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Kentucky Fishing: There's Something For Any Angler

Kentucky Fishing: There's Something For Any Angler
Crappie are really popular in the spring, because fish are close to shore, breeding to keep the fishery going. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

kentucky fishing
Crappie are really popular in the spring, because fish are close to shore, breeding to keep the fishery going. (Photo by Ron Sinfelt)

There is so much great fishing at this time of year; it is often hard to decide what to pursue. There are literally dozens of different options to choose for some great Kentucky fishing.

Throughout Kentucky, peak fishing activity for the most popular sport fish is either hot or soon will be. Everything from panfish to bass and everything in between is in play during spring. The next few weeks offer some of the most fun, exciting and diverse fishing opportunities of the year.


One of the most exciting spring fishing opportunities is also one of the shortest lived and least utilized. White bass get overlooked by many anglers in preference for black bass, crappie and walleye. In fact, studies in Kentucky show white bass to rank no higher than sixth in angler preference. That is really unfortunate because these fish provide unrivaled excitement at certain times of year, especially in the spring.

Each spring, white bass move out of Nolin River Lake and into the headwaters of the river to spawn. This spawning run is almost legendary and anglers travel to the area each year for one to two weeks of peak action, which usually occurs around the first to second week of April, depending upon weather.

The fish begin moving when the water temperature breaks into the low 50s, especially when spring rains provide a slowly rising water level. When the lake elevation is low, the white bass spawning run occurs from around Cane Run upstream to Bacon Creek. When the lake is up, the spawning run occurs from Bacon Creek upstream to Wheelers Mill Road Bridge.

Obviously, boating anglers have lots of ability to move and access the hottest areas, provided they do not go upstream of the Bacon Creek Boat Ramp where shallow water could damage lower units, but this is also a great opportunity for bank anglers. There is excellent success from the bank and it only takes a quick look at the number of anglers present to know when the run is peaking.

There is good access to both sides of the river at the Nolin River Voluntary Public Access via Priceville Road and Kesselring Road. Bank angling is also available at the Bacon Creek Boat Ramp and at Broad Ford.

When white bass are running, the action is often fast-paced with lots of strikes. The best part is that it does not take years of experience or difficult tactics to enjoy success. When the bite is on, almost any bait that hits the water is likely to get engulfed.

The fish are often at or near the surface, so surface and sub-surface baits are excellent options. Back in the day, anglers often used a homemade lure called the plunker and fly, which was a piece of broom handle with an eyelet screwed in the end. A short piece of fishing line was attached to the eyelet and at the other end of the line was a marabou jig. Today's anglers still use a version of this bait, but replace the broom piece with a modern topwater chugger-style bait with the hooks removed. A marabou jig is tied onto the back hook eyelet.

White bass are sometimes hovering near the bottom and at other times, somewhere between the bottom and the surface. Once anglers find fish, the battle is all but won. In lieu of the plunker and fly, which is primarily just for surface feeding, other great baits, such as a curly-tailed grub, Blakemore Road Runner, in-line spinner or silver spoon, help anglers probe deeper depths. Another very popular method is to suspend a marabou or feather jig beneath a float and simply allow it to drift with the current.



There are numerous lakes throughout the commonwealth that receive a lot of accolades for crappie fishing. One of the spots that seem to not get as much love, at least in the past, is Cave Run Lake. Known across the country as a top muskie lake, it is now becoming one of the best crappie lakes in the state.

Cave Run has typically had an excellent crappie population throughout recent years, but the lake had lost a lot of its natural fish habitat due to normal aging of an impounded reservoir. This makes crappie fishing difficult because there is not ample structure or cover for anglers to target. However, that situation has changed dramatically thanks to a massive enhancement project by the KDFWR.

The Cave Run Fish Habitat Project is a multi-year project that began in 2013, and concluded last year. The KDFWR, along with various groups and volunteers, added thousands of pieces of structure to the lake throughout the lower end to fish habitat. They have used a variety of materials including cedar trees, Christmas trees, wooden pallet structures, bucket stake attractors, large cable spool attractors and plastic pallet trees.

These structures are scattered in some of the most popular fishing areas of the lake and have enhanced crappie fishing tremendously. The areas included in the project are Zilpo Flats, Scott's Creek, Ramey's Creek, Warix Coves, Stoney Cove, Adam's Point, Clay Lick, Cassidy's and Poppin Rock. Maps and GPS coordinates for these habitat sites are available at

Anglers should take full advantage of the fish attractor sites, as well as others already in the lake. Crappie move shallower as water warms, so follow channel contours and other transition routes from deeper structure to shallower areas. Fish attractors are located throughout a wide range of depths, so anglers only need to determine at which depth crappie are holding and then target structures at that depth.

Casting is certainly an option, but most anglers target these structures with minnows or jigs either tight-lined on down rods or suspended beneath floats. Minnows are hard to beat, but a jig is awesome at times, too. Hair or marabou jigs are great choices, as are tube jigs tipped with a minnow or Berkley Crappie Nibble.

The crappie fishery at Cave Run is rated excellent by the KDFWR assessment system. There are lots of crappie in the population with a wide size distribution. There are lots of smaller fish in the mix, but there are plenty of slabs, up to and above 12 inches. Size and creel limits are the same as statewide regulations for crappie, so there is plenty of opportunity.


White bass and crappie are certainly a lot of fun to catch, but if something a little larger is the goal, then look to Lake Cumberland and its awesome striped bass fishery. Cumberland has long been Kentucky's premier reservoir for huge stripers, and it was once regarded as one of the top spots in the entire country for trophy stripers. Without question the lowered water level during the repair on Wolf Creek Dam put a serious dent in the striper fishery, especially trophy caliber fish. However, after a few years of normal water levels and aggressive stockings by the KDFWR, the Cumberland striper fishery is nothing short of great again.

The KDFWR has stocked Lake Cumberland with striped bass for many years and they implemented several changes throughout the dam, since its completion. Not only were stocking numbers tweaked, but changes in regulations and limits were used to enhance fishing opportunity and manage the fishery for optimal size and numbers. 

Spring is a tremendous time of year to fish for stripers at Cumberland. Stripers bite well most all year at the big lake, but spring is magic time. Fishing success is great and anglers have some options with baits and tactics.

Trolling is the primary method used for stripers at Cumberland, but casting is in play, too. Throughout much of the year, striped bass prefer staying in deeper water, sometimes as much as 40- to 50-feet deep. This makes casting nearly impossible. However, at this time of year stripers are often up shallow enough for anglers to cast live baits or big artificial baits and have good success, especially first thing in the morning.

Catching stripers by casting is undoubtedly one of the most fun ways to catch them when the bite is on, but it is also one of the most difficult methods. Stripers stay on the move a lot, following schools of forage fish, so locating fish is often the most challenging aspect. Electronics with side-scan ability may help locate stripers along the shoreline in water shallow enough to throw live baits or artificials, such as a Sassy Shad or Big Hammer swim bait. This tactic is most productive at first light as the stripers often move into deeper water by midmorning.

Trolling is by far the most used and productive method for stripers on Cumberland. At this time of year, it is primarily a live bait spread with planer boards. Later in summer when the stripers go really deep, some anglers troll with artificial baits and downriggers, but right now planer boards and live bait are much more productive.

Baits vary among anglers, with some preferring to catch bait while others use purchased baits. Alewives are generally caught with nets in the dark under lights and gizzard shad are caught back in creeks in depths 10 feet or less. Use alewives from 4 to 6 inches in length and shad from 8 to 12 inches. Live shiners from a bait store in the range of 3 to 4 inches also work great. Use a Daiichi circle hook in either 2/0 or 3/0 size depending upon the size of the bait.

Stripers are often tight to the bank, likely a sloping bank, typically relating to either clay or rocky shorelines. Make the planer board spread wide and vary depths. If fish are not found on the bank, pull off a bit or try a zigzag pattern.

These are but three examples of the awesome fishing to be had this month. Other great fishing opportunities include walleyes, black bass, muskies and more. Spring is by far one of the most fun times of the year to be on the water

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