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Western Kentucky's reputation for superb fishing draws hundreds of thousands of fishermen to the area each year. With two major lakes, 4 huge rivers, and plentiful smaller fishing venues, Western Kentucky is a fisherman's paradise. Continue reading for the latest fishing report for Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, descriptions of the major fishing waters, information on the types of fish and how to catch them, fishing license fees, fishing size and creel limits, and downloadable brochures on fishing in Kentucky including regulations and licenses. Learn more about fishing opportunities in Western Kentucky in our visitor's guide and through local tourism offices in the area. Follow these links to download or view our visitor's guide online OR to receive visitor's guides by mail.
Your Western Kentucky and Lake Area Fishing Resource Center
On April 24, the elevation of Kentucky Lake was 358.5 feet and the surface water temperature was 62 degrees. The elevation of Lake Barkley was 358.5 feet and the surface water temperature was 62 degrees. Summer pool for both lakes is 359 feet and winter pool is 354 feet. (To check daily elevations and projected levels of Kentucky Lake call 1-800-238-2264, lake #33.)
CRAPPIE: Crappie fishing is very good on both lakes. Crappie are being taken on live minnows or jigs fished inside the creeks on points and shallow brush. Other Crappie can be found at the creek mouths on ledges 16 to 20 feet deep and can be taken on live minnows.
BASS: Smallmouth fishing is fair on Kentucky Lake using jigs or 4 inch grubs fished at creek mouth and main lake points. Largemouth fishing is good on Kentucky Lake. Good numbers of bass are being taken on spinnerbaits and shallow running crankbaits fished inside the creeks on points and near chunk rock.
BLUEGILL: Bluegill fishing is fair on both lakes using red worms fished on points inside the creeks or in brush piles in 4 to 10 feet of water.
WHITE BASS: White bass fishing is reported as slow on both lakes. Some yellow bass are being taken on live minnows inside the larger creeks.
SAUGER: Sauger fishing is fair on Kentucky Lake using large live minnows fished on main lake gravel bars and creek mouths in 15 to 25 feet of water.
CATFISH: Catfish fishing is fair on Kentucky Lake using cut shad or shrimp fished in 25 to 35 feet of water on the main lake and at creek mouths.
FISHING TIP: Crappie are spawning and can be found in shallow water near shore inside the creeks. Rocky points, brush or fallen trees have been holding good numbers of crappie that can be taken on minnows, twister tails or jigs in 2 to 8 feet of water. Largemouth bass are very active inside the creeks in shallow water near shore.
NOTES: A taped telephone report is available by dialing 270-924-2000. A weather forecast is available by dialing 270-744-6331.
Mention of specific products in this report does not represent an endorsement by the USDA Forest Service.
Tradewater Bait Company/Fisherman's Friend
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This is the largest body of water between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. The Cumberland River is dammed at Lake City to make Lake Barkley. This dam is just east of the Tennessee River dam that created Kentucky Lake. At Grand Rivers the lakes are connected by a canal, forming one of the greatest freshwater recreational and fishing complexes in the country. The lakes run parallel courses for more than 50 miles with Land Between The Lakes (LBL) located between them.
The lake is 184 miles long, has 2,380 miles of shoreline and 160,300 surface acres of water at summer water levels -- the largest man-made lake in the eastern US. Because the lake is located along a major waterfowl migration route, it supports a wintering population of more than 450,000 waterfowl. KY Lake offers excellent fishing for crappie, smallmouth and largemouth bass, bluegill, catfish, stripers and sauger. Numerous boat docks and launching ramps dot the coves of Kentucky Lake's shoreline.
Lake Barkley is 118 miles on the Cumberland River. There are 1,004 miles of shoreline at normal summer pool (elev. 359) and 108,963 acres of land and water (this includes 51,168 acres of fee and easement land area above summer pool). Lake Barkley is shallower than Kentucky Lake, offering a different style of fishing for the same species.
LAND BETWEEN THE LAKES (LBL)
Re-discover the simple pleasures of playing in the outdoors at USDA Forest Service LBL National Recreation Area. Located in western KY and Tennessee, between KY and Barkley Lakes, LBL offers 170,000 acres of wildlife, history and outdoor recreation opportunities, wrapped by 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline.
In addition to the Tennessee & Cumberland Rivers that were impounded to create Kentucky & Barkley Lakes, there are many others in Western Kentucky.
The Mississippi River forms the 58 miles of the KY/Missouri border, beginning at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It's a massive river, often more than 2 miles across. Summer is a great time to fish the Mississippi because the river generally runs at a moderate level. In early June, it might still be high from spring rains or even snow melt in the Ohio River watershed. As the month progresses, however, and even more so through the rest of summer, the river level normally will drop and stabilize.
Second in volume only to the Mississippi, the Ohio River itself is a huge river. The Ohio is a much more significant resource for most KY fishermen than the Mississippi. The Ohio River runs 700 miles along KY's northern border, making its water convenient to KY anglers. Strong current, abundant cover and concentrations of baitfish make the tailwaters the most productive portions of the Ohio River. Both Smithland Pool and Lock 52 in western KY have tailwater access good for boating and bank-fishing anglers alike.
The Clarks River flows into the Ohio River just northwest of Paducah. In large part because of the wetland habitat complexes formed by the river, creeks, beaver ponds and natural ponding, the area is home to the only national wildlife refuge located entirely in KY. The Clarks River National Wildlife Refuge (270-527-5770) is located in western KY between Benton and Paducah on the East Fork of the Clarks River. The natural wetland ecosystem is relatively intact and has high wildlife habitat values, particularly for migratory birds and other species representative of bottomland hardwood systems.
Little River originates near Hopkinsville and flows north through Cadiz before emptying into Lake Barkley. Though short, only 70 miles, Little River provides the only white-water kayaking in western KY. Though not the Rocky Mountain whitewater, many enjoy having the excitement of rougher water. Kayaking tours of Little River are available.
When conditions are tough for many types of fishing, catfishing stays hot on several rivers and lakes in western KY. Catfish are among the best-eating and most sought-after fish in western KY, but they don't get a lot of fanfare. Catfish anglers quietly go about the business of catching fish while more glamorous species, like largemouth bass and crappie, get the headlines. Many guide services will help find the best spots for catfish and even clean the catch. Fish for catfish in the four big rivers of western KY â€“ Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland and Tennessee â€“ as well as Barkley and KY Lakes. Catfish are primarily bottom feeders, which is one reason they pack in below Smithland, KY and Barkley dams. There they can pick off wounded baitfish, nose through a constant flow of other possible food sources, and have the preferred rocky bottom habitat. As water temperatures warm, catfish move into creek and river channels, and can be taken at shallower depths. At night or on overcast days, fishing around rocky cover on flats near the main-lake channel is a good choice anywhere along the course of either lake. Outside bends in the main lake channel, where the old channel pushes close to the banks of the main lake to create a bluff, are predictably good locations for catfish. Virtually every cove in the lakes supports plenty of channel catfish, along with small blues. The best summer fishing in the coves occurs after dark, when the channel cats move shallow and get more active.
Widely distributed throughout the lakes, this top sport fish is frequently caught in excess of five pounds. The biggest fish of the year are taken in the early spring as spawn begins and the fish are close to the shorelines. The largest quantities of bass are commonly taken during April and May. In summer, as the water temperature rises, fish concentrate on the drop-offs and creek channels during midday. Some action can still be found in the shallows at early morning and late evening. Fall brings a return of spring patterns. Largemouth can also be found chasing the abundant schools of baitfish that are normally found on the main lake near the points. They will move back to drop- offs during the winter, but a few mild days may entice them into the shallows for feeding.
Considered to be the best fighter when hooked, this species is found in large concentrations in both lakes. These spring spawners closely follow the patterns of largemouth bass during spring and summer, with the largest numbers being caught in April and May. Fall and winter will find them much more reluctant to move into the shallows, preferring the deep, rocky banks.
KY (SPOTTED) BASS
Abundant populations of this fighter are found along the main lakes and major tributaries. Following many of the spring and summer patterns of the largemouth, they can also be found schooling near baitfish. During mid-fall, they will return to shallow waters, especially near wood structures. Like the largemouth, they will hang near the drop-offs during the winter.
WHITE & BLACK CRAPPIE
The average size of these closely-related species is quite large due to the minimum size limitations and the immense forage base found in both lakes. In early spring they are found along shallow drop-offs and near shore where cover is available. As the water temperatures rise, crappie move into the shallows to spawn. March, April and May yield the biggest catches and offer the heaviest activity, with the spawn generally occurring near the middle of April. As summer approaches they will seek the cooler areas around drop-offs, but will reappear in the fall around structures and shorelines with cover. The colder months will make them a little sluggish, but nice catches are still very possible on creek channels near the mouth of bays, especially after two to three days of moderate weather.
Located all over the lakes, bluegill spawn in late spring and concentrate in timber and brush during April and May. During summer, and even late fall, they can be found near almost every dock and tree, with the bigger of the species being caught deeper. They will often keep these patterns as late as December, growing sluggish in January.
Tremendous schools of these fish make annual runs to upper reaches of the main tributaries each spring. During the summer months, large schools will chase shad and minnows on the surface of the main lake, providing some of the best action to be found. Trolling with deep divers or spoons along the edges of the main river channel will also produce large catches. During the fall months, they are more difficult to locate but are still in large schools and will occasionally show some surface activity. White bass tend to frequent deep flats in late fall, but will move to the deeper main lake points during winter months.
STRIPED BASS & ROCKFISH
These species concentrate below the dams in the swift tailwaters. Using live bait (herring or shad, caught below the dams), jigs and Rapala-type lures will produce the best results in the spring. Summer patterns are very similar, but also try trolling with a very deep diving lure. Rockfish are more active in the fall. Switch to a larger bait, 6 to 10 inches, and watch for surfacing fish. During the winter months, the activity will slow as the water temperature falls. Use smaller baits at this time of year.
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