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Kentucky’s Winter Trout

Angler Carl West whooped as a rainbow trout at the end of his line leapt from the water and pirouetted mid-air. Another leap, a hard charge for the bottom, and West scooped the 10-inch fish from the water.

A few years ago, fishing Kentucky’s streams for trout in the winter would have been wasted time. However, a program started in 1999 by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources extends the trout season through the coldest months on a handful of streams.

It’s called delayed harvest–a catch-and-release program modeled after successful efforts by states such as North Carolina.

“We’ve gotten nothing but good reports back on it,” says Jim Axon, assistant fisheries director in charge of Kentucky’s trout program. “Anglers are fishing at a time that they didn’t have before.”

Normally, trout streams are stocked in the spring, but they are soon fished out. Delayed harvest streams are stocked in October. The rules for these special streams are simple: anglers can only use artificial bait, and they must release all trout caught from October through March.

West, who’s fished some of the country’s best trout waters, likes the idea.

“Anyone who thinks these trout will behave like typical dumb stockers will think again after they’ve been bombarded over the winter with all kinds of fake bait,” he says. “They’ll be a real challenge.”

Delayed harvest streams include Rock Creek in McCreary County, Bark Camp Creek in Whitley County, Cane Creek in Laurel County, East Fork of Indian Creek in Menifee County, and Otter Creek in Meade County. Three more streams will be added to the program this fall, including Casey Creek in Trigg County, Lick Creek in Simpson County, and the Left Fork of Beaver Creek in Floyd County.

Anglers should try ultralight spinning rods spooled with 4-pound line. Small in-line spinners with black or yellow bodies and silver or gold blades work best.

Fly rod anglers should use 5-weight or lighter outfits. Midges, nymphs, and woolly buggers–either black or white–work well.

Winter trout typically congregate in deeper holes, although warm winter days may bring them into riffles.

Although most delayed harvest streams are easy to wade, anglers should wear neoprene waders for warmth and consider felt-soled shoes for traction.

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