Whether you are a dyed-in-the-wool flyfisherman or a corn and cheese type of guy, or somewhere in between, Kentucky waterways have plenty of opportunities to meet any kind of trout fisherman’s needs.
One of the best things about trout fishing is that you can catch them with just about whatever kind of approach you enjoy most. The trout-stocking program developed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) caters to a very wide range of angler expectation and experience.
Combined, the Bluegrass State is stocked with rainbows in over 100 different places. Some of these waters also receive brown trout and in some more remote settings, brook trout are stocked. Both the KDFWR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) release fish into various waters. Most of the USFWS fish are placed in streams in the Daniel Boone National Forest, where habitat is suitable. The KDFWR handles trucking fish to the rest of the creeks, tailwaters and lakes.
The additional Kentucky waters receive 926,850 rainbow trout each year, starting in April. The brown trout figure is around 35,000, with 30,000 of those being poured into the Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam. There are four or five catch-and-release-only brook trout streams that are stocked annually. Together, these three fishery resources are being supplied with almost one million trout each year, all of which are raised at the Wolf Creek Hatchery operated by the USFWS at Lake Cumberland. The KDFWR supplements the operating cost of the hatchery to maintain the level of trout production that supplies the state’s various stockings.
So how does the KDFWR decide which waterways get trout? Although 100 locations, and nearly one million fish sounds like a great number, not every lake or stream has an established trout fishery. There are some requirements a waterway must have in order for trout to survive, and then grow as well. Trout don’t reproduce in Kentucky, nor are they native, so the health of the fishery is dependent on selecting waters where they can make it through all year long. In a word, waters that get too warm in summer would wipe out any trout, say, placed in there in early spring, so it’s not worthwhile to add them to the stocking list. In fact, last fall the KDFWR had to postpone several stream stockings because the drought, coupled with very warm weather late into the season, kept water temperatures too high.
The KDFWR has ranked trout streams based on the quality of habitat, water temperatures and other factors. Before he retired after more than 30 years of service last fall, KDFWR fisheries Assistant Director Jim Axon administered Kentucky’s trout program. He worked with agency district fishery biologists to help identify and examine many streams across the Commonwealth, and judge them on their merits to support trout. This extensive effort now allows the agency knowledge of where trout fisheries may be able to develop into more than strictly put-and-take fishing, and in some cases, determine where both rainbow and brown trout might both do well in the same waterway.
One other key factor in deciding where to release trout is whether or not anglers can get to the waters, according to Axon. There are some streams cold enough, but private landowners aren’t agreeable to public access. This is one reason why so many trout streams lie in the Daniel Boone National Forest. And some, like a portion of Otter Creek on Ft. Knox military land, and a stream or two on Ft. Campbell, get trout. People can get to these streams and benefit from the stockings.
Most streams are of such a nature that stockings are designed to provide an immediate harvest opportunity. They’re called put-and-take fisheries where trout are released at 8 or 9 inches long usually, and stockings are posted on the agency’s Web site. The streams are open under general statewide regulations, which is eight fish per day for rainbows with no size limit.
That’s also true with many of the smaller lakes and tailwaters the KDFWR stocks. Trout are released into the waterway while the water remains cold enough, but habitat and food available may be limited. Expecting many, if any, fish to live, grow and later be caught the next year just isn’t realistic.
Some creeks, though, do have what it takes for trout to do well year ’round. These are often selected for different management, either where a size limit, delayed harvest approach or artificial lure restriction is used to protect them longer.
It’s an attempt to provide fishermen with some spots where they can encounter holdover fish, and have a higher quality experience and better chance of taking fish of greater sizes. One way to recognize which streams are the put-grow-take waters is to look for those with special regulations, creeks getting larger numbers of rainbows, and those receiving brown trout in addition to rainbows.
Dave Dreves is a research biologist with the KDFWR. He has recently spent extensive time studying the Cumberland River trout fishery. Known everywhere as the Commonwealth’s premier and trophy trout river, the Cumberland is a larger body of water and example of a put, grow-and-take management scheme.
“In our smaller streams, we have a similar type philosophy on about a dozen creeks where we use delayed- harvest periods between Oct. 1 and March 31 each year, which allows some of what we stock to remain,” Dreves said.
There are two or three management techniques, depending on the waterway and the fishing pressure, that biologists use for put, grow-and-take.
“Hatchery-raised trout are pretty susceptible to being caught quickly right after they are let go,” Dreves said.
“So we set a period on some of the higher quality waterways when anglers have to return fish they catch so we can develop some better quality fishing than what the immediate harvest of a large part of the stocking permits,” Dreves said.
“In some cases, we have a minimum size limit and a reduced creel to stretch out the opportunity a little longer.
“It just all depends on what is best suited for the stream, tailwater or lake being managed. Sometimes we use a combination of restrictions to further protect the fishery from overharvest and try to create a better balance of multiple sizes,” Dreves noted.
Within this array of management for Kentucky trout, let’s take a look at a few of the opportunities available for fast trout action this spring. We’ll cover a few of the better put-and-take fisheries, put, grow-and-take spots, and note a couple of places for both rainbow and brown
trout fishing in the same waters, and some out-of-the-way brook trout fishing.
For a hands-down, best place to catch trout quickly and easily, look no farther than Hatchery Creek in Russell County below the Wolf Creek Dam on Lake Cumberland. It has everything going for it, especially volume.
Hatchery Creek is a stream that offers easy access, parking and fishing from the bank for a good distance right behind the federal fish-rearing facility. It gets quite a bit of fishing pressure, but that doesn’t really affect people’s ability to catch fish. Why not? Because 24,000 rainbows are pumped into the creek every month. This tremendous number of fish keeps the narrow creek teeming with opportunity, and it is a great place for those who want to experience catching trout but may not have a lot of time to spend at it.
“It’s also a good place to introduce kids to trout fishing,” Dreves said, “and anglers can expect to catch several without aid of too much sophisticated equipment or extensive know-how other waters might require.”
In the last few years, the creek has been extended and improved to give anglers a little more space to spread out, and anywhere along its meanderings is equally as good. Lightweight spinners or organic baits work well in this setting, and the terrain is not terribly difficult to navigate along this stretch of water. It lies next door to the tailwaters of the Cumberland, which is also pretty well suited to bank-fishing and some limited wading for smaller-sized rainbows, too.
Right on the Casey-Russell county line, Goose Creek receives 4,500 total rainbow trout during April, May and June. There’s only a mile of fishable trout water there, which is good in that fish are relatively concentrated for anglers.
This is one of many creeks considered strictly put-and-take, and anglers are told upon request, or by checking the Web site each month, when the truck will be there to off-load trout. On those days, expect to have some company. On days other than the stocking day, things are less crowded.
Goose Creek feeds the Green River about five miles downstream, but the best fishing is near the head of the creek rather than the mouth. It’s not far off U.S. Route 127 to get you oriented, near Happy Acre and Decatur along state Route (SR) 80.
“It’s a place people can catch several fish pretty quickly,” Dreves said.
“Trout are voracious eaters when first released, and on a monthly basis with 1,500 or so going in, that translates into a whole bunch of eight-fish limits over the next several days,” the biologist said.
Like most of these situations, fishing will slow down as time passes, but trout remain catchable even after they disperse if you make the effort to get away from the stocking spot itself.
Dreves also suggested for the angler looking for dinner and some better fish to tug on the line, that Otter Creek just outside and feeding into Ft. Knox is a good bet. Located in Meade County, Otter Creek is a nice stretch of water that is very accessible from Otter Creek Park, and it is stocked with 1,700 fish from the KDFWR.
What’s better, though, is that Ft. Knox stocks a couple of spots on the reservation with more trout of its own — better than 15,000 more trout. For a $10 fishing permit, you can access the creek through Ft. Knox and find some excellent bank- and wade-fishing in April. It is best to check with Ft. Knox Hunt Control before you go to ensure you know the areas where the creek runs are open. Sometimes portions are closed down for training, and fishing isn’t permitted. You have to check in first when you do access Ft. Knox, before heading to the creek.
There are nearly 10 miles of Otter Creek where the seasonal catch-and-release management is in effect. This means from October through March, it’s catch-and-release only and only artificial lures can be used. But starting in April for several months, anglers can keep trout if they want to, and some of those should be really nice sized following the protection period, and considering the fish Ft. Knox supplies in an April release.
Another good, middle-of-the-road quality trout spot is Peter Creek in Barren County. Peter Creek is one of a handful of trout-fishing opportunities closer to the western third of Kentucky. Because the landscape gradient is different, less mountain-type terrain is found in western Kentucky; hence, fewer waterways hold cold water and less trout habitat is available. However, in some cases, enough cold water is present from spring-fed creeks to make it possible to stock trout at least a portion of the year.
Peter Creek’s fishing area, close to Austin in southern Barren County, is located downstream from SR 249. It provides about eight miles of fishing water and is stocked six times, once a month from April through September, with rainbows. Combined, 3,600 fish are placed in this creek to give anglers in the southwest a chance to experience what stream trout fishing is like.
There are no special regulations on trout in Peter Creek, so it falls under the statewide creel limits. Live bait and artificials will take trout in the deeper pools and below riffles, and there is room for both regular casting and fly-fishing in some spots where trees aren’t overhanging the creek.
For stream fishing, one of the best opportunities in Kentucky lies in Rock Creek in McCreary County. While the majority of streams on the trout-stocking circuit get fish three to five months a year, Rock Creek’s habitat and suitable water to fish is stocked March through December, except in July and August. That’s eight months all together, and that comes to a total of 17,600 trout in a calendar year.
Besides Hatchery Creek, Rock Creek is the most stocked stream in the Commonwealth. For the nearly 10 miles from the Bell Farm bridge upstream to the Tennessee border, there is a delayed-harvest season from October through March and artificial lures only are allowed during the catch-and-release period. This Kentucky Wild River is within the Daniel Boone National Forest off SR 1363 out of Yamacraw in southwest McCreary County.
Rock Creek is a beautiful, scenic waterway that just happens to fit the needs of trout perfectly. Anglers can expect to find fish there in good quantity and better sizes than in many other stocked streams. Like many streams in this vicinity, Rock Creek is very clear, bounded by huge boulders and rock outcroppings, and is best suited to belly-tubes or wading.
“It gets pretty narrow in spots, so floating with a small boat can become a chore when you have to portage it to the next hole,” said KDFWR Information Officer Lee McClellan.
McClellan recommends using very light spinning tackle or fly-fishing with small, light flies to avoid spooking fish.
“It’s good all the way down to the Tennessee state line and reminds you of one of those pristine places you se
e on television, if you like that type of atmosphere,” McClellan added.
Down in Allen County, a high-quality western trout stream called Trammel Fork gets quite a bit of angler attention, and rightfully so. First, it gets chocked full of rainbows April through September — about 10,000 rainbows.
It’s easy to find and marked well by signs, off U.S. Route 231 south of Scottsville and downstream from the confluence with Drakes Creek. There are about four miles of good water to fish, and much of it can be waded.
Interestingly, while no special regulations are in place on Trammel Fork, it is one of the 13 Kentucky streams where brown trout are also released once a year. On this waterway, 400 browns go in annually.
Most of the streams where browns can do well include some deeper pools with a little heavier shoreline cover. Trammel Fork has both and stays pretty cold year ’round.
While there are overhanging trees in many places, anglers can fly-fish the riffles and pools without too much trouble. Fishermen on this and any other streams where access may be through private lands need to gain landowner permission first, before hopping out and taking off.
OTHER STREAMS OF NOTE
For other opportunities where both rainbows and browns live together, check out Big Caney Creek and Laurel Creek in Elliott County, Bark Camp Creek in Whitley County, and the East Fork of Indian Creek in Menifee County. On the East Fork, be sure you contact the U.S. Forest Service in Morehead regarding access. Some of the roads around the creek were washed out, but work had begun to restore them last fall.
Taking a look at Paint Creek, the tailwaters of Paintsville Lake, isn’t a bad bet either, now that a 16-inch minimum size limit and one-fish daily creel limit have been put in place from the SR 40 bridge downstream to the first U.S. 460 bridge crossing. Where minimum size limits and tighter creel limits are, there are usually better trout to be caught, so check spots like this one for good action this spring.
If you’re the kind of trout angler who wants to stay clear of everything and everybody, and likes the challenge brook trout provide, check out the KDFWR’s 2006 Fishing & Boating Guide regulation booklet to find out about the four or five streams where that fishing is available.
It’s all catch-and-release and artificial, single-hook lure fishing only, but the experience is truly different than other trout fishing. Sometimes when you work a little more for it, it means a little more. It all depends on what you’re looking for when seeking this wonderful species of fish in the Commonwealth.