The Best Fishing in Kentucky: Our Top 8 Lakes
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Where Can I Find the Best Fishing in Kentucky?
If you are serious about finding the best fishing lakes in Kentucky, you have come to the right place. That said, there’s a lot we need to consider.
For starters, Kentucky is second only to Alaska in terms of navigable miles of water in the United States. If we know anything about water, we know it usually contains fish.
That said, we are trying to determine the best lakes for fishing in Kentucky, so we are going to rule out streams, creeks, and rivers. It goes without saying that you can get into some excellent river fishing on the Ohio River, Mississippi River, Licking River, Cumberland River, Green River and others.
Kentucky also plays home to some tremendous creek fishing. Anglers frequently visit Beargrass Creek, Tygarts Creek, Tug Fork, Levisa Fork, Hickman Creek, and Clear Fork.
The Bluegrass State has some excellent fishing lakes. The question, however, is simple: how do determine the top 8?
How We Decided Where to Find the Best Fishing in Kentucky
At Premier Angler, we believe in being thorough. Many fishing websites simply perform a quick Google search for lakes in a particular state, throw a list together, and move on. Fortunately, we are not most other fishing websites.
Below, you will find the criteria our team used in order to determine which lakes should make this cut.
- History of Success: For each lake featured below, our team looked at recent and historical success anglers had on those waters. If a lake has produced one or multiple state record catches, this is an added bonus.
- Available Species: We also looked at data provided by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources to determine the diversity of each body of water. Some lakes in the state may be known to process excellent fishing for one or two species, but lack the variety of other locations.
- Accessibility: Kentucky is a reasonably sized state with modest terrain. To get from lake to lake, anglers may have to make a reasonable drive. While compiling this list, we took a lake’s location, access point, nearby cities and towns, and more into consideration. For clarification, we also list only public lakes.
- Social Currency: Data is great, but how good can a list be without a human touch? This list could feature a thousand different ways, and personal preference plays a major role. That said, we have taken the perspective of field correspondents, social media groups, fishing forums, and lake experts.
Honorable Mentions: Some Great Kentucky Fishing Spots
Before fishing any of Kentucky’s top fishing spots, you should make sure to purchase a valid fishing license.
For a state with more navigable water than any other contiguous state in the Union, there are plenty of lakes that could have made the Top 8. While only a handful can be considered “the best,” there were quite a few lakes on the cusp.
Below, we have determined several lakes that are more than deserving of an honorable mention status:
Kentucky is known to have great crappie fishing, and Buckhorn Lake is part of the reason why. While it may fly under the radar at times, the 1,200-acre lake generally produces respectable quantity and size slabs. Bass are also a staple on the lake. Buckhorn is also notable for great muskie fishing. As a smaller lake known for its natural beauty, anglers will likely enjoy the relatively small size and absence of watersports enthusiasts.
Another entry from eastern Kentucky, Yatesville joins a list of spots that offer great largemouth bass fishing. Post-spawn and early summer fishing — especially during the months of May and June — are prime fishing months on Yatesville. Reports suggest that natural-colored baits and soft plastics (especially when fished as a Texas Rig) have been particularly successful over the past few years. Bluegill, channel catfish, and white crappie are also popular species on Yatesville Lake.
Cave Run Lake
At 7,880 acres, Cave Run Lake is a reasonably large fishing destination with good fishing. Anglers on this lake can expect to catch smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black and white crappie, spotted bass, muskie, and white bass. Muskie fishing on Cave Run Lake is particularly strong. In fact, the Kentucky state record muskie (as of this writing) was caught on the lake. Sarah K. Terry caught the record fish, which weighed in at an impressive 47 pounds, in 2008.
Cave Run Lake Muskie Fishing Video
Laurel River Lake
Another entry with great bass fishing, Laurel River Lake is also a great destination if you are looking for bluegill, rainbow trout, channel catfish, and walleye. Anglers may also want to visit Laurel River Lake if they are looking for some of Kentucky’s best northern pike fishing. While Kentucky’s state record northern pike (which was caught on Laurel River Lake in 2006 and weighed 10.53 pounds) is considerably far from the world record (which, as of this writing, sits at 55 pounds and was caught on Greffen Lake, Germany), it is still a notable catch for the Bluegrass State.
Laurel River Lake Bass Fishing Video
Located in Pike County, Fishtrap Lake is positioned on the eastern border on Kentucky. While this may put Fishtrap out of range for anglers in certain areas of the Bluegrass State, it is actually one of the most accessible locations for visitors coming in from Virginia, West Virginia, and North Carolina.
Despite not having any current state record catches to its credit, it’s hard to call a lake “Fishtrap” is you aren’t, in fact, trapping fish there. Anglers who fish these waters can expect to land some quality largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white crappie, black crappie, channel catfish and bluegill.
Fishtrap Lake Fishing Video
The 8 Best Fishing Lakes in Kentucky
Now, we will take a look at the lakes that were determined to have the best fishing in Kentucky. As we mentioned before, please remember that creeks, streams, and river are not included in our rankings. Also, the lakes below are not listed in any particular order.
Nolin River Lake
Nolin River Lake Fishing Video
Located near both Nolin Lake State Park and Mammoth Cave National Park, the lake also has several marinas. As the lake is situated in central Kentucky (spanning Grayson, Edmonson, and Hart counties), it also offers a great location for anglers in practically any part of the state.
Nolin River Lake spans an impressive 2,890 acres and is home to some of Kentucky’s best fishing for numerous species. Anglers looking to catch crappie, bass, walleye, and catfish in the Bluegrass State will want to give Nolin a chance.
While no Kentucky state record fish have been caught on these waters, the lake does offer consistent quantity and size for the aforementioned species throughout the year. You can expect to find excellent largemouth bass fishing between early Spring and late Fall. For crappie, both early Spring and the summer months produce a good yield. White bass are also popular during late Spring and early Summer. Winter, however, can be a challenging time of year as water levels are prone to fluctuation.
Cedar Creek Lake
Cedar Creek Lake Fishing Video
At 784 acres, Cedar Creek Lake is another smaller fishing destination in the Bluegrass State. That said, it is Kentucky’s second largest state-controlled lake. The lake has several boat ramps, access to bank fishing, and a handful of developments planned for the future (as of this writing), including a marina and public beach.
Numerous species can be found here, including crappie, bluegill, trout, smallmouth bass, and channel catfish. Perhaps the most popular species, however, is largemouth bass. Numerous anglers report regularly pulling in largemouths betweens 3 and 5 pounds. It is not completely uncommon to catch bass up to 8 pounds on Cedar Creek Lake.
Herrington Lake Crappie Fishing Video
Covering 3,600 surface acres, Herrington Lake was back-and-forth with one of our honorable mention lakes. Both had qualities that would warrant a designation as one of Kentucky’s best fishing lakes, but we ultimately had to go with Herrington for a variety of reasons.
With a healthy variety of species available, Herrington Lake offers the type of variety that appeals to a diverse pool of anglers. Some of the more popular species on Herrington include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill, spotted bass, hybrid striped bass, and white bass.
In fact, Herrington Lake holds one half of a two-way tie for the Kentucky state record white bass. B.B. Hardin caught a 5 pound bass on the lake back in 1957, tying the record fish caught on Kentucky Lake in 1943.
Taylorsville Lake Crappie Fishing Video
Located in north-central Kentucky, Taylorsville offers accessibility to anglers coming from throughout the state, as well as those venturing in from Ohio and even Indiana. The lake covers 3,050 acres and is located in Spencer, Anderson, and Nelson counties.
Taylorsville offers excellent fishing for both boat anglers and those casting from shore. It is a very popular recreation lake, however, so anglers should expect heavy traffic during certain times of the year. Over the holidays (especially the 4th of July), fishing can be compromised. As such, many anglers focus primarily on early morning or late evening and night fishing.
Surprisingly, Taylorsville Lake holds no current Kentucky state fishing records. For those familiar with the lake, however, they know how many excellent species can be found in these waters. Some of the most popular fish species on Taylorsville Lake include smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, black crappie, white crappie, white bass, channel catfish, and bluegill.
Lake Barkley Fishing Video
Covers roughly 53,000 acres, Lake Barkley spans an impressive 134 miles with over 1,000 miles of shoreline. Separated from Kentucky Lake by the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, Lake Barkley is located with Livingston, Trigg, and Lyon Counties in Kentucky. Part of the lake also extends into Tennessee. Since it sits in the western part of the state, Barkley can be a considerable trip from many Kentucky anglers. It does have a welcoming location for those coming from Indiana and Ohio, however.
As of this writing, Lake Barkley is responsible for two current Kentucky state fishing records: logperch and yellow bass. While neither record is for a “significant” species, they are records nonetheless. The yellow bass record (1 pound, 6.4 ounces) was caught on the lake’s tailwaters in 2009. The logperch, caught in 2013, was a modest 0.08 pounds.
For anglers looking for larger and more noteworthy species, however, Lake Barkley does not disappoint. The lake it noted for having excellent sauger, bluegill, catfish, white bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and crappie fishing, assuring it a spot as one of the best fishing lakes in Kentucky.
Lake Barkley also features numerous marinas, incuding Buzzard Rock and Resort Marina, Kuttawa Harbor Marina, and Eddy Creek Marina. Popular bait shops on Lake Barkley include Tom & Barb’s and The Cabin Bait and Tackle.
Kentucky Lake Fishing Video
If you leave Lake Barkley, head west, and cross the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, you will land directly on Kentucky Lake. Not only is this 160,000+ acre fishery the largest artificial lake east of the Mississippi River — it is also one of the best fishing lakes in Kentucky.
For starters, let’s talk about Kentucky state fishing records. As of this writing, Kentucky Lake currently is home six state record fish: spotted gar, white bass (tie), bighead carp, smallmouth buffalo, golden shiner, and yellow perch. The sizes for these fishing include:
Spotted Gar: 4 pounds, 7 ounces (2014)
White Bass (tie): 5 pounds (1943)
Bighead Carp: 64 pounds (2010)
Smallmouth Buffalo: 55 pounds (2000)
Golden Shiner: 0.31 pounds (2014)
Yellow Perch: 1 pound, 7 ounces (2010)
While this catalog of records isn’t necessarily filled with species that inspire most anglers, Kentucky Lake more than holds its own when it comes to more popular game fish.
Every year, experienced and professional anglers converge upon Kentucky Lake for a variety of tournaments including FLW College Fishing events, the Legacy Marine Open Trail, the Kentucky Bassmasters Classic, and more.
Kentucky Lake is also home to some of the best sauger, bluegill, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, white bass, and red-ear sunfish in the Bluegrass State.
Dale Hollow Lake
Dale Hollow Lake Fishing Video
When you’re discussing the best fishing lakes in Kentucky, you have to include Dale Hollow. Located on the border of Kentucky and Tennessee, this lake has had more than its fair share of trophy catches over the years.
For starters, let’s consider the Kentucky state record smallmouth bass. David L. Hayes landed a mammoth 11 pound, 15 ounce smallie on the lake way back in 1955. For over half a century, there hasn’t been a larger smallmouth caught in Kentucky. In fact, there hasn’t been a larger smallmouth caught anywhere. To date, this continues to stand as the world record smallmouth bass.
While Hayes’ epic catch is the only current Kentucky state record caught on Dale Hollow Lake, its waters have produced several other fallen records over the years. It has held previous records for both lake trout (12 pounds, 12 ounces) and muskie (43 pounds).
Outside of record fish, however, the fishery also offers plenty of excellent size and quantity for numerous species. Popular fish species on Dale Hollow Lake include black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, freshwater drum, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, muskie, white bass, channel catfish, red-ear sunfish, and walleye.
Lake Cumberland Fishing Video
The final entry on our list of best Kentucky fishing spots should come as not surprise to folks who know the area. Covering over 65,000 acres and spanning six counties (Pulaski, McCreary, Laurel, Russell, Clinton and Wayne) in southern Kentucky, the lake is also a great fishing destination for anglers coming up for Tennessee.
In terms of state records, Lake Cumberland (combined with its tailwaters) has produced some impressive catches over the years. Current Kentucky states records caught here include:
Walleye: 21 pounds, 8 ounces (1958)
Striped Bass: 58 pounds, 4 ounces (1985)
Sturgeon: 36 pounds, 8 ounces (1954)
Lake Cumberland (Including Tailwaters and Cumberland River)
Sauger: 7 pounds, 7 ounces (1983)
Brook Trout: 3.65 pounds (2015)
Brown Trout: 21 pounds (2000)
Lake Trout: 5 pounds, 5 ounces (1983)
Rainbow Trout: 14 pounds, 6 ounces (1972)
Outside of these record fish, anglers can also expect to find some of Kentucky’s best fishing for multiple other game fish. Popular fish species on Lake Cumberland include walleye, crappie, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, white bass, and trout.
Do you agree with our list of Best Fishing Lakes in Kentucky? Reach out and let us know what you think!