Anglers encouraged to catch endangered Cumberland River trout
By Art Lander Jr.
HERALD-LEADER OUTDOORS WRITER
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has issued a Wildlife Disaster Contingency Measure for brown and rainbow trout in the lower 40 miles of the Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam.
The trout are in danger of dying from prolonged exposure to warm water.
"We want people to be able to catch these fish rather than let them die on the water," said Benjy Kinman, the department's director of fisheries. "All indications are that these fish aren't going to survive long term."
The contingency measure, authorized Thursday afternoon by Commissioner Jon Gassett, creates a 10-fish aggregate daily creel limit on trout, with no size limits, in the area 100 yards above the boat ramp in Burkesville, downstream to the Tennessee line, east of Tompkinsville.
It takes effect at midnight Friday.
The 75-mile tailwaters, which flow through parts of Russell, Cumberland and Monroe counties, is the state's premier trout fishery, supported by discharges of cool water from the depths of Lake Cumberland.
A spring drought, unseasonably hot weather and the lowering of Lake Cumberland to elevation 680 to repair leaks in Wolf Creek Dam, have caused less cool water to be discharged into the river, and much lower river levels.
Normally, water temperatures in the tailwaters during June are in the mid-50s, but this week water temperatures reached the mid-70s at several locations in Cumberland and Monroe counties.
At water temperatures of 75 degrees or above, trout will die.
Burkesville is about 35 river miles below Wolf Creek Dam. "We think the upper river is secure, and we hope that it will become a refuge for our trophy trout," said Kinman.
Anglers are reminded that they must have a valid fishing license and trout permit to fish.
"We ask that anglers keep the fish they catch, and stop fishing after they have reached their daily limit of 10 trout," said Kinman. "Trout in warm water become stressed easily and may not survive being released."
Starting Friday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will modify water discharges through Wolf Creek Dam in an attempt to maintain a steady flow of cool, oxygenated water into the river.
One sluice gate will be opened for three hours, then closed for three hours, around the clock. "It's a seven-day trial, and we'll be monitoring water temperatures," said Kinman. "By having less time between the opening of the gates, we hope it redistributes the cool water better."
Opening the sluice gates causes cold water from near the lake bed to flow into a concrete basin and spray into the tailwaters.
The Corps is unable to increase the amount of water flowing through the dam each day because of a lack of rain in the headwaters, and the lake can't be lowered much further (below elevation 680) without affecting water intakes for local communities.
The contingency measure authorized Thursday is expected to be rescinded when water conditions improve in the fall.
Above Burkesville, the trout limits are unchanged.
There's a one-fish daily creel limit on brown trout and a 20-inch minimum size limit. For rainbow trout, a 15- to 20-inch slot limit remains in effect. The daily creel limit on rainbow trout is five, but only one fish larger than 20 inches may be kept. All rainbow trout measuring 15 to 20 inches must be released.