FRANKFORT – Many anglers would drive a few hundred miles for a chance to catch an 8-pound walleye or a limit of tasty sauger. Kentuckians only have to drive to Campbellsville and head south on KY 55 to the Tailwater Recreation Area below Green River Lake. You don’t even need a boat.
“We saw walleye up to 8 pounds when we did population sampling on Jan. 15, just below Green River Lake Dam,” said David Baker, stream fisheries biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “It is just impressive, we see nice fish there. We don’t see as many sauger, but the ones we see are large.”
Kentuckians are blessed with several places to bank fish for walleye and sauger. Excellent access exists below Green River Lake, Lake Cumberland, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley as well as below several locks and dams on the Ohio River. February through early March is the best time of year to catch them.
The Tailwater Recreation Area below Green River Lake provides first-rate bank access for walleye and sauger anglers. A suspending jerkbait draws strikes from walleye in this stretch. Start with jerkbaits in natural shad colors such as grey, silver and black and work them aggressively. If the walleye show no interest, change to loud color combinations such as clown or fire-tiger.
Live minnows rigged on a No. 2 Octopus-style hook attract walleye as well as sauger in this area. Crimp enough split shot on the line about a foot above the hook for the offering to gently hit bottom on occasion.
The Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam is another excellent bank fishing spot for walleye and sauger.
“We picked up some nice walleye on Cumberland River during trout population sampling last fall,” said Jeff Crosby, Central Fisheries District biologist who helped in the effort. “We captured and released a walleye over 8 pounds and a significantly bigger one got away under the boat.”
The river produced the current 7-pound, 7-ounce state record sauger in the early 1980s.
Walleye and sauger in Cumberland River congregate below Wolf Creek Dam in February and March to devour threadfin shad and alewives. The cold water from a long winter stresses and disorients these baitfish and they get pulled through the dam and into the river.
Medium-sized live shiners or large crappie minnows fished on or near bottom score on these fish.
Electrical generation at Wolf Creek Dam greatly impacts bank fishing below it. The Nashville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at http://www.lrn-wc.usace.army.mil/tva_schedule.shtml posts the current and anticipated generation schedule under the “Wolf” column. Any reading above 90 is likely too swift for bank fishing.
The Ohio River has two excellent bank fishing spots for sauger a stone’s throw from downtown Louisville, both below McAlpine Lock and Dam. The Falls of the Ohio State Park in Clarksville, Indiana, grants superb bank access. Anglers with a valid Kentucky fishing license may fish from the bank on the Indiana side of the Ohio, but must abide Indiana fishing regulations.
Anglers may also fish at the bank access on Shippingport Island, reached via North 27th Street and Marine Street in Louisville. Drive over the lock to a parking area on Shippingport Island.
“The fossil beds below McAlpine Lock and Dam on the Indiana side hold quite a few nice sauger and walleye,” Crosby said. “You can bank fish below the hydroelectric structure and around the bend of the island at the Shippingport Island Access. There are some current breaks there that hold fish. We’ve seen good sauger and walleye there as well.”
Small chartreuse and orange deep-running crankbaits, silver casting spoons and lime-green curly-tailed grubs rigged on a leadhead heavy enough to get near bottom make great lure choices below McAlpine Lock and Dam for walleye and sauger.
Grubs impregnated with salt and scent work best. Sauger only strike them if they are worked on or just above the bottom.
The new fishing access below Meldahl Lock and Dam near Foster, Kentucky, in Bracken County is another excellent bank fishing spot for sauger. Anglers may also fish for sauger on the Indiana bank below Markland Lock and Dam, just west of Warsaw, Kentucky, in Gallatin County.
Anglers catch plenty of sauger from the bank in the tailraces below Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley in February. Several years ago, workers installed fishing piers and other structures designed for the bank angler below Kentucky Dam.
Excellent parking and bank fishing facilities await anglers on the eastern side of the Cumberland River below Barkley Dam. An orange and black curly-tailed grub rigged on a leadhead really shines for sauger in these spots.
Start with a 1/4-ounce leadhead and go up to a 1/2-ounce if the grub doesn’t occasionally strike bottom. The catch rates for sauger in these two areas rival anything found in Kentucky.
February is often a dreary month, the last vestige of winter before the arrival of the southerly winds of spring. A huge walleye or feisty sauger on your line relieves any wintertime blues.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.