Kentucky smallmouth bass

Kentucky smallmouth bass DEFAULT

KY Afield Outdoors: Christmas Break Smallmouth Bass

By Lee McClellan

Frankfort, KY - Kentuckians are blessed with many good things: the best bourbon, the swiftest racehorses and two of the best smallmouth bass reservoirs in the world in Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow Lake.

The beauty of fishing for smallmouth bass is they bite best when cold winds blow the heat off these lakes beginning in fall. By the time Christmas rolls around, the best smallmouth fishing of the year is here on these two lakes.

Many people have time off over the next few weeks and nothing makes a person forget about work or family responsibilities quicker than a 22-inch long smallmouth bass pulling line from your reel. Two excellent state resort parks on these lakes offer affordable accommodations for anglers who want to sneak away for a smallmouth bass fishing trip during the Christmas holidays.

Lake Cumberland State Resort Park: The location of Lake Cumberland State Resort Park in the lower one-third of the lake is ideal for smallmouth anglers. Smallmouth bass live throughout the lake, but in winter, the stretch of Lake Cumberland from the state resort park down lake to Wolf Creek Dam makes for highly productive fishing.

Chad Miles, host of the Kentucky Afield television show, is a world-class smallmouth bass angler and catches many fish each year over 5 pounds from Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow Lake in the winter months. Viewers of the show see him catch these fish routinely.

"This year, due to abnormally high rainfall, smallmouths are not in their typical winter locations yet," Miles said. "A lot of fish are suspended in the water column in the mouths of creeks as deep as 40 feet."

On Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow Lake, Miles loves to throw an old school hair jig. "The hair jig's sparse profile is what smallmouths prefer in winter on these lakes," he said. Several manufacturers in the region produce hair jigs, some made from craft hair and some with bucktail. Bucktail seems to work better in the coldest water.

Pair the hair jig the smallest trailer you can find. The small, Beaver-style creature baits make good jig trailers in winter, as do 2-inch crappie grubs with a boot-shaped tail.

A black and purple hair jig with a black trailer is a great combination as is a green pumpkin colored hair jig with a green pumpkin or brown trailer. A 1/4-ounce hair jig is a good weight to start, go a bit heavier in wind.

Cast the jig to points in the lower reaches of the major creek arms, such as Beaver or Indian, and let the jig sink to the bottom. Swim the jig just above the bottom and watch the line intently. If the line jumps, feels spongy or goes limp, set the hook. Fluorocarbon line really shines for this presentation.

For simply the joy of catching fish, a medium-sized commercially bought shiner is the best presentation to throw for winter smallmouth bass. Live bait attracts both numbers of smallmouths and trophy-sized ones as well.

"A live shiner would be a good bait to use now with the fish deeper on Lake Cumberland and Dale Hollow," Miles said.

Tie on a size 1 Octopus-style hook on 6-pound fluorocarbon line and attach two BB-sized split shot weights 18 to 24 inches above the hook. A 7-foot medium-light power spinning rod works great for this presentation. Cast the shiner in the small coves and cuts along the main lake from the mouth of Beaver Creek to the dam.

Let the shiner fall to the bottom slowly. Often the shiner wiggles violently as a big smallmouth approaches. You will feel a slight thump and the line moves. Set the hook and its game on. This is a thrilling and incredibly fun way to catch smallmouths.

Dale Hollow Lake State Resort Park: The David L. Hayes Boat Ramp at Dale Hollow State Resort Park lies near the spot where David L. Hayes caught the 11-pound, 15-ounce world record smallmouth bass about 10 a.m. on July 9, 1955. The weedbeds in the cove adjacent to the ramp hold smallmouth bass all winter long.

"When fish are on the bottom, I am pulling jigs or a small swimbait in 20 feet of water in the weedbeds," Miles said. "It is my favorite way to fish in winter on Dale Hollow."

Weedbeds abound in the 6,614 acres of the lake in Kentucky, particularly in Sulphur and Illwill creeks and the Wolf River arm.

Miles throws 3-inch swimbaits rigged on 3/8-ounce up to 1/2-ounce tungsten football heads right into the heart or edges of these weedbeds. He lets the swimbait sink into the weeds and pulls the lure through the beds until a smallmouth picks it up. The bite is extremely subtle; set the hook if anything feels funny. Hook sets are free.

Drifting medium-sized shiners over these weedbeds is likely the best way to catch one of the many 3- to 6-pound smallmouth bass in the lake. Large crappie minnows work as well.

Tailspinners, a lure in which the weight comes before a rotating spinner blade at the tail, is a deadly winter bait on Dale Hollow. They perfectly imitate shad or alewives, the dominate baitfish species in Dale Hollow and Lake Cumberland.

"Tailspinners are great to fish in winter," Miles said. "If you see a ball of baitfish on your electronic sonar unit, you can throw a tailspinner and count it down to the proper depth and slowly work it through those baitfish schools. This method can produce huge smallmouth bass."

The Christmas holiday season is not just for presents and eating too many sweets. It is also time for trophy smallmouths on Lake Cumberland or Dale Hollow Lake and the two state resort parks offer the perfect accommodations for a fishing trip.

"This is my favorite time of year to fish," Miles said.

Lake Cumberland State Resort Park can be reached at (270)-343-3111.

Dale Hollow State Resort Park can be reached at (270)-433-7431

Author Lee McClellan is a nationally award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.

This story was posted on 2018-12-20 21:25:33

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Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Christmas Break Smallmouth Bass

2018-12-20 - Lake Cumberland - Photo by Lee McClellan.
Chad Miles, host of the Kentucky Afield television show, lifts a smallmouth bass from Dale Hollow Lake that fell for a tailspinner lure in December.

Lake Cumberland State Resort Park and Dale Hollow State Resort Park provide excellent accommodations for anglers fishing these two world-class smallmouth bass lakes over the holiday season.
Read More... | Comments? | Click here to share, print, or bookmark this photo.

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The Best Fishing in Kentucky: Our Top 8 Lakes

Premier Angler is a freshwater fishing resource and brand written, edited, curated, and crafted by fishing enthusiasts for fishing enthusiasts. We also participate in the Bass Pro Shops Affiliate program. Some links on this page may direct you to the Bass Pro Shops website. If you make a purchase through one of those links, we may receive a small commission.

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.

  • Historyof 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:

Buckhorn Lake

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.

Yatesville Lake

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

Fishtrap Lake

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

HerringtonLake 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

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

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

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

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:

Lake Cumberland

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!

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Fish Species

Smallmouth Bass

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For its size, the smallmouth bass may be the hardest-fighting fish to swim Kentucky's many waterways. It is commonly found in ponds, lakes and rivers and is a member of the sunfish family.

Common names: Black bass, brown bass, bronzeback


General description: A medium-sized fish with a dark to golden appearance.

Length: Adults average between 10 to 12 inches long.

Weight: Adults average about three pounds.

Color: Olive green to blackish gold.


Smallmouth bass spawn in the late spring when the water temperature is from 60 to 65 degrees. The male builds a nest in two to eight feet of water by using its tail to fan a shallow plate-like depression on a sandy or rocky bottom. The female deposits her eggs in the nest, which are then fertilized by the male. The male stays to guard the nest. The eggs typically hatch in 10 days.

Feeding Habits

Young smallmouth feed on mostly zooplankton, waterfleas, and insect larvae. As they grow older, they begin to eat small fish. Adult fish feed mostly on crayfish, small fish, insects, and some small crustaceans. Where crayfish are abundant, it consists of the majority of the smallmouth's diet


Smallmouth bass tend to stay in deeper waters than largemouth bass, and therefore rarely dwell in small lakes or reservoirs that are less than 25 feet deep. They also live in swiftly flowing rivers and streams with gravel or rocky bottoms. They prefer cool, clear waters and gather towards rock out-croppings and boulders

Fun facts

Many smallmouth bass have red eyes. The current world record, 11 pounds, 15 ounces, was caught in Kentucky. The smallmouth bass looks a lot like its cousin the largemouth bass. But on the smallmouth, the back of the mouth goes only back to the middle of the eye. On the largemouth bass, the back of the mouth goes back much farther than the back of the eye.

Fishing Techniques

Smallmouth bass are often regarded as one of the sportiest freshwater fish and are known for their stamina and fighting ability. They can be caught on a wide variety of artificial baits, but they generally prefer smaller sizes than largemouth bass. Artificial baits in orange and brown patterns that resemble crayfish are a popular choice. When fishing in moving water with live bait, such as crayfish, minnows or nightcrawlers, cast upstream and let the bait drift into pools and behind boulders and snags that break the current.

Summer Tips

Location:  Look for bass shallow early in the morning and late in the evening.  Fish deeper as the day progresses.  Good areas to fish include main lake points, ledges, and any other type of deep structure.  Farm ponds will also produce early in morning and late in evening.

A way to catch bass with the added benefit of heat relief is by wading one of Kentucky' many productive smallmouth bass streams. The flowing water at the beginning and end of stream drops hold stream smallmouth in summer. Avoid fishing the slack water in the middle of deep holes, as the feeding smallmouth use the flowing water instead.

Baits/Lures:  Good topwater baits include Pop-R, buzzbaits, weedless frogs and weightless senko-type baits.  Use jigs, soft plastics and crankbaits for deeper water fishing.  Tough bites may require lighter line and weights with smaller plastic baits.

For stream smallmouth bass, fish 3-inch black or brown curly-tailed grubs and 4-inch finesse worms rigged on 1/8-ounce leadheads with 4-to 6-pound test line. Small topwater lures work well early in the morning and at dusk.

< Go Back to Species

HUGE Smallmouth Bass at a Kentucky Creek!!

The Mysterious Elkhorn

Elkhorn Creek is arguably the best, or most productive, smallmouth bass stream in the Commonwealth, which is quite a claim considering that two-thirds of the state is laced with many fine smallmouth-holding creeks, streams, rivers and other waters. Quantifying any fishing water as “best” will spark endless debate among anglers. Regardless, Elkhorn Creek is certainly Kentucky’s best-known smallmouth water.

Still, the creek is a mystery to many anglers. It is as popular with recreational paddlers as with fishermen. It can be fished effectively and efficiently by canoe, kayak or on foot, although the stream flows through mostly private property, and public access is limited.

I recently spent an afternoon wade fishing the Elkhorn with a couple of friends and expert anglers, Lee McClellan and Alan Clemons. I don’t fish the Elkhorn often, and it showed.

McClellan probably knows the creek as well as anyone. A self-described “smallmouth fanatic,” he’s waded and floated the creek for more than two decades. Part of this chore has been work related. McClellan is an information officer, writer and editor for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. But he also occasionally serves as an unofficial guide for friends, colleagues and others and is generous with his hard-earned creek knowledge.

Clemons is an experienced bass man from Alabama who can generally catch fish if he gets close to them, but he had not set foot in the Elkhorn before we sloshed into the creek off the State Route 1900 access.

The Elkhorn is loaded with fish, and for many years, the state wildlife agency has imposed a 12-to-16-inch slot limit on the Elkhorn for smallmouth and largemouth bass. Bass between 12 and 16 inches must be released. Although most angling action on the Elkhorn is voluntary catch and release, fishermen are permitted to keep up to six bass outside the slot, including one smallmouth and one largemouth over 16 inches.

Smallmouth bass are the marquee species and the one most anglers target, but in addition to largemouth bass, rock bass, carp, crappie and bluegill swim here, too. And catfish are surprisingly plentiful.

We accessed the creek from a Voluntary Public Access (VPA) opening off the highway. The VPA was a federally funded program through which private landowners allowed public access in exchange for a small fee. State wildlife enforcement personnel also monitored VPA sites. The program was suspended a few years ago when federal funding dried up. But according to McClellan, a few gracious landowners have continued to allow access at their sites.

We worked our way downstream through a long, placid pool, then hiked across a neck that forms one of the creek’s countless bends and emerged at a riffle McClellan had targeted. The water slid over the smooth-but-cracked stone riverbed, then tumbled across softball-size stones, dropped over a slight break in the bedrock, and settled into a quiet pool. A hundred yards or so downstream, the process repeated. McClellan’s strategy was to move about a mile downstream, then fish our way back. That plan was abandoned when the first riffle was too promising to pass.

The creek was low and clear; the afternoon hot and sunny—not the most promising fishing conditions. McClellan and I were armed with fly rods. Clemons wielded a baitcaster and soon brought a spunky, 10-inch smallmouth to hand. McClellan almost immediately matched that feat by methodically working the tail-out pool below the first riffle with a 7-weight St. Croix Mojo. These are specialty, fast-action rods, typically shorter than 8 feet, and can be somewhat tricky to cast. McClellan, however, is on his way to mastering the tool and used a meat-eater fly that slightly resembled a crawfish on steroids to land his first two fish of the day, both of which were holding tight to deep cover.

The main stem of the Elkhorn forms where the north and south branches meet, near the Forks of Elkhorn about 6 miles east of Frankfort. From there, the creek turns north, winding its way for about 18 miles through lush Scott and Franklin counties before its confluence with the Kentucky River.

The creek is named not for the now-extinct subspecies of Eastern elk that once lived here but for its mapped shape—the main stem and north and south branches combine to roughly resemble an elk antler or horn.

We worked our way downstream through riffles and pools, a few of which surrendered a hard-fighting bass. Then, with the sun sinking behind the timbered bluff, we turned back. We exited at sundown, just as the late summer evening had begun to cool. We tallied our efforts: seven bass and one channel catfish, which surprised McClellan by inhaling his meat-eater fly and putting up a bulldog battle. A satisfying afternoon.

“You have to watch the water levels, and in the wintertime when it’s cold, [fishing] can get pretty slow. But mostly you can fish it anytime,” McClellan said. “October’s probably my favorite month.”

Time to go back.


For more information on Elkhorn Creek, including public access points, visit


Smallmouth bass kentucky

Bass Fishing 101

Whether you are a local angler, tournament angler, or coming to the lakes for vacation, one must have an understanding of a lake before getting started.  Kentucky and Barkley lakes are two major bodies of water with a lot of shoreline, making it very intimidating on where to get started. 

The goal here is to provide you with as much information about the lake and to help you get the most out of your time here on the water. This is Bass Fishing 101.

Lake Conditions

One of the most important factors when going to a new lake is to become familiar with the current lake conditions. There is a lot of good information that can be found about the lake conditions. Water levels, water temperatures, and water clarity are a few that come to mind.

Water Level

Why would the lake elevation affect the fishing so much? Probably one of the most important factors that can change day-to-day on the lake is rising or falling water. Understanding where to look and what to look for when this happens is very important. This can be a factor due to flooding or heavy rains. Kentucky Lake is a holding lake and all the water from the upper end of the Tennessee River system comes to Kentucky Lake before dumping below the dam.

Typically when water rises, fish move shallow and when water is falling fish will move out deeper and suspend. Water levels changing drastically can make for some tough fishing, as well as some good fishing if things line up just right.

Water Temperature

Changing water temperatures are something to keep an eye on, especially in the spring months. When a cold front moves through, it can really slow the bite down. Bass will get active due to warmer water temperatures and when that cold front moves through, they tend to get sluggish and not feed up as well. Once spring sets in and on into summer, this is not as much of a factor until the fall months when temperatures start cooling back down.

Smallmouth bass definitely like the cooler temps. That's why you see them more active in the spring and fall months when water temps are cooler. I wouldn't say bass become dormant in the winter months. As a matter of fact, some of your better fishing can come in the winter months. The magic water temps are mid 40s. Once water temps fall below 40° they become less active. Some of your biggest fish will be caught in the winter months.


Understanding current, especially in the summer months is very important.  In the summer, water temperatures are typically warmer and not as much oxygen is in the water. With that being said, the fish need the water flow for oxygen, making them more active and feeding more. This is why you see the fish school up offshore so much on our lakes. It's pretty simple, when TVA is pulling water, the fish will be more active and when the flow is slow to almost nothing, the fishing will be slow.

Current controls a lot of things including fish position, baitfish position, and whether or not they will actively feed or not. In the hot summer months, TVA will generate more electricity, therefore creating more current. Always remember to look for current breaks. This can be a point that sticks out into the water or an underwater point. Fish want to have a place to hide and they will use anything they can get behind to do so.

Water Clarity

For the most part Kentucky and Barkley lakes are clear to light stain. Depending on heavy rains that move through, the lake will stay somewhat clean with a light stain for most of the year. When the water gets muddy, say from heavy rains, most of our creeks will muddy up. In order for the main lake to muddy up, they have to have most of the rain south of here.

When all that water gets to us, it obviously brings muddy water. It can most definitely affect the fishing, but not always in a bad way. Typically the fish will move shallow when water is muddy. Fish shallow cover such as rock or wood. Dark colors or bright colors are best for muddy water such as blacks, dark blues, and chartreuse.

Lunar Patterns & Nighttime Fishing

Smallmouth and largemouth both feed at night in the summer months better. I think a lot of it is that the fish move shallow at night because the baitfish move up. They will pull up from the deep places they are on during the day and become more active after dark. You can catch just as many, if not more largemouth than smallmouth, but for some reason those big smallmouth will show up at night in the summer.

Lunar patterns most definitely affect bass fishing. A lot of things actually. Barometric pressure, cool fronts, winds switch directions, current. A lot of variables to take into consideration. I personally don't pay much attention to this simply because you can't control mother nature. If I want to go fishing, I'm going fishing regardless if the tables show the best feeding time is a certain time. This is what I preach to my clients. Keep it fun and remember there is one guarantee in fishing... there are no guarantees.


What kind of structure will I find on the lakes?

Kentucky and Barkley lakes are man-made lakes. You will find wood, rock, brush piles, docks, and ledges. What is a ledge? A ledge can be any kind of water level change under the water. It can be a 1' change or a 10' change. Our lakes are known for its offshore ledge fishing for bass and locating the right ones can be tricky. The key is high percentage areas, instead of trying to break down the whole lake.

The mouths of major creeks and main river ledges at the mouths of major creeks are the first places to look. Remember what I said about current breaks? Now let's put the two together. Current breaks and a ledge at the mouth of a creek, you will find bait and you will find bass.

There is a misunderstanding that Kentucky and Barkley Lakes offer ledge fishing year round. This is not the case. I do believe a good number of fish live on the main lake year round, but finding them on ledges may be tough in the spring months during the spawn. Our lakes offer a wide variety of structure to fish during all seasons.

Largemouth Bass

It's safe to say that largemouth bass are the dominant bass species in Kentucky and Barkley Lakes, feeding primarily on threadfin and gizzard shad. There are times that the fish will feed on crawdads, but it's not considered a primary forage. As seasonal patterns change, you will find that the shad patterns change as well.

Spring Patterns

Spring time is most definitely a very productive time of the year simply because we base our patterns around the spawn.  We have prespawn, spawn, and post spawn. 

One important factor to keep in mind is that the fish are on the move this time of year and in transition. The prespawn will start sometime around the first to the middle of March when water temperatures are in the low 50's. These fish are coming off the winter months and feeding up for spring time and thinking about moving shallow for the spawn.

The fish can be taken on a variety of lures this time of year from jerkbaits, crankbaits, and lipless crankbaits. During the prespawn one can concentrate on points off the main lake or just inside the main lake around points. Pea gravel and chuck rock banks are the primary target this time of year. Keep in mind that rock will heat up quicker than anything else and those fish will pull up in the afternoons on those rock banks to feed.

The spawn will usually start sometime around late April and the first of May. Water temps will warm up to the 60° mark and fish will have made their way to the backs of the creeks and pockets off the main lake. Kentucky and Barkley lakes offer a lot of shallow cover around the banks including buck brush and mustard flowers. TX rigged plastics, frogs, spinnerbaits are all good choices during the spawn.

Those big females can be harder to target simply because they have one thing on their mind: spawning. The males are little easier to catch this time of year. When the spawn is over and the water temps have hit close to 70°, the fish will start to migrate to the secondary points and to the creek channels at the mouths of the creeks. TX Rigs, Carolina Rigs, Deep Crankbaits can be the dominant baits of choice. This time of year those fish will really be feeding up after the spawn.

Summer Patterns

The summer ledge bite is here and you don't know where to begin? One thing to remember as soon as the spawn is over, those fish will pull out deep in 20-25' of water to regroup from the spawn before really actively feeding again. The deep fish can be caught, but give them a bit of time and they will get active again and will be easier to catch. They will begin to move up onto those 12-15' ledges.

River channel ledges and ledges at the mouths of the creeks are good places to start looking. For the most part, the fish will stay out for the majority of the summer, until hot surface water temperatures force them back up shallow in late summer.

Fall Patterns

Summer has come and gone and it's important to note that in the fall months, if you find the shad, you will find the bass. This time of year the shad will start to migrate to the creeks. The bass will follow. Topwater patterns are dominant this time of year, and the fish are actively feeding.

They see winter not far off. The backs of the creeks are a great place to start looking this time of year with some gravel points coming into play as well. Spinner baits and lipless crankbaits are good choices as well.

Once the middle of September gets here, usually we have had a few cool nights to get those water temps back down. The key is those cooler nights. I don't recall a specific water temp that the bait starts moving in, but typically its middle to end of September when you will start seeing bait migrate and once water temps get back down into the 70s, fish will become fore active again. It really varies based on the cool vs. warm weather we are having.

Smallmouth Bass

Spring Patterns

This time of year is probably your best bet to find that big smallmouth you have been looking at catching. Both lakes have a good population of smallmouth, but it seems like over the years Kentucky has the better population. In the spring time, smallmouth are more active than any other time of year. They will gang up around current breaks.

The good news is that smallmouth love pea gravel and current. It just so happens that Kentucky and Barkley Lakes offer both. In the spring of the year, due to heavy rains, you will see a lot of current in the lakes, making for some great smallmouth fishing. These fish can be caught on jerkbaits, crankbaits, and bottom baits such as "Ned Rigs". Target the down current side of the points when looking for these fish and when you get ahold of one in the current, hold on!

When water temperatures hit 60°, these fish will start their spawning cycle. They spawn in the same areas around gravel and wood. Smallmouth will spawn deeper than largemouth and typically sooner than largemouth.

Summer Patterns

Smallmouth can still be caught during the summer months on the lakes, but I don't recommend targeting them specifically this time of year. The largemouth population is so much greater, you will have more success chasing largemouth and if you stumble on those big brown ones, it's a bonus. The night fishing can be really good for these big smallmouth, feeding more at night around wood.

Fall Patterns

A lot like the largemouth, the smallmouth will move with the bait. These fish will show back up on the same places you found them in the spring. Topwater and shallow crankbaits are the baits of choice in the fall months. Look for wood just under the water or big rock, smallmouth love a big topwater bait in the fall.

Editor's Note: Fishing 101: Bass Fishing is written by professional fishing guide Brandon Hunter.

BIG Smallmouth Bass CRUSHES Topwater Lure!! Bass Fishing (Kentucky Lake)
Stream County Miles Float? Location Barren RiverAllen, Monroe26.0YesBeaver CreekBarren7.0Yes Beech ForkNelson, Washington51.7YesMouth to KY 458 - Mt. Zion Road bridge crossingBig PitmanGreen22.0YesBig South ForkMarion18.0Yes Bracken CreekBracken12.4YesMouth to AA HwyBrashears CreekSpencer, Shelby25.9YesMouth the to confluence of Bullskin and Clear creeksBuck CreekPulaski12.5YesKY 80 Bridge to KY 192Clear CreekWarren6.0YesClear ForkWhitley19.0YesTN line to mouthCrocus CreekCumberland14.0YesCumberland RiverHarlan18.6YesBell/Harlan Co. line to confluence of Martins and Clover ForkCumberland RiverWhitley to Bell116.0YesCumberland Falls to Harlan Co.Dix River (tailwater)Garrard30.0YesHerrington Lake to KY 39 bridge crossingDix RiverLincoln30.0YesBrodhead to Herington LakeDrakes CreekWarren23.0Yes Drennon CreekHenry4.9YesMouth to the confluence of Emily RunEagle CreekGrant, Owen, Gallatin, Carroll40.7YesMouth to Jonesville Road bridge crossingChaplin RiverWashington, Nelson, Mercer79.3YesMouth of KY 1941 - New Dixville Road bridge crossingElkhorn Creek (mainstem)Franklin18.2YesFrom Forks of Elkhorn to Kentucky RiverFallen Timber CreekBarren6.0YesFrom the Mouth of Skaggs Creek upstream to Ky Highway 90 bridgeFloyds ForkJefferson, Bullitt35.2YesMouth to the KY 148 bridge crossingGasper RiverWarren21.0YesFrom the back waters of Barren River to the Warren County lineGreen RiverAdair10.0YesImmediately below Green River LakeGreen RiverAdair12.0YesImmediately above Green River LakeGreen RiverGreen, Taylor62.0YesFrom the Hart County line to Green River LakeHanging ForkBoyle15.9Y/NMouth to confluence of Knoblick CreekHarrods CreekOldham6.0Yes Hickman CreekJessamine9.0YesFirst nine miles from mouth upstreamHinkston CreekBourbon12.0YesRuddels Mill to MillersburgHungry CreekAllen3.0Yes Kinniconick CreekLewis38.0YesMouth to Cassity Hollow areaLaurel ForkLewis9.6YesMouth to Staggs Br.Levisa Fork RiverPike126.0YesLouisa KY to KY/WV/VA state lineLicking RiverPendleton40.0YesKY 536 bridge to Fallmouth- confluence with North and South Fork LickingLicking RiverBracken, Harrison, Nicholas, Pendelton, Robertson57.2YesDe Mossville to Blue Licks Battlefield State Park vic.Little Barren RiverGreen21.0YesFrom the mouth at Green River upstream to the Green County lineLittle Barren RiverMetcalfe7.0Yes Little South ForkMcCreary14.5Yes92 Bridge to mouthLocust CreekBracken6.6YesMouth to Wagel Rd vic.Long CreekAllen3.0YesMiddle Fork Red RiverPowell9.0YesMouth to Natural Bridge State Park areaMiddle Fork Drakes CreekAllen, Warren21.0Yes Middle Fork KY RiverLeslie21.7YesHurricane Creek to Intersection of Rt. 1780 and 2058 at Spruce PineNorth Fork KY RiverLetcher15.5YesLetcher/Perry Co. line to Whitesburg KYNorth Fork Elkhorn CreekFayette, Scott, Franklin65.9YesForks of Elkhorn to KY 1962 Lemons Mill Road bridge crossingNorth Fork Triplett CreekRowan6.7YesI 64 bridge to Sportsman Club Rd.Peter CreekBarren6.0YesPinchgut CreekAllen6.0Yes Puncheon CreekAllen4.0Yes Red RiverClark, Estill, Menifee, Powell, Wolfe65.0YesClay City to Lee CityRed RiverLogan, Simpson33.0Yes Redbird RiverClay12.0YesDaniel Boone Parkway to mouthRockcastle RiverLaurel, Pulaski, Rockcastle45.0YesMiddle/South Forks to Lk CumbRolling ForkHardin, Nelson, Larue, Marion46.0YesKY 434 bridge crossing to KY 84 Howardtown Road bridge crossingRussell CreekAdair, Green54.0Yes Russell ForkPike16.2YesLevisa Fork to VA state lineSalt RiverAnderson, Spencer, Bullitt46.0YesShepardsville to Taylorsville Dam - headwaters of Taylorsville Lake to US 62 bridgeSevern CreekOwen3.0YesMouth to the confluence with North Severn CreekSouth ElkhornFranklin, Woodford, Fayette20.0YesForks of the Elkhorn to KY 341 bridge crossingSouth Fork CumberlandMcCreary14.5YesTennessee line to Lake CumberlandSouth Fork Licking RiverBourbon, Harrison65.0YesMouth to confluence of Stoner Ck. (Ruddles Mill - Bourbon Co.)South Fork Licking RiverPendleton, Harrison, Bourbon65.8YesFallmouth - confluence with licking river to KY 1893 bridge crossingSouth Fork of KentuckyClay & Owsley31.0YesRedbird River to Owsley/Lee lineStoner CreekBourbon, Clark55.0YesMouth to KY 1961 in Clark Co.Sixmile CreekHenry8.0YesMouth to KY 573, Woods Pike bridge crossingSkaggs CreekBarren19.0Yes Slate CreekBath, Montgomery36.0YesMouth to KY 1331 bridge crossing (Howards Mill area)Trammel CreekAllen, Warren32.0Yes Triplett CreekRowan15.0YesMouth to Christy Creek confluence areaTug Fork RiverPike65.0YesWarfield KY to KY/WV/VA state lineTygarts CreekCarter, Greenup33.5YesWarnock to US 60 in Olive HillWest ForkSimpson19.0YesWest ForkWarren5.0YesBeaver CreekMcCreary2.2NoDry Branch to mouthBeaver CreekWayne7.0NoSumpter to KY 90Beech ForkLeslie11.4NoMiddle Fork Kentucky River to Leslie/Harlan Co. lineBenson CreekFranklin4.8NoMouth to KY 1005 Devils Hollow Road bridge crossingClear CreekWoodford6.0NoMouth to the KY 1965 bridge crossingClear CreekBell3.5 Hwy 190 to Pine Mt. LakeClover ForkHarlan18.0NoCumberland River to Louellen KY, Fugitt CreekEast ForkMonroe7.0NoElkhorn CreekPike19.4NoRussell Fork to Pike/Letcher Co. lineFleming CreekFleming, Nicholas20.0UnknownMouth to KY 11Glover CreekBarren6.0NoFrom Fallen Timber Creek to  Ky Highway 839 bridgeGrassy CreekLewis2.6?From mouth to 2.6 miles up streamGreasy CreekHarlan/ Leslie22.6NoMiddle Fork Kentucky River to Big Laurel CreekGunpowder CreekBoone11.4NoKY 536 Rabbit Hash Road bridge crossing to South Fork Gunpowder confluenceIllwill CreekClinton3.0NoKY 1351 to mouthIndian CreekMcCreary4.5NoCogur Cr. to mouthKnox CreekPike7.9NoTug Fork to VA state lineLaurel CreekMcCreary3.5NoKY 478 Bridge to mouthLeft Fork Beaver CreekFloyd10.8NoFrasure Creek to Jacks CreekLine CreekMonroe7.0NoLine ForkLetcher21.5NoNorth Fork Kentucky River to area along Rt. 510 near Gilley KYLittle Kentucky RiverCarroll, Trimble, Henry18.4NoMouth to US 421 bridge crossingLulbegrud CreekClark, Powell, Montgomery17.0NoMouth to KY 646 bridge crossing in Clark Co.Marrowbone CreekCumberland19.0No Marsh CreekMcCreary17.7NoKidd School crossing to mouthMartins ForkHarlan15.8NoCumberland River to Martins Fork Lake tailwaterMeshach CreekMonroe6.0No Middle CreekFloyd9.7NoLeft fork Middle Creek to Magoffin/Floyd Co. lineMill CreekMonroe9.0NoMudlick CreekBoone4.1NoMouth to the US 42 bridge crossingOtter CreekMadison5.6NoMouth to Redhouse areaPaint Lick CreekGarrard, Madison22.0NoMouth to KY 52 bridge crossing in Paint LickPoor ForkHarlan15.8NoCumberland River to Cumberland KY, Cloverlick CreekRight Fork Beaver CreekFloyd, Knott14.2NoWayland KY to Bates Branch at Kite KYRockhouse CreekLetcher21.4NoNorth Fork Kentucky River to Deane KYRolling ForkMarion40.0NoSalt Lick CreekMonroe5.0No Silver CreekMadison21.5NoMouth to KY 52 crossing at Silver CreekSpring CreekClinton4.5NoUS 127 to Dale Hollow LakeSulphur CreekAdair13.0No Sulphur ForkAllen, Simpson18.0NoThompson CreekMercer5.0NoMouth to KY 926 - Bethel Church Road bridge crossingWoolper CreekBoone4.4NoBackwaters of the Ohio River to KY 338 Idle Road bridge crossing

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Not a model, always neatly and modestly dressed, she could make more than one man turn around. Maybe it was in her innocent image, which inevitably attracts attention. You know, there is, as they say, a doll's face.

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