We've done the legwork for you so that you can enjoy 36 prime places to seek fish throughout the year in Kentucky. One or more of these waters are sure to be near you!
You've seen those T-shirts and bumper stickers that read: "Eat, Sleep & Fish." If you've adopted that motto, then this fishing calendar ought to be right up your alley.
Since fishing season is open year 'round, and the variety of opportunities is quite good in Kentucky, choosing any of the suggestions that follow are all good bets for a successful outing.
You will find some choices here that are tried-and-trusted locations based on the history of the waterway and what we already know about seasonal fish activity. Successful fishing is obviously higher for some species at specific times of the year.
Other trips we'll highlight may be waters you may not have thought about, or perhaps is a waterway that's ordinarily outside your usual fishing circuit. Rest assured, however, that while you sift through what's hot right now, and what will be later in the year, that these are some of the best chances to hook up anywhere in the Commonwealth, anytime you get the urge to go fishing.
So read on, and get an overview of one top pick for every month, backed with two other picks for a variety of the best fishing all year long. The time to start planning is now.
Kentucky Lake Crappie
Lots of anglers will wait for the spring crappie run, but Kentucky Lake is an excellent choice for big winter slabs in January.
Outside of a few duck hunters, you'll likely have the lake to yourself -- a big switch from April for sure. The state fish and wildlife department, as well as many anglers, have submerged brushpiles that will hold crappie along creek and river channel edges. Most of the state-supplied brushpiles are marked, and now some 300 various fish attractors are out there.
Kentucky Lake is one of those fishing resources that always seem to perform year after year. And even in the latter part of the month, when a few warmer days usually come, anglers may be surprised that crappie will run up into some of the shallower cover looking for a "booster" meal to help them on through until the spring feeding time arrives.
The Blood River embayment has been one of the best on this vast reservoir for crappie fishing for decades. But anglers should be able to mark schools of fish in other locations, flip out a few surface buoys and pick up a number of what can be the best-sized fish of the year off ledges and points close to channel cuts.
Ohio River Saugers
Staging pre-spawn sauger fishing below the dams on the Ohio River is tough to beat this month. First, there's an abundance of fish, and they become more concentrated in the immediate tailwaters of the Ohio as February progresses.
Most other species in Kentucky waters are inactive in February, save a few here and there. If you can catch the river at close to normal flows, you can really score below Greenup, Meldahl and McAlpine dams, especially. Suit up and keep your hands warm. Before long, you should be putting numerous fish in the boat.
Remember that saugers are light- sensitive fish, packed with sharp teeth, with sharp gill plates; they will tend to school in dips in bottom contour. Have enough additional hooks and sinkers on hand and expect to lose a few in the rocky bottom of the river.
Try fishing in three or four spots until you locate one where you take a couple of fish, and test colors some to find out what they like best that day. Sun penetration, water clarity, depth and just fish quirkiness will all affect how quickly you will start getting some action.
Cave Run Lake Muskies
Anglers are still talking about it and will for some time to come, but it's not only 15-year-old Sarah Terry's new 47-pound-plus state-record muskie out of Cave Run Lake that would spur you to take a trip there in March. There's simply one of the best muskie fisheries in the southern United States there, and in March those fish start heading to the creeks.
Muskies are Kentucky's largest native game species and are sometimes known to anglers as the fish of 10,000 casts. Yet, in March they will begin to take up residence in woody coves with standing timber. Also, look for them along the channels adjacent to open feeding flats. This makes them easier to locate, though it's still not ever going to be like crappie fishing.
Anglers looking for more of a non-traditional trip before bass, crappie, bluegills and catfish get going strong in spring ought to consider Cave Run as a serious possibility for a big muskie. This fishing calls for heavier line, tackle and a bigger dip net, but when you get one on it all pays off.
Watch for baitfish movement and look in places and cover you expect largemouths to be in early spring. Muskies use those same types of places when they begin to become more active this month.
Lake Malone Largemouths
Carrying a reputation for big bass, Lake Malone in southwestern Kentucky ranks at the top of the list of smaller impoundments where a better than average number of hefty largemouths reside. April is a superb time to hook up with some big bass that are gearing up for the spawn. Each day that passes means largemouths are becoming increasingly active, as water temperatures respond to the spring season.
Early-season bass will orient to cover and gradually more fish will spend longer amounts of time in shallow water. A slow warming trend will pull smaller bass up around shoreline cover and vegetation, and the bigger bass won't be far behind. Rocky banks and points will warm fastest and should be some of the first places you try this time of year.
This is one of those times of year when the heat of the day isn't a deterrent to largemouths and they can be active anytime. Late afternoon is particularly good because it is usually the time of day water temperatures will peak. Stained water is best just to thin down sunlight penetration, along with overcast or partly cloudy conditions.
If you pick up a couple of smaller bass close to the bank, work your presentation in a little deeper water for better chances of larger fish. The bass are there for a reason, but often the bigger fish hang farther out. That's how they got to be bigger. They stay in the "safety zone" where fewer anglers fish. It doesn't mean they can't be caught. They simply see fewer objects that look like food with a hook tucked in under it.
Herrington Lake Bluegills
in May provide some of the best fishing action on light tackle there is. It's fast. These panfish pull hard and there often seems to be an endless supply of them. Herrington Lake is tough fishing for some species because of clear water, being deep and steep-banked in some spots.
But when spawning season arrives, bluegills will seek out bed sites on ledges and sloping banks, and congregate in the backs of coves; these panfish really get after it for most of this month. This lake is well known for better quality 'gills and the mid-spring action is superb.
Herrington will tend to stack up debris along shoreline areas and the heads of creeks that provide cover for panfish. Stumpbeds are also excellent spots to find big bluegills. These fish will be a bit deeper in clear water, and if the lake is up, you'll find them around brush in sometimes barely a foot of water.
Look for banks that have overhanging trees or long points that taper down. Often, the beds will be visible along the shoreline. Approach quietly and work a spot for a few minutes and then move to a similar location. The presence of shade helps. It shouldn't take you and your kids long to come up with plenty of fish fry fillets in time for Memorial Day from Kentucky's oldest major reservoir.
Ohio River Striped Bass
After the spring rains sort of settle down and the flows return to their usual summer pattern, striped bass start becoming active below the dams on the Ohio River. The pounds of fish per acre are greater in tailwater areas than any other kind of water, and the Ohio is no exception. It's just a hotbed for many species, including striped bass.
These fish are just big eating machines; they tend to follow the food sources wherever they go during the year. Shad spend a good deal of the summer in the tailraces close to the current, and that attracts stripers to move upstream to find them. Thousands upon thousands of the purebred strain rockfish have been stocked up and down the Ohio River corridor.
Generally, the first mile or so below the dam is the most productive to fish, but that's not to say that stripers won't gang up elsewhere at times. Sometimes they feed on top, but depending on water and weather conditions, they may lurk near the bottom.
Lake Barkley White Bass
It can get a little uncomfortable on the water during the day in July for anglers. Yet, you can still catch white bass on Lake Barkley in the dead of summer.
Many other species become most active at night in July, but white bass can also be taken consistently when the sun is up and it's hot; one of the best methods is trolling for them to keep a little breeze on you while the temperatures are rising. When you start catching fish, you won't notice the heat quite as much either.
White bass are more of an open- water species, but they tend to use feeding flats along channels, old roadbeds and rocky points with deep-water access nearby to do much of their baitfish hunting. As the summer progresses, Barkley Lake is especially good since there are many shallow-water areas near the main river channel. White bass are abundant in the reservoir.
Either early or late, watch for surface activity where white bass may be in the jumps harassing schools of shad on top. You can either cast to those jumps, or once the activity subsides, cast or troll under the surface where the bigger fish wait to clean up what the smaller fish leave in their wake.
Dewey Lake Channel Catfish
Dewey Lake has a good population of channel catfish waiting for a lazy day summer angler to take advantage of. The best fishing takes place closer to dark when channel catfish will begin to cruise the banks for food. Channel catfish use all types of cover during the day to beat the heat, but they will also feed around blowdowns, rocky ledges and creek mouths close to the bottom where less sunlight is present.
Fishing under overhanging tree cover or off sloping rocky points at night is productive in Dewey Lake, and frequently larger channels are caught after dark very close to the bank.
Going fishing after a decent rain is also a plus in late summer, just because it tends to wash in food items via the feeder creeks that catfish will nose around the bottom to find.
One of the best things about catfishing is that it doesn't take a lot of fancy tackle or special rigging to enjoy, and catfish are not terribly picky eaters. A basic Zebco spin-cast outfit with 8- to 12-pound-test works fine for most channels. Locate some timber cover or rock ledges and keep the bait down. When the fish decide to feed, you'll have quite an enjoyable afternoon.
Barren River Lake Largemouths
Bass anglers have done pretty well on largemouths on Barren River Lake the past few years, and this month the fall bite starts cranking up as cooler evenings become more frequent. It's more comfortable to be out there, especially as the fishing improves during daylight hours as the month progresses.
Anglers will want to start working shoreline cover and flats with stumpbeds or some standing timber again similar to their spring tactics. Bass hanging in deeper water in creek channels will begin moving up on points and staying there longer. More baitfish will be in shallow water.
Barren River anglers can expect to catch bass in the 12- to 15-inch range pretty consistently, and frequently, bass on up to 4 and 5 pounds are taken as well.
Cumberland Tailwater Brown Trout
Casting for brown trout in a stream setting under the fall colors in Kentucky is more than just a picturesque fishing scene, it has excellent potential to be one of the top fishing trips you'll make the entire year.
The Cumberland tailwater offers the best brown trout fishing in Kentucky, and perhaps the southeast United States. There's nearly 100 miles of water to try, some which can be waded and fly-fished, boat-fished and in spots bank-fished. Browns are going to be found closer to the deeper pools and likely be timber cover oriented.
Rainbows will be more active, too, and many are high-quality fish, but the brown trout fishery is truly exceptional. A half-day or daylong float trip is the perfect ticket if tangling with big brown trout is your passion, and there's no better place than below Wolf Creek Dam on Lake Cumberland.
Green River Lake Walleyes
Walleyes need coldwater habitat to do well, and Green River Lake offers plenty of that habitat for marble-eyes. Coldwater species, likewise, are active during the cooler months when warmwater species are starting to gear down.
The walleye fishery isn't pursued hard at Green River, though studies indicate there is good fishing there for fish up to 20 inches. In the fall, walleyes prefer to congregate over standing timber in creeks along the channel cuts. They are more active at low-light periods and can be taken in mid-range dep
th waters over and around submerged cover.
You may have to test fishing at various depths, but when you locate fish, they should readily take the traditional offerings on cool, overcast November days.
Dale Hollow Lake Smallmouths
One other tried-and-true topnotch cold-weather fishing opportunity is for smallmouths on Dale Hollow. The long, sloping gravel banks beckon to high-quality bronzebacks.
Working along banks or points that have deep water for smallmouths to escape to is a good bet. Use the lightest line you feel comfortable with, and go smaller with your lures and don't rush your retrieves.
Decent fishing will hold here for another couple of months, though December is usually more tolerable to humans than January. Either way, watch for overcast days, maybe with a light misting rain. With any luck, the legendary fight with a big smallie will likely be on.