FRANKFORT – Warming temperatures and longer days trigger an angler’s instinct to reacquaint oneself with a favorite lake, and try new techniques and equipment picked up over the winter.
A break in the weather this week stirred hopes that spring is not far away. Some of the best fishing of the year will be had in the coming weeks, but early spring conditions also can be downright challenging at times.
A smaller lake or farm pond - once iced out - and tailwaters shouldn’t be overlooked by anglers as potential options when water elsewhere is too high, too muddy and too cold to fish.
“The water levels in smaller ponds and lakes typically don’t fluctuate as much as larger lakes and these small water bodies are the first to warm up in the spring,” said Dane Balsman, urban fishery biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “It’s a good option when you’re looking for something early in the spring when water temperatures are still pretty cool.”
The Fishing in Neighborhoods (FINs) lakes provide families and anglers of all ages and experience levels good opportunities to catch a variety of fish. Because of their smaller size and location, FINs lakes typically aren’t as prone to becoming muddy when it rains.
The program includes 39 lakes found near cities across the state. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife stocks each with catfish and rainbow trout. The bass and bluegill populations are closely monitored and supplemental stockings are done as needed.
“If you’re wanting to go to a lake, spring is a great time to hit the FINs lakes because we are stocking them so often,” Balsman said.
The current license year ends Feb. 28, so anglers planning to fish after March 1 will need to buy a new fishing license. Those anglers who intend to keep trout also must purchase a trout permit.
The Department stocks 142,500 trout in FINs lakes during the winter and plans to stock 111,200 catfish this year. Around 60,000 hybrid sunfish, which is a cross between a green sunfish and a bluegill, will be stocked in late May through early June.
The extreme winter weather has delayed some FINs stockings. Trout stockings will occur over the next few weeks. More than 30,000 catfish are due to be stocked in March. Stocking schedules are posted online at fw.ky.gov.
“We’ll probably have higher concentrations of fish than normal because people haven’t been able to get out and fish for winter trout,” Balsman said. “There’s going to be a lot of holdover from the October-November stockings. That should sustain for several weeks, even up to a month or month and a half, after it ices out.”
Tailwaters offer another good option. Not only will fish congregate below a dam, but the impact of heavy spring rains might not be felt immediately.
“A lot of times the flood-control reservoirs are holding water the first few days after a rain,” said Dave Dreves, fisheries research biologist with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “Once the downstream streams and rivers start to recede from the tributaries’ flow slowing down, then they’ll let the water go from the lake. Of course it all depends what the situation is at the time, but as a general rule they’re a good option during a rain event or in those immediate periods after a rain event.”
The Cumberland River tailwater below Lake Cumberland offers year-round opportunities. In late winter, sauger and walleye can be found below Wolf Creek Dam. The 75-mile section from the dam to the state line comprises the state’s premier trout fishery.
Anglers should always check with the appropriate U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website for the water release and generation schedules for the tailwater they’re planning to fish.
“Tailwaters are always good if the flow is right because they tend to concentrate a lot of fish,” Dreves said. “Many of our reservoirs are on rivers that have walleye and or sauger that will run up and congregate in the tailwaters this time of year. The fish that tend to make spawning runs can be really good below dams where the dams are stopping their migration. White bass and hybrids will tend to run up streams and rivers in the spring and stack up below dams as well, especially in March and early April.”
Another shot of cold weather seems inevitable given the way this winter has played out. Now is a perfect time to get equipment and game plans ready for a fishing season that’s almost here and can’t come soon enough.
Kevin Kelly is a writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is an avid angler with a passion for muskellunge and stream fishing.