Fishing the Fifty
My Quest to Fish All 50 States
Kentucky proved to be the most difficult state on my list. It was one of two states in which I did not catch a fish on my first attempt. It was also the only state that had weather bad enough to cancel one of my planned trips entirely. It was also the only state in which a guide I booked multiple days with ignored my calls and e-mails, prompting me to cancel the trip. Fortunately, Kentucky is an easy day’s drive from my home in Virginia, and I first attempted it very early on in my quest [it would have been my ninth state], so I had plenty of time to retool my approach after each of my several failed attempts. I finally changed from a winter to a spring trip; I switched from fish species I know less about to one of my favorite fish to target (striped bass); and I changed locations from eastern Kentucky to central Kentucky, specifically 101-mile long Lake Cumberland. Luckily, there are three excellent guides on Lake Cumberland, all fishing different parts of the lake, and I booked all three. I even found a private 1.5-acre lake to fish after my morning fishing trips to ensure I caught a fish. Excessive? You bet, but my end goal of spring 2015 was less than a year away and I was not about to risk another failed attempt at Kentucky, knowing very well that returning in the fall or winter was not a viable option.
The first leg of my three-man fishing relay on Lake Cumberland went to Lance Sasser (sassersguideservice.com). Like the other guides I chose, Lance consistently produces both quality fish and quantities of fish. Lance also guides trout trips and put a client on a then-state record brook trout earlier in 2014. We fished the southwest portion of the lake near Albany, Kentucky. The fishing was very slow, but Lance knows that part of the lake better than anyone and we changed locations until Kentucky finally became my 45th state after I caught a 28-inch striper.
I fished with Jared Harmon (cumberlandstripercharters.com) for my second day of Lake Cumberland striper fishing. Jared regularly gets limits of fish and our trip on the northeastern part of the lake near Nancy, Kentucky, was no different. We had the lake to ourselves on a gorgeous May day, which made me very thankful that I thought to change from a winter to a spring fishing trip. I caught 19 stripers in four hours, with the biggest being 29 inches.
After fishing with Jared, I headed to Campbellsville, Kentucky to fish for trophy catfish at The Big Cat (bigcatky.com). I had fished a few private ponds in Virginia, but never a pay lake. I half expected to walk in there and pull out 40-pound fish after 40-pound fish; however, that was definitely not the case. I fished for several hours before my first (and only) bite, but it was an impressive 37-inch, 17.2-pound trophy flathead catfish. I was using some of my light tackle gear too, which made the fight even better.
For my last day and the all-important anchor of the three-man relay race, I chose Jerry Morgan (fishlakecumberland.com), a man who has been guiding on Lake Cumberland for over 20 years and who has forgotten more about striped bass fishing than I could ever hope to know. We fished out of Jamestown, Kentucky, on the north-central portion of the lake, and caught 13 stripers, including a trip-best 30-inch, 14-pound striper. Jerry and I had a great time and it was a perfect ending to a very successful Kentucky trip.
Welcome to Kentucky
My first Kentucky fish, a 28-inch striper
29-inch striper caught with Jared
The beautiful Kentucky countryside
Morning on Lake Cumberland
Beautiful Lake Cumberland
37-inch, 17.2-pound trophy flathead catfish from the Big Cat. The rules prohibit anglers from handling these fish as one normally would so as to ensure their safe release back into the lake.
My biggest Kentucky striper, a 30-incher caught with Jerry