Whether you're a blue, channel or flathead fan, there's a lake or tailwater in our state that's just right for you. Read on for five of the best! (June 2007)
Photo by Ron Sinfelt.
What's that bending the rod double and stripping line off the reel at a rate sure to strike sparks at any moment? It could very well be one of our state's monster-sized catfish. Of those, we've got plenty!
Catfish angling is very popular in Kentucky. Long regarded as just a "Southern thing," catfish angling is now developing a nationwide following. Here in the Bluegrass State, we've always known what a good experience it is to tangle with those ole whiskerfish.
Our Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) knows it, too. They've managed our natural populations of catfish well, and have done wonders with supplemental stockings. We now have tremendous opportunities for all three major species of catfish -- blues, flatheads and, of course, channel cats.
Most of our big lakes and rivers have self-sustaining populations of whiskerfish. When first impounded, some lakes were initially stocked with catfish that have since flourished through natural reproduction.
However, that's not the case with all of our impoundments. Many of our smaller waters do not enjoy natural reproduction -- or at least, not enough to support the fisheries. Many of our lakes receive a lot of fishing pressure, and without stocking, some of the smaller waters would get "fished out."
Therefore, the KDFWR stocks thousands of channel catfish each year to keep up with the demand. Additionally, there have been some recent experiments with stocking blue catfish in select waters to function both as an additional prey fish and to provide more angler opportunity.
We've got some great locations where you can tangle with all three catfish species. Of course, everyone knows of the opportunities at such famous destinations as Kentucky and Barkley lakes. But numerous other lakes have their own great catfish fisheries.
Here's a look at five locations across the state where anglers can find some terrific action for blue, flathead, and channel cats!
Biologist Kerry Prather says the blue catfish fishery at Taylorsville is good now and getting better every year. These stocked blue cats are supplementing an already great fishery for channel cats. Catfish anglers should find some excellent fishing this year at this 3,050-acre lake.
Initially, blue catfish were stocked into Taylorsville to help control an overabundance of shad as well as to possibly create a trophy fishery. The experiment has worked well and anglers are now set to reap the rewards. Prather believes the quality of the fishery will only continue to increase.
The first stocking of blue catfish occurred in 2002 and included around 25,000 fish, ranging from 10 to 14 inches long. This amounted to around eight fish stocked per acre.
Next year, the number of stocked blue catfish escalated to 88,000 fish, at a rate of 29 fish per acre. Stockings of 8- to 12-inch fish have continued every year since, at the rate of about seven to eight fish per acre.
Now that the fishery is established, the maintenance-stocking rate will probably drop to around five fish per acre each year. All these blue catfish were raised at the Peter W. Pfeiffer Fish Hatchery in Frankfort.
Biologists have sampled some of the blue cats while electro-shocking. Creel surveys have also documented the growth of the fishery, indicating that the blue cats now present range from 7 to 26 inches. There are reports of even larger fish. Creel surveys showed catfish were caught in good numbers all through the warm months, peaking in August.
However, fishing for these blue catfish is somewhat different than for Taylorsville's ample population of channel cats. Blue catfish typically inhabit open water and can often be found suspended in those areas, not necessarily relating to the bottom. Anglers succeed by using live bait and cut shad with both rod and reel and by jug-fishing. With blue catfish's inclination for open water, a blue cat on the end of the line has surprised many anglers trolling crankbaits and spinners for hybrids.
Fishing for blue catfish should be great this year. Anglers will find plenty of opportunity to take advantage of the fishery at Taylorsville. There are several boat ramps on the lake, as well as access for bank-fishing anglers. For more information, contact the Taylorsville State Park at (502) 477-8713, or log on to email@example.com.
While blue catfish may be our largest species, some of our flathead catfish also grow to very impressive sizes. In fact, our state-record flathead weighed 97 pounds, only 7 pounds lighter than the state-record blue catfish. Every year, anglers catch numerous flatheads up in the 50- to 60- pound range and above. That's not too shabby in most people's minds.
Flatheads seem to be much more solitary than other species of catfish and typically inhabit deep-water areas of various lakes, rivers, and tailwaters. The larger fish, especially, seem to be loners and are seldom found schooling with others of their species. Telemetry studies have shown these larger flatheads will often stay in a resting location during daylight hours and then venture into shallow water late in the night for feeding.
Fishtrap Lake covers 1,131 acres and has a tremendous flathead catfish population. Anglers can tie into some really huge fish in both the tailwaters and lake proper. Fisheries biologist Kevin Frey says there have been good spawns and good recruitment of young fish for several years in a row.
Fall sampling has collected flathead catfish ranging in size from 5 to 45 inches. "The larger fish near 45 inches will weigh around 50 pounds or possibly a little more," Frey says.
Fishing for blue catfish should be great this year. Anglers will find plenty of opportunity to take advantage of the fishery at Taylorsville.
June is typically the flatheads' time for spawning at Fishtrap. Adults will seek out holes in rock banks, cavities under rocks, in logs or under woody debris. Many people who like "tickling" or "noodling," find this the best technique to use during peak spawning, as the catfish will not be feeding in earnest.
Female cats begin feeding actively again toward late June, while the males stay with their nests. These male catfish will
do very little feeding until sometime in July. Prior to the spawn and again afterward, rod-and-reel anglers can load up on some of the biggest flatheads of the year.
As mentioned, telemetry studies show these fish to be very sluggish during daylight hours. Anglers should concentrate daytime fishing in these "resting" areas, usually near logs, brushpiles or other woody structure. At night, you can find these fish feeding much more actively in areas where forage fish, such as sunfish, are present.
Flatheads do not take "stinkbaits" as readily as do channel cats. The best success comes by using live baits such as bluegills and green sunfish. Minnows and other baits will also work at times.
There are three boat ramps at Fishtrap Lake. The Fishtrap Marina and Grapevine ramps require either a daily or seasonal launching fee. The ramp at Lick Creek is free. Fishtrap Lake State Park can be contacted by calling (606) 437-7496, or go online to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The very strong channel catfish population at Dewey Lake is a popular target for area anglers, according to biologist Kevin Frey. This fishery provides a tremendous opportunity, especially during the warm months of the year. Dewey also supports an excellent flathead fishery, and every year anglers catch catfish in the 40- to 50-pound range.
Channel cats in Dewey Lake are self-sustaining. But occasionally, there have been supplemental stockings when excess fish have been left over from the farm-pond stocking program. Dewey Lake's catfish get a lot of angling pressure, and there is a fairly heavy harvest annually.
Size distribution of channel cats up to 26 inches is very good. Bigger fish up to 33 inches are also present. Spawning and recruitment have been steady for several years, and the KDFWR continues to rate the fishery as very good.
Anglers have a wide variety of fishing choices at Dewey. Both bank- and boat-angling opportunities abound. Also, you can usually have your choice of fishing muddy or clearer water, depending on where you fish on the lake. The upper end typically stays muddier, due to turbidity.
After the summer spawning ritual ends in July, feeding channel cats will be omnivores and will scavenge food sources such as plant seeds, dead animals, and sick or dying fish. Throughout the remainder of the summer, rod-and-reel anglers can find good success by using chicken livers, cut shad, minnows, or stinkbaits. At times, however, heavy recreational boat traffic will limit the best fishing success to nighttime.
Channel catfish are scattered throughout the lake, and anglers can find good success from one end to the other. Some of the best fishing can be found in the upper end and also up into Johns Creek. Channel cats can be found around the dam, near riprap and rocky areas, and along sandy or muddy bottoms.
Dewey Lake is a flood-control water and subject to quick changes in conditions and lake levels. These water-level fluctuations can affect fishing success as well as the depth at which cats will be found and their proximity to the shore.
Floyd County is home to the 1,100-acre Dewey Lake. There are plenty of boat ramps at the lake and all are free to use. The best bank access occurs at the tailwaters. Anglers may want to contact the Jenny Wiley State Park office at 1-800-325-0142 for more information. Reach the park online at parks.ky.gov/resortparks/jw, or by e-mail at JennyWiley@ky.gov.
This 760-acre lake in Caldwell and Christian counties has had an interesting channel catfish history. Beshear was first opened for public fishing in 1964 and was originally stocked with channel catfish at a rate of around 25 to 50 per acre each year.
Catfish quickly became too numerous, and their sizes were severely stunted. In the mid-1990s, the KDFWR chose to quit stocking catfish, thinking that they were putting too many fish in the lake. They had hoped that due to the lake's size, the catfish would take care of themselves.
Unfortunately, biologist Paul Rister says the KDFWR has not been able to document any natural reproduction for catfish in the lake. So stocking has resumed, but at a reduced rate.
Channel cats are now stocked into Beshear at the rate of 10 fish per acre per year. Additionally, blue cats were stocked at five per acre in 2005, to cut down on the big gizzard shad that are present. If the blues do well, they may be stocked exclusively at some point in the future.
Over the past 10 years, channel catfish quality has really improved and the lake now carries a rating of "Excellent" for channel cats. Sampling has shown that Beshear catfish grow slowly. However, the surveys show that some really nice channel cats inhabit the lake, with some reaching 18 to 20 inches.
The lake has the potential to produce some real quality catfish. Creel surveys indicate the fishery has dramatically improved since the early 1990s. A 12-inch minimum-size regulation for harvest has helped to protect some of the fish, and there's now an abundance of channel cats in the 12- to 15-inch range.
Catfish are numerous and can be found in most areas of the lake, so if anglers don't get a bite within a short time, they should move to another location. Flats, points, channel edges, and other contour features are good locations to target. Catfish will often come shallow at night to feed heavily, so anglers who brave the dark can find some terrific action.
Lake Beshear is located in the center of the Pennyrile Forest State Park, approximately four miles south of Dawson Springs off state Route (SR) 672. Boat launching is accessible at Reddens Boat Ramp, also located on SR 672. A small daily fee is charged for launching.
GREEN RIVER LAKE
Recent creel surveys show the channel catfish population to be in great shape at Green River Lake in Taylor and Adair counties.
Summer rains that muddy the water can trigger heavy feeding.
During these times, channel cats can be taken with a variety of methods and baits.
In fact, says biologist Eric Cummings, "People are catching all they care to catch."
The KDFWR fishing forecast gives this 8,210-acre lake an excellent rating for channel catfish.
The KDFWR doesn't do a lot of sampling for catfish specifically, but while sampling other species of fish, they do pick up a few cats. Creel surveys and angler feedback also offer a picture of the fishery's status. All indicators point toward a healthy population.
Cummings says there are good numbers of channel cats, especially ones of "eating size." In creel surveys, the predominant size range seen is 15 to 20 inches, although larger f
ish are available. Channel cats at Green River Lake are self-sustaining, and the lake receives no supplemental stocking.
June is spawning time at Green River Lake and a prime time for tickling and noodling. Channel cats are cavity spawners and can be located in holes, root balls, and crevices created in transition areas between bluffs and other types of bank. Success with more traditional angling methods improves when the female catfish begin coming off their nests -- and will continue to improve throughout July.
Summer rains that muddy the water can trigger heavy feeding. During these times, channel cats can be taken with a variety of methods and baits. Another great time to target catfish is after significant discharge from the dam. Fishing the tailwaters in the first quarter- to half-mile below the dam can be tremendous.
Fishing at night usually produces the most success, but anglers can also find good luck during the day at times, especially on overcast days.
Access is easy for both Green River Lake and its tailwaters. There are about a dozen boat-launching ramps that can accommodate almost all types of watercraft. Some are free, while others charge a fee. Bank access and ADA facilities are available at the Corps of Engineers' office located off SR 55, approximately 4 1/2 miles south of Campbellsville.
Other good access is available through the Green River Lake State Park, also located on SR 55. To obtain more information, call the state park at (270) 465-8255, or visit GreenRiver@ky.gov.
To access the Green River Lake State Park's Web site, log on to parks.ky.gov/stateparks/gr/index.htm.
BEFORE YOU GO
Many of our Kentucky waters have liberal catfish regulations, with no limits on size or numbers. But many of the waters where the KDFWR stocks catfish do have special regulations in place. Always check current regulations for the specific location where you plan to go, prior to fishing. This way, you can be sure there have been no regulatory changes.