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Kentucky Lake, a legendary bass fishery, offers a glimpse of what could happen if Asian carp become established in our Corps of Engineers reservoirs.

A giant Tennessee River impoundment near Paducah, Ky., Kentucky Lake is the home of Fishing League Worldwide (FLW). It's one of the most popular stops in professional bass fishing, but it hosts dozens of local and regional tournaments, too. It is famous for its ledge fishing, and it reliably requires heavy weights to finish in the top 10 of most tournaments.

At least, that's how it was, but not anymore.

Jason Sealock, a Springdale native now of Benton, Ky., manages and is the former editor of FLW Outdoors magazine. In the early 1990s, Sealock distinguished himself as a pioneer of electronics graphing and scanning technology, and he is still a first-tier authority in that area.

Kentucky Lake, Sealock's home water, has fallen on hard times, and Sealock says that Asian carp are largely to blame.

He explains it all in an article on titled, "What's Going on With the Fishing on Kentucky Lake?"

Sealock acknowledged that all lakes go through boom and bust cycles for bass. They occur for many reasons, including loss of vegetation. Kentucky Lake is experienced that problem now. Bass fry and shad fry need vegetation to escape predators.

Extremely cold winters kill large percentages of threadfin shad populations on which bass and other gamefish depend for food. That happened at Kentucky Lake last winter. Sealock noted that the lake also experienced many periods when it was tough to fish before Asian carp arrived.

On the other hand, Asian carp might well be the critical mass that prevents the lake from recovering. The reason, Sealock wrote, is because Kentucky Lake's overabundance of Asian carp has disrupted the food chain. He wrote that in August 2016, he scarcely saw or graphed any threadfin shad, and the ones he found were emaciated. Bass concentrated on them, but they were emaciated, as well, because emaciated shad are not nutritive.

Now, anglers do not find bait in areas where it traditionally concentrated. Instead, they graph hundres of thousands of Asian carp.

"The sheer biomass of carp on the system pilfered the zooplankton that young threadfin shad needed to survive," Sealock wrote. "Carp can consume up to 20 percent of their body weight a day {eating} microscopic organisms. A baby shad doesn't stand a chance in that buffet line next to millions of 20-pound carp."

Sealock illustrated that point with a screenshot of his Lowrance graph showing such a school of carp so vast in Big Bear Creek that it dominates the entire image.

"They are in every bay and all along the main river," Sealock wrote.

It's also a space issue.

"A bass cannot physically occupy the space a 20- to 40-pound carp is occupying," Sealock wrote. "If they are carpeting the bottom in places, we aren't going to find many bass there, or crappie, or anything else."

Bass might be suspended above or below carp, which collectively pose an impenetrable barrier.

Hard winters kill a lot of Asian carp at Kentucky Lake, but carp are hardier than shad, and like with feral hogs, it isn't possible to remove enough carp from an infested area to matter.

Bass and crappie will adapt and learn to feed differently on Kentucky Lake, Sealock wrote. A similar adaptation - though not related to carp - occurred at South Carolina's Lake Murray, which has hosted multiple Bassmaster Classics and Forrest Wood Cup championships, and also at Lake Hartwell. Bass there depend on alewives, not shad, and so they relate more to open water.

Anglers will have to adapt, too. Certain patterns will go extinct, like fishing Rat-L-Traps on flats, because bass don't go to flats on Kentucky Lake anymore, Sealock wrote. They will have to learn to rely on suspending patterns, but more important, they will have to learn to accept below-average fishing as the norm.

Bass anglers often blame striped bass and hybrids for poor bass fishing in Arkansas lakes. If Sealock is correct, then his insights show us what awaits us if Asian carp get established in lakes Ouachita, Degray, Greers Ferry or Beaver.

Sports on 04/15/2018

Print Headline: Kentucky Lake a cautionary carp tale for Arkansans

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