3 Commonwealth Catfish Holes

No matter where you seek whiskerfish in our state, there's a reservoir, river or lake setting made just for your style of catfishing. Here are three to consider. (June 2006)

Jeff Adkins, 46, and fellow catfish angler Earl Elliott, 30, both from Morgan County, were after their favorite fish on the Ohio River near Maysville when friendly competition broke out between the two fishermen. Their rivalry ended when a monster whiskerfish was hoisted onboard.

"Earl was catching some big fish," Adkins says. "He had landed three nice-sized channel cats, and I told him I'd catch one that would make three of his biggest. A short time later, I got lucky and pulled in a 47-pound flathead."

Adkins and Elliott are known for seizing every opportunity on the mighty Ohio to angle for catfish. Whether in a boat or camp-fishing from the bank, these two experts have proven that trophy catfish are available all along the northern perimeter of the Bluegrass State.

Flatheads, blue catfish and channel cats are the dominant species for Kentucky anglers. And along with the Ohio River, several inland lakes provide excellent catfishing opportunity as well.

"The channel catfish is probably the most sought-after species of catfish in Kentucky," says Paul Rister, fisheries biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. "We stock many of our smaller lakes with channel catfish. However, when you include the rivers and tailwaters, then blue catfish become the more popular species."

Biologist Rister notes that a 12-inch minimum-size limit is imposed on lakes that are stocked with channel catfish. But in the larger lakes and rivers, there are no size or creel limits.

June is the premier month for catching the big boys, regardless of species. So whether your chosen catfish hole is river or lake, the best fishing usually occurs after sundown. Time to bait a hook, build a fire, roast some hot dogs and have plenty of patience until the tug of war begins.

The following three hotspots are recommended for just such an adventure.

OHIO RIVER

A catfish angler's paradise, the mighty Ohio offers plenty of food, diverse habitat and miles of fishable water. Deciding where to fish and knowing what to look for are your initial dilemmas. For first-time Ohio River anglers, Jeff Adkins offers the following advice:

"Don't be intimidated by the big water," Adkins says. "Have a good graph where you can find some deep holes. Take a couple of heavy anchors. Most of the time in June, the channel cats will suspend at an average depth of about 20 feet."

Adkins says he prefers bank-fishing after nightfall. He notes how barge and other boat traffic can sometimes be unpredictable, and he would rather boat-fish during the daytime. Inexperienced anglers are advised to exercise extreme caution when boat-fishing at night.

As for the number of catfish anglers on the Ohio and numbers of catches, biologist Rister supplied the following information from the Smithland Dam tailwaters on the Ohio River (2001 data).

"At the Smithland tailwaters, catfish anglers comprise about 71 percent of all anglers. Anglers fishing for striped bass, hybrids and white bass account for another 18 percent. In 2001, it was estimated that 55,763 catfish were caught, of which 4,077 were channel catfish (7 percent). Blue catfish accounted for 89 percent (49,479), and flathead catfish made up the other 4 percent (2,207).

"Of all the catfish caught, 96 percent were harvested. These harvested catfish weighed a total of 273,425 pounds. The average length and weight for channel catfish was 16.8 inches, 1.54 pounds. Blue catfish averaged 23.1 inches, 5.11 pounds and flatheads averaged 24.6 inches, 6.09 pounds."

As for the density of any particular species, the numbers will vary from section to section of the Ohio River. But June is the month for catfishermen, from one end of the river to the other.

Tributaries are good catfish locations. Creeks and streams feeding into the Ohio River provide staging areas for cats during pre-spawn and post-spawn periods. When the mouth of the feeder stream is relatively deep at the confluence, catfish are often abundant. The less turbid, deep tributaries attract catfish.

Dam tailraces are also good locations for catfish. These fish will congregate in the churning tailwaters of big-river dams. Abundant baitfish is one attraction. Shad and other forage fish prefer the highly oxygenated water and are stopped in their upstream movement, as are the catfish.

Access to the Ohio River is good from the Kentucky side. In the northeastern region, the Ashland Public Launch is in the city of Ashland at the north end of 16th Street, behind the floodwall.

Proceeding downriver from Ashland, the Little Sandy Public Launch Ramp is 1/4 mile west of Greenup, just off U.S. Route 23. This ramp is just north of the Greenup Lock and Dam.

South of the Greenup Dam is the Kinniconick Creek public launch ramp. This ramp is on Kinniconick Creek in Garrison on state Route (SR) 10 near the Kinniconick Bridge.

Near the Markland Lock and Dam, the Warsaw boat ramp and the Point Park boat ramp (in Carrollton) are two good access points. Parking and the ramps are on the upstream side at junction of the Kentucky and Ohio rivers, off U.S. Route 42.

Near Louisville, the McAlpine Lock and Dam region provides access from Cox's Park public access site in Louisville. Cox's Park is on Upper River Road, one mile north of Zorn Avenue. The Greenwood Road public access site is at Valley Station, at Greenwood and Cane Run roads in Riverview Park.

Approaching Owensboro, the Cannelton Lock and Dam catfishing region provides access at the city of Cloverport boat ramp in Cloverport off U.S. Route 60 in the west end of town. And the City of Owensboro boat ramp is in Owensboro at the north end of Fredrica Street.

At the lower end of the commonwealth, access points for catfish anglers include the Smithland Lock and Dam section of the Ohio River. The Smithland boat ramp is at the confluence of the Ohio and Cumberland rivers, just off U.S. Route 60.

And the city of Paducah's boat ramp is at the foot of Broadway Street at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers.

KENTUCKY LAKE

The huge area of Kentucky Lake offers catfish anglers a multitude of opportunities to catch fish. This reservoir covers 160,300 acres, is 184 mil

es in length and has a shoreline that stretches 2,400 miles.

On the southwestern end of the state, Kentucky Lake borders five Kentucky counties: Livingston, Marshall, Calloway, Lyon and Trigg. An additional eight counties in Tennessee border the reservoir as well

According to the recent statewide Fishing Forecast, the best fishing for blue catfish during summer on the main lake is along deep channels. Using live shiners and cut shad or skipjack for bait while drift-fishing in areas where creek channels meet the main channel is a successful catfishing approach.

Year-round fishing opportunities abound in the tailwaters region, while late-spring catfish anglers do best along the rocky shoreline and also the riprap shoreline around the dam and marinas. Another recommended section of Kentucky Lake is along the river channel and on the flats along the channel.

2004 creel statistics for Kentucky Lake show 69,731 catfish were caught, of which 50,798 were channel cats (73 percent). Blue catfish accounted for 16,615 (24 percent) of the catfish caught, and flathead catfish made up the remaining 3 percent (2,091).

Of all the catfish caught in Kentucky Lake, 55,206 (79 percent) were harvested. These harvested catfish weighed a total of 131,748 pounds. The average length and weight for channel catfish was 19.5 inches, 2.37 pounds. Blue catfish averaged 20.7 inches, 3.30 pounds and flatheads averaged 20.3 inches, 3.59 pounds.

When going after catfish in reservoirs, tributaries are excellent locations for fishing. During summer months, the mouths of streams draw catfish, especially at night. Cast behind current breaks, such as a hole or tree, at the stream's mouth. And such locations are also productive after heavy rains.

Bridges also attract catfish in large numbers during periods of hot weather. The shaded channel beneath a bridge provides cooler water, and small baitfish hold near pilings that are often covered with algae, which attract invertebrates and small fish.

Numerous access points on Kentucky Lake are available to catfish anglers. Near the dam on the northwestern end of the lake, Kentucky Dam Village State Resort Park provides access not far from U.S. Routes 641 and 62.

The Kentucky Dam Marina is also within the vicinity of the dam. This multiple-lane ramp supplies access for larger boats not far from U.S. Route 641. Shoreline fishing is available at this location, as is a large parking lot, picnic and restroom facilities, and camping.

On the east side of Kentucky Lake, the Twin Lakes access ramp is not far from Trace Road. Picnic areas and camping are available at this location.

This huge lake has a maximum depth of 118 feet and an average depth of 15 feet. The average depth of the river channel is 62 feet, with nice catfish holes throughout. The dam's powerhouse is also a good catfish location. Here, catfish will hold near the mouths of discharge and inlet channels, as with other powerhouses on the Ohio River.

BARREN RIVER LAKE

This south-central Kentucky reservoir provides nearly 10,000 acres of top-quality catfishing during summer pool. In Allen and Barren counties, Barren River Lake contains a variety of catfish habitat and is well known to the catfish anglers of this region. If you're searching for relatively smaller waters with big fish, Barren River Lake meets those criteria well.

According to the statewide Fishing Forecast, Barren Lake holds a good population of channel and flathead cats. A good spawn of flathead catfish was observed in 2004. The best fishing period is in June, when spawning occurs along rock outcrops and back in smaller coves. The Fishing Forecast also notes that bank lines or jug-fishing can produce good catches, especially at night.

According to the 2004 data, it was estimated that 18,057 catfish were caught at Barren River Lake. Of this total, 14,824 (or 82 percent) were channel catfish. No blue catfish were reported, and flatheads made up the remaining 18 percent (3,230). Of all the catfish caught, 84 percent were harvested.

These harvested catfish weighed a total of 35,178 pounds. The average channel catfish was 15 inches long and weighed less than 1 pound. Flathead catfish averaged 23.1 inches and weighed 5.24 pounds.

Reservoirs such as Barren River Lake hold numerous catfish hideouts. Old channels are catfish magnets. A good depthfinder is valuable in locating such channels. The main channel serves as a major highway for the catfish, and intersecting creek channels act as secondary routes for the big fish.

Humps can also be extremely productive in reservoirs. A depthfinder as well as a contour map can help locate the humps. Humps with rocks, timber and brush, with deep water nearby, are your best bets.

Catfish are also drawn to riprap, which holds shad, crayfish and other forage for the cats. These are also good spawning areas for the fish. Riprap near bridges and dams are usually productive catfish sites. As with all reservoirs, it's important to know the seasonal movement of catfish from one region of the lake to another.

Drift-fishing is one recommended approach at Barren River Lake. This technique lets you cover more water so as to determine the movement of the catfish at any particular time of year. During June, drift-fishing can be highly productive once you determine the speed that catfish favor.

Access points are well located on Barren River Lake. The Barren River Lake tailwater access area is near the dam, just off SR 252. This is a single-lane ramp with picnic area, restroom and camping available. This launch site is free of charge.

The Peninsula Marina Access Area is just off Peninsula Road on the northwestern side of the lake. This multiple-lane launch site has parking available, as well as a courtesy dock. This launch site charges a ramp fee.

On the south side of Barren River Lake, just off Bailey Point Road, is Bailey's Point access, a multiple-launch ramp with parking, picnic facilities, restrooms and camping available. This launch site also charges a fee.

On the southeastern section of the lake, Barren River Lake Resort Park access provides a free multiple-lane launch site just off Scottsville Road. This ramp area provides a spacious parking lot with a nearby courtesy dock. Camping is available at this location, as are a picnic area and restroom facilities.

The Walnut Creek access area is on the southwestern side of the lake, just off Walnut Creek Road, is a free multiple-lane ramp with picnic and restroom facilities.

Catfish anglers are a dedicated bunch. Many of them have turned catfishing into a way of life and spend every available moment pursuing the big cats of the deep water. A day spent fishing with an angler obsessed with catfish is a unique experience. From the type of bait used to the equipment and presentation,

catfish angling has its own style.

As for equipment, most anglers prefer long rods over 7 feet long. Short rods have their place, but the odds of landing a trophy catfish increase with the longer rods. They cast greater distances and have more reach when dealing with a large, feisty catfish.

Baitcasting reels are the most popular reels. They provide more power for bringing in the big fish. Their solid frames with tough gears help bring the big cats to shore. As one old catfish angler said, "I prefer winching the cats in, as opposed to playing them." The baitcasting reel is definitely made for winching.

For those who prefer trotlining, a main line of 600-pound-test nylon cord with trots (drop lines) made of 100- to 200-pound-test nylon cord will do the job. And jug-fishermen often use empty milk or soda jugs in 1- or 2-liter sizes with 50- to 100- pound-test Dacron line.

And for bank anglers, of course, one of the primary attractions is a campfire overlooking peaceful night waters. Such scenes are ageless. Whether the angler is seven or 70, the enjoyment is still the same.

For additional information on catfishing opportunities around the Bluegrass State, contact the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, #1 Game Farm Road, Frankfort, KY 40601, or call 1-800-858-1549.

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