Pitching, topwater key to Wildcard on Cumberland

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Bassmaster College Series angler Nick Ratliff predicted smallmouth will play an important role in tomorrow’s Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Wildcard presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors on Lake Cumberland.

Lake Cumberland is fishing well, and Bassmaster College angler Nick Ratliff said the young anglers should really catch a lot of bass during the one-day Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School Wildcard presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors that begins tomorrow.

Ratliff, who qualified for the 2019 Bassmaster Classic through the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series, said he expects it to take 16 to 17 pounds to win, with a combination of largemouth and smallmouth in the top sacks. 

“The guys who catch both are the guys who will do well,” Ratliff said.

And he said there should be plenty of solid bass crossing the stage.

“The cool thing about this lake is there are 4-pound smallmouth, 4-pound spotted bass and 4-pound largemouth, and you’re going to see all of them,” Ratliff said. 

The key to victory will be covering a lot of water, focusing on bank-related cover with two primary baits being the best choices. 

“A topwater and a flipping bait are going to be huge,” Ratliff said. “For me, I’d be flipping a Berkley Pit Boss, and then probably throwing a Berkley Choppo. I can cover a little more water with a walking bait, but they’ll eat the heck out of a popping bait or a walking bait.”

While he said bass will be plentiful out to about 15-foot depths, the accomplished Lake Cumberland angler said he would be flipping bushes near the banks because of the profusion of cover left after the the lake was drawn down several years ago to allow the dam to be maintained.

“The backs of the creeks have tons of saplings in shallow, flooded water, and the last few years the button bushes have really taken off,” Ratliff said. “So there are tons of bushes to flip. There’s a lot of shallow stuff in the water out there.”

While that really shallow cover is likely to hold primarily largemouth, anglers shouldn’t forget about the hefty smallies swimming in this lake. Being able to take advantage of both species will be important, Ratliff said. 

“The key to me is those guys who put themselves in an area where they can catch smallmouth, too,” he said. “The smallmouth are going to be your kicker fish, your solid limit fillers.”

“I think it’s going to really, really set up well for those guys.”