Keying In On Commonwealth Trophy Trout

Keying In On Commonwealth Trophy Trout

Here are three top streams in our state where you'll find trophy-class trout. Is one near you?

Trout anglers should be very excited and proud of our trout management program here in the Commonwealth. The program has grown in leaps and bounds over the past few years, and it has become a very large and extensive project. This well-managed program is providing lots of opportunities for trout enthusiasts these days.

Kentucky has an excellent rearing and stocking system, which helps maintain quality fisheries across the state. Most of our stocked trout come from the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery near the dam on Lake Cumberland. This hatchery provides around 750,000 fish per year with the bulk of the fish being rainbow trout. Some 100,000 brown trout are also reared and stocked into Kentucky waters each year.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) stocks trout in dozens of different locations all across the state. Anglers don’t have to travel far to find good trout fishing. These stocked waters range from small streams in the eastern part of the state to larger rivers and even some of our lakes. This provides a variety of fishing opportunities to suit the taste of most any angler.

Most of the stocking in the tailwaters and lakes consists of put-and-take fish. This basically provides a renewable source of fish for anglers who simply want to catch a few trout and take them home for eating. These fish are stocked at different times of the year to provide the most angling opportunities possible.

Another of our fantastic trout opportunities is the delayed-harvest program. This program involves several streams where trout are stocked and where harvest is restricted for a period of time. Anglers must immediately release all trout caught until after a certain date. This allows the fish to remain in the water longer and have a longer growing season before being harvested.

Yet another of our trout strategies is managing specifically for trophy-sized trout. The KDFWR has placed trophy regulations on certain waters that have the potential to produce quality fish. This is to protect trout and allow them ample opportunity to grow. Anglers have been rewarded with some remarkable trout in recent years.

There are three waters here in the state that are being managed to provide trophy fishing for those interested in more than just table-fare. These waters provide trophy fishing for both brown trout and rainbow trout. Following is a detailed look at all three and the opportunities provided by each.


The tailwaters section of the Cumberland River, below the Wolf Creek Dam, is our most heralded trout water in the state and with good reason. This river has some of the finest trout fishing available anywhere and many people believe it even matches or rivals some of the highly acclaimed rivers in the Western states. Anglers can routinely catch trophy-sized brown and rainbow trout in the Cumberland tailwaters.

The entire 75-mile stretch of the river below the dam, all the way to the Tennessee state line, is designated as a trophy brown trout water. Here there are protective regulations in place to maintain the trophy fishery. Only one brown trout may be kept per day and it must be 20 inches or greater. This strict harvest regulation has helped secure this river as a premier trophy brown trout location.

Our state-record brown trout was caught in the Cumberland tailwaters just recently. Thomas Malone of Crofton hooked the big trout on April 30, 2000. His impressive fish weighed a whopping 21 pounds!

A new regulation to help enhance the trophy potential of rainbow trout has also been put in place. The KDFWR has implemented a 15- to 20-inch slot limit on rainbow trout. All trout that fall within the slot size must be immediately released. Only rainbow trout over 20 inches may be kept.

There is a five-fish limit for trout at the tailwaters. This means anglers may keep one trophy fish over 20 inches, either rainbow or brown, and four rainbows under 15 inches or keep five rainbows under 15 inches. This slot limit and trophy fish creel limit is expected to greatly increase the trophy potential for rainbows.

In addition to holding the state record for brown trout, the Cumberland River also holds the record for rainbow trout as well. Jim Mattingly of Somerset caught the rainbow on Sept. 20, 1972. The trophy fish weighed 14 pounds, 6 ounces.

The tailwaters receives the greatest amount of stocked fish of anywhere in the state. All stocked fish are reared at the nearby Wolf Creek Fish Hatchery. Good numbers of both rainbows and browns are stocked at various times of the year.

The target number of rainbows released into the tailwaters has been around 160,000 per year. This number can fluctuate somewhat depending on conditions at the hatchery and also on water conditions in the river. Rainbows are stocked monthly from April through November.

Brown trout have been stocked there since 1995. A one-time stocking of approximately 30,000 fish usually occurs in March. These fish are around 8 inches when released.

Over the past few years, an additional number of smaller brown trout have also been released into the tailwaters as an experiment to supplement the fishery. Around 50,000 brown trout in the 3- to 4-inch range have been released there most years. In 2004, the average length of these smaller trout was 2.7 inches.

The number of fingerling brown trout released can vary greatly depending on what is available from the hatchery. There was one year that no fingerling brown trout were released. Another year, some 65,000 were released.

Most years, trout in the Cumberland tailwaters enjoy excellent growth rates. After the water becomes warmer and the available oxygen decreases, growth rates will slow accordingly. The trout in Kentucky’s tailwaters have better growth rates than many of the highly touted Western waters.

The KDFWR does not anticipate any other changes on regulations and management of trout at the Cumberland tailwaters for the next few years. They are pleased with what is going on now and want to give the new slot limit time to be evaluated thoroughly before making any changes. They did modeling recently with very good results. The KDFWR is projecting big increases in both numbers and size of trout over the next few years.


Our newest area added as a trophy trout fishery is part of Paint Creek in Johnson County. The section designated as a trophy water is found at the tailwaters below Paintsville Lake. There is a short section of the tailwaters immediately below the dam, which is for put-and-take fishing and then the trophy section begins and extends downstream for 3.6 miles. The trophy section begins at the state Route (SR) 40 bridge and concludes at the U.S. Route 460 bridge.

The new regulations went into effect on March 1, 2005. The daily creel limit is set at one fish per day with the minimum size limit at 16 inches for both brown and rainbow trout. Department fisheries personnel are expecting these regulations to really pay dividends in the near future.

Although this stream is much smaller than Cumberland, it has already shown its potential for producing big trout; KDFWR personnel believe they might not be getting all they could from the fishery. This line of thinking, along with requests from area trout anglers for a trophy water, led to the new management strategy.

Sampling done at Paint Creek indicated there might be a great upside to managing for trophy trout. Brown trout close to 24 inches were occasionally discovered during sampling and rainbows upward of 21 inches were caught as well. Fisheries people believe the potential for trophy trout will be around 20 to 21 inches for rainbows and 22 to 24 inches for brown trout.

These larger fish are ones that have eluded anglers in the put-and-take section and moved downstream and continued to grow. Paint Creek has been stocked for some time; most of the fishing pressure has been limited to or near the put-and-take release sites. This has helped the fishery downstream to be less pressured.

Around 16,000 rainbow trout are released into the tailwaters each year from April through November. These fish all go into the put-and-take section near the dam. Additional trout are released into Paintsville Lake each year. Around 15,000 rainbows with an average length of 8 inches are stocked in the lake during January. It would be reasonable to believe that some of these fish may also make it into the tailwaters through the dam.

Brown trout were also stocked there in years past. Most streams in the area will reach water temperatures near 80 degrees in the summer, which will not support a brown trout fishery. Paint Creek stays much cooler due to the deep, cool water coming from Paintsville Lake through the dam.

Brown trout stocking will resume in 2005 with a one-time stocking in probably June or July. There will be approximately 300 brown trout and 600 rainbow trout added to the trophy section of Paint Creek. Additionally, biologists have discovered some degree of natural reproduction for brown trout, which has helped add to the overall number of available fish.

The trophy section of Paint Creek runs mostly through private property. There are four access points along the route. The aforementioned SR 40 and U.S. Route 460 bridges are the main access points. Two other bridges located within the section are also utilized. Most anglers will access the stream from the bridge sites and then wade- or float-fish. Consideration is currently being given to the addition of a small-boat access sometime in the future.

There are two groups of anglers who utilize the stream. One group consists of those who like to harvest trout for fun and consumption. The other group is mainly interested in trophy caliber fish. The new regulations at Paint Creek will satisfy both groups. Harvest-minded anglers can fish the put-and-take section, while trophy hunters can utilize the section farther downstream.

Prior to the implementation of the new trophy regulations, the KDFWR conducted an attitude survey with both anglers and property owners located along the waterway. Both groups seemed to be highly in favor of the proposal. Hopefully, this will develop into a win-win situation for both groups of people as well as the fishery itself.


The last stop on our trophy trout tour is the Herrington tailwaters. The first two miles of the Dix River below the dam at Herrington Lake has trophy regulations in place for brown trout. This section of the river is fertile, remains cold all year long, and gives trout an opportunity to continue growing even through the summer months.

This trophy trout water is not without its problems, though. This location provides a more limited opportunity for access and also can have its share of water problems, which affects the quality of the fishery. Things were going pretty well from 2000 through 2002, but began to turn for the worse sometime in 2003. Although this particular tailwaters has been in a down period recently, it will hopefully rebound soon if the weather cooperates.

In the late 1990s and early 2000, local anglers took brown trout in the 20-inch range. Rainbows up to 16 inches were also caught. Seeing that quality of fish lately has not been possible. During sampling in 2003, biologists were only able to sample eight fish in a one-hour period.

The problem comes in the form of flooding. Too much rainfall and flooding can back up the nearby Kentucky River into the tailwaters section. This decreases temperature significantly. The heavy flooding along with releases of water through the dam can also wash trout too far downstream into warmer water. Many of these trout will make it back to the colder water near the dam and will perish.

Obviously, the amount of rainfall in 2004 was a concern, but biologists believe the river will bounce back nicely with a couple years in a row of less rainfall. They say the river has excellent potential; it just needs two to three years of good water conditions to help carry fish over and allow them more time to grow. Obviously, this is true because as recently as 2002, a 24-inch brown trout was pulled out of the Dix River. Lots of 16- to 19-inch fish were taken as well, which are still very respectable sizes.

This section of the Dix River is very scenic and lies in a narrow gorge. There are rocky bluffs and palisades that greatly enhance the area’s scenic beauty. There isn’t any development along this stretch of the river, so anglers can basically have the fishing to themselves without intrusions.

Private property along the Dix River makes access to the tailwaters limited and reachable only by boat. Boats may be launched at High Bridge, which is located on the Kentucky River. From there, anglers can travel a short distance up to the Dix River and then toward the dam until reaching a shoal approximately one-half mile from the dam.

The coldest water in the river is between the shoal and the dam. There is an ample supply of cold water coming in from the dam and spillway. Additionally, some leakage occurs at the dam that brings even more cold water in

to the tailwaters. This one-half mile section is a prime target for trout anglers.

The tailwaters receive a good number of trout each year during stocking efforts. Some 4,500 to 4,600 rainbow trout are released there from April through November at a rate of around 500 per month. A one-time stocking of approximately 1,000 brown trout also occurs usually in June.

The section of the tailwaters that has trophy regulations in place includes the first two miles below the dam. This stretch has been designated as a trophy brown trout water. Anglers may not keep brown trout unless they are at least 15 inches long. Anglers may keep up to three fish per day. As mentioned, rainbow trout are very plentiful in the tailwaters and may be fished for under statewide regulations. However, only artificial lures and bait may be used in this section of the river. No live or organic bait may be used or possessed in the trophy area.


This look at our trophy trout waters is but a small piece of our phenomenal trout program here in the Bluegrass State. There are dozens of other locations for excellent trout action. Learn more about trout-fishing opportunities on the KDFWR’s Web site, The trout-stocking schedule for waters across the state is also available on the Web site. Fishing regulations and other information can be found in the 2005 Kentucky Sport Fishing and Boating Guide or by calling toll-free at (800) 858-1549.

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