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Trickles on foot Consider soaking in the same flowing waters that you're fishing

By Steve Vantreese

When there's steak on the buffet line, you typically don't go out of your way looking for bologna.

Maybe that's stretching it, but a parallel to the steak and bologna thing exists with summer fishing hereabouts.

Nowadays, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources is promoting the commonwealth's stream fishing because we're closing in on the dog days of summer and lake fishing has gotten tough. But the stream fishing they're hyping is smallmouth bass and trout stuff, offerings largely exclusive to more central and eastern portions of the state.

State fisheries managers don't really address far western Kentucky streams because (1.) our lakes fishing is so superior that even the slow summer stuff is pretty good, and (2.) the flat, lowland nature of our streams makes for lackluster fishing.

Why, they figure, would someone slosh around in some mucky ditch when he could go fish Kentucky Lake or Lake Barkley? And mostly they figure right.

When you've got grilled sirloin at arm's length, you usually don't look beyond it for processed, nitrite-infused, pressure molded and sliced mystery meat â “ even with lots of mustard to kill the taste.

Yes, it's tough to tout stream fishing here. But as silly as it seems, standing wallet deep in murky creek water while meddling with fish that are too small to pique general interest has produced some pleasant, lasting memories.

If a flatlander is going to do creek fishing, this is the time. The bloom largely is off reservoir fishing right now, so you won't miss too much. And with typical summer heat, wading a creek is somewhat cooling, having at least some of your carcass in the very water that you're fishing.

Perhaps surprisingly, some of our streams have pretty good fish populations. Unlike many lake inhabitants, creek fish don't shrink into distant depths when the summer's heat is on. Stream fish readily do business right now.

But here's the thing: While you might be surprised by the number of fish available in some small stream hereabouts, you probably won't be overwhelmed with their sizes. Logically, smaller waters don't usually yield many big fish.

Depending on the area creek in question, most fishing action will come from bluegill and other sunfish. There may be swarms of them, but far more will range from tiny to small.

The usual trophy in a small creek here will be a largemouth bass of about legal keeper size. Most creek bass will be squirts of eight to 10 inches long. A foot-long bass gets to looking really good. A two-pounder gets you excited.

Channel catfish can rock you when you adapt to creek fishing. A whiskered fish of unanticipated heft can come out of a deeper pool just about the time that you come to expect a five-inch green sunfish.

What you really need to level and legitimize the playing field is ultra-light spinning tackle. A whippy little rod and miniature reel spooled with 4-pound line will help a couple of ways.

First, it will allow one to cast the smallest of lures, which, in turn, will provoke a ridiculous number of strikes. Most attention comes from miniature fish, of course, but you won't make that many casts in which a lure won't be molested in some fashion.

Too, truly featherweight tackle â “ gear rated for 1- to 4-pound line â “ will make every fish that hits feel bigger than it is. You'll have your hands full when a 13-inch bass piles on, but why wouldn't you want that?

Streams to fish are limited hereabouts, but if you'll accept something that wouldn't rate a postcard photo, you can get by. You might have to fish around the occasional discarded refrigerator and derelict tires in some creeks, but those become habitat.

Larger streams here may be impractical for wade fishermen because of too-deep water and a shortage of shoals and negotiable bottom composition to work from your hind legs.

In highland areas, rocky creeks are routine â “ but hardly so much here. Mostly, nearby you hope to find something with sections of gravel bottom and riffle-pool sequences where you can slip around on foot and not sink to your backsides in soft, muck sediment.

Here, the West Fork and the far upper East Fork of Clark's River, Mayfield Creek, Massac Creek and several others offer sections with a tolerable amount of water and passable footing on the bottom to wade.

The tiny Crooked Creek in the Land Between the Lakes can be a hoot. As cruddy as it sounds, Blizzard Pond Ditch along Clark's River National Wildlife Refuge has produced a trove of good fishing for miniatures if you can tolerate the reptiles swimming around you.

Study a map. Think about some of the bridges you cross. There may be some alternatives you've never considered.

On a special note, folks who live in Illinois or those willing to buy nonresident fishing licenses might consider the rocky streams of the downstate Shawnee National Forest for wade fishing. Some are wonderfully scenic â “ far more aesthetically pleasing than typical lowland creeks â “ and hold loads of fish.

Wherever you go, remember that most little waterways are some individual's property, and asking permission to traipse around there is a prerequisite.

Steve Vantreese, a freelance outdoors writer, can be contacted at outdoors@paducahsun.com.

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