For centuries, nearby residents and nonresidents have enjoyed Barren River for fishing and outdoor recreation.
The beautiful river runs for miles from where it rises in Monroe County all the way to Warren County. It’s full of an array of aquatic life and fish such as bluegill, crappie, striped bass, rock bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, muskie, walleye and sauger.
On any given day or weekend, people can be seen in their boats fishing the river or anticipating that big strike while fishing from the river banks. It’s also become a popular river for people who enjoy canoeing and kayaking as well.
We are fortunate to have it in and around our city. We are also fortunate to have Drakes Creek, a smaller stream that flows into Barren River behind Rivergreen subdivision. It also is full of the same type of aquatic life and fish that are in Barren River and has also become a popular canoeing and kayaking stream.
We welcome all of this activity on this scenic, historic creek and river. We want to keep it this way for current and future generations to enjoy.
Daily News reporter John Reecer wrote a really good article last month about bass fishing tournaments that are taking place in Barren River and how they might be affecting the river’s smallmouth bass population.
In the article, several people who’ve fished the river for decades raised concerns about how these tournaments, which run all the way up to the old Shaker Mill on Drakes Creek, may be affecting mainly smallmouth fishing in the river.
Longtime fishermen Chris Minix and Wyatt Goshorn raised concerns about changing trends they are seeing in regard to bass fishing on the river since the tournaments started years ago, in particular what they believe are smaller bass populations.
While Minix said there could be multiple factors adding to this shift, he pointed to one possibility as the chief culprit.
“Over the last few years, I’ve noticed that since the bass fishing tournaments have become more prevalent, the quality of the fishing has gone down,” he said.
Minix’s theory is shared by Goshorn, who has been fishing the river and its tributaries for nearly 30 years.
“There never were tournaments 25 years ago, and the fish were where they were,” Goshorn said. “They were in their own territory. For the most part, the smallmouth bass stayed where they were. Whether or not it has something to do with the tournaments, the population has been interrupted.”
Eric Cummins, southwestern fisheries district program coordinator for the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife, said he has also noticed a change in the river’s fish population.
“We have had a slight dip in the catch rate of those larger fish,” he said. “There are probably more factors involved than just bass displacement. At least for that system, we don’t have a great feel for how they are dispersed back.”
However, he said there hasn’t been a direct correlation found between an increase in bass tournaments and a decline in the smallmouth bass population.
Cummins said environmental factors such as temperatures, flow and water level of the river are primary factors causing the fish population to be “extremely fluid.”
“We know some of those bass will go up in those tributaries because the Barren stays colder then what they are looking for,” he said. “That’s the suspicion that a good number of them migrate up to Drakes Creek and other areas. We know from other studies we have done that it’s all dependent a lot of times on how conditions are in the summer. If lower conditions come, perhaps they will move out.
“Usually, when you are on the extremes of those flows, you have poor survival of your classes of fish,” he said. “A happy medium is a good indicator that you have a good class coming through. It’s typical to have some ebbs and flows in the population.”
To help improve the situation, Cummins said the Department of Fish & Wildlife is in the process of raising the size limit on fish that can be kept on the Barren River system to a 15-inch restriction. This means all fish smaller than 15 inches must be thrown back into the river. Changes will not take effect until March 2023 if the new regulation passes through the regulatory process.
We believe this is a very smart move by the Department of Fish & Wildlife. By increasing the size limit, smaller fish will have more time to grow larger in Barren River.
Cummins makes some valid points as well in regard to why the fish may be displaced other than bass tournaments. In his position with the Department of Fish & Wildlife, we believe he is knowledgeable in this area and through his job deeply cares about fish sustainability in Barren River.
Cody Winston, vice president of the nonprofit fishing club Winston’s Fishing League, detailed some of the rules his league’s tournaments have.
He said it regularly rotates tournament locations up and down the river so fish are released back in separate spots.
All fish have to be released upon weigh-in, there are “heavy penalties” if fish are brought in dead, there’s a limit on how many fish each boat can bring back to weigh-ins and only a set number of boats can participate in each tournament at once.
“We have been around for six seasons now, and we have done everything we can do from a conservation standpoint,” Winston said. “We typically visit each of our locations twice a year around seven months apart. As anglers, we do everything we can to take care of our sport. We want this to be around for future generations. We haven’t had anyone break our rules in six years.”
Winston, whose club held a fishing tournament in September at Weldon Peete Park, said it has been a very wet season this year, which has fostered a natural displacement of the fish.
“In droughts and high waters, it changes every time you go,” Winston said. “It’s definitely a lot of factors in play. That’s part of the fun of it. I can’t speak for all the other clubs, but we do share our schedules so we are not overcrowding the river.”
While Winston is confident fishing tournaments like the ones put on by Winston’s Fishing League are not the reason the recent decline has occurred, he said he wants to be part of a solution.
“If anyone has ideas, feel free to message us and we want to work with them,” he said. “We have always worked with everyone in order to enjoy the same water.”
We have nothing against these bass tournaments taking place in Barren River as long as they are not harming the fish populations in the river and Drakes Creek.
Again, we think Minix and Goshorn raise some valid concerns. For people like them who love fishing on the Barren and in Drakes Creek, they are simply wanting to see the great fishing they’ve seen in their lifetimes to continue.
We want that as well.
We applaud Cummins for also offering his professional insight on possible causes for the decline in smallmouth bass in these two waterways. And we appreciate Winston offering to work with others in any way to improve the quantity of fish in these waterways.
We’re glad the dialogue has started on this most important issue. We hope the Department of Fish & Wildlife continues to closely monitor the situation on these waterways. If wildlife officials continue to see a further decline of mainly smallmouth bass, they need to step in and do more to correct it for all of those who fish on these beautiful waterways that we are most fortunate to have in our county.