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By Lee McClellan
Ky. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources
Most of us get some time off during the upcoming holidays. With all of the stress surrounding Christmas, what a better way to blow off some steam and get away from work and family obligations than hearing your drag screech from a trophy fish?
Winter is one the most productive trophy fishing times of the year for sauger, striped bass and even largemouth bass from farm ponds if the weather conditions cooperate.
Sauger bite better as the temperatures drop in December and January. They are arguably the most consistent biter of any fish in winter. Plus, sauger fillets taste fantastic, comparable to walleye in flavor and firmness of the meat.
The tailraces of reservoir dams and the areas immediately downstream of locks and dams on the major rivers make the highest percentage spots to consistently catch winter sauger. As the water cools in winter, they stack up below these dams in impressive numbers. Locks and dams on the Ohio River from Meldahl Lock and Dam near Foster, Kentucky in Bracken County downstream to Smithland Lock and Dam near Smithland in Livingston County all produce excellent winter sauger fishing.
The locks and dams in the Kentucky River also offer highly productive sauger fishing all winter long, due to a stocking effort from the fisheries division of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Population sampling earlier this year showed sauger up to 18 inches long in the Kentucky River below Lock and Dam 5 near Tyrone, but they exist in good numbers up and down the river.
Sauger are also increasingly showing up in the Cumberland River just below Wolf Creek Dam. They also swim in great numbers below in the Tennessee River below Kentucky Lake and in the Cumberland River downstream of Lake Barkley.
Sauger hit lures that imitate shad. Four-inch shad-shaped swimbaits work great on these fish as do white, chartreuse and lime green curly-tailed grubs. Sauger live on or near the bottom, so use a heavy enough leadhead to get these lures down to them. Bring plenty as you will get hung up often. Small silver jigging spoons also work well for sauger, but a leadhead tipped with a crappie minnow may work best of all.
Those same tailraces areas below locks and dams on the Ohio River and below Kentucky and Barkley dams hold excellent numbers of striped bass that bite all winter long. Live shad drifted in the current work well for these bruisers as do heavy white doll flies cast into the roiling water.
Striped bass are currently in the heads of creeks on Lake Cumberland and remarkably shallow for this time of year. The upper lake runs murky to muddy with quite a bit of drift in the water right now, so the lower lake from Jamestown Marina to Wolf Creek Dam is the best area to fish.
Anglers report thick schools of shad in the upper most section of the creeks and striped bass-sized chartreuse hair jigs and jig spinners are producing fish. Bottom fishing on main lake points with shiners or shad is also working well for stripers, plus an occasional smallmouth bass.
Another excellent winter fishing opportunity is our catch and release trout streams. Trout are a cold water species and winter’s howling winds and cold nights don’t bother them at all. Anglers may only use artificial lures on these streams from Oct. 1 to March 31. You may not use the organic pastes or nuggets such as PowerBait during this season. These streams revert to statewide regulations for the rest of the year.
Both spinning and fly-casting anglers can catch trout all winter long from the catch and release streams. Fly anglers need to get their offerings near the bottom in winter and nymphs, smaller stone fly imitations and small leech patterns work well in winter.
Small 1/32-once brown or olive marabou jigs produce winter trout in these streams. Work them slowly on the bottom in the deeper holes as you would for smallmouth bass. Black, red or grey in-line spinners also draw strikes from hungry trout in December and January. These streams flow extremely clear during winter, so use no more than 4-pound test monofilament or fluorocarbon.
Consult the 2011-2012 Kentucky Fishing and Boating Guide for a list of the catch and release trout streams or visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at fw.ky.gov. Some of the best ones are East Fork, Indian Creek in the Red River Gorge National Geologic Area in Menifee County, Otter Creek at the Otter Creek Park Outdoor Recreation Area in Meade County, Casey Creek in Trigg County and Rock Creek in the Daniel Boone National Forest in McCreary County.
A warm front of three days or more or a warm rain brings largemouth bass to the shallow ends of farm ponds during winter. A 3-inch black grub rigged weedless on a 1/16-ounce leadhead is a deadly lure for these fish. A brown or black hair jig in the same weight fished without a trailer also works for winter farm pond largemouth bass.
Work these lures as slowly as possible as to entice lethargic winter largemouths. You won’t get many strikes, but the largemouths that do strike are usually large females, using a productive feeding situation to nourish the developing eggs in their bellies.
The holiday season is one of the most overlooked and productive time of year to fish. Plus, you likely won’t see another angler all day. Get out of the house and enjoy it.
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