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Kentucky Family Fishing Vacations

Kentucky Family Fishing Vacations
Photo by Ron Sinfelt

These things you know: you want to spend your days away from work with a fishing rod in your hand. You also want to spend your off days off with your family.

The good news is that these two ideas are not mutually exclusive. That's especially true in Kentucky, where family-friendly fishing options and other kinds of fun often are not far from one another. Of course, planning a family vacation around a Kentucky fishing trip also spares the gas needed to travel to far-away destinations, and with today's fuel prices, that can amount to significant savings.

With such thoughts in mind, let's look at specific destinations that lend themselves nicely to summer trips, with fishing as a major attraction. Since the summer break from school spans roughly three months, we'll focus on three destinations in three different parts of Kentucky, highlighting one for each summer month.


JUNE


LAND BETWEEN THE LAKES

The toughest thing about planning a family fishing vacation to Land Between The Lakes is sorting all the great options. Kentucky and Barkley lakes provide some of the best fishing in Kentucky, with outstanding options for everything from bluegills to massive blue catfish. In fact, each lake earned "good" or "excellent" rating for eight different species in the 2012 Fishing Forecast published by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Meanwhile, the 170,000-acre federally owned Land Between The Lake National Recreation Area offers nearly endless opportunities for family recreation and an abundance of campsites that range from primitive to fully developed. Of course, if your family favors beds to sleep in, Kentucky Dam Village and Kenlake state parks collectively offer several lodge room and cabin options.

Fishing comes first, though, and when you're talking about family fishing, don't overlook thriving populations of bluegill and redear sunfish that both lakes support. For those youngest family members who simply want to see a bobber dart under, bluegill are found around virtually all shoreline cover or structure and have a hard time resisting a red worm or cricket fished on a small hook with a simple bobber rig. Most larger bluegill and redears are a little deeper during June, often in coves, especially in areas where you find gravel and vegetation together.




Channel catfish provide great opportunities for young anglers to feel something larger than a bluegill tugging on the other end of the line, and any line set out for cats has legitimate potential to attract the attention of a genuine jumbo fish. Rocky points and the edges of flats beside creek channels hold big numbers of channel cats, which readily grab chicken livers or night crawlers fished on the bottom.

The tailwaters also hold big numbers of blue and channel catfish that can produce fast action. Cut bait works best for these fish. The Barkley tailwater offers the best shore access at present because of construction closures around Kentucky Dam. Because of swift, potentially dangerous currents beneath dams, choose another option if your children are young or are not accustomed to being beside the water.

If you have a boat and the fishermen in your family are a little more advanced, some of the best fishing of the year on both lakes heats up during June. Big largemouths get on the ledges, especially in Kentucky Lake, and produce fabulous fishing for anglers who find the right structural features and work them from the proper angles with deep-diving crankbaits and big Texas-rigged plastics. With dozens of miles of river ledges, the key is to find the channel swings, ditch confluences, breaks in the ledge and other specific features that create ambush points and therefore attract groups of feeding bass.


The main channels of both lakes also hold major concentrations of blue catfish during the summer. The blues pile up in big holes, often along hard outside bends and at the confluences of major tributaries. Anchor near the head of such a hole and fish big chunks of cut skipjack on the bottom. Use heavy-duty gear and know that any line that takes off could have an absolute giant at the other end of it. The best big-cat action in both lakes typically occurs when good current is flowing.

Both boating and bank-fishing access to both lakes can be found at numerous access points throughout LBL, and at various parks and Tennessee Valley Authority or Corps of Engineers access points. Kentucky Dam Village State Park and private marinas also offer boat rentals.

If your family has even a hint of interest in wildlife viewing, take time to drive through the Elk and Bison Prairie where you find the namesake species — plus many others — roaming roughly 700 acres of restored prairie habitat.

For up-close nature views and fun learning, visit the Woodlands Nature Station, and be sure to look at their schedule of planned activities and programs.

If you prefer exploring on your own, other great options for family play include hiking, biking and horseback riding, as hundreds of miles of trails wind through this area, with some following the lakeshore and others cutting through deep woods.

For detailed information about recreation opportunities, campgrounds, fishing access and much more, visit www.lbl.org.

JULY

NOLIN LAKE

Tucked between hills in south-central Kentucky and covering 5,795 acres, Nolin River Lake offers great fishing in a beautiful setting. Nolin Lake State Park provides boating and bank-fishing access to the lake, a campground and a 1.6-mile hiking trail that's just challenging enough to create a fun family adventure.

Just south of Nolin Lake, the Nolin and Green rivers cut through Mammoth Cave National Park, providing more than 30 miles of river to float and fish. The park also offers three campgrounds, more than 20 hiking trails and a host of tour options for accessing the extensive labyrinth of caves that the park was named for and established to protect and highlight.

Beginning on the lake, abundant white bass offer big family fun at Nolin. Rated "excellent" in the 2012 Fishing Forecast, the white bass population includes high numbers of 12- to 14-inch fish. White bass serve up big thrills for young anglers in part because they hit like freight trains, normally hooking themselves, and then fight furiously. Even more importantly, they swim in big schools, so when you catch a couple, every angler aboard typically is about to get into serious fish-catching action.

An added appeal of Nolin River Lake white bass is that they often give themselves away when they push baitfish to the surface. Keep an eye out for surface-breaking fish and for fleeing baitfish. Also watch for diving birds, which point to predator fish that have pushed the baitfish very close to the surface. Even a congregation of circling or resting gulls suggests that fish have been schooling in that area and warrants a bit of searching with electronics.

If you do see breaking fish, scurry that way, but be sure to kill the motor well shy of the school so you don't spook them. Cast white grubs, small but heavy spoons or other compact shad imitations among the fish and swim them back quickly, just beneath the surface. Keep the bait moving and hang on! Small topwater lures also work well and call up extra big fun, but something like a grub offers cast-and-crank simplicity. When the bite is really hot, single-hook lure make things safer and simpler.

If you don't spot breaking fish or if the schools go down, use your electronics to search creek channel confluences and the tops of points for schools of baitfish with bigger marks among them. Jigging spoons work great for pulling white bass from bottom structure, and you're quite likely to find largemouths, walleyes and other game fish while you're at it.

The same jigging spoons or live minnows also work nicely after the sun goes down. Set up near a channel edge and put down a "crappie light" to attract baitfish, which then attract the white bass. Of course, crappie lights and minnows can also produce crappie on summer nights.

Nolin lake also supports a great population of catfish, with high numbers of 13- to 18-inch channel cats and some heavyweight flatheads. Set up beside rocky main-lake banksĀ  — especially at night — and fish chicken livers or commercial stink bait for channel catfish. A good strategy for a family outing is to put out a handful for channel cat lines to keep the action steady and rig one or two bigger rods with live bait in hopes of hooking into a flathead and creating a big memory for the whole family.

Moving from the lake to the rivers that flow through Mammoth Cave National Park, both rivers lend themselves nicely to family float trips, which can be set up with area outfitters if you don't have a canoe. The streams are gentle and scenic, and simple fishing with night crawlers on split shot rigs, crickets under floats or small "catch everything" lures like grubs, Beetle Spins or small crankbaits are apt to produce enough fish-catching action to keep the day interesting. A float on a cool stream provides a nice alternative to lake fishing on a mid-summer afternoon.

As you're contemplating how to spend your days, don't plan so much other stuff that you fail to explore the caves while you are there. Mammoth Cave offers a host of cave tour options, each unique. Some are very user-friendly and heavily utilized, while others are longer, more challenging and lead to more isolated cave sections. Stop by the visitor center to learn about the tours and other stuff to see and do while you are visiting the park.

For current fishing reports or to plan a guided trip, visit www.fish-nolin.com.

Call Mammoth Cave Canoe & Kayak at (877) 59CANOE to plan a float trip on the Green or Nolin rivers. For national park information, visit www.nps.gov and search for Mammoth Cave.

AUGUST

DEWEY LAKE

August often brings the hottest days of summer, which makes it the best time to take your family to the mountainous eastern part of Kentucky, where afternoon temperatures usually don't soar quite so high. Dewey Lake, which impounds Johns Fork in the mountains near Prestonsburg, provides the perfect setting for good family fun during August.

Although Dewey Lake is small — covering only 1,100 acres — this Floyd County reservoir provides big opportunities for a family fishing trips. Angling opportunities actually extend beyond the reservoir, as sections of Johns Creek both above and below Dewey lend themselves nicely to multi-species float trips.

Making Dewey especially attractive for family outings, Jenny Wiley State Park covers nearly the entire western shore of this riverine lake, providing excellent boating and bank-fishing access. The park also has a developed campground for families who want to sleep under the stars and a lodge for folks who favor a bed and an air-conditioned room when they go on vacation. Nearby Prestonsburg, meanwhile, offers shops to explore, theatre entertainment, mountain music and plenty of food options.

Much of the best fishing in the lake is for species that lend themselves nicely to family fishing and that often can be caught from the state park's shoreline. Channel catfish, crappie and redear sunfish all earned excellent ratings in the most recent fishing forecast. Bluegill, flathead catfish and white bass earned good ratings. Dewey is also a good pick for fishing from boats, though, because its small size and narrow configuration typically keep it from getting too rough from winds or from being a major pleasure boating destination.

Channel catfish congregate in the upper lake during the summer, and bank access to this part of the lake is plentiful. If you target channel cats, whether from the bank or by boat, set up near a point at the mouth of a cove and cast out chicken liver on bottom rigs, using small treble hooks and just enough weight to keep your rig on the bottom. Trading the treble for a single hook and baiting with a night crawler increases the chances of you finding redear or bluegill sunfish or even largemouth bass mixed in with the catfish.

To target redears, which are abundant in sizes up to about 12 inches, look for hydrilla or other submerged vegetation and position yourself near the edge of the grass. Use a split-shot rig with a No. 6 or 8 long-shank hook and bait up with a red worm. Again, you're apt to catch a variety of other species, including channel catfish.

Upstream of the lake, the section of Johns Creek that lends itself to floating begins at a ford near Thomas, off State Route 194 and ends a little less than 5 miles downstream at the Germans Bridge boat ramp. Largemouths, bluegills, channel cats and white bass are among the fish you're apt to catch through this section.

At the other end of the lake, a picnic area below Dewey Lake Dam provides fishing access to the creek and a possible starting point for a 4-mile float trip to a SR 2381 pull-off. This section gets fished quite a bit late during the spring and again during the fall, when trout are stocked, but the bass, crappie, cats and white bass that live there year-round don't get a lot attention on hot summer days.

For park information, including details about campsites, lodging and boat-launching facilities, visit http://parks.ky.gov.

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