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Lake Barkley 2006

The LVBA has been visiting Lake Barkley since 1999, the year the club was founded, with the only exception occurring in 2003 when the Club went to Dale Hollow for its spring 2-day event.  Four of the five LVBA Barkley trips have produced at least one 6+ lb fish, in many cases there were several 6+ lb bass weighed in and in 2005 a 7 lb bucketmouth! Last year the TVA dropped the water level 4 ft the night before the T and pretty much wiped out any patterns the club members had established. In fact, the club has really only hit the lake right in 2 out of 5 years, the first 2 years of the club.
This year promises to be the best ever. Outside of the evils of Mother Natures intervention (she seems to hate the LVBA) we are on track to hit the lake perfect! The lake is being brought up on schedule and should be fully into the buck brush and flowers when we arrive. The New Moon will occur on the April 27th and is well known to be a major spawning factor for numbers of fish. While the full moon is earlier in the month and known for moving bigger fish, the timing of the New Moon, the lake level and a decent weather pattern will hopefully produce numbers and big fish both. Mother Nature owes us one!
The LVBA Barkley Tournament Timeline

In 1999 John Hopkins caught the first club record at 6.75 lbs in the afternoon of Day 2, ousting Fishheads big fish of 6.65 lbs. Unofficially, Guy Payne caught a 7 lb LM the day before the tournament when he and his partner stung 32lbs of fish, only to be skunked the 1st day of the tournament. That year the club weighed four 6+ lb bass with 3 over the 6.5 lb range, 4 in the 5 lb range and numerous 3-4's. This tournament was scheduled around the 3rd weekend in April.
2000 was a good year with 2 in the 6 lb range and numerous 4-5's. While there were not many numbers weighed in, most of the fish that came to the scale were good ones. The T was scheduled around the 4th weekend in April. This was the year when we had midweek storms and tornados in the area. Guy and Jerry Payne were camping at the Point when the one of the worse storms I have ever seen blew through; shortly thereafter they rented a Condo!
2001 was a numbers year as the club visited Barkley during the month of May. While there was one 6lb fish, this was a year for numbers. Members reported catching as many as 50 bass a day, most in the 13-14 inch range. We still had a good number of keepers but the really big fish were not as prevalent as in the years when we went during April.
2002 we returned to Barkley in late April, around the 4th weekend. Once again the big fish showed up! Sean and his trusty Brushawg won the T that year with the help of a 6.6lb LM and a 4lb LM. At the Day 1 afternoon weigh in we had 7 club members with fish over the 4lb mark in a single weigh in. This was also the year Paw Paw Louie did his infamous acrobatic act on the stairs to the condo!
2004 we returned to Barkley around the 3rd weekend in April, while it was a good tournament for both numbers and size, we did not see any of the 6 lb range fish, we did have numerous 3 & 4's and some 5's. Several members got their 5lb patch as a result of Barkley and the 1st LVBA limit was caught. The tournament was held on the Northern end of the lake, which was new to most members and access to much of the rest of the lake was limited due to time constraints, running conditions and distances involved reaching the mid and southern end. The other limiting factor last year was high winds, if you did try to run south, you had to leave early due to the high winds and rough water to navigate back to the upper end on Barkley. 
2005 we got totally screwed, early week patterns with water levels in the flowers and buck brush were promising. Les had a practice day with over 15 keepers early in the week. Fishhead and other members reported catching many over the 4lb mark during the week. Then Friday night the TVA dropped the water level 4ft and all bets were off. The fish shut down and everyone's patterns were gone. Sat forced us all to try to adjust and start all over again. Catch rates were down and dreams were dashed. But the lake still produced 3 or 4 over the 4lb mark including a 7-14 new club record.
The following is the latest forecast from the KDFW:
Good numbers of harvestable-size bass; the strong year-class produced in 2000, which has dominated electro fishing samples each year, is now reaching legal size and anglers should experience a marked improvement of harvestable-size bass; fair numbers of sub-legal fish in the population.
The above forecast is supported by the study completed by Paul Prister, the KDFW manager for KY/Barkley lakes. His study deals with data they have collected over the past 6-7 years of fall sampling and electro fishing studies:

The KDFWR samples the bass populations on Kentucky and Barkley lakes twice a year; spring and fall. In the spring we are looking at catch rates, size structure, age structure and growth rates. In the fall we are looking at length-weight ratios, and growth of the age 0 fish (the bass that were spawned during the spring), as well as their catch rates. In what follows I am referring to only LMB. And, their birthday is in May. Some of this information is generalizations, so not all of it reflects what happens in every body of water.

These are things we know. On the average, LMB reach 15-inches by age four, and most all have exceeded this length by age five. Growth rates are similar for both lakes. Water levels and water temperature are two of the primary factors that affect a year class success. Water levels that fluctuate during the spawn can often leave a nest stranded in shallow water, or in some cases to deep of water. This would cause the male bass to abort the nest. Water temperature is one of the primary triggers to put fish in the mood to spawn. LMB optimal spawning temperature is in the low 60's. If this desired water temperature is reached early in the year (mild winter, early spring) then, without all the details, bass will begin spawning rituals. If things go as planned, an early spawn will mean better growth by wintertime. Larger age 0 fish results in better winter survival. An age 0 fish that reaches five inches by winter has a very good chance of survival. Just the opposite would mean poor winter survival. Also, if the bass begin spawning rituals early, and then weather changes (cold fronts) occur, this could have negative affects on the spawn. It is not only important that the optimal temperature is reached, but also that the water temperature is stable in the low to mid 60's over a period of time (three weeks, lets say). If the water temperature quickly rose up into the 70's then the optimal spawning period would have been missed. Some bass would spawn, but overall the success of all the eggs would be poor. Even though both lakes are immense, density dependent factors do play a role in bass growth and eventually survival. As an example, prefect water temperatures early in the year and high stable water level could allow the bass to have a super spawn, but there would be so many of these tiny bass, that they would have reduced growth rates. There are more little details that are known, but these are the important ones to let you see what drives a year class success.

This post presents a brief conclusion regarding the data KDFWR biologist collected for LMB in 2002 at Kentucky and Barkley lakes.

At Kentucky and Barkley lakes we have collected bass for twenty years using electro fishing during the spring. At Kentucky Lake the average catch rate of LMB (less than 8 inches) is 20 f/hr and (greater than 15 inches) is 15 f/hr. For this discussion these are the benchmarks for year class success. The reason we look at the fish 8 inches or less in the spring is because, for the most part, these are the fish from the previous year's spawn, or the age 1 bass. And, they are pretty good predictors for the future. Lets discuss the little fish (8 inches or less). In the spring of 2002 we collected 32 f/hr of electro fishing; you could say this is a better than average year class. In 2001, their catch rate was 60, which is three times the benchmark. Through age and growth data we know these age 1 bass collected in 2001should show up as harvestable fish (>15 inch) as early as 2004, and likewise the age 1 collected in 2002 in 2005. Looking back even a few more years the data indicated poorer year classes. In 1995 - 1997 the catch rates were at or below 10 f/hr. In 1998 - 2000 the catch rates were very near the benchmark. So the poor bass fishing that most anglers experienced in the late '90s and in 2000 is related to the poor year classes of the mid '90s. Better year class success in the late' 90s, but only average, has helped to improve bass fishing success to some degree in the past year. So by 2004 or 2005 the bass fishery will look pretty good. How does this compare to when we had all the milfoil in the lake during the late '80s and early '90s? During that period the average catch rate for the small fish was nearly 40 f/hr. In 2002, we collected 13 f/hr that were larger than 15 inches. Since 1998 the average catch rate has been close to 11 f/hr, with 1998 being the worst year. This decline is due to the poor year classes seen in 1995 - 1997. In comparison, the best year on record in our data was 1993 with 31 f/hr collected over 15 inches. This was the result of the vegetation in the late '80s and the good year class success. But for those have been fishing over the past twenty years, stop complaining. In 1983 - 1985 we were only collecting, on the average, about 5 f/hr that were over 15 inches, and it did not go above the benchmark until 1991.

At Lake Barkley, some of the similar trends have been seen in both size ranges of fish that we monitor. The benchmarks on Barkley Lake for LMB are 28 f/hr for the bass less than 8 inches and 27 f/hr for the larger bass. In the period of 1995 - 1999 the catch rate averaged for the little bass nearly 14 f/hr. In 2000 - 2002 the average was 43 f/hr, with the strongest year class occurring in 2001. Just as on Kentucky Lake, the bass population (LMB >15 inches) declined in the late '90s and into 2000's due to these poor year classes in the mid 90's. The better than average year classes seen in the early 2000's should provide better bass fishing as early as spring of 2004.

So there you go Fishheads, that should get your glands salivating! All the signs and indications are there for a banner weigh in and phenomenal fishing. My prediction is we will see several fish in the 6+ lb range and more in the 4-5 lb range. In 1999 when we were there the 3rd weekend in April, there were two bass in the 10 lb range, several in the 7-8 lb range caught and weighed in by guests at Prizer Point. If you haven't had an opportunity to go to the KY/Barkley trip early then this is the year you should not miss! Once you've gone down early and stayed for 3-4 days before the T it kind of sticks with you, you'll be bit with the Barkley Bug!


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