From catch-and-release waters to fly-fishing only, and others, here are several top Kentucky streams to fish this spring for rainbows, browns and brookies. (May 2007)
Photo by Tom Evans
Over the past several years, trout-fishing opportunities have grown by leaps and bounds. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) has structured such an outstanding trout program, it's hard to imagine all the options that are now available.
These days, we enjoy the results of trout being regularly stocked in lakes, rivers, and streams. We also have seasonal catch-and-release waters and other locations with the potential for trophy fish. What more could any angler want?
Kentucky has an immense trout-rearing and stocking program. The Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, near the dam on Lake Cumberland, produces some 850,000 trout a year for Commonwealth waters. Of these, around 100,000 are brown trout, with the remainder being rainbows.
Nearly 160,000 rainbows are stocked in myriad streams. Some 250,000 salmonids are stocked into the tailwaters below 14 of our dams. Another 250,000 rainbows are stocked into nearly 30 different lakes. Brown trout are released in several of our streams and tailwaters. Additionally, trout are put in waters at both the Ft. Campbell and Ft. Knox military reservations, providing a plethora of trouting-fishing opportunities in the Bluegrass State.
But there are great differences in the waters. Not all are stocked with the same number of fish. Stocking is based on the water's size, its accessibility for anglers, fishing pressure, and each water's potential to support or even grow trout. Some waters will support trout only during the coolest time of the year, while others offer year-round fishing.
For example, the Cumberland River is our premier trout water. Subsequently, it receives vastly more rainbow and brown trout than anywhere else in the state. There are around 75 miles of river accessible to Kentucky anglers; the Cumberland claims the state records for rainbow, brown, and lake trout.
The Cumberland River may be our most famous trout water, but it's certainly not our only trout haven. Bluegrass State anglers can find most anything they're looking for. So here's a preview of some of our choices for 2007, along with details on stocking and angling opportunities at some of the better locations.
We now have some 15 streams included in the seasonal catch-and- release program. Originally, this program was called the Delayed Harvest Program, but confusion over what the name implied led to the change.
Basically, regardless of what it is called, the program is relatively simple to understand. Trout are stocked into these streams in October, and anglers may fish for them, but are not allowed to keep them. Anglers must use artificial baits only and immediately return any trout caught back into the water.
This regulation is in effect from Oct. 1 until March 31, except at Swift Camp Creek where the regulation remains in effect until May 31. Swift Camp Creek receives an additional stocking of trout in April each year.
Trout streams receive a lot of fishing pressure, and in some areas the stocked fish would be quickly caught out. The seasonal catch-and-release regulation is in place to keep trout in the water longer and to allow anglers more opportunity to utilize these stocked fish; it also gives these trout a little more time to increase in size.
After the catch-and-release season concludes, anglers may fish these waters under statewide regulations.
One of our better streams in this program is the 9.8-mile section of Rock Creek, which is designated as seasonal catch-and-release.
Rock Creek totals about 18.6 miles, starting at the Tennessee state line and then flowing north through McCreary County into the Big South Fork. The seasonal catch-and-release portion begins at the Bell Farm Bridge and continues upstream to the Tennessee border.
This creek gets a lot of fishing pressure, so the delayed harvest helps keep a few more trout in the stream for a longer period of time. Bell Farm Bridge intersects the creek at about the midway point, so about half the stream is open under statewide regulations. Rock Creek is stocked with 17,600 rainbow trout from March to December.
Another good seasonal catch-and- release stream is Bark Camp Creek in Whitley County. This stream offers about 3.9 miles of trout fishing in a very nice setting. Bark Camp cuts through forest with a lot of hemlock trees and rhododendron.
Bark Camp Creek receives 3,600 rainbow trout and 500 brown trout each year. The rainbows are stocked March through June and again in October. The brown trout are stocked in a single release, usually in March.
Most of these fish are stocked near where a gravel road crosses the creek, but some fish are actually carried in buckets and released in other locations. A trail parallels the creek both upstream and downstream from the main stocking area. A lot of people fish near the stocking area of this stream, but anglers can get a much more remote feel by hiking a short distance along the trail.
This stream facilitates easy access for the elderly and for kids. It is also very scenic, and anglers can find less-pressured fishing with only a short walk. It is a classic mountainous stream with a rock and gravel bottom with little mud or silt. Bark Camp Creek has pretty consistent ripple pool combinations all the way down its length. Many of these pools are 3 to 4 feet deep, with a few others as deep as 6 feet.
In 2006, two new trout streams were added to the seasonal catch-and-release program. One is Big Bone Creek, which is located in Boone County. The other is Bell County's Clear Creek from its mouth upstream to the state Route 190 bridge. Big Bone receives 3,000 rainbows each year, while Clear Creek receives 2,000. Both creeks are stocked in April, May, and October.
The Cumberland River is by far our greatest trophy water. As mentioned, it is home to three separate state-record trout catches. Additionally, anglers each year go there and catch the largest trout of their lives. It's truly a mecca for trout anglers.
At Cumberland, anglers can find most anything they desire. There are plenty of smaller fish to simply take home for the table. But Cumberland's real prize is its trophy potential for both rainbow and brown trout.
Regulations are in pl
ace that allow anglers to harvest smaller fish, but also to protect them and allow them to reach trophy size. Brown trout are governed by a 20-inch size limit, and only one fish longer than 20 inches may be kept per day.
As a result, there are some enormous browns in this river. The state record caught here in 2000 weighed a remarkable 21 pounds!
Rainbow trout are also protected. There is a 15- to 20-inch slot limit on rainbow trout and all fish caught within the slot must immediately be returned to the water. There is a five-fish daily limit on harvested rainbows, but only one may be longer than 20 inches.
Those who want only a few trout to eat may take home five fish that are shorter than 15 inches long. However, there is a possibility of landing a whopper rainbow, and perhaps even breaking the state record of 14 pounds, 6 ounces, which was caught at Cumberland in 1972.
The Cumberland River and tailwaters below the dam receive an astounding number of trout each year: around 161,000 rainbow trout are released there each year through monthly stockings from April to November. Another 30,000 browns are also stocked each year -- usually in a one-time stocking. However, in some years, additional brown trout have been stocked if the hatchery has too many fish.
Stockings are no longer announced for the Cumberland tailwaters. The river receives a tremendous amount of fishing pressure, and anglers would often be lined up and waiting for the stocking truck to arrive.
Additionally, there have actually been reports of people using illegal dip nets to acquire the newly stocked trout. Not announcing the stocking times allows these trout a better chance to spread out.
We have a brand-new location added to our trophy trout waters. Last year, Chimney Top Creek in Wolfe County was highlighted as water that may show signs of yielding trophy caliber fish at some point.
Each year, around 450 brown trout are stocked in Chimney Top Creek. Biologists were seeing some good signs of fish holding over from year to year, which led them to believe the water may be able to sustain and "grow" fish for longer than just a season. Therefore, regulations are now in place to protect some of these trout. The new restrictions limit anglers to a 16-inch minimum-size limit and to harvest only one trout per day. Only artificial baits may be used.
This is very similar to Paint Creek in Johnson County. The same regulations are in place for all trout on the section of the creek from the state Route 40 Bridge downstream to the first U.S. Route 460 bridge crossing. Holdover trout there led biologists to implement trophy regulations in 2005. Around 600 rainbows and 300 browns are stocked there each year.
Our other trophy trout water is the 2-mile stretch of the Dix River below the Herrington Lake Dam, which is designated as a trophy brown trout location. In this section of the river, anglers may only use artificial baits and are governed by a 15-inch minimum-size limit and a three-fish daily creel limit on brown trout.
Rainbow trout may be caught and possessed under statewide regulations. The tailwaters receive 1,000 brown trout and 4,600 rainbow trout in stockings from March through November each year.
Each year, literally dozens of streams, tailwaters, and lakes are stocked with trout to produce a put-grow-take fishery. Most all of these locations receive rainbow trout, while some of the streams and tailwaters receive brown trout as well. Some of the locations have special regulations, but most are open under statewide regulations.
Rainbow trout stocking usually begins in the spring. Some waters are only stocked for up to three months, while stocking continues on into the fall for other locations. Brown trout are usually released in only a single stocking each year.
The annual fishing guide lists all of the waters stocked, along with the numbers of rainbow and brown trout being released, and the months in which they are stocked. The exact total of fish released will vary, according to hatchery production and conditions at the water being stocked.
Monthly schedules of stocking dates are available by calling the KDFWR at 1-800-858-1549 or visiting their Web site at www.fw.ky.gov. Stockings for streams in the Daniel Boone National Forest are not announced.
Most all of the stream and tailwater locations offer some great trouting at certain times of the year. Some provide excellent fishing opportunities nearly all year long, while others offer only spring success. Some of these locations are extremely accessible, while others are quite remote. There are a wide variety of fishing opportunities available, including bank-fishing, wading, and floating.
For those who like to float, Russell Fork in Pike County offers an excellent fishing opportunity in a very scenic area. A three-mile section of river offers float-fishing as well as bank- and wade-fishing opportunities. This section begins at the upper stocking site at Ratliff Hole near the Virginia border and extends downstream to the mouth of Elkhorn Creek in the lower end of Elkhorn City.
The KDFWR stocks 9,000 rainbow trout there each year. The trout are stocked in April and May and then again in October. Around 3,000 trout are stocked each of those months, with half of the fish being released at the Ratliff Hole and the other half being released near the state Route 80 Bridge at the upper end in Elkhorn City.
Floating this river can be quite rewarding, but also comes with a warning: Several areas of the river can --and sometimes do -- develop Class III rapids, depending on water level and flow. It may be necessary to portage around hazardous areas of the river. To float the river, you should put in at Ratliff Hole and take out in Elkhorn City just above the lower state Route 80 Bridge.
While most people probably think of trout fishing as a stream activity, we do have a number of lakes that are stocked with trout as well. One of the better ones to target is Laurel River Lake in Whitley and Laurel counties. This 5,600-acre reservoir receives an annual February stocking of some 112,000 rainbow trout.
Trout fishing can be quite good at this impoundment. The KDFWR reports numerous fish in the 10- to 14-inch range. Anglers at Laurel will occasionally hook into some really nice-sized holdover rainbows. Some may weigh as much as 4 to 6 pounds.
With this being such a large lake, the best success is usually found by trolling during the cooler months of the year. But this lake is a very popular nighttime destination for trout anglers at other times of the year.
The best months for night-fishing are from May through September. During the daytime, the trout often hold in very deep water, but come up to feed as night approaches. Most times, they can be found in depths between 12 and 30 feet.
l have success with a variety of artificial and live baits, with the latter being preferred by most anglers. Night crawlers are favorite baits, as are minnows. Other folks will use commercial trout baits.
You should drop or cast the bait and use the countdown method to determine at what depth the trout are holding. Once you find the right depth, you can usually boat a limit in short order.
Kentucky has a limited number of brook trout. There are a total of four streams with brook trout present, and these four waters are subject to catch-and-release fishing the year around. These streams may be fished only with artificial flies and lures with a single hook. The streams are Dog Fork and Parched Corn Creek in Wolfe County, along with portions of Poor Fork in Letcher County and Shillalah Creek in Bell County.
Kentucky no longer produces a separate trout-fishing regulation booklet. All of the information on trout stocking locations and regulations are now incorporated into the general fishing publication.
Anglers can pick up a copy of the 2007 Kentucky Sport Fishing & Boating Guide wherever hunting and fishing licenses are sold. Additionally, you can request one from the KDFWR by calling 1-800-858-1549. Anglers may also consult the state's Web site at FW.KY.gov