Pay lake probe nets charges of illegal catfishing

Published 8:40 am Tuesday, September 26, 2023


A Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources investigation into catfish pay lakes across the commonwealth has substantiated claims that some aren’t playing by the rules.

“There are fish and wildlife regulations for a reason,” Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Rich Storm said. “The protections in place today ensure opportunities exist tomorrow and for generations to come.

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“The diligence and perseverance by the conservation officers who led this investigation produced a victory for conservation and sustainable public fishing opportunities.”

Reports from concerned members of the public regarding catfish being harvested and obtained by pay lakes contrary to regulations sparked what would become a three-year investigation.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife conservation officers investigated 63 pay lakes and cited 28. Charges are pending for one other.

Sixty-three citations were issued as a result of the investigation. In some instances, multiple people associated with the same pay lake were cited.

Violations included operating without a pay lake license, improperly obtaining catfish, failing to document purchases of catfish and not maintaining records in accordance with state administrative regulations.

Conservation officers logged more than 3,000 hours on the investigation. It found that pay lakes bought fish as large as a 47-pound flathead catfish and 40-pound blue catfish, but the majority were in the 20- to 30-pound range.

“Over time, some of these lakes become overstocked, resulting in crowding and untimely death of these fish,” Storm said.

The greater the number of large catfish in a particular pay lake, the more alluring it may be for anglers and thus the more profitable it can be for pay lake owners.

In many instances, trophy fish – typically around 15 pounds or more – cannot be removed from these lakes by the paying customers as they are required by the pay lake owner to catch and release.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife cited owners of 28 pay lakes across the state for failing to document purchases of catfish and not maintaining records in accordance with state law. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife photo