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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky offers a number of fall tailwater trout fishing opportunities

Fall is prime time for trout fishing in Kentucky.

As the days shorten and water temperatures begin to decline, cool water species become more active. Waterways are shrouded in fog in the mornings.

Arguably, trout are Kentucky’s most popular cool water species, offering excellent sport fishing opportunities and unrivaled tablefare.

Trout Stocked in Tailwaters

Fishing in the Cumberland tailwaters (Photo from Kentucky Tourism)

Tailwaters below Kentucky’s major lakes are the state’s top trout fishing destinations. Populations are supported by annual stockings, with a small amount of natural reproduction.

At most tailwaters there’s a lapse in stockings during the summer months, but stockings pick back up in the fall — October and November — which vastly improves fishing.

The tailwaters below 14 major lakes are stocked with rainbow trout throughout the year with varying totals; four tailwaters are stocked with brown trout. Additionally, brook trout and cutthroat trout are stocked in the Lake Cumberland tailwaters in the spring when available.

Here’s the latest trout stocking numbers from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources ((KDFWR) website:

Lake Cumberland Tailwaters

The Cumberland tailwaters, which extends for 75 miles from Wolf Creek Dam, downstream to the Kentucky/Tennessee line, is Kentucky’s premier trout fishing stream.

There is a boat launching ramp below the dam at the Kendall Recreation Area. The fee to launch is $5.

Hatchery Creek

There is a unique trout fishing option, just below the dam.

Hatchery Creek is located below Lake Cumberland, immediately behind the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery.

Tout fishing in Hatchery Creek (Photo from Kentucky Tourism)

The man-made stream originates from the cold water outflow of the hatchery and flows over 6,000 feet before emptying into the Cumberland River.

Stream flow is constant, running from between 25 cubic feet per second up to 35 cubic feet per second.

Along its descent of almost 47 feet, Hatchery Creek starts as a maintained park-like fishing area for the first 400 feet from the hatchery outflow to a boulder constructed waterfall. This section is called Upper Hatchery Creek. Regulations allow anglers to keep up to five trout, combined species and with no size limit.

The remaining stream, from the waterfall downstream, is called the Lower Hatchery Creek. Regulations there limit anglers to artificial lures, and catch and release only.

All anglers fishing either section of Hatchery Creek must have a trout permit.

Lower Hatchery Creek begins as a gentle meandering stream with numerous glides and riffles underlain with over 1,800 tons of spawning gravel, logs, and numerous boulder clusters to create eddies. Deeper pools can be found along outside bends where undercut banks called “Lunker Bunkers” offer hiding places for trout, undercut banks, not visible from the surface.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. 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.

Over five acres of wetlands connect with Hatchery Creek in a few places where the stream flow splits into multiple smaller channels offering refuge for both forage fish and young trout. In the final 500 feet, Hatchery Creek has a steep descent in a series of protective, boulder strewn step-pools before joining the Cumberland River.

The stream provides healthy aquatic habitat that attracts trout, including larger, trophy sized trout from the Cumberland River, and other wildlife. It also provides an attractive and challenging fishing opportunity for anglers with a good chance of catching larger trout.

There’s good fishing from the banks. Those wishing to wade should expect deeper water in pools that might over top chest waders. However, most riffles are shallow enough to offer a place to cross for those with hip boots or waders or anglers that don’t mind getting wet.

Hatchery Creek was built using funds solely from the Kentucky Wetland and Stream Mitigation Fund; no state general fund tax dollars or fishing license fees were used.

The Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, in partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, created Hatchery Creek to replace a deeply eroding gulley that threatened downstream fisheries.

Trout in the Cumberland Tailwaters

There are four species of trout in the Cumberland tailwaters:

• On April 16, 2019 Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) were stocked in Kentucky for the first time.

The cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii) is a species native to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific Ocean, Rocky Mountains, and Great Basin in North America. There are 14 sub-species, two of which are extinct.

KDFWR personnel stocked 38,000 Cutthroat trout in the Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam.

The surplus Yellowstone strain Cutthroat trout were spawned and raised up to stocking size at the Norfork National Fish Hatchery in Arkansas. KDFWR crews stocked 5,100 trout at Bakerton, Ky., 21,600 at the ramp at Burkesville, Ky., and 11,300 at the Ky. 61 bridge, just downstream from Burkesville.

The trout stocked averaged just over 6 inches long. Cutthroat trout have a distinctive orange slash on their lower jaw. Plans are to stock Cutthroat trout in the tailwaters when available.

Rainbow trout (Photo by Erik Hanson, Flickr Commons)

• The rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) was likely the first trout species ever stocked in Kentucky.

KDFWR stocking records go back to 1956, when 1,200 adults were stocked in the Cumberland tailwaters. After that, from 1961 to 1964, stockings became more consistent.

This year 131,800 rainbow trout are scheduled to be stocked in the Cumberland tailwaters over a 7-month period, from May to November.

• The brown trout (Salmo trutta) is a European species that has been widely introduced into suitable environments globally.

In April 1884, the U.S. Fish Commission, released 4,900 brown trout fry into the Baldwin River, a tributary of the Pere Marquette River in Michigan. This was the first release of brown trout into U.S. waters.

Between 1884 and 1890, brown trout were introduced into suitable habitats throughout the U.S. By 1900, 38 states had received stocks of brown trout. Their adaptability resulted in most of these introductions establishing wild, self-sustaining populations.

The Cumberland tailwaters has always offered the best fishing in Kentucky for Brown trout.

This year 30,000 brown trout are scheduled to the stocked in the tailwaters over a 7-month period, from May to November.

• The brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) is a species of char native to eastern U.S. and Canada, with populations in the U.S. mostly confined to higher elevations of the Appalachians.

Brook trout (Photo by Charlie Summers, Flickr Commons)

Brook trout were first stocked in the Cumberland tailwaters in 2011.

The stocking goal is 40,000 a year, but because of production difficulties at the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery that goal hasn’t always been met; 2015 was the last year for a full allotment.

Special regulations are in effect for the four species of trout in the Cumberland tailwaters.

Brown Trout: 20-inch minimum size limit, with a daily creel of one.

Cutthroat Trout: 20-inch minimum size limit, with a daily creel of one.

Rainbow Trout: 15 to 20-inch protective slot limit, with a daily creel limit of five, but no more than one fish may be over 20 inches.

Brook Trout: 15-inch minimum size limit, with a daily creel of one.

Trout can be caught by still fishing live bait, nightcrawlers and red worms, and by casting small crankbaits and spinners on ultralight spinning tackle. Fly fishermen cast nymphs, dry flies and streamers to coax trout into striking.

Plan a fall trout fishing trip. Trout are beautiful fish, game fighters on light tackle and great eating. The best trout fishing of the year starts now.

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