We are blessed here in Kentucky with an abundance of streams and lakes, excellent fishing and no closed seasons.
While the unofficial start to spring fishing begins with the new license year on March 1, we can fish year-round, weather permitting.
If you grew up in Kentucky, or lived here for long, you know that "weather permitting" is a big if.
Our spring weather is typically unpredictable. Anglers need to pay close attention to weather trends -- temperature fluctuations, outlooks for precipitation, and storm fronts, to know when conditions are best to go fishing. That starts with closely monitoring water levels.
Water Temperatures, Lake and River Levels
Last spring was very wet and played havoc on fishing conditions. This spring is starting off wet, too.
Current water temperatures and elevations are available online or over the telephone.
This page on the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) website lists telephone numbers for fishing reports. Some of these fishing report hotlines may not become active until later in the spring.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers websites are also good sources of information on lake levels, water temperatures, and fishing reports.
Affects of Weather on Spring Fishing
Here are a few observations on how weather affects fishing in the spring:
• The worst fishing conditions are high, muddy, cold waters, followed by a bluebird (clear, high pressure) day. Cold fronts push fish deeper.
• The best fishing conditions are stable and clearing waters, with a slight warming trend and overcast skies.
• Rapidly falling water levels pull fish out into deeper water.
• Bright sun warms up stained or turbid waters, drawing fish into the shallows.
• The best fishing begins when water temperatures push into the mid-to-upper 50s.
• Fish follow subtle water level rises into the shallows, especially as the spawn approaches.
• Windblown points, and shorelines in bays can be productive fishing spots because winds push schools of bait up against the bank.
• Light, warm winds raise the temperature of the surface layer of water.
Anglers Have Lots of Options in the Spring
Spring is a great time to fish in Kentucky and opportunities are varied for a wide range of game fish, from panfish and trout, to bass and muskie.
Some excellent spring fishing options are: smallmouth bass in streams and major reservoirs, sauger and walleye in rivers, lakes and tailwaters, and crappie in small lakes and major reservoirs.
Here's some advice from the 2020 Fishing Forecast, published by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).
The state's top major reservoirs for smallmouth bass are Green River Lake, Kentucky Lake, Lake Cumberland, Laurel River Lake, Dale Hollow Lake and Fishtrap Lake.
Lake Cumberland is a popular smallmouth bass destination in central Kentucky.
The fishery is rated good. There's a good size range of fish in the population, with good numbers of fish up to 20 inches. The best fishing of the year begins in winter, when anglers fish the float-n-fly technique, where small jigs are suspended several feet below a float to mimmic a thermally-stressed bait fish.
Streams also provide excellent fishing for smallmouth bass, especially in central and eastern Kentucky.
Adult fish migrate from their winter habitat in deep, slow-moving holes in the lower sections of streams to spawning areas in smaller tributary streams.
Two top choices in central Kentucky are Elkhorn Creek and the South Fork of the Licking River.
Elkhorn Creek, the Kentucky River's second longest tributary, empties into the Kentucky eight miles north of Frankfort.
Its two forks and main stem drain the heart of the Bluegrass Region in four counties -- Fayette, Scott, Woodford and Franklin. The main stem of Elkhorn Creek is 17 miles long, from Forks of the Elkhorn to the Kentucky River.
The pastoral charm of the Elkhorn Creek valley has not changed much over time. Fertile bottomland fields are flanked by wooded hills, and there's a canopy of sycamore trees overhead on long silent pools, wide shallow riffles, and rocky palisades.
Elkhorn Creek's smallmouth bass fishery is legendary and rated excellent.
There are very good numbers overall and good numbers of fish greater than 16 inches. In the 17-mile main stem of Elkhorn Creek smallmouth bass 12 to 16 inches long are protected from harvest by a slot limit.
Sauger and Walleye
During late winter into early spring sauger and walleye fishing is good in tailwaters below dams on the Ohio River, lower Kentucky River, Cumberland River and Tennessee River.
Lake Cumberland, Dale Hollow Lake, Laurel River Lake and Carr Creek Lake support walleye fisheries rated good to excellent.
Early on anglers fish jigs and crankbaits. As water temperatures warm into the upper 60 and 70s and walleye move deeper, spinner rigs baited with minnows or nightcrawlers are a productive lure choice.
A real sleeper is 710-acre Carr Creek Lake, in Knott County.
The walleye fishery is rated excellent and there are very high numbers of fish from 15 to 26 inches, with a few fish up to 28 inches long.
March through May are good months to fish during day or night. Standing timber holds suspended fish in summer as well as deeper open water areas where walleye suspend beneath schools of alewife bait fish.
Crappie are a springtime favorite with anglers because they are fun to catch and delicious to eat.
There's nothing quite like a meal of fried crappie fillets, served with coleslaw, hushpuppies and fried potatoes.
Generally in major reservoirs, crappie move seasonally, spring and fall, from deep water to shallow water, using creek channels as highways.
The best spring fishing starts when water temperatures climb into the mid-to-upper 50s, and crappie begin to move into shallower water. When crappie come to the banks, they congregate around docks, weed beds, flooded brush, stumps, logs and other floating debris.
Black crappie are the first to move up into shallow water in the spring as water temperatures rise into the 50s, followed by white crappie, as water temperatures rise into the 60s.
From tagged crappie, monitored by radio telemetry, biologists learned that black crappie not only move up earlier but into much shallower water than white crappie.
Fishing for larger "slab" crappie heats up in late winter at Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, where catches of crappie over 12 inches are not uncommon.
These "twin" reservoirs are in a class by themselves, but good bets for crappie fishing in central Kentucky include major reservoirs Herrington Lake and Taylorsville Lake, and several Ohio River embayments upriver from Louisville, backwater areas out of the current where there's submerged brush, deadfalls and driftwood.
And don't overlook these two small lakes, also in northcentral Kentucky.
Boltz Lake, 92 acres in Grant County, has an abundant crappie fishery, rated good. A majority of the fish are in the 8 to 10-inch range, with larger fish present.
Elmer Davis Lake, 149 acres in Owen County, supports a crappie fishery rated good, with most fish in the 8 to 10-inch size range, with larger fish are present.
Quality crappie is the name of the game at Taylorsville Lake, 3,050 acres in Spencer, Anderson and Nelson counties.
The crappie fishery is rated good to excellent, with good number of fish at and above the 10-inch minimum size limit. The daily creel limit 15 fish.
Online Access to the 2020 Fishing Forecast
To get details on current fish populations in all of Kentucky's major lakes and rivers, consult the 2020 Fishing Forecast, published by KDFWR.
The forecast is based on 2019 fish population surveys, creel surveys, fish stockings, and historical knowledge of the fisheries.
It's shaping up to be another wet spring so monitor lake and river levels carefully. Time your fishing trips to coincide with the warmest days and best water conditions.
Go fishing now! Spring is arguably the best time of the year for angling success.
Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast.