FRANKFORT – The first day of winter arrived last week but you wouldn’t have known it based on the mild temperatures experienced across Kentucky.
The spring-like weather conditions tempted hunters and anglers to squeeze a last-minute outing into their busy holiday schedules – that is, until torrential rains thwarted such opportunism.
Fortunately, there will be opportunities in the year ahead. And, like you, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is looking forward to 2016.
The new edition of the Fishing Forecast for Kentucky’s major fisheries already is available online at fw.ky.gov. The annual compilation is designed to help anglers plan trips and hopefully improve their catch rates.
Two anticipated opportunities lead off the 2016 forecast’s new and expanding fisheries section.
Hatchery Creek at Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery in Russell County has undergone a major renovation and redesign to look, feel and flow more like a natural trout stream. The revamped upper section opened to public use in December.
A fish barrier separates the upper section from the lower section. The lower section includes a new creek channel and will be designated catch and release, artificial bait only. It’s scheduled to open by May.
“The lower section will be an excellent and challenging fishing opportunity,” said Mike Hardin, assistant director of the Fisheries Division at Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “There are places for fish to hide and find refuge, including refuge from anglers. It’s not going to be like fishing in a swimming pool. The pocket water, eddies and undercut banks are all features that fisherman look for because fish gravitate to them. I’m looking forward to it.”
Elsewhere, saugeye stocked by the department are starting to reach the 15-inch minimum size limit at Guist Creek Lake in Shelby County, Bullock Pen Lake in Grant County and A.J. Jolly Lake in Campbell County. Those stocked in Boltz Lake in Grant County may reach harvestable size by the fall.
Anglers can target these hybrids of sauger and walleye with minnow or worm-tipped jigs fished along available structure or by slowly working a small shad-imitating crankbaits over mud flats in 6 to 8 feet of water.
New to fishing and want to learn more about it? The angler’s legacy program, administered by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, will offer an opportunity in the coming year to learn basic fishing skills for the cost of a fishing license.
“We’re going to offer classes to adults to try to foster and introduce people to fishing,” said Ron Brooks, director of the Fisheries Division at Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “The class schedule will be advertised on the website.”
It’s been a banner year in 2015 for hunting in Kentucky with a new state record non-typical bull elk, a new state record bear and a new world record turkey in the books. The deer harvest also is at an all-time high after breaking records at every turn this season.
“It’s been a good year,” said Chris Garland, assistant director of the Wildlife Division at Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.
Maximizing opportunity for hunters will continue to be a priority in 2016 while the plans to improve habitat for grouse and other woodland species in eastern Kentucky will come into focus.
Public meetings held this past year sparked discussion and ideas about grouse restoration. In the coming year, a wildlife biologist will be tasked with developing a formal grouse habitat plan and getting it off the ground.
“It’s going to take time once we start putting the plan in action before we see the results,” Garland said. “One of the first steps could be identifying those places where we have moderate to good grouse habitat now and to make them better and then grow from there.”
Quail restoration efforts will remain a priority for the department following the release this past year of the five-year benchmark report that updated the state’s northern bobwhite restoration plan.
“We’re looking at ways of ramping up the management efforts in those areas where we have focused on quail habitat,” Garland said. “The focus areas show it can work. How do you continue that and continue to expand the effort is the next step.”
The department will welcome a new black bear program coordinator in 2016 and plans to work with partners to further develop a bear management plan. It also plans to improve upon a private lands program already regarded as being one of the nation’s finest, Garland said.
Viewers of Kentucky Afield will see a new face hosting the show as a new era in its history starts in 2016. The award-winning outdoors show produced by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife airs weekly on Kentucky Educational Television (KET).
Longtime host Tim Farmer announced in November that he would be retiring at the end of the year, and the search for the show’s next host will start in early 2016.
“We look forward to continuing the longest-running outdoors show in America and finding a new host to carry on Kentucky Afield’s proud tradition,” said Tim Slone, director of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Information and Education Division.
On TV, radio and in print, Kentucky Afield media spotlights the important work undertaken by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife throughout the year.
There’s plenty to look forward to in 2016.
Author Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.