I’ve fished the Cumberland River tailwater for more than 20 years now, usually within sight of the huge concrete and earth dam holding back Lake Cumberland. I’ve always been awed by the sheer force of water surging downstream whenever the operators open up the dam’s gates to generate electricity.
For wading anglers, it’s best to get out immediately at the first whiff of current, as the surge can easily sweep you off your feet.
Things are different this year. Due to the drought and ongoing repair work at Wolf Creek Dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has reduced the amount of water flowing into the tailwater. The gentler flows mean the Cumberland River is now prime territory for anglers in canoes, kayaks, small boats, or just wading on foot.
Anglers report great trout fishing this year in the tailwater. Biologists keeping track of the number of brown and rainbow trout in the river note that surveys conducted last fall and this spring revealed the highest-ever recorded number of fish in the 15- to 20-inch range. Because of the low water levels, more anglers who don’t have a big boat have an opportunity to catch them.
With this opportunity comes a steep price, however. The water downstream of Burkesville is growing too warm for trout to survive. The problem is that there isn’t enough cold water going down the river.
That’s why a special regulation for the Burkesville area down to the state line went into effect this summer: anglers in this stretch can now keep up to 10 trout of any size or species. A trout permit and fishing license are still required for the river, and normal regulations are still in effect for the river upstream of Burkesville. The special regulation may revert to normal when the river cools down again.
Anglers using spinning gear should try medium-sized silver and black countdown Rapalas, inline spinners with silver blades and white, chartreuse, or orange bodies, or the old standby, Power Bait formulated for trout. Because the water is so clear, use light line; 4-6 pound line is about right.
Fly anglers are having success with small, beadhead nymphs floated under a strike indicator. Japanese beetle patterns are also a good bet when these bugs are present.
Low flows throughout the day are a rarity on the Cumberland River. Take advantage of them while you can.
Find access points and places to fish on the Cumberland River or anywhere else on the Internet. Go to www.fw.ky.gov, click on “fishing,” then “where to fish.”