From the Mississippi River to the Tug Fork, the Bluegrass State holds a wealth of fishing options. Here's a look at three-dozen of the best.
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So many fishing holes; so few fishing days! Given the tremendous diversity of angling opportunities in the Bluegrass State, the toughest thing about any given fishing day can be deciding where to go or even what kind of fish to go after. With those tough decisions in mind, we've sorted possibilities and selected top fishing opportunities for every month of the year.
Muskellunge - Buckhorn Lake
Muskellunge are always plentiful in 1,250-acre Buckhorn Lake, and the current population includes a high number of fish in the 35- to 45-inch range. Muskies can be tough to locate, though. During late winter the fish concentrate in the lower end of the lake, increasing your odds of finding and hooking up with one or more of the big toothy critters.
Muskies are top-end predators that like serious meals, so don't mess with dainty offerings. If you cast artificial lures, throw oversized minnow-imitating lures, spoons and in-line spinners. Make long casts so you can cover a lot of water. Another popular approach, which produces a lot of trophy fish, is to slow troll with live bait.
For guided fishing, contact Buckhorn Guide Service at (606) 436-6501.
January is also an excellent month for targeting trophy striped bass at Lake Cumberland.
Moving to the state's northern border, the most miserable days of winter provide some of the best opportunities for catching sauger below dams along the Ohio River.
Crappie - Kentucky Lake
Crappie regularly reach slab proportions in Kentucky Lake, which spreads over more than 50,000 acres in Kentucky alone. Kentucky Lake contains a good mix of black and white crappie, and both grow big. Recent fisheries research has shown that crappie start to move shallow well before they begin spawning. The action typically heats up well ahead of the weather, and venturing out during February can help you beat the crowds.
Focus on the mouths of bays and creeks, especially along the edges of the creek channels. A good fish-finding strategy during early spring is to troll with baits set at a variety of depths. Both jigs and minnows can be effective, and often the best plan is to combine the two by tipping your favorite crappie jigs with live minnows.
For more information, visit www.kentuckylakebarkley.com.
February is also one of the best times of the year to catch walleyes from Laurel River Lake as the fish move up the lake and become concentrated.
If you're seeking a big early-season largemouth, look back to the west, toward Lake Barkley.
Brown Trout - Cumberland River
Any cast of any lure at any time in the Cumberland River has the potential to produce a very large trout. However, if you want to specifically target a trophy brown trout, March ranks among the best times of the year. The largest fish feed actively during late winter and early spring, and they seem to become a little less cautious than normal.
Big browns can be caught from the face of Wolf Creek Dam all the way to the Tennessee border. An important key to targeting them is to fish with baits that seem too big for stream trout. Cast Rattlin' Rogues and other bass fishing jerkbaits or large steamer flies tight to shoreline cover and work them with decisive twitches or strips separated by long pauses.
To plan a Cumberland River trip, visit www.cumberlanddrifters.com.
Spring is also when the big bass come out to play, and 317-acre Guist Creek Lake in Shelby County yields more than its share of lunker largemouths.
March is a great month for catching white bass from the lower end of the Green River, especially around the mouths of tributary flows.
Largemouth Bass - Cedar Creek Lake
Designed with fishermen in mind, Cedar Creek offers wooded banks, timber-filled coves, fertile waters and a well-balance population of bass and baitfish. Special bass regulations of a 20-inch minimum size and one-fish limit have served this lake well, and the number of 20-inch-plus bass in the population continues to increase.
The good news about April is that it's prime time to hook up with Cedar Creek's largest bass. The bad news is that plenty of other anglers know that to be true. Expect company and understandably finicky fish this time of year, especially if you're limited to weekends and if the weather is nice.
Traditional timber fishing baits, including jigs, spinnerbaits and Texas-rigged creature baits, work well for getting the bass' attention during April.
For information, visit www.cedarcreeklakeoutfitters.com.
April continues to produce fine crappie fishing on several Kentucky waterways. Green River Lake currently has high numbers of 10-inch-plus crappie in its fertile waters.
This month also marks prime time for targeting Cave Run Lake's legendary muskies.
Bluegill - Lake Barkley
Bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcrackers) both thrive in Lake Barkley, with an abundance of hand-sized and larger fish of both species in the panfish mix. During late spring and early summer, the 'gills and 'crackers move shallow and spawn in big nesting colonies, so once you find one big fish you often find many more.
Both sunfish species like to spawn over gravel or sand, often in the backs of creek arms or coves. The shellcrackers typically will be a little bit deeper than the bluegills, and they prefer to bed close to vegetation: however, the areas overlap significantly.
For either, you can find them by casting a live cricket or worm under a float and moving frequently until the float starts darting under.
For more information, visit www.lakebarkl
Late spring is also an excellent time to catch walleyes from Carr Creek Lake, and both daytime and nighttime strategies can be effective.
Along the Ohio River, hybrid bass serve up sometimes-intense action during May.
Smallmouth Bass - Elkhorn Creek
There are few better ways to spend an early-summer day than wet wading a cool stream and doing battle with hardy smallmouth bass. In Kentucky there may be no better place for this kind of play than Elkhorn Creek. Aided by several years of special management in the form of a 12- to 16-inch protected slot limit, this fertile flow near Frankfort is loaded with slot fish and also holds quite a few 17-inch-plus smallies.
Start your day with a topwater offering, whether that's a deer-hair popper on a fly rod or a small popper or prop lure for spinning tackle. In June, you may not ever want to switch, but if the fish won't come up, you can go down after them with a streamer or a soft-plastic minnow or crawfish imitation.
Nolin River Lake supports an excellent population of white bass, and beginning in June those fish will do a lot of surface schooling over main-lake points and humps.
If you like to catch big redear sunfish, try little Dewey Lake with worms fished just off the bottom.
Hybrid Bass - Fishtrap Lake
Striper-white bass hybrids up to about 10 pounds abound in Fishtrap Lake, which is located near Pikeville in far eastern Kentucky. Despite being very hard fighters, the hybrids get surprisingly little attention.
During the summer, the fish tend to concentrate in the deeper waters of the lake's lower third, making them easier to locate. They also school early and late in the day, pushing baitfish to the surface. Chuggers and walking topwater lures draw fierce strikes from schooling fish, but bucktails or other shad-imitating subsurface lures sometimes produce larger fish. Night fishing can also be extremely effective during the summer.
If you're looking for fine bass fishing with a decent opportunity for a really large fish, plan a night trip to Lake Malone.
Mid-summer is also a great time to catch Cedar Creek Lake's hefty channel cats, which are largely overlooked because of the lake's big-bass reputation.
Blue Catfish - Kentucky Lake
When the dog days hit, it's time to go after Kentucky Lake cats. Blues, flatheads and channel catfish all grow to heavyweight proportions in this big Tennessee River impoundment. But blues make up the lion's share of the big cats and present the best opportunity for an angler to catch a giant. Happily, all the cats use the same deep holes during the summer.
The best summer fishing occurs along the main channel of the Tennessee River, especially in the big holes that form along hard bends in the river channel and at channel confluences. Anchor toward the head of a hole and cast bottom rigs downstream. Bait your hooks with big pieces of skipjack or other baitfish if blues are your primary targets.
For more information, visit www.kentuckylake.com.
If you want to do some mid-summer panfishing, Lake Linville in Rockcastle County offers excellent bank access and supports a thriving population of big bluegill.
Late summer is also a great time to wade various cool streams in the upper Kentucky River watershed for feisty smallmouth bass.
Largemouth Bass - Fishpond Lake
Don't let Fishpond Lake's small size of 32 acres fool you. This little Letcher County Lake produces some very large bass. The biggest bass in the lake stay well fed from stocked rainbow trout, which are actually the fish that most anglers target in this lake.
Fishpond isn't a trophy-only lake, though. Survey work done by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources reveals very good size distribution of bass up to 24 inches.
Because the water is quite clear, Fishpond Lake bass can be difficult to fool. Generally speaking you enjoy better results if you visit this lake after the sun goes down, fishing with jigs and big spinnerbaits. A big black Jitterbug wobbled slowly across the surface also may result in heart-stopping strike.
Late summer is also a fine time to night-fish for rainbow trout at Dale Hollow, and you might end up catching a big walleye or smallmouth bass in the process.
Moving to the far western end of the state, the Mississippi River tends to be stable during September, and fishing for channel catfish can be very good.
Crappie - Nolin River Lake
Fishermen congregate in Kentucky's best crappie waters during the spring, but many anglers overlook that fall bite. Although the shallow migration is less extreme than what occurs during the spring spawning run, crappie move up creeks and into shallower water during the fall, providing some of the best fishing of the year.
Crappie populations tend to be cyclical, and Nolin River Lake's crappie are on an upswing. An excellent year class from 2008 has high numbers of 11- and 12-inch crappie in the population. The crappie stay on the move during the fall, following schools of baitfish up and down creek channels.
Locate the fish by trolling along channel edges and over adjacent flats.
October is prime time for catching a big flathead catfish from Fishtrap Lake.
If you want a totally different sort of fish, cast a live minnows or in-line spinners for yellow bass at Barren River Lake.
Trout - Red River Gorge
The Red River Gorge area is a wonderland for trout fishermen, with several rugged streams offering great variety to anglers. Some stream stretches run at roadside. Others can only be reached by quite a bit of walking. These streams also offer great variety in their species make-up and in the way they are managed.
Adding intrigue during the fall, three area streams are part of the state's seasonal catch-and-release program. More than 15 stream miles are well stocked during October, and the catch-and-release requirement means these waters stay well stocked throughout the cool months. Only artificial lures may be used in catch-and-release waters, which include the part of the Middle Fork of the Red River within Natural Bridge State Park, the East Fork Indian Creek and Swift Camp Creek within the Clifty Wilderness.
Largemouth bass get active in Kentucky Lake during late fall, providing fine opportunities for mixed bags of big bass.
November is also a great time to tap into Taylorsville Lake's big blue catfish.
Smallmouth Bass - Dale Hollow
Falling water temperatures cause Dale Hollow's legendary smallmouths to move up in the water column and to do more feeding. They won't do much chasing, however, so slow is the way to go with most bait presentations.
Two very popular and effective artificial offerings for winter fishing in this deep, clear lake are blade baits, such as Sonars or Silver Buddies, or hair jigs presented with float-and-fly rigs. For either approach, finding suspended schools of baitfish is the first step to finding bass.
A third extremely effective approach that accounts for large numbers of big smallmouths during the winter is to cast or slow troll live shiners on simple split-shot rigs.
Dale Hollow State Resort Park offers lodging, fishing access and a marina. For information, visit www.parks.ky.gov.
Winter is also a fine time to catch rainbow trout from Greenbo Lake in Greenup County, with the trout typically holding shallow and swimming close to the banks.
December begins a great season for catching trophy muskies from Green River Lake.