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Owen County Almanac | Summer 2024

BY JOSH RODAMER | Sweet Owen Contributor


THE KENTUCKY RIVER pictured here near Monterey, offers blue catfish in its lower pools, below dams, and on the outside of bends with currents. — Photo by Molly Haines Riddle, Sweet Owen Editor

Summer. 

I step out of the car and take a deep breath as I close my eyes. The unmistakable smell of the riverbank overcomes those of cut hay, limestone dust, and cool morning air that had swirled in the open windows as we dropped into the valley. I open my eyes and look out over the still, glass surface that holds a light fog revealed by the emerging gray light. I take another deep breath in; my olfactory cortex betrays the worries of today, tomorrow, and next week as visions of summers now gone roll through my mind. 

My boots sink slightly as I near the water’s edge, a familiar sucking sound with every step. It’s too early for boat traffic and lines, like contours of a topo map, detail the lapping of river water in the silt below its surface. 

Summer fishing along the banks of the Ohio River represents some of my earliest outdoor memories as a child. One such instance involved my father losing his favorite Zebco rod and reel as he frantically tried to help me manage a catfish fight on my Mickey Mouse fishing pole. Although he was less than amused at the moment, my dad was awfully proud of the 8 lb. catfish I was able to fight with this little setup. His pole, as I so helpfully pointed out in the moment, slowly slid into the murky water 20 feet away, leaving only a line in the muddy sand where it once lay. He tried to reach the pole in time but was not fast enough.

In the midst of catching a fish, we are focused on the task, the thrill of the bite and fight, but the impressions left on our minds are most often those of togetherness. 

I recently spoke to Greg Estes, proud Owen countian, and a guy that just likes to go fishing, about chasing cats. He described that what makes a good time fishing is who you are with, not necessarily what you caught. When asked about the best day catfishing, he simply stated, “The best day I ever had, we didn’t even catch a fish. It was just me and my son Adam on the boat for six or seven hours, just spending time together.” When recalling his own childhood, Greg remembered landing a 28 lb. blue on a 6 lb. ultralight spinner setup in a farm pond. In slight similarity to my own experience, his uncle suffered an injured hand as he tried to make sure Greg didn’t miss out on his catch. Even though Greg has caught some monster catfish, these memories were the ones that came to mind first.

When it comes to catching fish, he likes to use chicken livers, night crawlers, or skip jacks with his bait a few feet off the bottom. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife (KYFWR) offers several articles and online resources on catfishing that reinforce Greg’s recommendations for bait and where to fish. Big lakes and rivers provide some of the best catfishing, especially if you lack access to a well-managed or stocked farm pond. Rocky outcroppings and undercut banks are prime habitats for channel catfish. KYFWR will stock hundreds of thousands of these fish across the commonwealth in FINs (Fishing in Neighborhood) lakes and other impoundments. You can find the stocking schedule of lakes at fw.ky.gov

The Kentucky River offers Blue Catfish in its lower pools, below dams, and on the outside of bends with current. Channel catfish can be targeted along the palisades, in silt-free rocky habitats, or below dams. Look for large flatheads around boulders or log jams. Additionally, Elmer Davis Lake and Elkhorn Creek hold fair numbers of channel catfish. You may also find some flatheads in the Elkhorn. KYFWR offers a fishing guide and forecast on its website that details species and locations for each water body in the state.

As many memories are made on the water, time around a hot pan and oil can be just as important. Greg prefers a deep-fried fish. He has two techniques he uses: one is a fish and chips recipe, and the other a cornmeal. I’ve been told pan-fried, with cornmeal, salt and pepper is the traditional Owen County preparation for catfish. I reached out to Charlie Riddle for confirmation, who is known to fry a delicious piece of fish. Riddle explained that cornmeal was cheap and people could make it themselves. He noted there is different preferences between white and yellow self-rising cornmeal, but cornmeal is the key. 

There is just something special about a group of people coming together and digging into a basket of fried fish. Although the fried fish is gone faster than the late spring spawn, the memories that are made can be cherished for years to come. I’m looking forward to cool mornings and evenings with my children on a bank or boat. I hope all of you find some time to enjoy the woods and waters of Owen County.

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