Enjoy seasonal catch and release trout streams this winter

By Lee McClellan

FRANKFORT, Ky. – It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving is next week. Kentuckians are going to have some time off over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Spending some time outdoors is a good way to refresh the spirit and get some exercise during a time when many of us gain a few pounds.

Wading a stream and catching trout during the holidays is a great way to get outside and away from all of tempting treats. The 15 seasonal catch and release trout streams stretching from Casey Creek in Trigg County eastward to Left Fork, Beaver Creek in Floyd County provide excellent rainbow trout fishing free from crowds.
The catch and release season on these streams begins Oct. 1 and runs until March 31, except for Swift Camp Creek in the Red River Gorge National Geological Area. The catch and release season on this stream closes May 31. Anglers cannot keep trout during the catch and release season and may only use artificial lures. Anglers may not use the artificial paste or dough baits designed to attract trout by taste or smell during this time.

“We stock trout in October in the seasonal catch and release streams as a way to prolong the amount of time those fish are available for anglers to catch,” said Dave Dreves, assistant director of Fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Trout are a cold water species and all of Kentucky’s winter blast and chill does not bother them one bit. They provide excellent sport during the darkest days of winter and bite willingly year-round.
The catch and release season allows trout to spread out from their stocking sites and settle into their natural environment, improving the fishing experience for anglers. Freshly stocked trout straight from the hatchery possess few natural defenses. Hatchery workers feed these trout regularly when young and as a result they bite anything edible they see when first released into the wild. The catch and release season gives them time to acclimate before anglers can harvest them.

The seasonal catch and release trout streams flow through some of Kentucky’s most beautiful areas. East Fork, Indian Creek in Menifee County and Swift Camp Creek in Wolfe County are particularly scenic and flow inside the Red River Gorge National Geological Area. During the summer camping season, these two pastoral streams attract hordes of anglers. In late November through March, you’ll have these two trout rich streams practically to yourself. 

Rock Creek flows through the Daniel Boone National Forest near the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in McCreary County. This picturesque stream is one of the most unique in Kentucky as Rock Creek seems to disappear as its flow squeezes between house-sized boulders in many spots. Rock Creek gives an angler a mountain trout fishing experience in the colder months. 

Fisheries division personnel also stock Rock Creek in November and December, providing plenty of trout for anglers to catch. Rock Creek is the most heavily stocked small stream in Kentucky, receiving 11,125 rainbow trout in 2020.

Winter trout in streams usually locate near scour holes in the deeper flowing bends. They also locate in shallower runs near deep holes that appear aquamarine in color, often referred to as blue holes. On warmer days, trout move to shallower shoals and hide near broken rock, in cracks in the bedrock of the bottom and behind boulders or logs that block current.

In winter, these streams usually flow as clear as they do all year. Spinning anglers should use ultra-light rods and reels spooled with 2 or 4-pound test line to fool trout in spooky clear water. Small in-line spinners, small silver or gold casting spoons and 1/32-ounce white, olive or black marabou jigs all draw strikes. 

“Fly anglers should stick to your basic wet flies,” Dreves said. “Small wooly buggers, Prince and Hare’s ear nymphs and small streamers all will work for these trout.”

Most of the rainbow trout in these seasonal catch and release streams run 8 to12 inches long, so beefy fly or spinning gear is unnecessary. A 3- or 4-weight fly rod makes a good choice for these fish. 

“It is possible some of those streams like Rock Creek, Swift Camp Creek, East Fork of Indian Creek and Otter Creek have some holdover trout that run a little bigger than stockers,” Dreves said. Bark Camp Creek in Whitley County along with East Fork, Indian Otter and Trammel creeks also receive a few hundred brown trout annually.

Although not a seasonal catch and release stream, the late fall and winter months are arguably the best time to fish Hatchery Creek in Russell County. Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery pumps thousands of trout each month into the stream. 

Don’t spend the holidays stuffing yourself with leftovers and sweets. Spend a day catching trout in a gorgeous setting, often without encountering another soul. 

Seasonal Catch and Release Trout Streams:

1. Bark Camp Creek – Whitley County
2. Beaver Creek – Wayne County
3. Big Bone Creek – Boone County
4. Cane Creek – Laurel County
5. Casey Creek – Trigg County
6. Clear Creek – Bell County
7. East Fork, Indian Creek – Menifee County
8. Elk Spring Creek – Wayne County
9. Floyds Fork Creek – Jefferson County
10. Gunpowder Creek – Boone County
11. Left Fork, Beaver Creek – Floyd County
12. Otter Creek – Meade County
13. Rock Creek – McCreary County
14. Swift Camp Creek – Wolfe County
15. Trammel Creek – Allen County