Kentucky's 2006 Fishing Calendar

This is one article you'll want to keep handy as a guide for 36 prime places to fish for bass, bluegills, catfish and more throughout the year. (February 2006)

It's time once again to explore the year ahead. Here we'll clue you in on those fishing destinations that will give you the best opportunity for success. Let our annual fishing calendar serve as a guideline for planning those weekend getaways to wet a line and boat some fish.

We've examined the forecasts from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) and talked with biologists, fishing guides and professional anglers. Now, we've compiled 36 prime picks for the year and detailed a top spot for every month. Here's a look at a potential fishing destination for each month of the year. One or more of these picks is surely close to where you live!

JANUARY

Lake Barkley

Crappie

Many changes have occurred over the past several years with regard to crappie fishing at Lake Barkley. The lake has undergone several changes regarding weed growth, water clarity, and other factors that have affected the population dynamics of crappie. White crappie numbers have declined and black crappie now make up the majority of fish in creel surveys and shocking studies. Anglers have subsequently had to alter their fishing tactics to be successful.

Winter should not be a deterrent to fishing for crappie at Barkley. Fish will typically be in deeper water and slower to bite, but that doesn't mean there isn't still good fishing to be had. Moreover, crappie tend to be stacked up at this time of year, so once feeding fish are located, anglers are in for some great winter action.

Anglers will find success in January with both jigs and minnows. Vertical jigging is popular as is fishing suspended minnows. Many times, a combination of both techniques will provide the best opportunity to entice a strike.

There are no hard and fast rules on finding crappie in January. Most times, they will be on deep brush- piles, but surprisingly, they are also found shallow occasionally. Anglers should try various tactics, depths and locations until the fish are found. Once they are located, be patient because there will probably be a good school of fish in the area.

FEBRUARY

Lake Cumberland

Smallmouths

Shocking studies and creel surveys by the KDFWR indicate there are good numbers of quality-sized smallmouth bass in Lake Cumberland. Although the lake is mostly well known for its excellent striper fishery, the smallmouth fishery has begun to make a name for itself as well. The fishery remains consistent from year to year, with good reproduction and no missing year-classes of smallmouths.

The KDFWR said there are good numbers of 15- to 18-inch fish present with some 20-inch-plus fish being available as well. Many local anglers and fishing guides say that big fish are caught more frequently in the lake than most people realize. Fish in the 22- to 24-inch range will rank as trophies in most anyone's mind.

Cumberland's deep, clear water and lack of structure can be a challenge for smallmouth anglers not accustomed to those conditions. Anglers often have to fish deeper than they are used to, especially during the warmer months of the year.

However, February is a great time to be on the water for smallmouths. They can be taken with a variety of jigs and other baits. Many anglers also will use live bait to take big bronzebacks. Alewives have replaced threadfin and gizzard shad in many areas of the lake and are a good choice for live-bait fishing.

MARCH

Cave Run Lake

Muskies

Muskie stocking was reduced at Cave Run Lake in 2001, so anglers will begin to notice a decline in the number of fish over 30 inches. However, plenty of trophy fish above the 30-inch minimum are still being caught at the lake. This is because of the excellent condition of the fishery along with the well-practiced catch- and-release ethic by anglers.

Muskies like cover and there is plenty of available cover back in the coves and bays. There is an abundance of standing and submerged timber as well as weedy areas and stumpbeds. These shallow-water sections are excellent places to target at this time of year.

Large topwater baits, buzzbaits, and large spinners are excellent choices in these cover locations. Muskies often trail these baits for long distances before striking, so never give up on a cast until the bait is pulled from the water.

Trolling is also popular, especially when the fish are difficult to locate in shallow water. Crankbaits are a popular choice for trolling along creek channels, ledges and other dropoffs. Some anglers will troll topwater baits, buzzbaits, and even spinnerbaits.

APRIL

Dale Hollow Lake

Smallmouths

Trophy smallmouths are abundant at Dale Hollow Lake, as it has become one of the premier spots for smallies. Fishing guide Stephen Headrick (931-243-6133), acclaimed as "the guru of smallmouth fishing," believes the lake to be the best smallmouth water in the country.

The lake is rated as excellent for smallmouths and consistently yields fish over 3 pounds with many in the 6-pound range. The number of fish caught within the 16- to 21-inch slot limit is astounding. Trophy-sized fish are caught frequently and many people believe the lake will someday yield a new world-record smallie to some lucky (and skilled) angler.

Anglers may keep only two smallmouths per day, but none may fall within the slot limit. One fish less than 16 inches and one over 21 inches may be kept per day.

Headrick said April could be one of the most rewarding times of the year to fish, as the big females are spawning. He likes to use small hair jigs and finesse baits during the morning hours. As the day progresses and the wind picks up, he has the most success by switching to lipped crankbaits and spinnerbaits. A good spot to target big smallmouths is on the flats.

MAY

Barren River Lake

Hybrid Stripers

Fishing for hybrid striped bass at Barren River Lake can be very exciting. The fishery is rated as excellent by the KDFWR. There is a great population of hybrids throughout the lake with good size distribution. Large fish are abundant.

Most hybrids pulled from the lake will range up to around 5 pounds. Fish up to 8 pounds are not uncommon. The occasional fish over 10 pounds will put a smile on any angler's face.

Hybrids will move from the headwater areas after spring and return to the main lake. Water temperature will dictate when this occurs. Once the fish are located,

get set for some great action and plenty of fish in the boat.

Trolling and casting can be very productive. Look for fish along the flats, over points and along the old river channel. A variety of baits will catch these fish, including crankbaits, jigs, spoons, spinners and topwater lures. Casting into schools of hybrids feeding on shad at the surface is very exciting.

JUNE

Rough River Lake

Largemouths

In 2004, bass tournament rankings placed Rough River Lake at No. 6 in the state for all tournament waters. This was because of an angler success rate of 62 percent. The highest rate in the state was 76 percent. Rough River Lake also tied for sixth in number of bass caught per hour and placed fourth for number of 6-pound bass caught per hour.

Biologist David Bell said the lake has a pretty good fishery and angler success is very good. There are a good number of large fish in the lake as well.

Night-fishing is the way to go in June, according to Bell. One reason is the lake is really clear. Another is because the lake receives a good deal of recreational use. Daytime anglers have to contend with pleasure boats and personal watercraft. At night, the lake is much quieter.

Bell suggested picking three different types of banks and fishing each to see where the fish are holding. He said to try a shallow bank, a medium sloping bank and a deep bank. An angler should locate bass and then concentrate on that particular type of bank. Usually, anglers will find most bass on banks with a medium slope.

JULY

Ohio River

Flatheads

The heat of summer presents many challenges for anglers, but one type of fish that is eager to take live bait during July is the flathead catfish. Flatheads are present in good numbers in the Ohio River and can be very large. Many fish weighing up to 40 pounds are caught each year. Hearty tackle is a must if anglers are targeting these bewhiskered giants.

While anglers fishing for channel catfish are used to using a smorgasbord of offerings, including stink baits, most flatheads are taken with live bait. Live shad, crayfish and other offerings will entice these fish into biting.

Guide Bill Pierson said flatheads are most active in low light. The best success will come just before dark and for the first part of the nighttime. He recommends a 5/0 to 6/0 hook with live bait. His bait of choice for flatheads is a small bluegill.

Look for the bigger catfish to be in deeper holes and often relating to structure such as rocks or submerged logs. They will also move shallow to feed at times. Just below the boils of dams are other good locations to target these tough fighters.

AUGUST

Kentucky Lake

Largemouths

The weeds appear to be making a comeback in Kentucky Lake. There were plenty of weeds in the 1980s and 1990s, but they began to die back in the mid-1990s. This, along with other factors, resulted in the lake becoming very clear. The past couple of years have seen the return of the weeds and it is a real boon for the bass fishery.

EXCELLENTGOODFAIR
JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune
CRAPPIESMALLMOUTHSMUSKIESSMALLMOUTHSHYBRID STRIPERSLARGEMOUTHS
Lake BarkleyLake CumberlandCave Run LakeDale Hollow LakeBarren River LakeRough River Lake
Tips: Fish will be schooling, so locating them will be key. Don't get tunnel vision on depth; explore different depths and use different baits and lures until you find where crappie are holding.

Tips: Expect some big smallies at this time year. Some of the biggest fish are taken on live bait such as alewives. Fish slow and deep and stay alert for soft baits. Smallies are active but lethargic.Tips: You'll find muskellunge around structure such as timber. Be alert while retrieving, as the biggest fish often hit near the boat. Vary your retrieval speeds to find the magic formula.Tips: Try using finesse baits to entice spawning females. Some of the biggest smallmouths of the year are caught right now. The float-and-fly technique is still a viable option to catch a big bass or two.Tips: Look for hybrid stripers along the old river channel. Many local anglers seem to catch their share of hybrids on white jigs and spinnerbaits.Tips: You'll find most bass on banks with a medium slope. A plastic worm fished slowly along the bottom is hard to beat. Night-fishing is popular this month, as bass will feed actively.
SAUGERSLARGEMOUTHSCRAPPIETROUTBLUEGILLSCATFISH
Ohio RiverLake MaloneBuckhorn LakeDelayed Harvest Streams

Farm PondsKentucky Lake
SMALLMOUTHSWALLEYESHYBRID STRIPERSLARGEMOUTHSLARGEMOUTHSTROUT
Laurel River LakeLake CumberlandFishtrap LakeYatesville LakeDewey LakeEastern Streams
JulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember
FLATHEADSLARGEMOUTHSMUSKIESWALLEYESTROUTSTRIPER
Ohio RiverKentucky LakeGreen River LakePaintsville LakeLake Cumberland TailwatersLake Cumberland
Tips: Flatheads prefer live bait. Use a depthfinder to locate deep holes and drops. Place live bait down in the "strike zone" on heavy tackle. Bluegills and other natural forage will get results.Tips: Early and late are the best times to fish shallow. Later in the day, cast crankbaits, worms and lizards along the lake's deeper ledges to find actively feeding bucketmouths.Tips: The fishing action can be intense with topwater lures and buzzbaits. Trolling tends to work best if muskies are still holding in deeper water. You'll cover more area by trolling too.Tips: Don't underestimate the importance of water temperature. Walleyes may still unseasonably warm. Local anglers will be a good source of info on where fish are.Tips: This is a good time to avoid the crowds at this tailwater. Be patient and fish every pool slowly if you're looking for a trophy brown or rainbow trout. It may pay off with a big fish.Tips: Stripers will often push shad to the surface, which attracts gulls and other birds. Keep an eye out for driving birds to help you quickly locate feeding stripers on the big water.
LARGEMOUTHSCATFISHSMALLMOUTHSMUSKIESWALLEYESTROUT
Lake KincaidOhio River TailracesElkhorn CreekBuckhorn LakeNolin LakeLaurel River Lake
HYBRID STRIPERSWHITE BASSLARGEMOUTHSCRAPPIELARGEMOUTHSSMALLMOUTHS
Grayson LakeTaylorsville LakeGuist Creek LakeRough River LakeGreenbo LakeGreen River Lake

Biologist Paul Rister said the bass fishery at Kentucky Lake is definitely rebounding. He believes it will only get better if the weed growth continues. He said the lake has an excellent largemouth fishery with all year- classes in good shape. There are many fish 15 inches and over, and the opportunity to catch a quality bass is great. The lake has not returned to its status of producing many trophy bass, but it appears to be heading in that direction.

In summer, bass will usually be found in deeper water. Look for them in 15- to 25-foot depths as they feed on shad stacked up on ledges. Crankbaits, plastic worms and lizards are good options at this time of year.

SEPTEMBER

Green River Lake

Muskies

Around 2,800 muskies are stocked into Green River Lake each fall. The lake has been stocked ever since it was formed, but it really began to become established as a muskie hotspot in the late 1980s. Biologist Eric Cummins believes one reason is that larger fish are now being stocked, which are in the 12- to 13-inch range.

The muskie fishery there is rated as good to excellent. There are abundant numbers of legal-sized fish with many fish topping 40 inches. The catch rate compares very well to some of the northern muskie waters.

Green River Lake is not as acclaimed for muskies as Cave Run. This results in it receiving half the fishing pressure, which is a good thing for anglers. Although somewhat underutilized, it has been gaining more attention and the number of non-resident muskie hunters at the lake has been rising.

Fall can be a great time for muskies, but fishing methods vary according to water temperature. If the water has cooled, buzzbaits and other topwater lures work well as the muskies move shallow. If the water is still fairly warm, anglers may want to troll deeper water with crankbaits.

OCTOBER

Paintsville Lake

Walleyes

October can be a good month for walleyes at Paintsville Lake, but it can also be a little tricky. Water temperature factors heavily into fishing success. Warm temperatures can mean fish will still be on summer pattern

s, while cooler temperatures can put them in fall patterns or even in deeper winter patterns.

Surveys done by the KDFWR indicate the typical pattern for October walleyes will find 60 percent of the fish in standing timber. Around 20 percent will be relating to the shoreline with the remainder of fish being in open water. Of course, water temperature can seriously impact this data.

Walleyes in the timber are very susceptible to jigs tipped with minnows or night crawlers. Trolling near the shoreline or in open water can also be productive. A favorite trolling location is near the two islands that are located right out from the boat ramp at the marina.

The KDFWR stocks around 58,000 walleyes into Paintsville Lake each year. The fishery has rebounded some from the early 1990s and has been stable the past couple of years. The last creel survey there indicated an average catch length of 16.4 inches with an average weight of 1.42 pounds. Trophy potential at the lake should top out about 13 to 14 pounds and 33 to 34 inches in length.

NOVEMBER

Lake Cumberland Tailwaters

Trout

Years of stocking and a great stretch of water have combined to make the Lake Cumberland tailwaters one of the finest trout fisheries anywhere. Anglers there can have the best of both worlds. There are plenty of catch-and-release trout as well as the potential to catch a real trophy. After all, the state-record brown trout and rainbow trout were both caught in the Cumberland tailwaters.

The tailwaters are heavily stocked each year with both rainbow and brown trout. As many as 200,000 or more trout are stocked each season at various times of the year. This level of stocking along with excellent habitat and growth rate has built this trout fishery to an astounding level.

The entire 75-mile stretch of water below the dam to the Tennessee state line has trophy brown trout regulations in place. Additionally, a slot limit has been implemented on rainbow trout as well. All rainbows caught within the 15- to 20-inch slot limit must be immediately released. Anglers are allowed to keep up to five trout per day, but may only keep one trophy trout per day.

DECEMBER

Lake Cumberland

Stripers

Lake Cumberland is probably best known for its striper fishery. The lake is one of the best locations in the country for taking big stripers. Anglers may not catch the numbers of fish as on some other bodies of water, but the average size of these fish is typically much larger.

Stripers are fairly cold tolerant and can remain active with the water temperature down into the middle to high 40s. Water in this temperature range is fairly easy to find on Cumberland throughout the winter. There are areas in the creeks that will most always be warm enough to keep stripers feeding.

Stripers are taken by numerous methods on Lake Cumberland. Casting, vertical fishing and trolling with downriggers or planer boards are all used with good success. The method and bait will have to be matched to the pattern the stripers are in on the day the lake is being fished. Sometimes, this may mean trolling with jigs or live bait. On other occasions, it may mean casting into schools of feeding stripers. Still, other times may mean fishing live bait on down rods or on the bottom.

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