PARIS, Tenn. — As a Bassmaster Elite Series angler, Mark Menendez fishes all over the United States, crisscrossing the continent in search of winning limits of bass.
But when Menendez fishes for fun, he heads home to Paducah, Ky., and nearby Kentucky Lake. At a sprawling 160,000 acres, it’s a great place to wet a line and enjoy time alone, with family, or a few friends. Ranked No. 12 on Bassmaster Magazine’s 100 Best Bass Lakes list this year, it’s also a popular fishery for tournament anglers.
On Nov. 30-Dec. 3, amateur anglers from around the U.S. will get to experience Kentucky Lake during a competition of their own — the 2016 Toyota Bonus Bucks Bassmaster Team Championship.
The first two days of the tournament will attract around 200 two-person teams to the fishery. Teams are composed of anglers from various independently operated team trails sanctioned by B.A.S.S.
After the Toyota Bonus Bucks Team champions are crowned at the end of the second day, members of the top three teams will then fish individually in the Bassmaster Team Championship Classic Fish-Off, with the winning angler earning a spot in the 2017 GEICO Bassmaster Classic on Lake Conroe near Houston, Texas.
Menendez predicts that Kentucky Lake will provide a thrilling — and challenging — test for the team anglers in late November and early December.
“The fish are going to be super scattered,” Menendez said. “They’ll be in the backs of bays and off the points and in the river channels. It’s all dependent on the shad.”
Shad locations are the keys to success on Kentucky Lake year-round, but when the water level is dropped during the colder months, it makes bass act in ways you might not expect, Menendez said.
There are other variables on Kentucky Lake that Menendez said could come into play during the Bassmaster Team Championship. Recent warm weather in the area is chief among them.
“The water the first week of December typically is about 52 degrees, and it could be 48 degrees if you get a couple of really nice cold days,” Menendez said. “But the water temperature as of early November was about 68 to 70 degrees. It’s been unseasonably warm.”
While that is sure to change somewhat by tournament time, the sheer magnitude of Kentucky Lake and its more than 2,000 miles of shoreline could send anglers scrambling to find the biggest fish. There’s hydrilla on the south end of the lake to consider for spinnerbaits, and the “smallmouth factor” could come into play, as well, according to Menendez.
“There are ample smallmouth bass in the lake that are in the 4- to 6-pound range,” he said. “And at this time of year, they’re a heck of a lot easier to catch than a largemouth. Now, will the tournament be won with smallmouth? I don’t think so, unless it gets really overcast and bumpy [windy] out there. If it does, someone can take a spinnerbait or a jerkbait and do well.”
He also recommends lipless crankbaits fished in 6 to 12 feet of water.
“Everyone should be able to catch 2-pounders, but of course, it’s the 4-pounders you’re looking for,” he says. “To make the Top 3, it should take somewhere around 32 to 35 pounds [for two days]. Someone is going to catch 20, then 12 and be left out. But if you can get 17 and then 17 again, you’re probably in.”
Menendez also urged competitors in the upcoming Team Championship to exercise caution while boating on Kentucky Lake.
“Everyone’s going to be excited with a shot at the Classic on the line, but you have to be extremely careful,” he said. “On the west side of the lake, stay in between the channel markers. It gets really low in there with the winter pull, and there could be some lower units torn up beyond repair if you go full speed in there. On the east side of Kentucky Lake, the bays are fine, but be careful getting in and out of them. It’s shallow at the entrances.”
This will be the third year for the Toyota Bonus Bucks Team Championship, and the 12th time B.A.S.S. will hold a professional tournament on Kentucky Lake — a giant impoundment of the Tennessee River straddling the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. Last year’s team championship was held on Alabama’s Lake Guntersville, and approximately 400 anglers participated.
Chris Risner and Timothy Eaton of Michigan won the team championship, but Thomas Martens of Lago Vista, Texas, won the fish-off and qualified for the Classic on Grand Lake O’ the Cherokees in Oklahoma.
The event will be hosted by the Henry County Alliance.
“The Henry County Alliance is happy to partner with B.A.S.S. as we showcase Kentucky Lake, one of the top fisheries in the country, at the Toyota Bonus Bucks Team Championship,” said David Hamilton, CEO of the Henry County Alliance. “Previous Bassmaster anglers have brought in total weights of more than 95 pounds, and we are looking forward to seeing the big bass anglers will weigh-in at this tournament, as well.”
Paris Landing State Park will be the location for takeoffs at 6:30 a.m. CT, with daily weigh-ins following at 2:30 p.m. CT.