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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Researching Ky. lakes, rivers before hitting the water can give anglers a head start

Anglers in Kentucky have a staggering number of lakes and rivers to choose from, and dozens of sport fish to pursue.

Researching online is a good way to learn about unfamiliar waters and keep up on the latest fishing regulations, stocking data, status of fisheries, where to fish, proven tackle and techniques, results of sampling fish populations by fishery crews, creel surveys and angler attitude surveys.

Fishing on Lake Shelby (Photo by Art Lander_

Fishery biologists of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) manage the fish in Kentucky’s public waters. The includes 780 lakes, ranging in size from under 10 surface acres to 55,030 surface acres, and 49,927 miles of streams, 13,000 miles of which are navigable waterways.

West to east, nine major river systems flow through Kentucky to the Ohio River: Tennessee, Cumberland, Tradewater, Green, Salt, Kentucky, Licking, Little Sandy and Big Sandy.

Additionally, there are thousands of farm ponds and small lakes on private property in Kentucky’s 120 counties, some offering excellent fishing opportunities.

The KDFWR website is full of useful information for anglers. Here are some important links:

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.

• The Waterbodies page contains links to more than 290 creeks, rivers, small lakes and major reservoirs.

The information on each waterbody includes special fishing regulations (minimum size limits and daily creel limits), boat ramps, carry-down sites for fishing kayaks and other small boats, bank access, and fishing piers. Click on each entry to get its location and driving directions.

On the Waterbodies pages for the larger lakes, there’s a link to a fish attractor map, and a link to the most recent black bass assessment, which includes age and growth information on largemouth bass and information on other black bass species.

• Another source of detailed information on the fish species in Kentucky waterways is the Statewide Annual Fish Sampling Report which provides links to 17 years (2004 to 2020) of lake and tailwater surveys.

The reports are organized by the seven fishery districts and include age and growth information for all species, with average lengths and weights, spawning success, angler preferences, and creel survey results.

• Quality fishing close to cities of all sizes across the state is the goal of Fishing in the Neighborhoods (FINs) program, created in 2006 by KDFWR.

At this time there are 44 lakes in the program.

Lakes are regularly stocked with catfish and rainbow trout throughout the year. Sunfish and bass populations are regularly sampled to ensure natural reproduction is meeting the needs of anglers. Supplemental stockings are made if needed to maintain quality fish populations.

The FINs program is a cooperative agreement between KDFWR and city/county municipalities. All 44 lakes in the FINs program have a standard set of regulations that are posted around the lakes. These regulations are more restrictive than the statewide regulations but help to spread the fish harvest out over a longer period of time.

Read the regulations, and click on links to get fish stocking schedules, and maps of FINs lakes.

Brown Trout (Photo from Flickr Commons)

• Trout are stocked across Kentucky in the fall, typically in October and November. Visit the KDFWR Trout Stocking Schedule to get the specific dates and locations of stockings.

Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, below Lake Cumberland, produces the cold water fishes, brown and rainbow trout, stocked in Kentucky waters.

• The annual Fishing Forecast provides the most detailed information on where to fish and what fishing techniques and presentations are most successful at the state’s best waters.

The goal of the guide is to improve angler success.

The 38-page 2021 Fishing Forecast is full of fishing tips, including new and expanding fisheries, new up-and-coming fish populations, and overviews of the best fishing by season.

A cheat sheet chart shows good to excellent fisheries at lakes across the state for largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, crappie, rainbow and brown trout and muskie.

Biologist assess the status of fisheries at the lakes profiled and provide information on the seasonal movement of fish, the best tackle and techniques, and provide an overview on recent population trends.

Fall is one of the best times of the year to fish in Kentucky and the information on the KDFWR website gives anglers a great head start, with the knowledge they need to improve their success on even unfamiliar waters.

You’ll be glad you researched online before wetting a line.

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