Kentucky is a very diverse state. It has flat and rolling farmland and huge forests and mountain ranges. There are small, rural communities along with large cities and industrial areas. The people range from average Joes to aristocrats and dignitaries. Similarly, the fishing opportunities in the Bluegrass State are as diverse as the people and the lands.
Fishing in Kentucky does not have a season; it is year ‘round. Sure there are some species that are easier to catch at certain times of the year, but there is almost always something biting throughout the calendar year.
Ohio River Sauger
Sauger have been increasing in numbers below the dams on the Ohio River since fall and are now very numerous. These tasty fish are one of the very best winter fishing targets from fall all the way until early spring. Right now the action is peaking.
Put baits for sauger right on or near the bottom. Great bait choices include minnows and jigs, or a combination of the two. Ripping a blade bait off the bottom and allowing it to slowly fall back often encourages a strike on the fall.
Look for fish in eddies and other current breaks. Electronics help anglers find good bottom contour and, at times, see fish present. Mouths of creeks and tributaries are other good locations to check.
OTHER OPTIONS: This is a great month to tempt smallmouths and other bass at Dale Hollow Lake with the float-and-fly. Anglers on Lake Cumberland are looking for water coming in from the creeks just a few degrees warmer than the main lake to hook up on some hefty striped bass.
Paintsville Lake Rainbow Trout
During warmer months, anglers wade trout streams with a fly rod or spinning gear in hand. However, that is not the only way to catch trout, as plenty can be caught at Paintsville Lake in February.
Paintsville is part of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) trout program and receives a stocking of 4,500 rainbow trout annually in either late January or early February. These stocked trout provide an excellent opportunity, plus there are holdover trout from previous stockings that have grown up to 17 inches or more.
Trout at Paintsville are taken with a variety of natural baits, such as red worms, wax worms, minnows or even whole kernel corn, fished a short distance below a bobber. Blade baits, inline spinners and small spoons are also effective at times.
OTHER OPTIONS: Smallmouth fishing is heating up at Laurel River Lake, which can certainly warm up a cold February day. Get a jump on the spring run and target white bass in the Cumberland tailwaters.
Kentucky Lake Crappie
The April crappie run at Kentucky Lake is legendary, but the shift in fishery dynamics over the past several years means the real fun now starts a month earlier. Black crappie, which make up a large portion of the crappie fishery at Kentucky Lake, move shallow earlier than the white crappie that used to dominate the population. This means extended fun during the spring spawning period.
Black crappie vary from white crappie in that instead of always relating to woody cover, they are often found on sloping banks with gravel. They are caught with minnows just as are whites, but throwing curly-tailed jigs allows anglers to cover more water faster. An alternative is a Blakemore Road Runner, which can also be adorned with a curly-tailed grub for added appeal.
OTHER OPTIONS: Buckhorn Lake is one of the top muskie destinations and the big, toothy fish are getting active at this southeastern Kentucky reservoir. Fish jigs methodically along depth changes to score on largemouth bass at Herrington Lake.
Green River Lake Black Bass
There is a great population of largemouth bass at Green River Lake, not to mention good numbers of both spotted bass and smallmouths, and April is a great time to catch all three. Anglers catch plenty of largemouths over 15 inches, with some fish over 18 inches. The quality of the spots and smallies is above average as well.
Largemouths are found fairly shallow at this time as they prepare for spawning. Crankbaits make good search baits, but other anglers prefer to throw jigs or plastic baits to targets near shore, such as stumps and downed trees. Fishing along rock walls with minnows is popular for spotted bass. Smallmouths are often caught while fishing for largemouths, but to specifically target them most anglers head to Robinson Creek or Green River.
OTHER OPTIONS: Trout stockings are going strong, making the many streams within the KDFWR trout program great options. Walleyes are being caught on topwater baits at night, and on crankbaits and nightcawler bottom-bouncing rigs during the daytime.
Big Twins Redear Sunfish
Redears, or shellcrackers as they are often called, are in shallow water and will be eating a variety of baits this month. On light tackle these fish offer a fight to rival that of any freshwater fish. At Kentucky and Barkley lakes, the redears grow huge and offer a fishing experience not found anywhere else in the state.
Bluegills and redears are both caught in shallow water this month as they are spawning and nesting, but the redears are usually found a little deeper than the bluegills. Catch these panfish on live baits such as crickets, wax worms, meal worms, red worms or pieces of nightcrawler. Bluegills bite readily on all these baits, but the latter two seem to work better for redears. Remember to keep the baits on or very near the bottom for shellcrackers.
OTHER OPTIONS: Barren River Lake has a tremendous population of largemouths. Anglers in eastern Kentucky are having great success on bluegills at Yatesville Lake.
Elkhorn Creek Mixed Creel
Spring rains are becoming less frequent and water levels are more stable, which equates to a terrific time for stream fishing. A float trip on the main stem of Elkhorn Creek this month offers the chance for lots of action catching smallmouth and largemouth bass, rock bass and even catfish.
Elkhorn Creek has a very good population of smallies and the fishery is rated excellent by the KDFWR. It is not a destination for trophy bronzebacks, but the catch rate is good and there are decent numbers of fish over 16 inches. Rock bass are also in good numbers up to about 9 to 10 inches. Largemouths and catfish are found in areas with standing or slow moving water.
OTHER OPTIONS: Fish shallow water with live crickets and worms to take jumbo size bluegills up to 11 or 12 inches at Fishtrap Lake. Focus on timber and creek mouths for muskies on the Kentucky River.
Kentucky Lake Largemouth Bass
Kentucky’s biggest lake is famous for summer ledge fishing. Anglers love throwing baits to shallow bass in the spring, but those who have learned to fish on the ledges enjoy the most consistent and exciting fishing of the year.
Largemouths stack up on ledges during the summer and bite aggressively when there is some current being generated in the lake. Not all ledges produce so it is important to do a little scouting and experimenting until the fish are found. Knowing how to use electronics is highly advantageous. Once fish are located, bumping crankbaits or other baits on the bottom produces lots of action on quality size fish.
OTHER OPTIONS: Probe the edges of deep weed beds at Fagan Branch Lake in Marion County to hook up with good numbers of redear sunfish, many in excess of 8 inches. Catch coolers full of white bass at Nolin River Lake by fishing along points or chasing the jumps.
FINs Lakes Channel Catfish
There are a total of 40 lakes currently in the KDFWR Fishing in Neighborhoods (FINs) program. All these lakes are stocked with a variety of fish, including channel catfish, providing a huge amount of opportunity for fishing from boat or the bank.
Channel catfish are biting readily this month on a variety of live baits, as well as commercial stink baits and dip baits, all of which work either fished on bottom with a slip rig or suspended below a bobber. A slip bobber allows easier casting without losing the ability to present the baits deeper.
Although channel cats offer a superb opportunity this month, they are not the only option at FINs lakes. Some lakes have blue catfish, as well as largemouth bass, sunfish and rainbow trout.
OTHER OPTIONS: Throw small artificial baits or minnows near bridge structures to get fast action on abundant yellow bass at Barren River Lake. Catch recently stocked trout, as well as carryovers, at Greenbo Lake by fishing near the dam or with lights at night.
Cumberland Tailwaters Striped Bass
There are only a handful of spots in Kentucky where anglers can tangle with striped bass, and the tailwaters below Lake Cumberland is one of the very best. It is arguably the top spot for boating a trophy in the entire state. Fish are found throughout the river but the section from Burkesville downstream is the most productive.
Trolling live bait is one of the most popular and effective methods for taking big stripers. Other anglers prefer to troll large crankbaits or shad-imitating baits.
OTHER OPTIONS: White bass action can be found below the dams on the Green River by throwing live bait, crankbaits or jigs. Walleyes are being caught at Laurel River Lake during low-light conditions by throwing crankbaits or trolling nightcrawler rigs on points and humps.
Cave Run Muskies
Falling water temperature has moved shad into coves and other shallow water areas and the muskies have followed. It is often surprising just how shallow muskies are found at this time of year. Sometimes they are in only inches of water.
Look for muskies in areas with timber or along the edges of weed beds. Big long-arm spinnerbaits are good choices to cover water. Other good baits include bucktail spinners or inline spinners with a No. 10 blade. If the muskies are reluctant to hit faster moving baits, try slowing down with a minnow-imitating twitch bait. At other times the big predators may hammer topwater baits. Anglers need to experiment until they find the best pattern for a particular day.
OTHER OPTIONS: Crappie fishing is good on Dewey Lake, with both black and white crappies available in the population. Catch quality-size hybrid striped bass at Rough River Lake this month by targeting main lake points and flats.
Carr Creek Lake Walleye
Anglers flock to Carr Creek Lake in spring to get in on the phenomenal walleye action, but the fall bite is good as well. Carr Creek Lake has one of the better walleye fisheries in the state with abundant fish between 15 and 26 inches and some going even larger. The fishery is rated excellent by the KDFWR.
Look for walleyes along sloping points and rocky areas that are holding schools of forage fish. Crankbaits are good choices, either cast or trolled. Trolling spinner rigs with nightcrawlers is another great option. Look for the fish to come shallower close to dark and through the night.
OTHER OPTIONS: For good catches of largemouths, smallmouths and spots at Laurel River Lake look for schools of shad in shallow water and then throw baits resembling shad or swimbaits. Present live or smelly baits in the upper reaches of Yatesville Lake to tap into the excellent population of channel catfish in a range of sizes.
Green River Lake White Crappie
There are a few black crappie in Green River Lake, but the bulk of the population is made up of white crappie. Winter is a great time to target crappie on Green because the fish are somewhat predictable and there are few other anglers on the water fishing. It is an underutilized opportunity for those who brave the cold.
Find crappie holding on deep brush, often on points or along drains and other depth changes. Minnows suspended on a tight line are hard to beat. However, one of the hottest baits on Green year ‘round is a Southern Pro Minnow Tube in Baby Bass color. Tip this with a Berkley Crappie Nibble for extra appeal.
OTHER OPTIONS: Blue catfish are being caught on the Ohio River by presenting cut bait near the bottom in scour holes or other bottom depressions in the tailwater areas below the dams. Look for big hybrid striped bass up to 10 pounds in the lower lake area at Fishtrap Lake.
These, of course, are only a few of the many options available across the Bluegrass State to anglers. Now it is time to start planning which one to try, or even to try and find your own.