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Catch, then release

Special season enhances trout fishing through winter


I have to admit I’m not very good at sharing. To me, there’s nothing worse than catching a fish, then suddenly having folks appear near your side to cast right to your spot.

Carl West of Frankfort fly fishes for trout in Otter Creek, Meade County, during a heavy February snowstorm. Otter Creek is one of several creeks in Kentucky with a catch and release season for trout during the winter. Photo: Dave Baker

That’s why I enjoy the special catch and release trout season that runs from October 1 through March 31 on 14 Kentucky streams. (The season continues through May 31 on a 15th stream, Swift Camp Creek in the Red River Gorge.)

If you’re willing to pull on a pair of neoprene waders and fish when it’s cold enough for the ice to crust over your fishing guides, this is your season. Your reward likely will be blissful solitude while you pick whatever spot you want to fish.

Jim Axon, the now-retired assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, came up with the idea after seeing its success in other states. Axon realized trout tend to stay together for a few days after being stocked, which made them susceptible to anglers. When fish are concentrated and easy to catch, they don’t last long.

Requiring anglers to throw their fish back during a special season means more trout are available to anglers throughout the winter. The department followed that with a rule requiring the use of artificial baits only during the catch and release season on these streams. Trout are prone to swallowing hooks baited with worms, corn or scented dough baits, which increases their hooking mortality.

Fishing for winter trout can be challenging. If you’re using a fly rod, stick to small nymphs and midges fished underneath a strike indicator. As the season winds to a close at the end of March, watch the surface and dabble with dry flies if you spot any risers as the sun warms the water.

Anglers with spinning gear should try small inline spinners such as a Rooster Tail, or experiment with various colors of the Trout Magnet. The Trout Magnet is a lively, small plastic grub fished underneath a strike indicator.

Otter Creek in Meade County is a favorite winter fishery for me. Otter Creek Outdoor Recreation Area offers easy access with miles of public property along its banks. Another gem is Rock Creek in McCreary County—it’s one of the prettiest creeks in the state with plenty of access.

This winter, get away from the crowds and try some winter trout fishing. It’s an excellent way to enjoy the great outdoors.


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