Smallmouth fishing on Lake Cumberland

I can’t give you an updated personal account on Lake Cumberland because I haven’t fished it since four years ago this month, but from all reports I’m receiving the smallmouth bass and striper fishing has never been better.

I fished out of Conley Bottom Resort in May 2012 when the lake was still about 45 feet below normal summer pool. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had dropped the level five years prior in order to repair a leak in the dam.

The lake, which covers 65,500 surface acres at normal level, is now back to normal, although this unusual wet May has it up a little more than normal.

Even at that low level in 2012, Creighton Stephens and I caught nice 2- to 3-pound smallmouth, mostly by casting tube worms right in against the rocky shoreline.

As spawning season ends for bass in May, these fish gradually transition from bays and coves to main lake points. Focus on points that are near spawning areas and coves that were productive in spring, and which have both shallow and deep water in proximity. Bass tend to gradually move deeper as the water warms up in summer. Deep, rocky points can also be productive for walleye and stripers. Trolling with diving crankbaits is an effective way to find fish; and casting with jigs, crankbaits and soft plastic baits becomes more effective — and arguably more fun — once you have located fish.


Cumberland is famous for its big, rod-bending striped bass, which in May are being caught mostly at night, and on surface lures. But daytime anglers might at any given time see the surface broiling as stripers drive shad up from the depths and then rip into them with their ravenous appetite. Any kind of lure cast into this frenzied mass will generally hook a striper. It’s exciting fishing, to say the least.

Striper guide services I have used report stripers (also called rockfish) measuring three feet in length are being taken.

Some reports say Cumberland’s smallmouth fishing has grown to be better than that found in Dale Hollow Lake, which lies about 60 miles to the southwest. In the1950s Dale Hollow gave up the world’s record smallmouth, one weighing 11 pounds, 15 ounces.

It’s a four-hour drive from the Ashland/Portsmouth area to Conley Bottom.

Creighton and I, acting on friend and guide Ottie Snyder’s advice, turned right out of the marina and began fishing after traveling just a few hundred yards.

We caught smallmouth – and largemouth – by casting tube jigs to within a foot of the shore line and working them back towards us in a slow, deliberate fashion. We landed three smallmouth exceeding the 18-inch legal size limit, plus a number of smaller fish.

Rock and shale slides or places where long-dead trees had fallen into the river were the spots that produced.

I use the pronoun “we” loosely here, for Creighton did most of the catching while I shouted out instructions and provided moral support.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources must feel confident that smallmouth are plentiful on Cumberland. An angler can keep six of them a day if they exceed 18 inches. The regulations call for a creel limit of six black bass, either singly or a combined total of smallmouth, largemouth and Kentucky (spotted) bass.

On Dale Hollow, on both the Kentucky and Tennessee portions of the lake, a 16- to 21-inch protective slot limit is imposed on smallmouth. An angler may keep per day over 21 inches and one under 16 inches.

Cumberland has a 24-inch minimum size limit on stripers. The creel limit is two per day.

The Lighthouse Café is located on the dock, offering a great view of the lake and serving chicken, steak and seafood done in southern style.

There are lots of houseboats for rent of different sizes and price plans. For information on rates, or to make reservations, call (606) 348-6351, or write Conley Bottom Resort, 736 Highway 1275 North, Monticello, KY 42633.

Conley Bottom is located on Highway 90 between Somerset and Monticello. It’s all in Wayne County, which offers numerous attractions for a summer vacation.

For more information on the area, visit


After reading last Sunday’s column about a wild ruffed grouse that walked up to turkey hunters Winford and Jeff Porter and allowed itself to be picked up, Robert Griffin of Boyd County called to report a similar incident.

Griffin said it was about 10 years ago when he was picking blackberries along Skyline Drive in Ashland. He parted some vines and brush in search of those big shade berries when he came almost face to face with a grouse. Instead of flying, it allowed him to pick it up.

“I thought maybe it was sick, but its eyes were bright and clear and there was not a thing wrong with it in anyway,” Griffin said.

Just to make sure, he tossed the grouse into the air, and off it flew with a roar of wings.

“I’ve heard old timers say that there is a certain berry that if grouse eat them it makes them intoxicated,” he said.

But the grouse did not appear to be driving— er, flying— erratically.

G. Sam Piatt

PDT Outdoors Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected].

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