The buzz of the holidays is gone for another year. The college football season is over until next fall. Most hunting is gone until then, too. The sky is often low, leaden and depressing in January and February.
The stretch from New Year’s to the first warm shirt-sleeve weather of March is often a long, arduous stretch of weeks. Cabin fever inflicts anglers as they pine for the sound of a drag singing, the gentle gurgle from water flowing over riffles and the satisfaction and tired body from a day of wading a stream.
You don’t have to brood waiting for warm weather to go fish a stream. The 13 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.
“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, fisheries research biologist who helps oversee trout management in Kentucky.
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 January, February and 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. In late winter, Rock Creek gives an angler a mountain trout fishing experience.
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 15,600 trout annually.
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 and Otter creeks also receive a few hundred brown trout annually.
Although not a seasonal catch and release stream, Chimney Top Creek in the Red River Gorge National Geological Area in Wolfe County offers a wilderness trout fishing experience for quality brown trout. Anglers must hike into Chimney Top Creek. A parking area on KY 715 grants access to Trail 221 that runs west down into Chimney Top Creek.
A 16-inch minimum size limit with a one-fish daily creel limit applies to brown trout in Chimney Top Creek. The hike is fairly strenuous, but offers a day of good fishing spent in beauty away from the world.
For more information about the seasonal catch and release trout streams, visit the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ webpage at fw.ky.gov and click on the “Fishing and Boating” tab, then “Where to Fish.”
Don’t spend the winter moping until warm weather arrives. Spend a day catching trout in a gorgeous setting, often without encountering another soul.
Seasonal Catch and Release Trout Streams:
- Bark Camp Creek – Whitley County
- Beaver Creek – Wayne County
- Big Bone Creek – Boone County
- Cane Creek – Laurel County
- Casey Creek – Trigg County
- Clear Creek – Bell County
- East Fork, Indian Creek – Menifee County
- Elk Spring Creek – Wayne County
- Left Fork, Beaver Creek – Floyd County
- Middle Fork, Red River – Powell and Wolfe counties
- Otter Creek – Meade County
- Rock Creek – McCreary County
- Swift Camp Creek – Wolfe County
Logo courtesy Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife