Kentucky Changes Trout Limit Changed In Lower Cumberland River
Beginning June 16, anglers may keep 10 trout of any size taken from the Lower Cumberland River from the state line to a point 100 yards upstream of the public boat ramp at Burkesville in Cumberland County.
Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Jon Gassett authorized this emergency measure liberalizing the limits on the 40-mile section of the river due to high water temperatures caused by the Lake Cumberland drawdown and the ongoing drought.
Water temperatures are becoming too high in the lower section of the river to support trout, which are a cold-water species. “Under the current conditions, the odds of trout surviving in the lower river are not good,” Gassett says. “We decided to make the best of a bad situation by giving anglers an opportunity to keep more fish.”
Fisheries Director Benjy Kinman says he expects the department to rescind the special limit once water conditions improve in fall.
Under the emergency measure, anglers fishing downstream of the Burkesville location may keep a total of 10 trout, regardless of the species. Anglers are encouraged to keep all the fish they catch, as practicing catch-and-release in this section may put too much stress on the trout and result in their death.
Regulations for the river upstream of the Burkesville location remain the same: Anglers may keep only one brown trout measuring 20 inches or longer. Anglers must immediately release all rainbow trout between 15-20 inches. Anglers may keep a daily limit of up to five rainbow trout, only one of which may exceed 20 inches.
The lower half of the 75-mile trophy trout river, which extends from Wolf Creek Dam to the state line, has steadily grown warmer this spring due to restricted flows coming from the dam. Lake Cumberland, the source of the tailwater’s cold water, is being held 43 feet below normal summer pool while repairs to the dam are underway. The project is expected to take up to seven years to complete.
With no rain occurring in the lake’s headwaters for several weeks, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has severely restricted the amount of water being released by the dam. The lake cannot be lowered much further without affecting water intakes for local communities.
With less cold water moving through the river and air temperatures rising, water temperatures in the river continue to climb. “With no break in the drought on the horizon, we’re concerned about lethal water temperatures for trout in the lower river,” Kinman says.
Both rainbow and brown trout become severely stressed and eventually die at temperatures of 75 degrees and higher, says Fisheries Research Biologist Dave Dreves. This week at McMillan’s Ferry, located near the state line, Fisheries Biologist Eric Cummins measured a water temperature of 75.6 degrees at 10:30 a.m. Hundreds of trout were concentrating in the mouths of two spring-fed tributary creeks with 70-degree water.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working closely with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to decrease water temperatures in the river, although the federal agency cannot increase the amount of water flowing through the dam each day.
At the request of Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, the Corps halted the use of the dam’s generators. Instead, the agency is releasing water through sluice gates located at the bottom of the dam. The gates, which are located 50 feet deeper in the lake than the intakes for the generators, release colder water into the tailwater. Dreves says the sluice gates helped drop the water temperature an average of 5 degrees at Winfrey’s Ferry, located 16 miles downstream of the dam near Creelsboro.
Temperatures in the upper section of the river currently are suitable for trout. “We’re hoping the modified flows from the dam will protect the upper river, but there’s still the potential for crisis in the lower river through October,” Kinman says. “We need rain in the Lake Cumberland headwaters.”
Dreves says the quality of the trout fishery in the upper section of the Cumberland River is the best in a decade or more. Anglers report outstanding fishing in the river this year.
“Hopefully, our collective measures will allow anglers to utilize a fishing resource that is imperiled, and simultaneously provide adequate protection for trophy fish in the upper reaches of the river,” Kinman says.