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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky Anglers gearing up as March marks unofficial start of fishing season

Although fishing is year-round in Kentucky with no closed seasons, March 1, the beginning of the new license year, has long been considered the unofficial start of fishing season in Kentucky.

Now is the time to renew your fishing license.

The costs of fishing licenses for the 2021-2022 license year are:

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.
• Annual Fishing, $23 for residents, and $55 non-residents.
• Joint/Spouses Annual Fishing, $42 for residents, not available to non-residents.
• 1-Day Fishing, $7 for residents, $15 for non-residents.
• Residents can save $14 is they buy a 3-Year Fishing for $55, which is available online only.
• A non-resident 7-Day Fishing is $35.
• Trout Permit, $10, for both residents and non-residents.
• Additionally, residents age 65 and older, are eligible to purchase a Senior Sportsman’s License for $12, which includes a fishing license. The Senior Sportsman’s License is not available to non-residents.

Licenses can be purchased online from Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources at app.fw.ky.gov.

Late Winter Weather

Late winter weather usually determines when anglers can get out on the water and start catching fish. The start of 2021 will be remembered for the ice, snow and prolonged cold in February.

While winter kills are uncommon in Kentucky because we don’t usually experience prolonged periods of ice and snow, they are most likely to occur to farm ponds and small lakes under the right set of circumstances.

Sunlight is needed to produce dissolved oxygen in water bodies.

Winter kills happen when there are prolonged periods of no sunlight penetrating into iced-over waterbodies, either from a long stretch of days with overcast skies, or a heavy snowpack on the ice.

As a result, oxygen levels decrease, and fish and other aquatic organisms literally suffocate.

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that when aquatic plants die, there is a biological oxygen demand for their decomposition. This further robs fish and other organisms of life-sustaining oxygen.

Prolonged periods of ice and cold weather can also cause die-offs of gizzard and threadfin shad in large reservoirs.


A more frequent occurrence in Kentucky is localized high water and flooding after periods of unseasonable winter weather.

This year’s setup was a prime example, snowmelt followed by heavy rains. The ground was saturated so there was a surge of runoff, pushing many rivers to flood stage, and filling lakes with cold, muddy water. This happens all to often in March, creating un-fishable water conditions that may persist for days, sometimes a week or two.

This time of year anglers should closely monitor lake and river levels to know when fishing conditions are at their best.

Snow melt and heavy rains have caused water levels at Kentucky River at Lock and Dam #2 to jump significantly (Image from USGS)

Telephone numbers and links for stream and lake level information:

• Anglers who fish Kentucky streams and rivers can get daily water level forecasts from the US Geological Survey website. For water data, visit waterdata.usgs.gov and click on Statewide Streamflow Table.

There are 217 reporting stations. Water levels and discharge rates in cubic feet per second are plotted on graphs. Water information can be organized by Kentucky county or major river basin.

• The 75-mile Cumberland tailwaters below Wolf Creek Dam is Kentucky’s top trout fishing destination.

Some of the best trout fishing of the year is in late winter and early spring as daily discharges begin to stabilize and waters warm into the 50s.

Chad Miles with Cave Run Lake muskie (Photo provided)

The most popular stretch of the river with trout fishermen is from the Wolf Creek Dam to Burkesville. Click here for current water conditions.

Additional information on how to fish the Cumberland tailwaters, and the details of river access (put-in and take-out points) in the upper 16 miles, are located at fw.ky.gov/Cumberland-River-Tailwater.

Cave Run Lake, near Morehead, is Kentucky’s top muskie fishing destination.

The lake is 8,270 surface acres at summer pool, elevation 730. A 6-foot winter drawdown to elevation 724 creates a lake with 7,390 surface acres of water.

The lake level reporting line is 606-783-7001.

For additional information, visit www.lrl.usace.army.mil/CaveRunLake.

Dale Hollow Lake is Kentucky’s top smallmouth bass destination. The lake, which straddles the Kentucky/Tennessee line, is 27,700 surface acres at summer pool, elevation 651. The winter pool elevation is 631.

Click here for lake level information and a daily fishing report.

Green River Lake, in southcentral Kentucky, offers good to excellent fishing for muskellunge, largemouth bass and crappie. The lake is 8,210 surface acres at summer pool, elevation 675. The winter pool elevation is 664. The lake information line is (270) 465-8824. Additional information is available at www.lrl.usace.army.mil/GreenRiverLake

Float n’ Fly is a productive late winter technique for smallmouth bass (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

Lake Cumberland is Kentucky’s top fishing destination for striped bass and walleye. The lake is 50,250 surface acres at summer pool, elevation 723. The winter pool elevation is 673.

The lake information line is 606-678-8697. For daily lake levels and fishing report, visit www.lrn.usace.army.mil

Kentucky Lake is the state’s top destination for crappie. The lake is 160,300 surface acres (49,511 in Kentucky) at summer pool, elevation 359. The winter pool elevation is 354.

To check daily elevations and projected levels of Kentucky Lake call 800-238-2264, press 1, then 33. For current lake levels and fishing information, visit www.explorekentuckylake.com.

Taylorsville Lake, close to Louisville and Lexington, offers good to excellent fishing for largemouth bass, crappie, catfish and saugeye. The lake is 3,050 surface acres at summer pool, elevation 547. The winter pool elevation is 545. The lake information line is (502) 477-8606. Additional information is available online at www.lrl.usace.army.milTaylorsvilleLake.

Small Waterbodies

Farm ponds and small lakes warm up faster than large reservoirs.

The best fishing starts when water temperatures warm into the 50s.

Here’s three small lakes in central Kentucky with good to excellent fisheries:

A six-pound, 13-ounce Saugeye caught by Dennis Rhea in Guist Creek Lake (Photo from KDFWR)

Guist Creek Lake, 317 acres in Shelby County, has a crappie fishery rated good, with most fish in the 7 to 10-inch range, but larger fish are present.

Elmer Davis Lake, 149 acres in Owen County, has a good to excellent largemouth bass fishery, with good numbers of fish over 15 inches and trophy-size fish present.

Lake Wilgreen, 169 acres in Madison County, has a good to excellent largemouth bass fishery, with high numbers of 15 to 20-inch fish.

The 2021 Fishing Forecast offers the most current information on fisheries and fishing tips. Click here to access the report online at fw.ky.gov/CurrentFishingForecast

Spring fishing starts now, weather permitting. Don’t miss out on the best fishing of the year. And be a weather watcher!

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