Kentucky spring fishing primer

Published 11:17 am Thursday, May 4, 2023

BY LEE MCCLELLAN

​Kentucky Afield Outdoors

Getting started in fishing can be intimidating for the uninitiated. Finding a place to fish then learning how to do it can be a bit scary for a newbie. Then there’s learning the terminology and the cost of equipment.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources offers a solution for where to go: the department manages 45 Fishing in Neighborhoods lakes across the state that offer entry-level anglers good locations to put a fish in hand.

Start by reviewing the department’s 2023 Fishing Forecast, found online at fw.ky.gov. The forecast includes the FINs Cheat Sheet, a handy reference detailing the fish species in each lake and offering anglers insights into what they can expect.

If you don’t have fishing equipment, spring is a great time to purchase an entry-level outfit. Many outdoor stores put rod and reel combinations on sale in March and April, or move older inventory to the clearance table to make room for the latest models.

The most popular outfits for beginners are spincast and spinning gear.

A spinning combination, a match of a spinning reel and an accompanying rod, makes a great choice for a beginner because of its versatility. This style includes a reel hanging underneath the rod, with the line visible on its open spool.​​

Anglers can purchase a decent spinning outfit with a medium-light reel paired with a 6 1⁄​2​​-foot rod for under $40. Spooled with 6-pound test line (meaning the breaking strength of roughly 6 pounds), this outfit can cast the lighter lures needed to catch trout, sunfish and bass. This kind of outfit also has enough brawn to haul in the size of channel catfish usually found in FINs lakes.

The spincast combination includes a reel that perches on the top of the rod. These reels have the line spool enclosed in the housing, and a push button to release line for a cast. Spin cast combinations are idea for youth and are easier for any angler to cast.

Many spincast outfits come pre-spooled with 10-pound line on the reel and 6-foot, medium-power rods. However, beginning anglers may struggle to throw lures weighing less than 1⁄4​-ounce with this combination, limiting their effectiveness at catching smaller bluegill and trout.

Once you have the gear, how do you catch fish?

Many FINs lakes recently received stockings of channel catfish and rainbow trout. A small in-line spinner, commonly called a Rooster Tail, is a highly effective lure for trout in FINs lakes.

This lure includes a solid, pill-shaped body, a treble hook covered by hair, and a blade on top that spins as it’s reeled through the water. Simply cast it toward the middle of the lake, let it sink for a second or two, then slowly reel it back to you.

While an in-line spinner may quickly bring a limit of rainbow trout to hand, it also fools bluegill and cruising largemouth bass.

An in-line spinner with a silver blade works well. Good body colors include grey, chartreuse and red. Remember to keep an in-line spinner well away from woody cover or the bottom. Should the small treble hook on the lure strike either, it will likely get hung up and you will lose it.

Spinning or spincast outfits work just fine for catching channel catfish from a FINs lake. Crimp on two pea-sized split shot weights about 18 inches above a 3/0 circle hook. Thread a chicken liver, night crawler, stink bait or frozen shrimp onto the hook, then cast it out and let it sit on the bottom.

Circle hooks look more like a circle than the traditional J-shaped hooks. Circle hooks are a great choice for catfish because they reduce the chance of a fish swallowing a hook deeply. All you do is allow the catfish to swim off with the bait. Keep a taut line and the circle hook catches a catfish in the corner of the mouth nearly every time. Fish will hook themselves, no need to yank the line.

While largemouth bass in FINs lakes generally run smaller than 14 inches, they do provide great sport and teach beginners how to play and land fish. A white and chartreuse spinnerbait makes a good choice for largemouth bass in FINs lakes as does a pearl with silver flake 4-inch swimbait.

Both lures require a steady retrieve rather than the patience required for a slow-moving lure. This helps alleviate boredom for beginning or young anglers.

For a true beginner, especially a youngster, nothing beats fishing for bluegill. Simply impale a redworm, wax worm or mealworm on a size 6 Aberdeen-style long shank hook, then place a bobber 18 to 24 inches above the bait. Cast the rig near a weed line or submerged brush, or let it gently drift in the wind. Any bluegill nearby will strike.

The fish stockings in the lakes enrolled in the FINs program are planned to provide productive fishing. Make this the year you learn to fish. It will likely lead to a lifelong hobby.

Remember to purchase your 2023-2024 fishing license before sampling a FINs lake. Licenses and permits can be purchased online via fw.ky.gov and in person at various locations throughout the state.