Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Weather is just one of three things to consider for spring fishing

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By Lee McClellan
Special to KyForward

(This is the fifth installment of the “Spring Fishing Fever” series of articles detailing productive fishing techniques and opportunities across Kentucky. The series will continue until early summer. An archive of past articles is available on the department’s website at

The weather forecast calls for a redbud winter to hit this week. This old saying refers to cold snaps that occur in early April when the redbud trees bloom.

The up and down nature of spring weather can cause consternation among anglers when planning fishing trips. Concerns about the weather is one of three things to consider when planning fishing trips this spring.

Barometric pressure is key to unlocking fish behavior in spring:

Barometric pressure is the measurement of the weight of an entire column of air pressing down upon the Earth. Approaching storm fronts in spring ease this weight, resulting in low barometric pressure. The low pressure releases humidity trapped in the atmosphere, resulting in rain or snow.

The streamflow data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey is a critical component of planning a spring paddling trip on a Kentucky stream. This data, along with weather patterns and harvest regulations, are three factors to consider when planning fishing trips this spring.

The dark, low clouds, winds and precipitation that accompany low pressure systems limit light penetration into the water column, providing a better environment for predator fish to ambush prey. Fish do bite better before a front.

High pressure systems follow low pressure frontal systems. In North America, high pressure systems flow out in a clockwise pattern, resulting first in winds from the north and eventually from the east.

“I don’t believe in too many old wives tales when it comes to fishing, but ‘wind from the east, fish bite least’ is one I do believe in,” said Maj. Shane Carrier, assistant director of Law Enforcement for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “I don’t catch many fish when the wind is from the east.”

A couple of days of stable weather in spring ease the influence of high pressure and get fish biting again. The sunny days typical of high pressure warm the water and stir fish activity.

Plan your trips this spring to fish either right before a low pressure system or on the third or fourth day of stable weather.

Making sense of the USGS streamflow charts to plan float trips on Kentucky streams:

The streamflow information on the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) webpage at provides invaluable information for paddlers and anglers. On this page, select Kentucky from the drop down menu on the top right hand corner to view the flow on streams on all of the river drainages in Kentucky.

The rate of flow on this page shows as CFS or cubic feet per second. The cubic feet per second expresses the amount of flow that passes the USGS stream gauges per second. The higher the CFS, the higher and swifter the water.

The chart for an individual stream shows the discharge for each day of the preceding week as well as the current day. A small triangle on the chart shows the median, or midpoint, flow for each day based on years of data. A flow measuring much higher than the median means high, and usually muddy, water, not the best conditions for fishing and floating.

A flow under the median usually means tolerable fishing and paddling conditions. The USGS streamflow page also has a chart showing the gauge height for each stream. This helps flesh out the data provided by the streamflow chart. This chart provides a good mental image of the rise, fall or stability of the stream over the last week.

For more outdoors news and information, see Art Lander’s Outdoors on KyForward.

The new Canoeing and Kayaking page on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at is another invaluable repository of information for stream anglers and paddlers. This page leads to information collected by biologists concerning the fish populations in a stream, the recommended levels for floating selected streams, photos of access sites and fishing tips.

The page also contains a link to the Blue Water Trails series, an ongoing initiative detailing the paddling and fishing on streams across Kentucky as well as a printable map.

What is a daily creel limit and a possession limit for fishing?

Anglers often get confused about these terms, especially when they are fishing three or more to a boat.

“Whenever anyone is fishing in Kentucky, each angler is entitled to the daily creel limit for that species on that lake, river or stream,” Carrier explained. “There is no boat limit in Kentucky.”

For example, if three anglers fish for crappie on Kentucky Lake out of one boat, each is entitled to 20 crappie, the daily creel limit for crappie on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley. There is also a 10-inch minimum size limit for crappie on these lakes, therefore anglers must immediately release any crappie caught less than 10 inches long.

The possession limit is the amount of unprocessed fish a person may hold after two or more days of fishing. In Kentucky, this amount is two times the daily creel limit for any species that has a daily creel limit.

Keep these things in mind as you plan and execute fishing trips this spring. Remember to buy your 2017-18 fishing license, as the new license year began March 1.


Author Lee McClellan is associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Get the latest from Lee and the entire Kentucky Afield staff by following them on Twitter: @kyafield

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. For more information on the department, click here.

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