Now and then a fish kill

June 22, 2013

Sam Piatt

Outdoors Columnist

Fisherman who fish Cave Run Lake near Morehead regularly knew as early as March that something was wrong with the white bass.

“The run up the river never got hot. Very few fish coming back out of the river. They weren’t feeding normally – no jumps,” said Chris Erwin, secretary/treasurer of the Kentucky Outdoor Press Association and a former guide on the 8,270-acre lake.

Biologists are searching for the cause of a fish kill in Cave Run which affected thousands of white bass.

Gerry Buynak, assistant director of fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, said anglers first observed thousands of dead and struggling white bass in the lake the weekend of June 8. No other species were affected.

Many of the white bass had marks on their bodies, the cause of which was later determined to be bacterial infection, he said.

The fish kill affected white bass not just up the river on their spring spawning runs, but throughout the lake, Buynak said.

Dr. Bob Durborow, aquaculture extension specialist at Kentucky State University, said the white bass he examined had bacterial infections which contributed to their condition, but was likely not the primary cause of the fish kill.

“The report says that they were contributing factors but may not be the cause of death,” Erwin said. “I think they encountered some (of those infections) in the river while going through spawning and it just now ran its course and killed them. It might be pollution. We haven’t had the creek flushing floods this year.

“They’ve said this happen once before, in 2000, but it just effected large fish. I’m wondering what the weather was like then.”

“This year’s kill affected white bass ranging in size from 6 to 16 inches,” Buynak said.

To help maintain the fishery, biologists stocked 64,000 fingerling-sized white bass in Cave Run Lake on June 13.

Durborow sent samples of the fish to the Warm Springs National Fish Hatchery in Georgia for additional testing for viruses. The results of the tests may not be available until later this summer.

“It’s good that they (state fisheries biologists) came out with a statement on the kill,” Erwin said. “I don’t think people should eat these fish until we get the testing (results) back.”


Emergency trout regulations in effect for the past three and one-half years on the Cumberland River below Lake Cumberland’s Wolf Creek Dam were eliminated June 15, reducing the daily limit from 10 to five fish.

That section of the river, stocked heavily with trout by the state, is a favorite spot for fishermen, especially for fly fishermen.

The drawdown of Lake Cumberland for dam repairs brought higher temperatures to the water in the river downstream from the dam. Trout suffered stress and lost body condition when the water temperatures grew too high.

The temporary regulations on the river into effect in September 2009, allowing anglers to keep an additional five rainbow trout daily.

“With improved water quality this year from the raising of water levels in Lake Cumberland, we should have better conditions for trout in the Cumberland River,” said Dave Dreves, fisheries research biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “We now revert back to the existing regulations before the temporary regulations went into place.”

Anglers may keep five rainbow trout daily, but those caught between 15 and 20 inches in length must be immediately released. Only one rainbow trout in the five trout daily creel limit may be longer than 20 inches.

Anglers may keep one brown trout daily with a 20-inch minimum size limit and they may keep one brook trout daily with a 15-inch minimum size limit.

During the drawdown, the lack of water cold enough for trout in the lower stretches of the Cumberland River in Kentucky pushed trout upstream, resulting in high trout densities in the river miles just below Wolf Creek Dam.

“With the return to normal densities, there is no need to harvest 10 trout anymore,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “A five fish limit is optimal to allow for adequate harvest, but still allow for trophy size potential.”

Roughly 10,000 rainbow trout 15 inches and longer will be stocked this fall to bring back the quality rainbow trout fishery in the river in faster fashion. Later in the fall, fisheries crews will stock an additional 10,000 to 12,000 rainbow trout ranging from seven to nine inches in length on top of the normal rainbow trout stockings in the river.

G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.