Best Bets For Commonwealth
Whether your favorite catfish
are flatheads, channels or blues, thereís a fishing hole
close to home thatís just right for you.
my video monitor closely, I fully expected the screen to depict a sharp drop in
the water depth at any moment. The shallow sandbar I was slowly motoring over
extended far into the lake and I was almost to the river channel marker buoys,
which certainly meant deep water was nearby. About 20 yards from the line of
buoys, the water depth began to drop and the graph recorded the presence of fish
lying along the drop. I horseshoed the boat on and off the drop a couple more
times and located the feeder creek which entered the river channel. I continued
to see the "fishy"-looking markings on the sonar unit, so I dropped a couple of
marker buoys which would enable me to keep my bearing on the 10-foot depth line.
The fish were holding in the 10- to 15- foot depth range, with the majority of
the fish keying in on the area where the small creek joined the mainstream river
channel. These fish were definitely relating to structure. However, as the sun
continued to settle in the West, I figured the fish would migrate toward the
shallow flat and begin feeding.
I went to considerable
trouble to anchor the boat properly, to ensure I could cast both to the drop and
the adjacent flat should the fish do as I hoped -- and expected. I readied my
worm rig, cast toward the underwater point and was quickly hooked into 5 pounds
of battling CATFISH!
To this point, many anglers
may have hazarded a guess that I was fishing for black bass, or perhaps even
white bass. But, in truth, the above was the setting for one of the most
productive afternoons of catfishing Iíve ever experienced. Yes, catfish are
often very structure-specific fish, and nowhere has it ever been more evident to
me than on this structure located near the Blood River on Kentucky Lake.
This afternoon I had a bucket
of Docís Catfish Getter Dip Bait in the boat and thatís all I needed.
Iíve long been a believer in this specific catfish concoction, and when I cast
the first Docís Catfish Worm loaded, with the boat off the point of the
drop, an eager blue catfish gobbled it up.
As the afternoon continued,
the fish did not move shallow as I had originally hoped, which was probably a
blessing anyway. The fish keyed on the underwater point as if drawn by a magnet.
Casting 39 feet off the point in either direction would scarcely produce a
strike. However, hit the target and I could hardly set the rod into the rod
holder. In fact, it became a challenge to try and get two rods rigged, baited
and in the water at the same time. Although the afternoon I refer to may seem an
exceptional situation to some, in reality itís not. The catfish population
across the Bluegrass State is outstanding with numerous lakes holding large
numbers of catfish -- many reaching huge sizes.
Kentucky Lake certainly ranks
as my overall favorite, and it must be included as one of the top catfish
fisheries anywhere. When you include the tailwater and perhaps even throw in
nearby Lake Barkley and its tailwater, I doubt you could find a better
catfishing situation anywhere.
Pete Pfeiffer, director of
fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR),
says the two lakes hold excellent populations of all three of the major species
of catfish and thatís one reason the catfish fishery is so productive. "On a
statewide basis, the three major species of catfish -- the blue, flathead and
channel -- are found in many different waters, from big lakes and rivers to
small lakes and ponds. Sometimes they will all be found in one system while in
others one or two will predominate. But the important aspect is the catfish
fishery in Kentucky is very good and really getting better in most aspects.
"Actually, thereís very little to report in terms of bad news for catfish
anglers. We do have to monitor water quality, but thatís something necessary for
all the fish species. Weíve seen a resurgence in catfishing at some of our lakes
during recent years, partly because as an agency weíve begun to put more
emphasis on this resource. The interest level among anglers does seem to be up
as more people begin to discover how much fun they are to catch and their
relative statewide availability," Pfeiffer said. The channel catfish is probably
the most common species on a statewide basis, with this often-speckled fish
being found in almost every fishery resource where catfish thrive. The blues
tend to be found more in the western sector of the state and the flatheads are
found throughout the state; they are, however, a bit more selective about the
waters in which they thrive than the channel catfish. Although Kentucky and
Barkley lakes comprise a hotbed of catfishing, anglers from other portions of
the state certainly have no lack of outstanding catfishing opportunities. In
fact, Cave Run Lake, an 8,300-acre impoundment located in the northern sector of
the Daniel Boone National Forest, has yielded catfish in excess of 50 pounds
with some regularity. Any freshwater fish exceeding 50 pounds is awesome by this
writerís standards. In fact, the Licking River, on which Cave Run is impounded,
has produced a 76-pound flathead downriver of the lake. If that doesnít get your
attention, then you need to take up knitting instead of catfishing! According to
local anglers and wildlife officials, one of the principal methods for taking
the big cats from Cave Run is to jug-fish. Jug-fishing is a method of fishing
where the angler uses discarded jugs such as milk or cola containers, with a
length of string tied to them and baited hook set at various depths beneath the
water. When the fish hits the bait, the buoyancy of the jug will "set" the hook
and then the angler chases the jug across the lake. Unless youíve tried it and
tried to catch a big catfish in this manner, you cannot begin to appreciate the
fun -- and challenge -- of the sport.
Jug-fishing remains an excellent
and productive way to while away a hot summer day. Photo by
However, in the past couple
of years, a great many more anglers have begun to try fishing with rods and
reels for the outsized catfish with considerable success. A wide variety of
baits are used effectively on these big Cave Run fish, but the best baits for
the big flatheads are invariably live baits.
Lew Kornman, the fisheries
biologist with the KDFWR at Cave Run, says a lot of folks are missing a great
opportunity to fish for big game if they donít fish for the Cave Run catfish.
"Although the lake is certainly better known for muskies, the catfish anglers
are discovering a great fishery exists here. By setting out jugs, fishermen have
a good chance of taking fish in the 20- to 30- pound class size. However, weíll
occasionally see one top 50 pounds. I think more and more folks will be fishing
for these big fish with rods and reels in the coming years. As they learn more
about where these fish hang out and how to fish for them, we could see a trophy
catfish fishery develop here," Kornman said.
Major access to the lake is
via U.S. 60 and KY 801. A good side trip for visiting anglers would be the Minor
E. Clark fish hatchery immediately below the dam. The hatchery produces warm
water fish for stocking the stateís lakes and rivers. One of the top producing
lakes in the eastern portion of the state is Dewey Lake, according to KDFWR
biologists. Ed Carroll, another fisheries scientist with the KDFWR, rates Dewey
as one of the most fertile lakes in the state and he ranks it as the top catfish
water with which heís personally worked. A high nutrient load being washed into
the lake system from upstream development is a major contributing factor to the
fertility of the lake. The average size of the fish in Dewey is in the 18- to
25- inch category, which is a pretty healthy size. Numerous larger fish are
available and the primary species found include a mixture of flatheads and
Dave Pattison of Hebron hoists a
healthy mixed stringer of channels and blues. Many lakes in
Kentucky provide such an opportunity. Photo by Terry
Night crawlers and live,
crappie-type minnows are two of the most popular catfish baits at this
particular lake, although the aforementioned Docís will produce excellent
results as well.
Carr Fork Lake is only a 750
acre lake, but has become a top catfish producer thanks in large part to a
fertilization program whereby liquid fertilizer is added to the lake. The lake
has gone from low-production on most all species to becoming a good fishing hole
for several species, most notably catfish. The channel catfish is the primary
species found here and occasionally fish in the 5- to 10- pound class are taken.
Only time will tell how large the fish will get, but odds are good they have not
nearly reached their potential.
The Ohio River is known as an
excellent catfish fishery with many fish averaging in the 2- to 5- pound class.
The entire length of the river is productive, according to KDFWR biologists, the
specific places being up to the fishermen to locate. There are not a lot of huge
catfish caught in the Ohio, but there are large catches of decent-sized fish
which create a lot of fishing interest. One local expert says to think in terms
of structure, such as the feeder creek junction described at the beginning on
Kentucky Lake, for consistent action on this system as well.
Hook into a big blue like this
one and youíll soon learn why fishing for them with rod and
reel is growing in popularity. Photo by Terry Madewell.
Another favorite lake of many
is Lake Cumberland. Some anglers have problems fishing this big, deep lake, but
for success during hot weather, one of the key things to remember is to look for
areas which have dingy water. The mud banks and backs of creeks can produce
excellent results after rains or storms muddy the water. The whiskered fish will
often move into these areas and feed ravenously for brief periods, then retreat
to deep water. If you cannot find the off-colored water, then fish the points
and mudrock banks at night. The channel and flathead catfish both provide good
action throughout the warm weather months, although the channels are the favored
species of most local anglers. Cut bait, stink bait and night crawlers are all
productive offerings for the fish. Big creek minnows are a favorite of anglers
to tempt the big flatheads into biting. According to Pfeiffer, no discussion of
catfishing in Kentucky would be complete without the mention of the lakes
managed by the state -- about 45 lakes total -- which are annually stocked with
channel catfish. "Each year we stock about 100,000 channel catfish, 8 inches
long and longer, into these waters and they provide an outstanding catfishing
resource for rod and reel anglers," Pfeiffer said. The size of the lakes vary
from the 600- to 700- acre category, with others ranging in size down to just a
few acres to perhaps even some only an acre in size. The specific areas can be
obtained from the KDFWR. They include the state owned lakes, as well as many of
the county lakes, city parks lakes and some lakes owned by other agencies.
The fishing pressure on some
of these lakes is quite intense, as one would expect, but still the resource is
one which produces consistent action for anglers. The potential to fill your
cooler with big catfish is not as high as in many of the larger lakes, but these
lakes generally offer good action on decent-sized catfish. Again, the talent and
persistence of the individual angler will have a great influence on the actual
This is surely only a partial
list of the top catfish waters in the state, partly because there are few lakes
which donít harbor a respectable number of the whiskered species of fish. This
is a good representation of some of the best spots and is a clear indicator that
no angler in Kentucky is far from excellent catfishing waters. Whether you go
for a short trip or a multi-day excursion, thereís no need to leave the
Bluegrass State for catfishing. Plus, it offers a viable alternative to fishing
for other species of fish and whether you fish from the shoreline with a cane
pole or prefer to use the latest in electronic gadgetry, thereís a catfishing
niche for you.