll switch to bottom-probing lures to see how many bites I can get from that area. If the spot shows promise, I mark the coordinates with my GPS.

The day went by quickly, and I was only able to find two other small schools of fish.

The second practice day was totally different. There was zero wind or water movement, and it was brutally hot. The shallow ledges seemed barren. I caught only a few 15-inch keepers all day, and those were scattered. I tried slowing down with Carolina and Texas-rig worms, but those rendered only small fish. So I switched to ¾-ounce Tru-Tungsten football-head jig and Yamamoto Twin-Tail Grub (both in green-pumpkin), hoping to entice larger post-spawn females. Like the day before, I fished from sun-up to dark-thirty (nearly 16 hours!), but the effort was essentially wasted.

On the third practice day, with the forecast calling for similar conditions, I drove all the way north to the dam to try some deeper ledges. Years ago I found several good drops that held a few quality fish. The numbers weren’t there then, but this year might be different.

After just an hour on the water, the wind started to howl and boat control became an issue. I decided to move to the calm side of the lake, but couldn’t find a worthwhile spot that didn’t already have a boat on it. The trek north yielded no quality fish, so I wrote it off and returned to Paris to have some repairs done on my boat at the service yard.

Our service crew is awesome. Those guys do an incredible job of keeping us up and running. Ranger, Mercury, Lowrance, MotorGuide—all the top companies send technical support to our events. It’s like having a NASCAR pit crew on hand. We’d be lost without them.

I didn’t have anything major to work on, just an issue with the bow-mounted depthfinder and a sticky jack-plate that needed some grease. With those taken care of, I prepared my tackle for the start of competition, knowing I would have to make the most of the few good areas I found.

Strong Start—Slow Finish

On the first morning of competition, I ran 30-plus miles directly to my best ledge. Rain and light breezes were in the forecast, which was precisely what I had hoped for. In the first hour I caught three 3-pounders…not a bad pace to start with. Talking with some reliable competitors at the registration meeting, I knew the weights would probably be down from last year, so I was pleased with my start.

Things quickly got tougher. I was throwing a DT Flat 7 in white with a purple back and chartreuse stripe down the sides. I kept moving back and forth along the drop, trying to find more quality fish, but the better fish seemed to disappear. I moved to other nearby ledges hoping to fill out a nice limit, but all I ran into were a few small keepers. When it was all said and done, my stringer weighed a little over 12 pounds and I was two pounds below the money-cut.

schultz-kentucky03Day 2 also started out with a bang. I caught a 3 ½ pounder, then minutes later, a fish pushing 8 pounds engulfed my crankbait. The fight was awesome. That bass cleared the surface five times. She was so fat and healthy…if not for her worn tail, I would have sworn she was about to spawn. After what seemed like an endless battle, I finally got her boatside and in the livewell. I high-fived my partner—I was pumped!

Although the 12-pound Sufix fluorocarbon I was using appeared fine, I quickly retied the crankbait and began probing the same section of the drop. After a fish like that, naturally I expected more. To my dismay, however, nothing happened. Even after changing casting angles and lures I never caught another keeper from the area. Again, the quality fish seemed to simply disappear.

It made no sense at all. Where did they go? It was still morning, cool and cloudy. More fish should be in the area. I pounded the hell out of that spot and finally decided to move away to let it rest.

Two hundred yards away I caught a 15” keeper. That made three. After saturating the area with the crankbait, I switched to a football jig. Nothing.

After meandering down the same ledge for about an hour, I told my partner it was time to return to the starting spot. I no sooner got the words out when Kelly Jordon suddenly appeared out of nowhere, stopping right on my best area. I motored over to him and tried to explain that I had started there the past two days and that I was letting the area rest, but before I could finish, he started telling me about a 10-pounder he just caught from another location. He was so excited, nothing I said sank in.

I wanted to block his access to my key area, but Kelly’s a good friend, so I let him have as much water as he needed. I told him I was struggling and he suggested I switch to a 10” worm. I had already tried the big worm, and a jig, but neither provided the confidence I had in the crankbait.

Minutes later, Kelly loaded up on a 4-pounder. My heart sank. I immediately switched to a 10-inch Yamamoto Kut Tail worm, Texas rigged with a 3/8 ounce Tru-Tungsten sinker and 6/0 VMC wide-gap hook. By the time Kelly had three more fish, I finally caught my fourth keeper. Then things stopped completely.

Thirty minutes later, Kelly recommended another spot just upriver. He said I could finish my limit there for sure. The offer sounded good, so I pulled the trolling motor and followed him about half a mile to another shallow ledge. On the approach, I told my partner that Kelly would likely stop at a spot I fished the day before—one that gave up only short fish. As soon as I got the words out, Kelly came off pad and stopped directly where I predicted. It was like he had all my GPS coordinates in that area down to a tee.schultz-kentucky01

I informed him that I fished there the previous day with no luck, but he insisted the spot held quality fish and that I should give it a try. Following him there was a gamble, I know. It’s hard to catch another man’s fish, and my confidence in the area had evaporated the day before. But Kelly was so convincing, and I was desperate for a bite, so I succumbed to the pressure.

After an hour or so of catching only non-keepers, I abandoned the area and moved to another nearby ledge. I picked up the crankbait in a final effort to finish my limit.

The time slipped away so quickly. By the end of the day I was stuck with only four keepers. Having an 8-pounder without a full limit was particularly frustrating. Kicker fish like that don’t come along often, and when they do, you always want to maximize the opportunity by backing them up with a solid limit. In that, I failed miserably.

In retrospect, I had a good area with some quality fish…just not enough for two. Kelly Jordon went on to finish second behind Kevin VanDam, who has now solidified the title, "King of Kentucky Lake”. Kelly informed me later that the spot we shared supplemented his catch each day of the finals. Although he’s my friend and I was happy for him, that news cut deep. I knew I had blown an opportunity to get back in the race for the Classic.

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Last Updated on Monday, 11 July 2011 09:59  

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