Please check all local and state laws before going out to collect fish on your own. It is up to KDFWR to determine the legality of your actions. Please be aware of all laws. You can find up to date information on KDFWR's website. Be advised, laws can be different in state and national parks, nature preserves, and state land. Please be informed of the laws where you are, unless you'd rather a game warden inform you.
Also, please be familiar with the fish in your area before going out collecting. Kentucky has many species that are on the Threatened, Endangered, or Special Concern lists. Check the KDFWR website to find what species are listed in your area. I recommend buying a Peterson's Field Guide to Freshwater Fishes of North America. This book is a great resource. It will give you species information as well as maps and photos. A used copy can usually be found on Amazon for very little. Also, you can see fish in your county/quad by visiting the KDFWR website here:http://fw.ky.gov/kfwis/speciesInfo/speciesInfo.asp. Being familiar with what you will see in an area is very important as there are some fish that look very similar but some may be rare. A good example of this is the Fantail Darter and the Duskytail Darter. The Fantail Darter is probably the most common and widely distributed fish in KY while the Duskytail Darter is on the Endangered species list. These fish are very similar and if a person is not familiar with the fish in an area and their identifying marks, he/she could be fooled.
Catching Kentucky Stream Fish
Capturing stream fish can be difficult. If you are searching solo, a dipnet or small 4ft seine can be very effective. Positioning the net in a riffle downstream from you and 'kicking' your way down to the net is good for catching darters. This method is called 'kick netting'. The best way to catch minnows, shiners, and dace is with, at least, 2 people and a 6-10ft seine. Seining pools and runs will usually yield a good number of fish. After pulling in your seine haul, break out the Peterson's Field Guide and check what you found. To transport fish, I use a small bucket like a 5 gallon paint bucket to keep fish stream-side. I then put these fish into a larger cooler dedicated for fish. My cooler is equipped with an aerator, filter, and thermometer. The cooler keeps the water colder and the fish happier for the ride home or while you're collecting at another location. BEWARE: it is very difficult to transport most shiners in the summer. They are already stressed and will usually die not long after putting them in the aquarium. It is best to collect shiners during the spring/fall season.
Captive Husbandry of Kentucky Fish
It is an awesome experience to catch and view KY's fish right from the creek. However, it is also a rewarding experience to setup a native aquarium and keep them. It is much more rewarding to look at your tank and know that you researched and captured the fish yourself. Some fish fare better in captivity than others. Most darters are hardy and will adapt well to an aquarium, however, not all can make the transition. Minnows, shiners, and dace usually do well in an aquarium as well. A native stream setup will usually include a long tank with power heads at one end to create current. Extra filtration is recommended as natives can be messy. Kentucky Native fish will do better with natural surrounding: natural gravel, rocks, driftwood. Most natives can handle room temperate water up to the mid-upper 70's in temperature. In the wild most stream fish eat small crustaceans and other insects. In the aquarium these fish will love frozen bloodworms. Also, other frozen foods such as plankton, brine shrimp, beefheart, and other will work as food. Minnows can easily be converted to eat tropical flake food. Be creative and use what you see in KY's creeks to setup your aquarium. After going collecting and you are home with your new fish, acclimation is now critical. Slowly introduce water from your aquarium into the bucket to get the fish used to the water and to slowly match the temperature. It's best to put your new fish into the tank at night with the lights off, this will reduce stress. Lake tanks are also common and people will house different kinds of sunfish. These fish can tolerate higher temps and do not need the current from power heads.
You don't need to keep fish in fish tanks to appreciate them. Many native fish enthusiasts don masks and snorkels and see sights that rival the beauty of tropical coral reefs! Swimming skills are generally not required since some of the best freshwater snorkeling can be done in (clear) water that's knee- to waist-deep. Just stick your head underwater, remain still, and let the fish come to you. Fish are surprisingly brave and curious when you're in the water with them. (Some like to nip at the air bubbles that stick to your arm and leg hairs.) Stir the bottom sand or gravel with your fingers and watch them feed on the tiny food particles you've released. Snorkeling in a clean river, like the Green River, on a warm sunny day can be awe-inspiring.