Fishing remains productive during deer season

By Kevin Kelly

Kentucky offers some of the finest deer hunting found anywhere, and the modern gun deer season stands as one of the most anticipated opportunities each year.

Its allure draws many anglers away from the water in November.

“A lot of people start to put up their fishing gear this time of year and head for the woods,” said Dane Balsman, urban fisheries research biologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “There are a lot of good fishing opportunities in the fall and a lot less pressure. You can have some of your best fishing this time of year."

Anglers don’t have to travel far to find a productive spot.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife started the Fishing In Neighborhoods (FINs) program in 2006 as a way to expand fishing opportunities for anglers living in the state’s largest cities.

Initially limited to a handful of lakes in central and northern Kentucky, the program took off and now includes 44 lakes across the state.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife will have stocked 119,800 rainbow trout in FINs lakes by the end of 2019.

These 9- to 11-inch trout, reared at the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, are eager to bite and put up a fight that often belies their size. A small in-line spinner or a 1/8-ounce spoon in silver or gold are good bets. Brightly-colored dough baits formulated for trout and corn fished on the bottom or suspended under a bobber also are consistent producers.

"Pretty basic: small hook, small bait," Balsman said. "It doesn't take much."

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife stocked 123,000 channel catfish in FINs lakes in 2019 that averaged around one-pound each. They also stocked 31,167 redear sunfish, commonly called shellcrackers, in FINs lakes in September as well as 31,049 hybrid sunfish last May. The largemouth bass populations are monitored and supported with stockings as needed.

"Those other fish are still feeding pretty heavily in November trying to pack on some pounds for the cold winter months when they're not as active," Balsman said.

Daily limits for FINs lakes are five rainbow trout, four catfish, one largemouth bass over 15 inches and 15 bluegill or other sunfish.

Anglers ages 16 and older will need a statewide fishing license, unless exempt. Licensed anglers who intend to keep their trout also must purchase a trout permit. The permit is included in the Sportsman's license and Senior license.

“If you’re going to catch and release trout, practice good techniques,” Balsman said. “Don’t use a dry towel or step on the fish to get the hook out. Try to keep it damp with your hands. If it swallows the hook, you’re probably better off cutting the line.”
Feeling more adventurous?

The tailwater below Lake Cumberland's Wolf Creek Dam is a year-round fishery renowned for trout, striped bass and walleye. The Cumberland tailwater also produced the new 8-pound, 8.8-ounce state record saugeye caught on May 21, 2019.

Fisheries biologists recommend the upper part of the tailwater from the dam to Helm’s Landing or Winfrey's Ferry for numbers of trout. Crankbaits that imitate crawfish and minnows are effective for trout. Work either with a steady retrieve or quick jerks to entice strikes.

Fly anglers do well with Size 12 to 14 red or green Copper John nymphs fished below a strike indicator set so the nymph drifts just above the river bottom. Brown beadhead pheasant tail nymphs in these same sizes also work well fished under a strike indicator. Size 10 to 12 black stonefly imitations fished on the bottom also fool trout in November.

Anglers should consult the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers website at​ for the water release and generation schedule.

The Cumberland tailwater is arguably the best place in Kentucky to catch a large striped bass. The river provides abundant forage with cool water year-round. Anglers fishing large shad-colored soft plastic swimbaits can catch a striped bass over 30 pounds in the river.

The walleye always look fat and healthy in the Cumberland River. They increasingly stack up below Wolf Creek Dam as the water in Lake Cumberland cools during the winter months and thermally stressed shad and alewives pass through the dam during electrical generation. Anglers fishing with suspending jerkbaits in shad colors score on these fish.
The license year does not expire until Feb. 29, 2020, so get out this deer season, enjoy some great fishing and get your money’s worth on your fishing license.