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Western Kentucky Catfishing

Western Kentucky Catfishing
Photo by Ron Sinfelt

The sport of fishing for catfish can certainly be high-tech if one desires it that way. However, in its simplest form, catfishing can be whittled down to a very basic equation. Add a rod, reel, line, bobber, hook, worm, and farm pond together and the sum equals a happy face. Yes, it really can be just that simple.

Catfishing is great for seasoned anglers and the novice alike. While catching true trophies on a consistent basis requires just as much skill as any other serious fishing endeavor, catfishing for fun can be done by most anyone, making it a great choice for newbies and youths. Bait fishing for catfish has the simplicity of fishing for bluegills, but with the added excitement of catching bigger fish. Plus, few people can resist a plate of fried catfish and hush puppies at the end of the day.

Regardless whether fishing just for fun or pursuing catfish that make the reel screech, right now is a perfect time to be after them. Unlike some species of fish that seem to disappear in the hot months of the year, catfish are usually cooperative all summer long. The western end of our state is home to some excellent catfish waters and there is no better time to visit them than right now. But before hitting the road to head west, make sure to load the right gear to do the job.


Kentucky anglers pursue three main types of catfish and all three are in abundance in the western end of our state. Although similar and sometimes found in the same waters, these species have individual traits and targeting each species is a little different. Here's a quick primer on each.


Channel catfish are the most numerous and most widespread of all our catfish species. They are found all across the state in a wide variety of waters. They are also the easiest to catch as they bite most anything that has good smell. Live bait such as night crawlers and crawfish work, but other anglers prefer chicken liver, shad guts, shrimp, or dip baits. Homemade dough balls and cheese balls work too.

Look for channel cats to be near structure in larger lakes and rivers. Woody debris is a great location, but they also hold near chunk rock, in holes on the bottom, or hang out around the mouths of feeder creeks. In large rivers and reservoirs, they can be caught by fishing on bottom with Carolina rigs, by drift fishing, or by simply anchoring and fishing down rods over good structure. In farm ponds and other small waters, anglers often employ bottom fishing or sometimes with the bait suspended under a bobber.

Blue catfish are the kings of the catfish world and reach very impressive sizes. With today's tackle and technology, fish caught in excess of 100 pounds is happening more frequently. To target bigger blue cats, anglers need to come prepared with heavy gear and heavier line.

Big rivers have traditionally been the spot at which to seek blue cats, but they are also being stocked in some of our lakes as well. Blue cats are not as solitary as some of the other catfish and often are found in schools. They also are known to suspend and cruise around feeding on pods of baitfish. Therefore they can't simply be targeted all the time by just chunking a bait to the bottom and waiting for the rod to bend.


Blues bite on a lot of the same baits as channel cats, but they are more prone to be caught on cut bait. Cut shad works great in most lakes and river situations. Many river anglers like to catch skipjack herring and then use them as cut bait. Avid catfish anglers often spend many hours catching a large quantity of skipjacks and they then store them in a freezer for future use.

The loners of the catfish world are the flatheads. These fish hold on the bottom next to a piece of structure for many hours before moving to feed, often at night. When they do move, they are going to feed and they do so voraciously. In lakes they often move to coves or cruise up on top of expansive flats looking for roaming baitfish. They leave their deeper darker haunts in rivers and move to areas holding an ample amount of prey.

Stink baits aren't going to score a lot of flatheads. These fish are true predators and the bulk of their diet consists of live fish. Try using whole live shad, minnows, bluegills, or green sunfish. Flatheads can also reach tackle-busting size like the blues, so come prepared with heavy gear to do battle with these brutes.


With thoughts of huge catfish making the drags on our reels cry for help, it's time to pick a place to go. Here are six options in the western end of the state at which to challenge the whiskerfish of choice.

MAUZY LAKE

This lake is found in Union County within the Higginson-Henry Wildlife Management Area. It is accessed from State Route 56 about 6 miles east of Morganfield. Mauzy Lake totals approximately 81 acres.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources stocks this lake regularly with channel catfish, so the fishery stays in great shape. The fishery is rated good to excellent in the 2012 KDFWR Fishing Forecast and it states that there are plenty of fish in the 15- to 22-inch range. Most of the fish caught are good eating size or fiddler size as they are often referred to here in Kentucky.

Mauzy is easily accessible from the bank in numerous locations and camping is permitted around the lake. There is an handicapped accessible fishing pier and also 12 graveled fishing jetties with fish attractors located nearby. A concrete boat ramp facilitates launching most fishing boats.

Bank anglers have good success at many locations around the shoreline, but the area near the dam seems to get a lot of attention from catfish anglers. Boat anglers find fish throughout the lake, but often concentrate along a channel that angles from the dam into the cove where the boat ramp is located.

OHIO RIVER

For those wanting a larger experience, the Ohio River is hard to beat. The river stretches along most of the western border of Kentucky and offers one of best catfishing opportunities in the state. Some of the largest catfish caught each year come from the Ohio River.

The river holds good populations of all three major catfish species. Our state record channel catfish came from the river and most everyone has heard of the huge blues and flatheads pulled from the murky depths every year. It has become very common to hear of fish approaching the 100-pound mark being caught in the Ohio.

Numerous public boat ramps are found along the river making access easy. But don't attempt the river without a sturdy boat and adequate safety gear. The river can be very treacherous at times.

Bank fishing can also be easily found on the Ohio. Most of the boat ramps have areas where bank angling is allowed and there are other public access spots scattered about. Areas near some of the dams are also accessible.

The pools formed by the Smithland, Uniontown, and Newburgh dams are very popular and productive catfish locations. All have great habitat and excellent populations of the three catfish species.

THE BIG TWINS

Another spot that fills the bill for a big water experience is found down in southwestern Kentucky. The big twin lakes Kentucky and Barkley offer about as much diversity of catfishing as one could imagine. The lakes proper offer big reservoir fishing or anglers can slip into some of the coves and get the feel of fishing a smaller impoundment. Below the dams, anglers can experience tailwater and river fishing on both the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.

The KDFWR Fishing Forecast rates Kentucky excellent for blue and channel catfish and rates Barkley good for both species as well. But don't be fooled; there are plenty of flatheads in the lakes as well. They are just harder to come by. Trophy quality fish are readily available, but of course, the bulk of the fish caught are not going to be true trophies. Even so, it's not uncommon to catch plenty of fish in the 10- to 20-pound range.

Access is not a problem for boaters or bank anglers. Dozens of ramps are located all along the outsides of the two lakes as well as in the Land Between the Lakes area. Bank angling is plentiful within LBL and at some locations on the other sides of the lakes. Ample bank angling exists at the dams and tailwaters areas and boat ramps are located there, too.

LAKE BESHEAR

This lake totals approximately 760 acres near Dawson Springs and is home to a thriving population of channel cats and a somewhat smaller, but decent, fishery for blue catfish. The KDFWR rates the lake excellent for channel cats and fair for blues. The latter has been stocked at the lake since 2005 and the fishery is just now starting to develop. Fish eclipsing 5 pounds are starting to show up in angler catches and fish sampling.

Channel cats, on the other hand, are doing fabulous. Plentiful numbers of channel cats are present, with good numbers of fish between 10 and 15 inches due to annual stocking. Lots of keeper fish are available and some real whoppers are caught occasionally. Catfish anglers can pretty much pick their spots as not a lot of people target whiskerfish at Beshear.

The only drawback to fishing there is access. Most of the property surrounding the lake is privately owned and not accessible for bank fishing. Boat anglers may access the lake from Redden's Boat Ramp for a fee. The ramp, located off SR 672, is the only ramp on the lake.

PENNYRILE LAKE

If looking for a smaller lake opportunity, look no further than Pennyrile Lake in Christian County. This lake is only 47 acres and is within the Pennyrile Forest State Park. It is located northwest of Hopkinsville and just south of the Western Kentucky Parkway, not far from the aforementioned Beshear Lake.

There is a decent fishery for channel catfish at the lake, but don't expect the huge-sized fish found in some of the bigger waters. Most of the fish are 15 inches or less, but an occasional bigger fish is always possible. This is more of a relaxed, fun fishing lake and a great spot to take the family. There is no boat ramp at the lake, but small boats may be rented at the state park. Camping and lodging is also available.

FINS LAKES

Another thing to consider when looking for catfish is the great Fishing in Neighborhoods or FINs program from the KDFWR. This program was created in 2006 to provide fishing opportunities for anglers close to home. Statewide, there are 35 lakes in the program and several of them are found in western Kentucky.

Near Owensboro in Daviess County, anglers have three options at the Jack C. Fisher Park, Yellow Creek Park, and Panther Creek Park lakes. Near Paducah are the Mike Miller Park Lake in Marshall County and the Bob Noble Park Lake in McCracken County. A new addition this year to the FINs program is the Madisonville City Park Lake in Hopkins County.

The great thing about these lakes is that all of them are stocked with catfish regularly throughout the months of March through August. Thousands of channel catfish are stocked into these lakes each year. They offer great opportunity for family fishing or the avid catfish enthusiast alike.

For more information on the FINs program, visit www.kdfwr.state.ky.us. Under the drop-down menu for Boating and Fishing, click the link for Where To Fish.

There is a description of the program objectives plus a listing of all the lakes currently in the program. Specific FINs lake regulations, driving directions to each lake and an interactive map are also available. The stocking schedule for channel catfish is also viewable.

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