When it’s Best to Fish Like a Tourist

We all get set in our ways. There was a time when I was dead set on Kentucky Lake ledges. I would carry clients from northern Illinois and Wisconsin to my favorite drops, and they would become strangely quiet. They didn’t feel comfortable or confident “way out there in the middle of the lake.” But it didn’t seem to matter that we caught good fish way out there; they were used to banging the banks. That’s what made them happy.

One day it occurred to me that catching the biggest and most fish wasn’t the only measure of a good fishing experience.

In one trip in early May I was guiding a couple of guys from Minnesota. They had started out happy, but when we stopped way out in the middle of the lake, they became contemplatively serious. One 3- and 4-pound bass caught had made them happy for a moment, but shortly thereafter they again seemed lost in thought. As soon as I moved to the bank, however, they began to chat and loosen up. Before long we were ribbing each other, telling jokes and having a good old time. We managed to catch a dozen or so “dinks” and one fish that may have been legal size. It didn’t seem to matter now—they gave me a big tip and said they’d be back.

If we had stayed on the ledges, most of the fish we might have caught would’ve been legal. We might even have caught a wall hanger. This was back when the ledges were loaded with big fish.

The following spring I learned another lesson. This one was humbling:

It was mid-May and I had had a tough day on the ledges with only three keepers between three guys who all wanted to fish that way. When we pulled into Town & Country’s dock on Jonathan Creek, I noticed that the fish-cleaning station was loaded and just assumed they were cleaning late-season crappies. We walked over and saw bushels of bass; some of them were up to 8 pounds.

Six guys from Indiana had six limits of bass, and one of them said, “These are just the ones we kept.”

The resort owner told me that these guys come down every year in May and drink beer and beat the banks and catch 60 to 100 fish a day throwing crankbaits and spinnerbaits.

I looked sheepishly at my clients. They just grinned.

The next day we beat the banks like true tourists.

Even though I still love the ledges, I’ve learned to migrate to the shallows every May since then. It’s only fair to tell you that the stories I’ve mentioned took place back when we had thousands of acres of milfoil and Kentucky Lake probably was the best bass lake in the country. If you were on the fish, 50 to 100 bass a day was not uncommon.

In relative numbers, however, the same principle applies today. In fact, it may even be more prevalent. Back then most people fished the banks; today, nearly everyone fishes ledges. We easily have twice as many fishermen today and most are pretty good at it. You do the math.

All crankbaits work well during May with Rat-L-Traps probably topping the list with their venerable Chrome with a Blue Back and in 1/4 ounce as the choice. A lot of fish are caught on Shad Raps, and Wiggle Warts and Rebel Wee-Rs. If you want to add a little finesse—and a lot more fun—try plastic twitch baits like the Sassy Shad or maybe a Sinko.

There are many brands of spinnerbaits, but I prefer Strike King. Regardless of the make, most everyone throws either a white or chartreuse or some combination of the two.

When bass move shallow they scatter along the banks. And just as with ledges, some banks are better than others. But all the baits mentioned above allow you to cruise along and cover a lot of water, just like a tourist. And, sometimes, fishing like one is the best way to go.