Three Hybrid Hotspots in Kentucky

Three Hybrid Hotspots in Kentucky

The Commonwealth continues to offer excellent hybrid action on many waters statewide, especially the Ohio River and the Rough River and Barren River lakes.

"It's an opportunity more people ought to be taking advantage of," said David Bell, district fishery biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).

Bell is speaking about the various hybrid striped bass fisheries that the state fish and wildlife department has established in several waters throughout the Commonwealth. In Bell's district, Rough River Lake has been stocked with hybrid stripers for the last six years, and those anglers out there who are following the fishery are finding excellent piscatorial action.

This story is true on several impoundments, some larger and some smaller, where this fairly new fishery has been extended and now encompasses about eight waterways. Along with looking at Rough River, we're going to take a look at what's happening in a couple of other top choices for this aggressive fighter. This will hopefully clue you in to some quality fishing experiences this summer.

Biologists describe a hybrid striped bass as a cool-water species that prefers open-water habitat most of the time. Occasionally you will find a school in shallow water around some type of woody cover, but most of the time that's not going to be the case. Hybrids don't have the coldwater requirements that a smallmouth or trout might need for best propagation, but it's not exactly like a largemouth or bluegill that is most active in warmer water, either. It's literally a hybrid, just like its name implies, and it has a little better tolerance for the two ends of the spectrum in water temperature preference. This characteristic expands the periods of the year when it will be more catchable.

Early summer is one of the top times to find hybrids actively feeding and willing to bite. While in some waters hybrids will behave much like white bass, moving upstream in March and April and concentrating in headwater areas, in most waters many anglers consider late May and June to be the beginning of the primary fishing season for this species.

"I think that after the spawning period hybrids spend most of their time looking for food and cruising in open water on the lakes where they are present. And that contrasts some with what we've found on the Ohio River where they group up from late May through the rest of the summer in the immediate tailwater areas below the dams," said Doug Henley, KDFWR's Ohio River biologist.

"If you're fishing a lake vs. the river, you'll need to understand that the behavior of the fish is different, because they are in a different environment and the conditions of the water cause them to react differently," said Henley.

Our state's hybrid fishery continues to grow, from the Ohio River to lakes such as Barren River and Rough River, plus others. Photo by Tom Evans

On Rough River and Barren River lakes, beginning in late May, most hybrids will be found in open-water areas that are generally paralleled or cut through by a river or creek channel. Biologists say that flats or areas with a sizable amount of shallow water bordered by deeper water areas, or spots where irregular bottom features exist and stick out compared to the surrounding lay of the land, are a couple of good places to locate these highly mobile fish.

"I believe you can find hybrids somewhere around baitfish schools just about anytime during the season," said Bell.

"We really see the activity level pick up in hybrids at the onset of summer when lots of shad are staying out in the main lake close to the surface in the deeper water areas."

In lots of cases, older hybrids are going to utilize the larger-sized shad as forage, and their tendency to travel in schools to feed is a key bit of information to remember when you are on the water trying to choose a potentially good area to work.

"These bigger shad will get out in the middle of the lake oftentimes and just hang out there. You can see them pretty easily if you're paying attention," said Bell.

"On Rough, we've got an excellent population of hybrids in the 20-inch range and another good group of fish just under the 15-inch size limit.

"Both will get in the jumps sometime, and you can hammer them pretty good over some of these underwater humps and islands when they circle the shad up and start chasing them to the top," Bell said.

One top area to be on alert for hybrid jumps is out from the state park marina in the main lake. Fish tend to congregate there, and anglers in the vicinity at daylight and dusk are positioned well to move quietly around to whatever surface activity they observe.

Another spot, which is a consistently favored haunt of hybrids, is close to a dam. On about any reservoir, and actually even in rivers or tailwaters, hybrids are drawn in summertime to the area above or below a dam. No one really knows why they like that area, except that there is usually a good number of baitfish close by, and there is often deeper water above the structure, especially.

According to Bell, summer fishermen who are after hybrids will do better if they get themselves out of bed and on the water early. Unless there are overcast conditions, most of the surface activity occurs during the first three hours of daylight. Fish are actively feeding, and you should remember that even during periods when jumps aren't going on, you could still catch fish by using other methods in the same area where you see baitfish ganged up.

On Rough River, Bell recommends using a popper/fly combination or a weighted spoon or spinnerbait when working topwater, hitting fish in the jumps or working fish that have just gone down. Getting good distance from your reel is important, and having your drag set properly will help land more fish. Remember, bigger fish will run hard, similar to their cousin, the purebred striped bass.

Once surface activity subsides, you may try trolling any shad-type crankbait, particularly if the jump occurs in shallow water or over some type of structure such as an underwater ridge or off an extended point. This tactic can work on most lakes throughout the summer.

Much like on Rough, "We believe our hybrid fishery to be excellent for the upcoming year," said biologist Bonny Laflin, referring to the Barren River Lake population.

According to records from the KDFWR's Trophy Fish and Master Angler Awards program, anglers like Sam Kirtley III of Alvaton and Michael Bean of Bowling Green are finding some superb hybrids in Barren River Lake.

Kirtley connected with a 10-pound, 12-ounce trophy last year, and Bean boated a 9-pound, 4-ounce lunker that measured more than 25 inches long.

"We know there are some very high-quality hybrids in the lake, but catching them is tough," said Laflin.

The schools are scattered throughout the lake, and sometimes they can be patterned on a particular habitat or will remain in a certain area of the lake for an extended period during the summer. In other years, they will move all over the place and don't lock up on a specific cover or underwater feature more than just a day or two, and then they are back on the prowl.

"Most fishing goes on over shallow flats in early summer or off long points that extend out far into the main lake," said Laflin.

"If you can time it when these fish run a bunch of shad up on one of these underwater humps out in the channel, it can be excellent fishing. They can be voracious feeders.

"Sometimes trolling over the flats near the channel cuts or down these longer points helps you to locate fish, and then you can cast to those spots more thoroughly for more success," Laflin said.

Barren has a great deal of forage fish, which Laflin points out is important to having a good hybrid fishery, but at the same time can play heck with fishing.

"They don't have to go to any one spot to find food, so they can just cruise around out there and come across enough forage for a good meal," said the biologist.

"It's great for the health of the fish and growth, but it sometimes means you have to be in the right place at the right time to find the faster action," he said.

A specific good place to try is the hogback point out from Peninsula Island, says Laflin. Watch other anglers to see what techniques they're employing and where they are fishing. There are some 200,000 hybrids being stocked in Barren each year, so there have to be fish in there somewhere, and usually somebody on the water locates them on any given day.

A third waterway where good hybrid fishing is available is the Ohio River. Biologist Doug Henley notes that hybrids are present in all pools of the river, although access in some pools to the tailwaters is better in some spots than others.

"West Virginia and Ohio DNRs have a release program that keeps the river stocked with hybrids, and we are stocking the Cannelton pool for a study we're working on here in Kentucky," said Henley.

Generally, the better fishing in early summer is in those pools that have a little deeper water below the dams and the ones where boat access below the dams is allowed closer to the faster-moving water.

In the Greenup and Meldahl pools, good fish are present for careful anglers who are working the tailrace. Henley says the restrictions from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers about how close boats can get to the dam have been relaxed recently at Greenup, which has opened up some of the better water to easier fishing.

"A good spot up there is on the Ohio side where some rocky habitat exists pretty close to the lock," said Henley.

"Just like below any dam, you have to watch what you're doing and pay attention to the currents and backflows, but you can cast along the rock bank close to the running water and have good success when these fish start stacking up below the barrier," Henley said.

Hybrids in the Ohio, regardless of which pool you fish, are almost always going to be in the first quarter of the pool closest to the moving and better-oxygenated water. Baitfish are more abundant in this portion, and the current attracts fish. These areas have better habitat diversity, especially the closer one gets to the dam.

Below Markland, portions of the old dam are submerged below the lock, which makes a good place for hybrids to lay in wait for baitfish. When the water is running faster, fishing improves. The McAlpine and Smithland tailwaters tend to be a little shallower, and although fish can be caught in those pools, Henley doesn't see the concentrations of fish there like he does in other tailraces.

The quality of the hybrids that are being caught in the Ohio River rivals those that are being taken in reservoirs. Louisville angler Ted Samuels is recorded as having boated a 12 1/2-pound hybrid from the river last year. Numerous other fish have been taken, ranging from 4 1/2 pounds to 14 pounds by St. Albans, W.V., angler Mark Foster.

Farther to the west of the 600-mile Ohio River corridor, anglers in the Cannelton pool may be enjoying the best of the best. Studies indicate good numbers of hybrids in the tailwaters there, and Henley believes the depth of the water and configuration of that lock and dam may be why hybrids stay in this tailwater for the entire summer fishing season.

"Even up into September, you can find hybrids below Cannelton before they disperse out in the fall months a little more," said Henley.

Henley says experienced anglers will throw a stick bait weighted with a sinker up into the churning water. Once they locate the correct depth, they'll begin to catch fish consistently. Drifting live shad minnows is also productive, especially when they are rigged on a two- or three-way swivel with a 1/2-ounce to 2-ounce bell sinker to keep the bait down. Sometimes fish will also take surface baits jerked or twitched back like an injured baitfish.

"We have a good summer fishery here that some anglers may not realize exists, and it's a good time to fish hybrids when lots of other popular species sort of slow down or go nocturnal as the water temperatures rise," said the biologist.

One other spot the biologist mentions as a good place to fish is below Uniontown Dam west of Henderson. This spot is desirable because there is less fishing pressure because the access is a little more limited. One unmaintained ramp is located at Wabash Island, and the other is farther upstream at Shawneetown about five miles away.

"I have no doubts that people can catch these fish in the Ohio, and in fact it might be a little easier at least in locating them, since they move around so much in lakes," said Henley.

However, Henley cautions anglers to heed the restricted zones set up below locks and dams. Do not violate these zones. Anglers in these tailwaters should always wear a personal flotation device. Many anglers will keep their motor running while fishing closer to flowing water to avoid being washed back into the dam when back currents are present.

It can be tricky in any tailwater, but once you get the hang of how to work it, success can be outstanding. There are more pounds of fish per acre in tailwaters than in any other types of water in Kentucky.

The future of hybrid striped bass fishing in Kentucky contin

ues to be very bright. Other reservoirs where this gamester now roams include Taylorsville Lake, Herrington and Guist Creek lakes in Central Kentucky, Fishtrap Lake and Grayson Lake in Eastern Kentucky, and portions of the Kentucky and Green rivers.

KDFWR biologists are working to keep this fishery available to anglers as a supplement to white bass fishing, which can be highly cyclical. They place this species in waterways where another predator species can be supported without overtaxing the forage base.

Hybrids can be taken at other times of the year, too, especially in spring in the headwaters of lakes where they're found, and likewise in the fall along mouths of feeder creeks and the main-river channel dropoffs when temperatures cool.

In some waters, there is a 15-inch minimum size limit on hybrid striped bass and a five-fish daily and possession limit. On other waters, hybrid limits may be combined with white bass, yellow bass and striped bass, and anglers can keep 20 per day as a combined total, but no more than five per day of the total can be over 15 inches. You must check the regulations for the specific waters you fish to be sure what management restriction is in place.

For complete regulatory information or a copy of the 2002 Kentucky Fishing Forecast, contact the KDFWR Information Center weekdays 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at (800) 585-1549.

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