The mild weather this winter has many thinking it will be an early spring across Kentucky.
The earlier, the better for anglers, who by late February are like sprinters on their marks waiting for the starter’s pistol to fire.
Some of the best fishing of the year is right around the corner. The new license year is, too. It starts March 1.
For $20, an annual resident Kentucky fishing license serves as a ticket to good fishing opportunities, but also as an investment.
“We do not receive any General Fund money from the state,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of the Fisheries Division at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Our funding comes from the sale of fishing licenses and permits and matching federal funds.”
Each year, the funding goes toward everything from the scientific assessment of fish populations, habitat improvement work, fishing and boating access and the production of millions of sport fish and fry by the Minor Clark Fish Hatchery near Morehead and the Pfeiffer Fish Hatchery near Frankfort. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife stocks hatchery-raised fish in the more than 40 lakes enrolled in the Fishing in Neighborhoods (FINs) program and utilizes them to support fish populations in larger lakes, rivers and streams.
“It’s a user pay, user benefit system that pretty much funds everything we do directed at sport fish,” Ross said.
Licenses and permits are sold online at fw.ky.gov, by phone at 1-877-598-2401 or in person at various locations across the state. A list of license vendors is available on Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website. If you intend to buy a 2017-18 license before the current license year ends at the end of the month, be sure to select the appropriate license year at the time of purchase.
Buying the sportsman’s license at the outset of a new license year maximizes its value. Available to Kentucky residents only, it bundles a combination hunting and fishing license, spring and fall turkey permits, statewide deer permit, state migratory game bird-waterfowl permit and trout permit. It is an exceptional value at $95. The resident senior and disabled combination licenses includes the same license and permits as the resident sportsman’s license plus additional deer permits. Anglers who intend to keep trout or plan to fish the Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam must buy a $10 trout permit, unless they are license exempt.
Looking to try a new fishing hole this spring? Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s website can help. Start on its homepage and click the “Fish” tab, then select “Find a Place to Fish” from the dropdown menu. The “Find a Place to Fish” page features a slew of links under “Fishing Resources.”
The “Fishing and Boating Access Sites” search page offers the ability to filter results by location, waterbody type, access type and fish species. Pair the results with a glance at the maps provided through “Lakes with Fish Attractors” page to determine the location of fish attractors.
Additional links take users to the FINs and Voluntary Public Access (VPA) program pages. FINs lakes are stocked with rainbow trout and catfish. The largemouth bass and sunfish populations are closely monitored and supported with stockings as needed. Stocking schedules for the FINs lakes are available online. The VPA page includes a links to a list and maps of VPA fishing access sites.
The annual Fishing Forecast is another helpful resource. Available on the department’s website, it provides a snapshot of the state’s major fisheries based on fish population surveys, creel surveys, fish stockings and historical knowledge. While on the website, type “Spring Fishing Frenzy” into the search box at the top of the homepage. This series of columns is a treasure trove of tips to help you catch more fish.
The Kentucky Afield television show and department-affiliated social media accounts are other sources to consider. The show airs at 8:30 p.m. (Eastern Time) on Saturdays on Kentucky Educational Television (KET). Each episode includes a fishing report from Fisheries biologists stationed across the state. Social media is one more way to stay abreast of what’s happening in the Fisheries districts. Each has its own Twitter handle: @kyfisheriesw, @kyfisheriesnw, @kyfisheriessw, @kyfisheriesne, @kyfisheriesc, @kyfisheriese, @kyfisheriesse.
An increasing number of anglers are fishing from canoes or kayaks. The gaining popularity of paddle sports prompted Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to create a web page devoted to paddling opportunities in the state. From the department’s homepage, click on the “Boat” tab, then choose the “Canoeing and Kayaking” tab from the dropdown menu. This clearinghouse of information offers something for paddlers of all experience levels so they can plan a safe, productive float.
Anglers should also check out the “Blue Water Trails” and “Stream Fisheries” pages. The Blue Water Trails series is a definitive source of information about more than 30 of the finest paddling trips in the state. The Stream Fisheries page features photos of fish sampled by department biologists and tips to help you catch them, as well as put-in and take-out locations and optimal water flows.
Whether you’re paddling a canoe or kayak or piloting a 20-foot bass boat, remember life jackets.
“Especially during the spring boating season when warm air temperatures and sunny days can give boaters a false sense of security that the water also is warm,” said Zac Campbell, boating education administrator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “If you end up in the cold water without a life jacket, your body will start to shut down and you’ll lose your ability to swim no matter how good of a swimmer you are.”
By law, a Coast Guard approved wearable Type I, II or III life jacket is required for each person onboard a boat. The only exceptions are sailboards and manually propelled racing vessels.
Children younger than 12 years old must wear life jackets while in the open part of a boat that is underway. A Type IV throwable personal flotation device also is required for all boats 16 feet and longer with the exception of canoes and kayaks.
For additional information about fishing and boating in Kentucky, consult the 2017-18 Fishing and Boating Guide. View or download it online at fw.ky.gov or pick up a copy wherever licenses are sold.
Author Kevin Kelly is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Kevin and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield.