Each year we take a look at our Kentucky fisheries, consult with biologists, anglers and review creel and fish sampling reports. This helps us determine which fisheries are peaking, which might be down a little, as well as those considered up-and-comers.
All this helps put together a fishing calendar for the entire year, giving anglers three top choices for each month. Here is our look at the coming year and 36 of the top picks to consider in 2017; three for each month of the year.
JANUARY – Lake Cumberland Smallmouth Bass
Kentucky’s second largest lake is best known for huge striped bass, but anglers know it is also home to some monster smallmouths. Bronzebacks are a coldwater fish and right now is an excellent time to catch them. They are not biting as frequent or as aggressive as peak times of the year, but they are still one of the top fishing options available in winter.
The float-and-fly technique is really starting to gain some following on Lake Cumberland. The tactic has been used on Dale Hollow for years, but more and more anglers are realizing it is a deadly tactic for Cumberland, too.
When smallmouths suspend in winter, it is almost impossible to slow a bait down enough and keep it in the strike zone long enough to get bit. The float-and-fly method lets anglers precisely place the bait in the strike zone and leave it there long enough to get attention.
OTHER OPTIONS: It is catch-and-release season on many stocked trout streams, with little competition from other anglers. Saugers and walleyes are also biting in the Barren River below the dam.
FEBRUARY – Kentucky Dam Tailwater Saugers
Catching some species at this time of year is equivalent to a small miracle. Not so with the sauger. Sauger bite all winter long and even better, they are more concentrated than any other time of the year.
Sauger are present in many rivers and bite readily in winter. Below Kentucky Dam, sauger fishing is very good in the Tennessee River. The big river produces lots of good-size sauger.
Look for sauger hugging close to the bottom in holes, depressions or behind a current break. Live minnows or jigs are the most common baits, but sometimes a bladebait makes a great change of pace.
OTHER OPTIONS: Some of the biggest largemouths of the year are taken at Lake Malone in February while fishing jigs deep. The tailwaters at Green River Lake are a good option for some tasty walleyes.
MARCH – Nolin River White Bass
The annual white bass run in the Nolin River is almost legendary. Every spring, thousands of white bass make their way up the river and some of the arms of the river and lake. Anglers line the banks and congregate in boats to take advantage of the action, which can be fast and furious.
The timing depends upon water temperature and weather, so watch the conditions and hit the water often once water temperatures climb above 50 degrees. Lots of baits can be used, but inline spinner and curly-tailed grubs, as well as small silver spoons and jigs suspended below bobbers are popular.
OTHER OPTIONS: White crappie are starting to bite well at Green River Lake on minnows and jigs presented vertically into deep brush piles. Hit the water at Cave Run Lake in search of jumbo muskies that are beginning to move shallow.
APRIL – Yatesville Lake Crappies
There are good numbers of crappies at Yatesville Lake, up to about 15 inches. All of the crappie at the lake are white crappie, which means they are in shallow water this month and most likely in shoreline brush and downed trees. Weather fluctuations move fish to different depths, so keep searching until the depth the fish are holding is found.
Minnows are the most popular bait for crappies on Yatesville, but jigs work well, too. However, when the fish are in shoreline brush, it is hard to beat minnows suspended below a bobber and cast to shoreline cover. Spider rigging is also in play for anglers wanting to tip the odds with more lines in the water.
OTHER OPTIONS: Largemouth bass at Lake Mauzy are not always the easiest bite to tempt, but their size definitely makes the effort worthwhile. Anglers are cruising the shorelines at night on Dale Hollow Lake to pick up hefty walleyes feeding on the surface.
MAY – Cedar Creek Lake Largemouth Bass
Cedar Creek Lake was designed with trophy largemouths in mind and it definitely produces. There are some really nice-size largemouths in this lake although it seems the numbers of fish above 20 inches (minimum harvest size) has leveled off in recent years. For catch-and-release anglers, there are plenty of fish to catch from 15 to 20 inches and above.
Cedar Creek Lake gets a lot of bass fishing pressure and May is one of the peak times for anglers to be on the water. This means tougher fishing conditions and a more educated quarry, so do not be afraid to break out of the mold. Sometimes the difference between catching and casting is presenting the fish something they have not seen.
OTHER OPTIONS: Huge redear sunfish are biting in shallow water at Lake Barkley on red worms, crickets and other live bait. Along with the air temperature, smallmouth bass fishing is heating up at Rock Creek.
JUNE – Kentucky Lake Bluegills
Some of the biggest bluegills in the state are found at Kentucky Lake and June is a perfect time to find them in shallow water, biting aggressively. Look for bedding fish or fish that have already spawned; look to deeper water, brush, fish attractors or under boat docks. Generally the bigger ‘gills are found a little deeper than smaller fish.
Crickets are hard to beat for bluegills, but a close second are red worms. Other live baits, such as meal worms or wax worms work, too.
OTHER OPTIONS: June is an excellent time to wade or float streams to catch a mixed creel of smallmouths, rock bass and more. Catfish are biting well at Rough River Lake, especially at night.
JULY – Fishtrap Lake Hybrid Striped Bass
The hybrid striped bass fishery at Fishtrap Lake is rated as excellent with good reason. There are plenty of fish in the lake, with many in the 8- to 10-pound range.
Look for the best concentrations of fish in the lower end of the lake. Suspended fish are caught with live bait, jigging spoons and more. Also look for fish jumping and cast surface lures into the boils for some fast-paced action. Topwater baits, shad-imitating baits, bucktail jigs and many others make excellent choices for casting at jumps.
OTHER OPTIONS: Summer is an excellent time to temp channel catfish into biting at one of many farm ponds and lakes. The Cumberland River is fed from the cold depths of the lake, so hit the river early and late in the day to catch a few trout, possibly even a trophy.
AUGUST – Wood Creek Lake Channel Catfish
The name of this lake is very fitting because there is plenty of wood in the lake and channel catfish love woody cover. The lake may be home to the state record largemouth bass, but do not be misled, this lake certainly has much more to offer than just black bass. There are good numbers of channel cats in the lake, thanks to stocking every other year.
Channel cats are taken with a variety of natural and commercial baits. Some of the most popular are nightcrawlers, chicken liver and stink baits. Fish these baits on the bottom with a tight line or slip sinker rig or suspend them below a bobber and cast in and around the abundant standing and submerged wood in the lake.
OTHER OPTIONS: The sun is intense, water temps are up and so is daytime lake traffic, so wait until the sun sets and find lots of bass action across the state by fishing at night. The Ohio River is the go-to spot for big channel, flathead and blue catfish this month.
SEPTEMBER – Green River Lake Muskies
A big lake south of Morehead gets a lot of love for its muskie fishing, but Green River Lake holds its own in many ways. The lake is one of three in the state that have been stocked with muskies for years and there are plenty of big fish available, with good numbers of fish over 30 inches and decent numbers of fish over 40 inches.
Muskies are moving shallow as water cools to feed on shad and other small fish. Cast big muskie baits to shallow structure, wood and along weed bed edges. Be patient and try a variety of baits and tactics in effort to tempt these big toothy fish into biting.
OTHER OPTIONS: Elkhorn Creek makes a great float destination this month for smallmouths. Numerous streams within the Daniel Boone National Forest are ideal for fall trout fishing.
OCTOBER – Barren River Lake Largemouth Bass
The largemouth fishery at Barren River Lake is rated excellent and it has been in good shape for a long time. There are very good numbers of largemouths in the lake and fish above legal length are plentiful. There are also good numbers of bass over 20 inches, so the possibilities of catching a quality fish or even a true trophy are above average.
There is a lot of wood structure at Barren River Lake, so it makes a good destination for those who like to troll and chunk baits at visible structure and cover. This is also a great time of year to find the bass shallow and feeding on shad that have migrated into the coves and other shallow water areas.
OTHER OPTIONS: Big muskies move shallow in the fall just as do bass, so head over to Buckhorn Lake to get in on some of the best muskie fishing of the year. Hit the Cumberland River and troll crankbaits or pull night crawlers on a Lindy rig to entice a walleye bite.
NOVEMBER – Lake Cumberland Striped Bass
The dam is repaired, which means the water level has returned to normal. It also means that the striped bass fishery is on the way back to prominence in the state. The striper fishery quality suffered some during the dam repair, but sampling and reports from anglers indicate stripers are looking quite good at present.
Methods for catching fall stripers at Lake Cumberland vary depending on certain circumstances, and those primarily center on water temperature and when the fall turnover occurs. One of the most consistent and most used methods to catch stripers on the lake is pulling live bait on planer boards. However, sometimes it is more productive to sit over a stationary school of fish and use down rods. Anglers must stay on top of changing conditions and the movement of fish to score in the fall months.
OTHER OPTIONS: Kentucky Lake is known for its spring crappie run, but fall is the second best time to fill a cooler with some of the huge slabs from this western Kentucky reservoir. Kinkaid Lake has some hefty largemouths and November is a good time to catch a trophy.
DECEMBER – Laurel River Lake Smallmouth Bass
This southeastern Kentucky gem is a dream come true for smallmouth anglers. There are plenty of fish and good numbers of quality-size fish. The odds of catching a smallie over 5 pounds is very good at Laurel River Lake and winter is a great time for it to happen.
Most anglers either use jigs or swimbaits to tempt bronzebacks at Laurel. Much depends upon the weather and water temperature. If the bite is slow, a jig lets anglers work deliberately along points and other key areas. A swimbait covers more water at a faster pace and is great for moving and chunking. When the water temp drops even more and the fish suspend, give the float-and-fly method a try.
OTHER OPTIONS: Paintsville Lake is stocked annually with rainbow trout and provides very good winter fishing opportunities for anglers wanting something fun this time of year. Locate deep brush at Taylorsville Lake and fish vertically with jigs or minnows for some Christmas crappie.