The coldest temperatures since the last visit of the Polar Vortex late last winter dim prospects of hunting and fishing over the next week or so. During times of single-digit temperatures greeting you in the morning, a little planning of outdoor adventures for the coming year helps lift spirits during these darkest, coldest days of winter.
Kentuckians are lucky as our state offers bountiful outdoor opportunities for each month of the year. Here are some productive suggestions for each month of the upcoming year.
January: Rabbit and quail hunting
Rabbit hunting is often best in the late season and can be easier with snow on the ground. Search for tracks in the snow around cedar thickets for excellent January rabbit hunting. Peabody Wildlife Management Area and the region around Mammoth Cave offer arguably the best quail hunting opportunities in Kentucky. Hunt the thickest cover you can find.
February: Walleye and sauger
Sauger congregate in great numbers in late winter below locks and dams on the Ohio, Kentucky and lower Green rivers. Sauger hit orange and black, white and lime green 3-inch curly-tailed grubs rigged on leadheads. Use a heavy enough leadhead to get lure on the bottom. Walleye stack up in the tailwaters below Green River Lake and Lake Cumberland in February. Work a suspending jerkbait in the clown color in eddies and current breaks for these fish.
March: Farm pond largemouth bass
Due to their smaller size, farm ponds heat up in spring before large, sprawling reservoirs. A warm front in March often brings largemouth bass into water so shallow in farm ponds that it barely covers their back. A square-billed chartreuse and white crankbait retrieved parallel to the bank works well in this situation. Make sure to walk gingerly and keep noise to a minimum to avoid spooking fish.
April: Turkey hunting
Kentucky has a stable and abundant flock of wild turkeys. The 2016 spring season opens April 16 and closes May 8 with public land turkey hunting options statewide. Those who venture more off the beaten path bag more turkeys on public land.
May: Redear sunfish
Commonly called shellcrackers, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley hold huge specimens. Redworms fished on the bottom near large weedbeds often fool them. Central Kentucky’s Elmer Davis Lake in Owen County, Clear Creek Lake in Bath County and Corinth Lake in Grant County hold good populations. In Eastern Kentucky, Panbowl Lake in Jackson County and Fishtrap Lake in Pike County offer productive fishing.
June: Largemouth bass
June may be the best month to catch largemouth bass in Kentucky. The weather is warm, but not yet scorching hot. Largemouths strike topwater lures in the morning and at dusk. During the day, they gobble 7-inch straight-tailed green pumpkin worms rigged on Shakey heads crawled on the bottom near channel drops.
July: Night fishing for channel and flathead catfish
Find shallow flats with a hard bottom near drop-offs during the day and come back after the sun goes down and throw out some fresh cut-bait or chicken livers on these same flats. Channel cats gobble these baits up. Small live bluegill fished in these areas draw strikes from flatheads.
August: Wade fishing for stream smallmouth
Nothing feels better than wade fishing a stream for smallmouth bass in the August heat. A light rain that slightly raises the flow and colors the water makes a great environment to catch large stream smallmouths. They crush black 4-inch finesse worms rigged on 1/8-ounce leadheads worked above and below stream drops.
September: Dove hunting
The Sept. 1 opening of dove season is almost a holiday for many in Kentucky. Dozens of public dove fields scattered across Kentucky grant access. Don some lightweight camo clothing, a 20- or 12-gauge shotgun and a couple of boxes of shotshells loaded with No. 8 shot and hit the field.
October: Muskellunge fishing
In the world of muskellunge fishing, Kentucky has three world class reservoirs: Cave Run, Green River and Buckhorn lakes. Catch rates for this notoriously difficult to catch species on these lakes rival any other waters in the country. Sarah Terry caught the 47-pound state record in fall. Swimming a large shad-colored crankbait designed for largemouth bass over shallow weedbeds in the backs of creeks often fools big muskellunge on these lakes in October.
November: Modern gun deer hunting
The peak of the deer rut occurs in November in Kentucky. Our state produces some huge deer and holds a national reputation for quality. Kentucky hunters already broke the harvest record this season with a few days of archery hunting still to go. Public lands offer bounteous opportunity and those willing to venture away from roads find larger deer.
December: Waterfowl hunting
Kentucky’s resident goose population provides great hunting in December in harvested corn fields while our reservoirs draw in many ducks. The Ohio River gets better as the days grow colder. Our position in the waterfowl migration route gives Kentucky hunters a chance to harvest many different duck species.
Don’t pout during these days of arctic air. Get out a calendar and plan for a bright future of hunting and fishing in 2016.
Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.