Kentucky is a southeastern state in the U.S. that has the Ohio River bordering the north and the Appalachian Mountains in the east. The Bluegrass state is famous worldwide for its prestigious horse race, the Kentucky Derby. It is an annual tradition they hold at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. But for avid anglers, the best fishing locations in Kentucky can be legendary.
There’s lots to do in the Bluegrass State, including taking in the culture and sights of its many cities. You can visit Mammoth Cave to check out the world’s longest cave system. Kentucky’s officially designated state fish is Kentucky spotted bass. But there are plenty of other species for anglers to pursue. So, take a look through the Kentucky Fishes Guidebook to see what you could catch.
You can cast a line along the shoreline forests and limestone bluffs for smallmouth bass. Or you could catch trophy-sized crappie in one of the state’s nationally ranked lakes. Get a thrill testing your strength against the colossal blue catfish in the Ohio River. And fly-fishermen needn’t feel left out, either. There’s some excellent trout fishing in the state’s pristine mountain streams.
Kentucky has over 62,000 miles of fishable streams and over 40 public lakes. The Bluegrass State also has a Fishing in Neighborhoods program, facilitating family fishing in specially stocked small water bodies near cities. Also, there’s good ice fishing in Kentucky if you’re planning to come to the state during the winter months.
To fish legally in public waters in the State of Kentucky, anyone over 16 years of age must hold a valid license. Also, if you want to fish for trout, you’ll need a trout permit.
You can buy the licenses directly from the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) or from a marina, tackle shop and other license vendors. There are 1-day, 7-day, or 15-day permits.
- The annual fishing license costs $23 for residents and $55 for non-residents (resident spouses can get an annual fishing permit for $42.00)
- The 1-day fishing permit is $7 for residents and $15 for non-residents.
- The 7-day fishing permit (for non-residents only) is $35.00.
- The Trout permit costs $10 for both residents and non-residents.
Note that you must carry your license authorization number and a picture ID with you while you’re fishing in public waters in Kentucky. For detailed information on permitted fishing methods and creel limits within Kentucky, visit the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources website.
Our Favorite Fishing Spots in Kentucky
Kentucky offers satisfying and challenging sport for keen leisure fishermen and for families, too. The well-stocked lakes, rivers, and streams make Kentucky the perfect vacation location for anglers.
This list includes the 10 best fishing locations in Kentucky, the Bluegrass State. So, keep reading and prepare to cast a line into Kentucky’s pristine, fish-rich waters.
1. Kentucky Lake
Kentucky Lake has to be at the top of any vacationing angler’s must-do list. In Benton County, Kentucky Lake is a 186,000-acre impoundment with a 2,380-mile shoreline and is located here. There are countless inlets, bays, and access points within a 170,000-acre nature preserve on the eastern shore of the Lake. This makes it one of the 10 best fishing locations and the most awe-inspiring spot you’ll ever have the pleasure to fish.
Fish species you can expect to find thriving in this spectacular location include:
- Largemouth bass
- Smallmouth bass
- Spotted bass
- Blue catfish
- Flathead catfish
- Longnose gar
- Chain pickerel
Kentucky Lake is nationally renowned as a largemouth bass fishery and the KDFWR rates it as excellent. Bass fishing heats up when the water temperature begins to rise in the spring. Largemouths start moving in the shallows. And local anglers target them by casting at downed trees, shoreline stumps and other transition locations.
Try pitching and flipping in the shallows around the fish attractors the KDFWR places there in the buttonball bushes and buck brush. As the weather warms up, the fish head into the cooler water. You’ll have the best chance of landing a decent size catch by fishing around ledges where the bottom depth drops from shallow to deep.
In these quieter areas, bass hunt crawfish and shad, thriving in the current pulled at the dams. There are lots of campgrounds and cabins close to Kentucky Lake for those who want to extend their fishing trip and fill their creel at this productive location.
2. Kingdom Come State Park
Kingdom Come State Park is near the Virginia State line, close to the small town of Cumberland. The 1,283-acre Park boasts some of the best natural scenery in the State of Kentucky. And the lake offers plenty of opportunity for anglers. The Park sits at the crest of Pine Mountain, with stunning views and some fascinating rock formations to take in.
They manage the lake to provide some excellent family fishing action. But what makes it one of the best fishing locations in Kentucky is that it is part of the Fishing in Neighborhoods Program (FINS). The KDFWR stock the Lake with rainbow trout several times a year. You’ll also find largemouth bass and bluegill in these waters in good numbers.
The lake has plenty of shoreline access for anglers. Note that you will need a trout permit as well as a standard fishing license to fish here. Kingdom Come has plenty to amuse your kids, including pedal boats, mini-golf, horseshoes, and picnicking. You can also enjoy the outdoor experience by checking out the mountain biking and hiking trails.
While you’re in the area, Cumberland Gap National Historical Park is a must-see stop-off point. There are well-provisioned campgrounds at Kingdom Come with full amenities. They include restrooms, water and RV hook-ups close by for those who want to extend their stay.
3. Rolex Lake, Kentucky Horse Park
Rolex Lake is located here, and is another FINS program family angling location. The five-acre Lake is at the Kentucky Horse Park in Fayette County. When you and your family have fished until you drop, there is lots of other things to do here. Also, Lexington is nearby where you’ll find lodgings, restaurants, and other attractions. There is also camping on-site for angling families.
They stock Rolex Lake in February, March, and November with rainbow trout. Also, they heavily top off the catfish numbers four times annually. You can also find bluegill, crappie, and largemouth bass here in good numbers. Try fishing close to the fountain in the center of the Lake with a rainbow spinner for trout.
Red worms work best for bluegill, which can be found anywhere on the Lake, just out from the shoreline. Access to the lake is good. And there’s a paved path around the perimeter for easy shoreline access. There are public restrooms and a picnic area. This lake offers something for everyone, making it one of the best fishing locations in Kentucky.
4. Lake Barkley State Resort Park
Lake Barkley is located here in western Kentucky. This huge 58,000-acre reservoir sprawls across Trigg, Lyon, and Livingston Counties in Kentucky, extending into Tennessee. Lake Barkley is famous for being one of the best fishing locations in Kentucky, providing fishing that’s world-class. The fish species you’ll find in abundance in Lake Barkley include:
- Largemouth bass
- Smallmouth bass
- Black bass
- Redear sunfish
- Yellow bass
- Channel catfish
- Blue catfish
- Flathead catfish
- White bass
Come to this location in late April and early May for the best panfishing action. And enjoy fishing for bluegill right through the summer. You’ll find the biggest, best-quality bluegill lurking in the deep brush, stake beds, and around submerged trees. Yellow and white bass provide productive sports fishing right through the summer months, too.
Catfish fishing is excellent at Barkley Lake. When you target cats from a boat or the bank, there’s every chance you’ll land a trophy-size fish. Access to the water is excellent with a marina where you can rent pontoon boats, fishing boats, and even ski boats. And there’s a launch ramp, too. Free loaner rods and reels are also available for families who haven’t bought their own fishing kit.
There’s plenty of lodging at the park, and you’ll find primitive campsites and cottages here, too. When you’ve tired of fishing or boating, check out the horseback riding, swimming, hiking, racquetball, and volleyball. You might even fancy a round of golf and the nearby 18-hole Boots Randolph Course.
5. Owensboro (Fischer Park, Waymond Morris Park, Panther Creek)
Owensboro is a city located here in Daviess County that offers lots of family fishing opportunities. Check out Jack C. Fischer Park and Waymond Morris Park for starters. The latter is a FINS location and offers some good bank fishing. Here you’ll find rainbow trout and catfish in good numbers, together with hybrid sunfish. They stock them all generously throughout the year.
Panther Creek Park Lake is a great place to fish. Here you’ll find well-stocked waters, containing:
- Hybrid sunfish
- Rainbow trout
While you’re in Owensboro, you’ll find plenty of lodging options. Check out the International Bluegrass Museum close to Smothers Park. Or, take in one of the many festivals and concerts that happen here every year. Because they stock all year, this is one of the best fishing locations in Kentucky.
6. Tygarts Creek
Tygarts Creek is a tributary of the Ohio River and is located here. It officially forms part of the Mississippi watershed. The Creek flows in a north-northeasterly direction through narrow sandstone overhangs and corridors of leafy trees. And the scenery has remained unchanged for thousands of years.
Tygarts Creek is one of Kentucky’s best-kept angling secrets. It’s where the first national muskellunge research program began. And it’s now one of the primary locations in the state where you can hunt these impressive fish. Other fish species you’ll find here include:
- Kentucky bass
- Largemouth bass
- Red eye
Cast a line into one of the many riffles or deep pools in the Creek, and you should get a bite. Be warned, though. Muskies over 40-inches long regularly come out of these waters. Try fishing for these monsters
around fallen trees and brush, and focus on long, slower pools for Kentucky or spotted bass. This alone makes this oone of the best fishing locations in Kentucky. But, there’s even more.
The Creek is a designated Blue Water Trail that’s popular for paddling. And it’s an ideal spot for fishing from a canoe, kayak, or fishing tube. If you prefer, try wading from the shallow shoreline under the bridge off Route 182 using short fly rods or spinning tackle. You’ll find camping and other accommodation options at nearby Carter Caves, another must-see stop-off point during your visit to Kentucky.
7. Rock Creek
Rock Creek (located here)is in the Big South Fork Recreation Area in eastern Kentucky. What makes it one of the best fishing locations in Kentucky is the stunning scenery and beautiful trout streams. Rock Creek is a lush, secluded stream where you’ll find lots of rainbow trout. In fact, the KDFWR releases over 15,000 here every year. Concentrate on fishing around the deep riffles and fallen logs to find the largest specimens.
Enjoy a day’s fishing off the beaten track among massive granite boulders, quiet riffles, and an abundance of varied wildlife. Look for deer, bears, turkey, and salamanders in this tranquil place. Try using a three or four-weight rod and a long leader with egg patterns, streamers, or nymphs for the best results.
Note that this location has a strict catch-and-release policy to preserve stocks. The creek is at the end of a series of bumpy Forest Service roads, so you’ll need a four-wheel drive with high clearance to get here. You’ll find primitive camping sites at nearby Great Meadows Campground.
8. The Dix River
The Dix River (located here) is a 79-mile long tributary of the Kentucky River, flowing from Rockcastle County through central Kentucky. Here you can find awe-inspiring bluffs, dense forests and rocky outcrops. The Dix is one of the most scenic rivers in the state, so it deserves a place on this list of the best fishing locations in Kentucky. Also, the KDFWR has designated it as a trophy trout stream.
You can use a motorboat or paddle upriver. Launch from the High Bridge Boat Ramp. And then travel up-river towards High Bridge until you see the mouth of the Dix on your right. And three or four miles upstream you’ll find the Dix Dam.
Fish this stretch of water when they release water from the dam. But pay particular attention to the rock riffles, downed logs, and rocky outcropping that provide a fabulous habitat for fish. You can catch trout here throughout the year. But by the late spring, the deeper pools will be thronging with bass.
9. Falls of the Ohio
Fishing the Falls of the Ohio is an amazing experience. The fish species you’ll find here are many and varied, including:
- Alligator Gar
You can fish from a small boat or the easily accessible shoreline. Note that bow fishing is illegal here. Also, there’s a strict catch-and-release policy on paddlefish. Even so, this is one of the best fishing locations in Kentucky for the variety of species.
10. Cedar Creek Lake
You’ll find Cedar Creek Lake in eastern Lincoln County, between Stanford and Crab Orchard. Cedar Creek is the second largest state-controlled lake in the Bluegrass State. But what puts it on this list of the best fishing locations in Kentucky is because it is a fantastic spot for bass fishing.
They regularly stock this 784-acre lake with largemouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, black crappie, and channel catfish. This area is a scenic anglers paradise. They left all the shoreline trees and brush in place to provide a prime fish habitat. They also placed a 300-foot buffer zone to protect the lake from encroachment.
Access to the water is excellent via three boat ramps or from the dedicated bank fishing areas. Note that there are bag limits on bass catches to promote trophy size fish. So, one fish is the daily creel limit. Also, you must release anything under 20-inches, as well as channel catfish under 12-inches.
There’s a beach, a marina, restrooms, and a nice restaurant at this location. Also, there are several campgrounds and other accommodations close to the Lake.
Casting Your Line
Kentucky is a wonderful location for an angling vacation with your family. There’s an abundance of fish species to pursue, whether you’re a keen bass fisherman, a fly-fishing enthusiast, or you enjoy battling monster gar and paddlefish.
As well as the superb fishing, you and your family can enjoy many other outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, swimming, and boating. When you’re done fishing, check out the bustling towns and cities you pass through on your trip. Spend a day at the races, or venture underground in one of the spectacular cave systems there.
Although these are the top 10 best fishing locations in Kentucky, there is fabulous fishing throughout the state. So you can easily find a fishing location that will be on top of your bucket list.
This post was first published on June 15th, 2017 and was last updated in July 2020.
Daniel C. Warren gradually morphed from a weekend warrior into a full-time outdoorsman and outdoor blogger. From picking up trash in the woods or sleeping under an open sky to hiking until his plantar fasciitis says no more or having a field day fishing with like minded fellow countrymen, there’s little he doesn’t wholeheartedly enjoy while out in the wild. While some might call him a true-born nature freak, he likes to see himself as a “born-again” outdoor enthusiast. Daniel just can’t get enough of nature, and we’re grateful whenever he decides to share his latest experiences with us.