Now that April is upon us, here are five select catch-and-release Kentucky streams that change over to catch-and-keep regulations. (April 2007)
Photo by Lynn Burkhead
Kentucky trout anglers always find a lot of different fishing opportunities in the waterways of the Bluegrass State. After all, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) Fisheries Division has purposefully orchestrated the state's trout-fishing program that way.
Not everyone is satisfied with a fishing setting that essentially provides the harvesting of 8- to 9-inch rainbows right after they're stocked.
Some guys want more of a challenge, and want to tangle with a quarry a little heftier than the garden-variety size. These anglers like to get off the beaten path, away from those who prefer to fish right where the trout are released -- on the same day those trout are released.
To meet that type of fishing demand, almost 75 miles of streams in Kentucky have been placed under a special management approach that gives anglers a better chance to catch bigger rainbows and browns in smaller waterway environments. Remember, not all waters that support trout fisheries can handle both species. A smattering of the seasonal catch-and-release streams we'll highlight do get a bonus release of brown trout each year, but most are strictly rainbow waters.
Not as many browns are produced each year as rainbows. Browns need deeper water habitat, which not all streams that run cold enough to hold trout contain. The idea of seasonal catch-and-release streams is that for at least for half the year, October through March, you can catch trout, but have to turn them loose. During this period, only artificial lures can be used, to allow released fish a better survival rate.
Starting this month, April, harvest is permitted, and trout can be creeled through September if you want to keep some for the table. Regulations allow a creel limit of eight fish. Part of the daily take can include no more than three browns of at least 12 inches.
The delayed-harvest regulation gives a portion of the trout that elude capture during the primary fishing months a chance to increase in size. By the next harvest season, they are available to provide a higher-quality catch. Most of the streams on the list receive stockings during spring and summer, which means those fish are subject to harvest right after being put in. But several of these streams also get a shot of fish in October, after the harvest season closes. These fish remain completely protected for at least six months or so, on top of those that make it through from previous "harvest-allowed period" releases.
This approach helps provide a pretty good number of fish with chances to grow for a while, before winding up on the end of a line, or being lost to natural mortality factors, as in all other fisheries.
Important note: While there are 15 streams scattered across Kentucky where the delayed-harvest season for trout applies, the entire length of those streams aren't necessarily suited for trout, or under this type of management. Portions of these waters where the seasonal harvest applies are generally marked, and described in the Kentucky Sport Fishing and Boating Guide, available from license vendors, on the KDFWR's Web site or by mail from the agency.
Biologists have researched the best stretches of streams where trout can flourish. The special laws apply where the better habitat is located, which in some cases may be just a couple of miles, or up to nearly 10. Let's take a look at some of the top-rated spots on this list. Perhaps one of the choices will suit you for a spring wade, float or fly-fishing trip for some feisty rainbows or browns.
BARK CAMP CREEK
Whitley County in south-central Kentucky is home to Bark Camp Creek, one of our first choices as a spot to find some of the state's higher-quality trout fishing.
This secluded stream lies in the northwestern tip of the county, south of Laurel River Lake and off the Cumberland River. You can take I-75 exit 24 just south of Corbin, then 25W to state Route (SR) 1277. Then follow SR 1277 for a few miles northwest to the vicinity of where this creek lies.
Bark Camp offers just shy of four miles of water included in the delayed-harvest program. Its waters are stocked in March, April, May, June and then October, after which the harvest season closes. The creek gets a combined total of 3,600 rainbows. This is one of the spots the KDFWR has identified as suitable for brown trout as well, and 500 of that species are pumped into Bark Camp Creek each year to supplement the rainbow fishery.
Since Cane Creek is one
of the longer waterways
under the delayed-harvest
management system, it is
stocked with 5,000 rainbows.
The deeper pools with shoreline woody cover and rocks are the best spots for finding browns, while rainbows can be located in riffles and more shallow-water areas. Artificial flies and small, flashy spinners work well as lure choices, although after April 1, as mentioned, you can use live bait offerings if you prefer.
As summer progresses, trout in streams like Bark Camp will be particularly interested in various insect hatches, which you should pay attention to. Flies that imitate both terrestrial and aquatic insects in size and color are good natural-looking selections. Look around and see what's there, and gently float something similar downstream into shady areas, eddies and over drops and into pools to entice strikes.
Also be aware that under clear water conditions, you don't want to make any more noise or disturbance than absolutely necessary. Use lighter tackle to avoid spooking fish when they have better vision and perception.
Also in the south-central region, anglers should do pretty well on Cane Creek in Laurel County.
This cold-water stream gets a very healthy dose of rainbows each year from March through June and, like Bark Camp, another booster shot in October. Cane Creek does not receive browns, however.
Cane Creek comes off the Rockcastle River north of the headwaters of Lake Cumberland and is northwest of Laurel River Lake, running more or less along SR 192 in southwestern Laurel County.
Trout fishermen have a bit over 6.5 miles of fishable water between the Hightop and Rockcastle Springs areas in the Daniel Boone National Forest north of SR 192. Within that distance, all types of approaches are possible, including some short floats, wading in the stream, and bank-fishing in spots, depending on the water level and flow.
You can expect fairly rough terrain in places, but a scenic adventure in many areas when spring wildflowers and mountain laurel are coming into bloom. Sometimes you can work your way along until you find a particularly fishy-looking spot, and enjoy enough action in one stretch that you don't have to go a longer distance.
After being released, trout take a little while to disperse away from their stocking site. However, hold-over fish will have done so. And if you're in shape and willing to make the extra effort, you may find the higher-quality fish farther off the road, so to speak.
Since Cane Creek is one of the longer waterways under the delayed-harvest management system, it is stocked with 5,000 rainbows raised at the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery below Lake Cumberland. This facility provides all the trout stocked by the KDFWR and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Kentucky. Without this facility in operation, it is likely that Kentucky would have no type of trout program.
While we're in the area, we need to tell you a little about Rock Creek, next door to the west in McCreary County. Perhaps Kentucky's best stream trout fishery in the delayed-harvest program, it has a lot of good trout habitat, is larger than many of the other streams and is pretty easy to locate.
From the Bell Farm Bridge upstream for almost 10 miles to the Tennessee state line, Rock Creek's trout are protected from harvest from October through March. In April, though, anglers may take a few home for the frying pan or broiler.
Did we mention that this waterway gets stocked with an impressive 17,600 rainbow trout each year? Only in January and February, when weather is usually bad -- and in July and August, the hottest months -- does Rock Creek not get a load of trout. This is unique among all the other trout streams in Kentucky -- and maybe there's a good reason for that.
When you picture a remote trout-fishing getaway spot with deep, clear holes of water, cascading riffles and eddies with massive boulders marking shoreline casting targets, Rock Creek pretty much fills the bill in all those regards somewhere along its way. It's no doubt a showcase waterway for the Commonwealth.
The stream itself follows closely along Bell Farm Road or Forest Service Road 137, so it's not hard to find. You may want to investigate and find a spot to leave one vehicle upstream, and go with a partner in another vehicle downstream for a distance, and fish back over the course of the entire day. This approach helps you locate good spots to return to later, and gets you familiar with the territory and which type of fishing works best in what location. Ten miles is a long way, so doing a section at a time isn't a bad idea to learn what you're working with.
Again, don't get carried away with heavy-duty tackle. Trout in streams are cautious by nature, so plunking down big, loud baits in a quiet pool 2 feet deep isn't exactly the type of attention you want. Be stealthy and think like a trout.
EAST FORK OF INDIAN CREEK
OK, let's trek northeast a pretty good ways and see what that region holds for high-quality trout fishing. If you hop on Bert Combs Mountain Parkway just east of Winchester and zip down toward Slade, in barely an hour you'll be in some excellent territory for stream trout fishing.
When you exit at Slade, backtrack a bit to SR 77 and go north, where you'll come upon the East Fork of Indian Creek in Menifee County. You'll have over five miles of water where 3,900 rainbows and 400 browns are released annually, some of which are gaining size and weight during the delayed-harvest season.
Out of a total of almost 50 creeks and rivers where trout can survive, KDFWR biologists have selected this stream for its special, higher-quality fishing experience. Water quality is better and habitat more prevalent; thus it's a top choice to fish.
East Fork Indian Creek Road, easily enough named, will take you into the area to explore what's available. Some nicer trout swim the pools in the Red River Gorge Area. Perhaps you'll want to camp and fish, or even rock climb while you're there. Both options are possible along with trout fishing.
Since this area is well-known for outdoors activities like hiking and camping, there are several related businesses there. You might ask some of the owners about the trout fishing and get some good tips of spots to try. It's surprising how much of a wilderness trout-fishing trip you can wind up on in this, one of Kentucky's most scenic and geographically interesting areas for outdoor recreation.
MIDDLE FORK OF THE RED RIVER
Another of the larger streams, the Middle Fork of the Red River runs through Powell and Wolfe counties. The Middle Fork is just south of the East Fork of Indian Creek, and meanders through the Natural Bridge State Park grounds.
Within the park is 2.2 miles of the river under the delayed-harvest trout regulation. One advantage to fishing this stream is that park boundaries mark where the special regulations apply, and it's not too hard to know where you are. Of course, if you want an extended weekend trip, you can stay at the park and literally be right there. Once inside the park, you'll have no "permission to fish" worries whether you're in the water or along the bank. And chances are, the park employees will have some reliable information about accessing the river, good locations, and what type of fishing methods might work best.
The Red River's Middle Fork is stocked with 5,000 rainbow trout in March, April, May and October. That should make April and May the top months when more fish should be available, and water conditions most likely excellent for fishing this river.
If you want to try corn and cheese, salmon eggs, worms or other organic or live bait in the summer months, this isn't a bad place to do it. Although the park may have tourists there day in and day out, it's doubtful that they realize this fishery is there. Chances are small they've come prepared to take advantage of it. In other words, the stream's banks shouldn't be lined with people, though the fishery is much more accessible than on many other streams.
Out of a total of almost 50
creeks and rivers where trout
can survive, KDFWR biologists
have selected this stream for
its special, higher-quality
The delayed-harvest management is specifically designed to appeal to anglers who like to pursue larger fish, but don't have the ability or desire to do so in a big-water setting where a boat is required -- say, somewhere like the Lake Cumberland tailwaters.
You're not likely to find monster trout or trophy-class browns in these streams. These fish just grow slower and have less food sources than in big areas of habitat like those of the Cumberland tailwaters. But at the same time, you won't simply be spending time taking small trout, one after the other, elbow to elbow with 20 other guys.
You'll have to wo
rk a little harder for success and use your skills more. For many anglers, this kind of fishing is more rewarding. This is a good "middle of the road" opportunity that blends remote stream-fishing settings with good numbers of fish being available and occasionally, better trout than the typical put-and-take program provides.
For other information about this program, and contact information for district fishery offices in regions where these and other delayed-harvest streams are located, log on to www.fw.ky.gov, or call 1-800-858-1549 weekdays to request those phone numbers. The complete list of streams where trout are stocked in Kentucky can be found in the 2007 Kentucky Sport Fishing and Boating Guide, available at license vendors throughout the Commonwealth.
Anglers who intend to keep trout must carry a Kentucky trout permit in addition to a valid fishing license.
Lastly, you may want to contact the Daniel Boone National Forest offices in Morehead and London regarding access information to these streams, most of which are inside public forestlands in Kentucky.