A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Wade the Cumberland tailwater if you want to beat the summer heat

By Lee McClellan
Special to KyForward

The dog days of late summer slow everything down. The heat and humidity along with the long days make outside work sweaty and arduous.

Fishing slows during the dog days as well. Catching game fish from a lake or stream during a 90-degree plus day provides a challenge that anglers often fail to conquer.

Wading the cold waters of the Cumberland River below Lake Cumberland makes the best bet for a successful day fishing with the added benefit of escaping the heat for a time. Any breeze scrapes cold air from the river’s surface and makes the hottest day bearable, not to mention the oodles of brook, rainbow and bruiser brown trout.

“I had a friend who caught two 26-inch rainbow trout from the Cumberland River recently,” said Dave Dreves, assistant director of Fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The trout in the river are in excellent condition.”

Dave Dreves, assistant director of Fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, holds a 31-inch, 12-pound brown trout collected and released from the Cumberland River during population sampling a few years ago. Summer is the optimal time to wade the Cumberland River to catch brook, rainbow and hefty brown trout. (Photo Provided)

Late summer provides a reliable pattern for water releases from Wolf Creek Dam.

“The power demands at this time of year peak in the afternoon and evening,” Dreves said. “They usually run the most water during that time. It is not set in stone, you need to check the flow before you plan a trout fishing trip.”

There are a couple of ways to check the release schedule, visit the TVA generation preschedule page and consult the “WOL” column. The number 45 represents one turbine of generation. You may also log on to the Tennessee Valley Authority home page and click on the “Lake Levels” tab and scroll down to “Wolf Creek.” The generation this week peaked from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Central time.

“At the dam and at the Little Indian Creek Access at the end of Ray Mann Road, the water will be on you quickly,” Dreves said. “The best time to wade near the dam is usually in the early morning in summer, basically from daybreak to about 10 a.m.”

Boyd’s Bar at the Little Indian Creek Access makes an excellent morning wading spot for trout. The easy to wade bottom of Boyd’s Bar allows anglers to get well out into the river on a late summer morning. This spot, reached via a gravel road just below Wolf Creek Dam, consistently produces good numbers of rainbow, brook and the occasional brown trout.

The access at Helm’s Landing is another productive, and popular, wading spot. “Helm’s Landing is 4 1/2 miles downstream from the dam,” Dreves said. “You can usually fish until noon at Helm’s on a typical summer generation schedule, before the water starts to rise.”

Helm’s Landing is also wader-friendly with the deeper channel across from the boat ramp holding trout. The eddy just downstream of the boat ramp often holds brown trout when there is some current in the river.

The Rockhouse Access is one of the inimitable places to fish in Kentucky. From Helm’s Landing, take KY 379 south through the ghost town of Creelsboro until you see the Cumberland River on your left. Soon, the Rockhouse, also called the Creelsboro Arch, comes into view with a gravel road providing access to the parking area.

Formed 300 million years ago by the grinding power of the Cumberland River on one side and Jim Creek on the other, anglers must walk through this massive natural bridge to access the river.

“It is deep at the Rockhouse, walk downstream toward what are called the Gateway Rocks and fish there,” Dreves said. “I like the Rockhouse, but the Long Bar Access is much more preferable in summer.”

The relatively new Long Bar Fishing Access grants anglers fantastic wading water a little upstream of the Rockhouse, but on the opposite side of the river.

“You have a lot more area to wade at Long Bar,” Dreves said. “It will also give you another four hours to fish compared to near the dam in summer. You may fish until 2 o’clock or so until the water hits you.”

Long Bar, also called Snow Island, is comprised of a 12-acre island with a back channel that anglers can cross at low water.

“We shocked that back channel in October and trout were spawning in there. We had some big fish piled in there,” Dreves said.

Anglers may get directions and other information for the Little Indian Creek Access, Helm’s Landing, the Rockhouse and Long Bar Fishing Access on the “Where to Fish” page on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at fw.ky.gov.

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

For spinning anglers, Dreves loves the Trout Magnet, a diminutive stick-shaped soft plastic with a slit cut in the tail. It is rigged on a 1/64-ounce head and suspended under a bobber.

“You are casting it out and drifting it back,” he said. “Cast as far away from you as you can. Change your float and depth until the lure is just above bottom. You should hang bottom occasionally.”

Small suspending jerkbaits and tiny crawfish-colored crankbaits also score trout as does the venerable in-line spinner.

“For fly fishing, nymphs are always good on the Cumberland,” Dreves said. “Terrestrials such as grasshopper and ant patterns work well in late summer.”

There is an old joke about wading the Cumberland River. Place a $10 bill under a rock along the shoreline, so it will motivate you to get to the shore and retrieve it when the water rises from dam releases.

“Don’t be afraid because the fish really turn on when the water starts rising,” Dreves said. “Pick out a stick or rock along the shoreline to gauge and start moving to shore when you see the water rising. You will have ample time to fish the hot bite and get out of the water if you pay attention.”

Note: The Kentucky Afield Outdoors columns will be switching to a monthly release schedule beginning in August. Look for the column every third Saturday of the month, beginning Aug. 17.


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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