Kentucky offers plenty of great fishing waters, and most anglers have their favorite spots to cast for trophies. But with temperatures warming up and the school year winding down, this is the perfect time to focus on a different kind of destination: the best locations for a family fishing trip. The goal this month is to find waters where your kids can actually catch fish, and perhaps enjoy some fun diversions along the way. Here are a few places where you can make some memories.
The red and white bobber barely moved and then shot under the water around the old wooden pier. It’s a memory etched into my mind going back over 58 years when I was 7. My grandmother would load me up in her car every week to take me out to the local lake just west of Greenville. Hours passed as I fished for bluegill under an old dilapidated wooden fishing pier that had once been the sportsman club dock many years before. It was the highlight of my week and in anticipation I would dig a can of fishing worms around the house. Bluegill after bluegill met my hook. While most were released, some went home where I also got a lesson in cleaning fish. This small lake was my primary fishing spot until I could range out on my own.
One family vacation I remember was a weekend in western Kentucky. Ironically the only part of the trip that stands out was when Uncle Maurice and I slipped off for a day of fishing the cypress-lined lakes on Ballard WMA. That’s where I got my first feel of a fly rod and the ferocity of hand-size bream taking popping bugs and crickets.
I still remember catching bream on that Ballard WMA trip and from under that old wooden dock. Any fishing trip no matter how insignificant or short can potentially leave lasting memories for a youngster. So its good that the Bluegrass State has numerous locations that cater to family fishing.
A great place to consider a family fishing trip is Kentucky Dam Village Resort State Park, as it has countless amenities besides fishing, though the fishing is pretty good. It is especially a good place for those without much fishing experience.
“We have a free fishing rod and reel loaner program going on we try to get families interested in fishing,” said Scot Ratzlaff, park manager.
To obtain equipment, folks simply have to go to the park marina and talk to a staff member who can help pick out one of three basic rod and reel combinations that best fit their experience level. Additionally, families using this program can purchase bait at a discounted price at the marina. There are two fishing docks, both of which provide easy access for young anglers and since the docks are wide enough for wheelchairs anyone can spend a day fishing with plenty of room. These ADA accessible fishing docks are a great place to start beginning anglers on bluegill, catfish or crappie.
Staff can also recommend which baits are best and the park is working closely with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Education personal who provide education programs, which may also coincide with free (no license required) fishing weekends.
Fishing all day may not be the thing for every family member, so consider just getting out on the water for some fun boating as the marina also has a selection of watercraft from which to choose, such as paddleboards and canoes, and even houseboats large enough to accommodate a family.
Along The Way
Another place to take the family in the area is nearby Land Between the Lakes. At LBL take time to drive through the Elk and Bison Range to get an up-close look at elk. It also provides a glimpse into what pre-settlement Kentucky may have looked like. Near LBL’s north entrance is Kentucky Dam. Take time for a quick tour and learn how power is generated or watch massive towboats lock through the dam on their way to the Mississippi River. Don’t forget to visit the National Quilt Museum in Paducah. This part of western Kentucky is rich in tourist destinations.
According to Kevin Frey, fisheries biologist, Dewey and Fishtrap lakes are good possibilities for a family outing.
Dewey has numerous pull-off areas from the main road providing access for bank fishing, and it is a popular destination for jug fishing for blue, channel or flathead catfish. One of the best lodges in the area is Jenny Wiley State Resort Park near Prestonsburg.
According to Trinity Shepherd, park interpreter and marina manager, the resort has everything needed to outfit a family for a day of fishing at Jenny Wiley. The park offers complete fishing outfits for loan — rods, reels and tackle boxes with basic items. The marina also rents pontoons, boats, canoes and kayaks for both cruising the lake and fishing.
“May is a good time to fish on Dewey Lake because bass, catfish, crappie and even muskie are usually biting well now,” said Shepherd.
Along The Way
Prestonsburg has several historical sites to visit, including Middle Creek National Battlefield on the site of a Civil War Battle. If a good hike or bike ride is desired look at the 36-mile-long Dawkins Line Rail Trail. Traversing three counties, this old railroad trail provides a good view of the surrounding mountains. Jenny Wiley also has miles of hiking and biking trails throughout the park, as well as programs throughout the summer for evening entertainment.
Those who already have a small fishing boat should look at spending a weekend at Carter Caves State Park. The park features not only fishing and horseback riding, but something folks can’t do every day: caving. Park Naturalist Coy Ainsley says Carter Caves offers several types of cave tours, ranging from easy walking to a wild cave tour where visitors must crawl, duck walk and wade water.
“We also feature a caving trip geared to 8- to 12-year-olds, where they can get a taste of wild caving,” said Ainsley.
Anglers will find fishing on the parks 45-acre Smoky Lake generally good in May with bass, channel catfish and bluegill. Only trolling motors are allowed on boats, but there are areas for bank fishing for those without a boat. Also, the folks can camp, rent a cottage or find a room on the lodge for trips.
Along The Way
Consider visiting the Big Bone Lick State Historical Site, west of I-75 on KY 338. Inside the museum are remains of animals that inhabited Kentucky’s landscape during the last ice age. May is an excellent time to view wildflowers in bloom, and most of the year is great for watching the numerous songbirds along park trails.
Those who want to catch a full round of fish species should head to Lake Cumberland State Resort Park near Jamestown. The park has a marina and boat rentals where anglers can expect to catch a wide range of panfish, as well as smallmouth bass around the rocky shorelines.
Those with younger anglers should consider heading to Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, which is only a few miles from the park. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the hatchery provides a youth fishing area loaded with rainbow trout. Additionally, the tailwaters below Wolf Creek Dam is one of the leading trout streams in the southeast.
Lake Cumberland is also known for striper fishing, and has numerous guides offering trips for these hard-fighting fish, many of which allow kids to come along. However, according to Phil Glass, with Conley Bottom Guides, really young children can get bored fairly quickly, so kids should be at least around 10 years old or older to really enjoy the trip.
Along The Way
Those visiting the hatchery should be sure to hike the 3/4-mile nature trail. The hatchery also has interpretive specialists who conduct programs each week on trout or outdoor subjects including fly-fishing and butterfly gardening. For more specific times and information visit www.fws.gov/wolfcreek.
FISHING IN NEIGHBORHOODS (FINs)
Anglers looking for a quick Saturday fishing trip should consider heading to one of the many small lakes managed under the FINs program.
“We currently have lakes enrolled in the program, which is a partnership between local municipalities and KDFWR,” said Dane Balsman, Urban Fishing coordinator for Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
These lakes are close to urban and suburban areas and provide good chances to catch fish, as they are well stocked. These lakes provide opportunities for young anglers to learn how to bait hooks, remove fish and, best of all, grow patience for future fishing trips.
One of the highest catch lakes in the FINs program is the Alexandria Community Park Lake. According to Balsman, it has excellent bluegill and redear populations, with a few bruiser bass. May is a great time to visit because panfish are in shallow water spawning. The KDFWR also stocks catfish in May, along with hybrid sunfish in June. These scrappy panfish typically average 5 to 8 inches and can be found in most FINs lakes.
The overall goal of FINs is to provide fishing access close to where people live by stocking fish in these lakes on a regular basis so that anglers of all ages will have ample opportunities for a successful trip. The FINs website (http://fw.ky.gov/Fish/Pages/Fishing-In-Neighborhoods.aspx) has updated stocking schedules, along with a map with directions to each of the lakes across the state.
And don’t overlook participating in the annual fishing programs many conservation organizations sponsor during early summer months, such as the Southern Kentucky Chapter of Quail Forever in Bowling Green youth fishing rodeo each spring. In 2017, dozens of young anglers went home with their first rod and reel outfit plus the memory of catching their first big catfish.