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Fishing the Kentucky River

Fishing the Kentucky River
Tim Farmer fishes below Lock and Dam 7 on the Kentucky River near High Bridge.

From Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources

FRANKFORT, Ky. – It flows through the heart of Kentucky for some 255 miles from the confluence of the North and South forks at Beattyville to the Ohio River at Carrollton.

The Kentucky River is a scenic waterway with numerous quiet backwaters and tree-shaded tributary streams. For the enterprising angler who is willing to spend some time looking at maps and driving back roads, the search for places to launch a fishing kayak or bass boat will reap many rewards.

“The Kentucky River offers a variety of fishing opportunities, said Jeff Crosby, central district fisheries biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “The more I work on the river, the more impressed I am with it.”


Improving water quality, inherent fertility and annual stockings of sport fish by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife are three reasons why the Kentucky River produces quality fish populations. A good source of information on Kentucky River fishing is the 2013 Fishing Forecast. To view it online, go to fw.ky.gov and click on Fishing & Boating, then 2013 Fishing Forecast.


The fish species found in the river include: bluegill, channel catfish, blue catfish, flathead catfish, crappie, hybrid striped bass, white bass, walleye, sauger, largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass, and muskellunge.

It’s not a stretch to say that the Kentucky River is overlooked and underutilized by anglers. This is probably because of limited access and the inability to motor through most of its 14 locks. “Access is a lot better than it used to be,” said Crosby. “But, in some pools, there’s only one place to launch, and anglers have to motor some distance to get to a tailwater.”

The Kentucky River Authority will operate Lock 3 and Lock 4 on weekends and holidays for anglers and recreational boaters this year from May 24 through Oct. 27. For hours of operation, log on to the finance.ky.gov webpage and search the “Kentucky River Authority” website.

In part because of the access issue, fishing pressure on the Kentucky River is a lot lower than other Kentucky waters. Also, rock cliffs in the upper stretches of the river, and high, dirt banks in the lower pools, are limiting factors to access for fishing from the banks.


To find a list of fishing and boating access sites on the Kentucky River, visit the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife website at fw.ky.gov. Click on the Fishing & Boating tab, then Find a Place to Fish and follow the link.

Fish populations in the Kentucky River are influenced a great deal by environmental factors and water conditions that can mimic both a lake and a river.

“In drought years, during low flow, the shad spawn is good, and there’s plenty of food for the game fish species,” said Crosby. “But in the years when there’s high water in the spring and it acts more like a river, the standing water species like largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill aren’t as successful at spawning.”


The dramatic fluctuations in the river’s level can have some beneficial impacts as well. For example, the 1997 flood created sand bars, cut ditches and deposited a lot of wood in shallow water, creating structure used by a wide variety of fish species.

Some of the best fishing is when the current slows and the river becomes a series of lake-like pools. “The muskie fishing is really good right now,” said Crosby. “We’ve been able to stock a few surplus fish in each pool of the lower river and we’re seeing good results. There’s some quality fish to be caught.”

Get out this summer and enjoy the overlooked jewel right in the backyard of many Kentucky residents.The current license year expired Feb. 28, 2013. You’ll need to buy a new fishing license, available in the sporting goods section of department stores and tackle shops. Licenses and permits may also be purchased online from the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at fw.ky.gov or by calling 1-877-598-2401. The entire Spring Fishing Frenzy series will be posted at this same website for future access to these articles.

Author Art Lander Jr. has been writing about the outdoors since the 1970s. He is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources manages, regulates, enforces and promotes responsible use of all fish and wildlife species, their habitats, public wildlife areas and waterways for the benefit of those resources and for public enjoyment. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife is an agency of the Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet. For more information on the department, visit our website at fw.ky.gov.

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