Normally, I’m a big advocate of catch-and-release fishing. Save some fish for someone else, I say. However, there is one exception to my rule: walleye.
With apologies to all the crappie fans out there, I contend that these torpedo-shaped fish with a mouthful of teeth are the best-tasting fish in all of Kentucky.
While walleyes have major fans north of the Ohio River, they don’t get as much attention in this state. That’s a shame, because walleye populations are booming in the state’s premiere lake for them. John Williams, an avid walleye angler and fisheries biologist for the Lake Cumberland area, has his own theory on why walleyes are the wallflowers of our waters.
“They don’t jump when you catch them and they don’t make big runs like some other fish,” he explains. “They’re not a great fighting fish, so that’s probably why they don’t have a great following here.”
Maybe it’s time to start following walleye. Here’s why: biologists netting fish in Lake Cumberland last fall discovered more walleye than ever before. There were plenty of 19-21-inch fish between 3-4 pounds, and they’ve grown since then.
June is a good time to fish for walleyes in Lake Cumberland, Laurel River Lake, Green River Lake, Carr Creek Lake, or Paintsville Lake. They’ve finished spawning and they’re actively feeding before they head for deeper water in the heat of the summer.
To find walleyes, look for long, sloping points that gradually ease into the main part of the lake. Use a good electronic fish finder to search for small pods of fish hanging near the bottom in 15-20 feet of water. Troll across these points with a deep running crankbait that stays near the bottom.
Williams also trolls across these points with a bottom bouncer. These specialized rigs have a large weight on the bottom and a stiff wire on top to keep the bait from snagging the bottom. Most have a spinner and beads to attract the attention of fish. Williams baits the hooks with a nightcrawler. These rigs are generally available in tackle shops near walleye lakes.
Williams puts out two rigged fishing poles on either side of his boat, then trolls across points just fast enough for the rigs to tickle the bottom. His technique works—his personal best is an 11-pound walleye taken from Laurel River Lake. That’s one heck of a fish fry.
Angler appreciation weekend is June 2-3. On these days, you can fish without a license. Go to www.fw.ky.gov on the Internet for information about fishing near you.