It is sometimes said the new year comes in with a bang.
Well perhaps it does at times, but one thing it always does is kick off another year of great fishing adventures. Anglers in Kentucky have a wide variety of fish to chase all through the year even in the dead of winter or the heat of summer.
Images by Vic Dunaway
Dale Hollow Lake | Smallmouth
It has been over half a century since the world-record smallmouth was caught at Dale Hollow Lake, but that certainly does not mean great bronzeback fishing is just a thing of the past. Obviously, catching a fish to top the world record is like getting a winning lottery ticket, but there are still plenty of big smallies in the lake. Few lakes in our area provide the opportunity to catch 3- to 4-pound smallmouths consistently.
Winter is a great time to target brown fish at Dale Hollow. The fish are often actively feeding, and casting jigs or other baits is very productive. Smallies often suspend in the winter at Dale Hollow, thus the reason the float-and-fly technique was developed on the lake. This method works almost all winter, not only on smallmouths, but for bonus catches of largemouths and spotted bass.
Other Options: For Ohio River Blue Catfish, large chunks of cut bait produce trophy fish this month. Tennessee River Saugers: Drop jigs and minnows at the tail waters to load the cooler with tasty saugers.
Lake Malone | Largemouth
It is big fish time at this 767-acre gem in western Kentucky. Sure it is brutally cold on the water this month and the bass are slow to bite, but the potential to land a true trophy helps offset the discomfort. Some of the biggest bass of year are caught in February at Malone.
Lake Malone’s largemouth fishery is rated excellent by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) rating system. There are very good numbers of largemouth between 15 and 20 inches and the number of trophy-caliber bass is impressive. It takes patience by the angler plus being in the right place at the right time, but hooking into a fish weighing 8 to 10 pounds is certainly possible.
Jigs are the most popular bait used for trophy bigmouths at Malone this month. Work a jig and trailer very slowly and don’t be in a hurry to scoot around the lake. Carolina-rigged plastics are another option.
Other Options: At Greenbo Lake, find good action on stocked and carryover rainbow trout near the dam. Guist Creek Lake, like Malone, gives anglers an excellent opportunity for a quality or trophy bass this month.
Green River Lake | Crappies
The crappie fishery at Green River Lake is rated good/excellent and the number of fish in the lake is quite high. A lot of crappies caught are under the 9-inch minimum, but they provide lots of action and a day of fishing often results in a limit of keepers.
Crappies are still fairly deep this month, but they are gradually moving toward the shallower spawning areas. On Green, they often use drains or creek channels as travel corridors so they can easily move up or down in the water column as the fluctuating March weather dictates. Find a drain with brush along the edge to get into some serious early spring action. The most popular method this month is tight-lining jigs or minnows in medium-deep brush.
Other Options: At Carr Creek Lake action on walleyes is heating up this month, with lots of quality fish present. To catch Buckhorn Lake muskies, target the lower lake or tailwaters this month for a chance at a jumbo fish.
Elmer Davis Lake | Largemouth
Elmer Davis Lake in Owen County is not one of our state’s largest lakes, at 149 acres, but it is certainly home to a very respectable largemouth population. The KDFWR rates the bass fishery as good/excellent and there is a wide size distribution of fish, with the possibility of catching a trophy. There is a 12- to 15-inch protective slot limit on the bass fishery with plenty of fish available under and above the slot.
Due to the size of this lake, it does not take as many anglers to put pressure on the fishery as at some of the larger reservoirs and Elmer Davis certainly attracts a good amount of bass anglers. The two best ways to beat fishing pressure is to fish through the week days or to show the bass something different. Experiment with different baits and tactics.
Other Options: Dale Hollow Lake walleyes are feeding on the surface at night near banks with rock walls. Stocked Streams generate good trout fishing as stocking numbers ramp up this month.
Yatesville Lake | Bluegills
Right about this time of year is when dedicated panfish anglers start getting as giddy as a child. Bluegills are the primary target, and as they prepare to spawn are eating almost anything they can get in their mouths. However, redears are also in play and having one of the jumbos at the end of the line on ultra-light tackle is hard to beat for fishing excitement.
The bluegill fishery at Yatesville is rated excellent and there are very good numbers of fish over 7 inches. Redears are not as numerous, but there are some hefty specimens present up to about 11 inches or so.
Live bait is the most used offering for panfish, but lots of other options are viable. Small jigs, flies, poppers, inline spinners and others work well this time of year. For some really great fun, break out the fly-fishing gear.
Other Options: At Cave Run Lake catch slab crappies on brush piles, KDFWR fish attractors and weed beds. Also try 169-acre Lake Wilgreen for largemouth bass. This lake gets a lot of fishing pressure, but there are very good numbers of quality bass available.
Elkhorn Creek | Smallmouth & More
Elkhorn Creek stretches a long way through Kentucky and although there are a few places for bank fishing or wet-legging, it is best accessed by float. A canoe or other small craft is perfect. The condition of the creek varies throughout the year depending upon rainfall, so check the weather and hit the water when conditions are stable.
The fishery at Elkhorn Creek is diverse and a day of fishing often results in a mixed creel. Smallmouth bass are the main draw at the creek as the population is rated excellent. Smallmouths have a 12- to 16-inch slot limit on the main stem and there are very good numbers of fish within and above the slot. Other fish commonly caught are largemouths, rock bass and catfish.
Other Options: Briggs Lake lake is small, but has a good population of quality panfish including bluegills, redears and warmouths. At Dewey Lake all three catfish species are present with good size distribution and easy access from boat or the bank.
Fishtrap Lake | Hybrids
This is one of the best places in the eastern half of the state to catch hybrid striped bass. The KDFWR rates the fishery as excellent and with good reason. There are very good numbers of fish present throughout a wide size distribution up to about 10 pounds. A few larger fish turn up in creels also.
Hybrids are distributed well throughout the lake from spring until mid-summer, but they are beginning to concentrate more in the lower lake. Good numbers of fish make a spawning run in the headwaters in spring, but then start moving downstream toward the dam. Later this month through the end of summer, the best fishing is found in the lower lake.
Trolling is very popular for hybrids, but some folks prefer casting for them, especially when they are in the jumps. There should be plenty of surface action this month.
Other Options: For Cumberland River striped bass try trolling live bait or artificials below Burkesville for hefty fish. Good numbers of bluegills are in Lake Linville and there is plenty of room for bank fishing.
Herrington Lake | Largemouths
There is a very good largemouth bass fishery at Herrington, but throughout much of the year the lake is difficult to fish. It is very deep for one thing and of course it also gets lots of fishing pressure. It also gets a lot of recreational traffic, which certainly does not help with fishing success. Anglers have good luck casting to the shoreline during spring, but by now that action is much diminished. The answer is to wait until the sun sets.
Night fishing on Herrington at this time of year is often very good. Most of the lake traffic dies down, the sun is not beating down on the water and bass become a lot more cooperative. Anglers have good success with a dark-colored slow-rolled spinnerbait, jigs, soft plastics and other baits.
Other Options: For Buckhorn Lake catfish try live baits, stink baits and dip baits, which produce good catches of channel catfish. There are also some jumbo flatheads available. For Nolin River Lake’s mass of 11- to 14-inch white bass, use crankbaits, curly-tailed grubs or live minnows.
Grayson Lake | Catfish
The catfish in Grayson Lake are ready and willing to stretch a line. Channel catfish are the most abundant and also the most widely distributed. They are found pretty much throughout the lake and are accessible by boat or from the bank. Live bait, chicken liver or prepared stink baits are the most popular.
Flathead catfish are also present and some reach very impressive sizes. Good numbers of flatheads are available through 20 inches, but some huge trophy fish are in the lake. This is a good time of year to target a trophy and many of the local anglers seek them from the middle to the lower section of the lake.
Other Options: Lake Cumberland striped bass are still deep this month, so trolling with planer boards or downriggers is most productive. You can fill a cooler with Barren River Lake blue and channel catfish.
Cave Run Lake | Muskies
This big reservoir near Morehead is the state’s undisputed muskie capital. In fact, it is one of the best muskie fisheries in the Southeast. Not only did our state record muskie come from here, but it puts more big muskies on the ends of anglers’ lines than any other location around.
Cave Run is obviously stocked to keep the muskie fishery vibrant, but the lake has the habitat and angler ethics to help it stay a world-class fishery. Most anglers treat caught muskies very gently and get them back in the water as soon as possible.
Fall is a great time to catch a giant at Cave Run. Getting a hook-up still requires a good amount of angler effort, but the muskies are certainly there and when the bite comes, it is often a respectable fish. Muskies are fairly shallow this month and feeding up, so cast shad baits and others to entice a bite.
Other Options: Nice Green River Lake largemouths are back in the coves and creeks feeding heavily on schools of forage fish. At Kentucky Lake the fall bite is on for black and white crappies.
Cumberland River Trout
Our number-one trout stream took a bit of a hit when the Wolf Creek Dam was being repaired, but a few years of good water and the KDFWR’s heavy stocking program is helping to bring the Cumberland River back to its glory years. Lots of trout are still available at the river, although the number of true trophy fish has dipped.
Rainbow and brown trout are rated good by the KDFWR and good numbers of fish are present through a wide size distribution. Brown trout up to about 16 inches or so are fairly common and the numbers of keeper fish over 20 inches are increasing. Rainbow trout are fairly abundant from 15 to 20 inches with occasional catches of fish over 20 inches. Brook trout are also stocked in the river.
Other Options: Lake Barkley largemouth are fairly shallow this month with the best fishing coming after a few days of stable weather. The Paintsville Lake hybrid striped bass fishery is on the upswing, with larger fish showing up in angler creels.
Ohio River Saugers
These cousins of the walleye are starting to accumulate in good numbers below the dams on the Ohio River. They continue to increase in number as winter comes on and good fishing action is possible from now until early spring. Unlike some fish, saugers continue to bite well all through the cold months. Saugers hug the bottom, but prefer some type of current break, so look for bottom irregularities, holes, chunk rock, wing dams or other features to find the fish. Put baits right on or just above the bottom for the best success. Jigs and minnows are the most commonly used baits, but for a change of pace, try a blade bait like the Silver Buddy. Let it fall to the bottom, lift and let it fall again.
Other Options: For Lake Cumberland smallmouths cast jigs and plastics when smallies are actively biting or the float and fly on slow days. Laurel River Lake smallmouths and bonus catches of largemouths and spotted bass are possible.