7 Best Muskie Fishing Lakes and Rivers in Kentucky

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Capable of topping 50 inches and weighing over 40 pounds, there isn’t another species in Kentucky waters that is more difficult to hook and land than the muskellunge. 

Muskies’ monstrous size, wolf-like teeth, legendary fighting ability, and relative scarcity have led Bluegrass State anglers to revere these game fish. Anywhere they swim, they represent the undisputed top of the food chain.

But despite their reputation as the “fish of 10,000 casts,” there are places in Kentucky (which we’re about to show you) where your chances of catching a muskie are actually pretty good.

Muskellunge are native to a handful of river drainages in Kentucky, primarily in the northern and eastern part of the state. Officials also have stocked them in several reservoirs.

The following waters offer the best odds at catching a Kentucky muskie, with spring and fall being the best seasons to do so. 

Cave Run Lake

Located within Daniel Boone National Forest in northeast Kentucky, 8,270-acre Cave Run Lake has a reputation as the premier muskellunge lake in the state. More muskies are caught here than just about anywhere else in Kentucky, with many of them measuring 40-plus inches. 

Cave Run Lake is an impoundment of the Licking River, one of several rivers in Kentucky where muskellunge are native. Authorities also stock muskies at several locations around Cave Run Lake, releasing thousands of 13-inch advanced fingerlings each year.

Spring is prime time for Cave Run muskies, with big fish heading towards shallow spawning sites starting in March. Spawning usually takes place in April, with a strong post-spawn bite extending well into May. 

Backs of large coves are prime areas as soon as water levels come up a bit in spring. Look for embayments with shallow flats close to deep water.

The Warix Run Cove is a prime example of Cave Run’s musky habitat. Beaver Creek is another good spot with an abundance of standing timber.

By summer, the best fishing is usually along the river channel. Muskies move up onto nearby flats like Beaver Creek and Zilpo Flats early and late in the day. This is a good time to throw big Mepps spinners.

Having a boat is helpful to cover water in search of muskellunge, but Cave Run Lake has good options for bank anglers, too. Stoney Cove Recreation Area, at the south end of the dam, is an especially popular bank fishing spot. 

The promisingly-named Muskie Bend Fishing Site is another good option farther up the lake.

Numerous boat ramps are available. Some of them, including the Bangor, Longbow, Poppin Rock and Leatherwood ramps, are muskie stocking sites.

If you want to chase something with a higher catch rate, especially in the spring, know that Cave Run Lake is also among Kentucky’s excellent crappie fishing spots.

Green River Lake

Central Kentucky’s Green River Lake has a lot in common with Cave Run Lake. Only slightly smaller at 8,210 acres, Green River Lake was created in 1969 (just a few years before Cave Run) with the damming of the Green River. 

Much like Cave Run, state officials stock advanced muskellunge fingerlings yearly.

Green River Lake isn’t quite as well-known for producing trophies, but healthy adult fish over 36 inches are common. Bigger muskies measuring 45-plus inches also turn up in surveys from time to time.

Green River Lake has a good mix of habitat, including shallow embayments loaded with stumps and laydowns. 

Muskies start to get active as early as February. The area around Green River Marina is a good place to start, being sheltered from the wind and quick to warm in spring. The Green River tailwater below the dam produces a lot of fish, too. 

Finding woody cover is key. There isn’t a ton of standing timber left in Green River Lake, but where you find some, you’re likely to find muskies. The Robinson Creek embayment is one of the most reliable areas, with good cover, both deep and shallow.

The post-spawn period in May and June is a great time to find active fish in 10- to 15-foot depths around woody cover.

Fall is also a top season here, and anglers find success with shad-imitating crankbaits.

Green River Lake also made our list of the best walleye fishing lakes in Kentucky.

Buckhorn Lake

Located on the Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, 1,230-acre Buckhorn Lake is a solid muskie option in the southeastern part of the state. Muskellunge are stocked here annually, and the lake’s small size makes it a relatively easy place to locate fish.

Many muskie anglers consider Buckhorn Lake more as a numbers lake. It’s rare to catch one over 36 inches, but you’re more likely to get a few solid strikes during an average day here than on most Kentucky lakes. 

In late winter and early spring, as muskellunge wake up and start to think about spawning, look for them in the coves at the lower end of the lake. Brush piles in this area regularly attract muskies as the lake comes up from its winter drawdown. 

Prime areas include Leatherwood Creek, Otter Creek and Meetinghouse Branch. Muskies spawn towards the backs of the creeks in spring, but these are good fall spots, too.

Fall might be the best time to fish here, as muskies feed heavily leading up to winter.

During the summer months in-between, the best approach is trolling the flats in Otter Creek, Turkey Creek, and other lower-lake spots. Buckhorn Lake doesn’t have a very distinct river channel, so focus on flats, creek mouths, and the deep edges of weed beds.

Dewey Lake

Located north of Prestonsburg in eastern Kentucky, Dewey Lake is a relative newcomer to the ranks of Kentucky muskie lakes. Impounded by a dam on Johns Creek and spanning 1,100 acres, the state stocked muskies for the first time in 2014. 

In the years since Dewey Lake has developed into a solid muskellunge fishery, and anglers have reported catching fish over 36 inches. As in most lakes, the best seasons to catch them are spring and fall. 

With 52 miles of shoreline at full pool, the lake has an abundance of good muskie cover, including deadfalls, weed beds, and some standing timber. Rocky banks often attract these big predatory fish as well.

The lake is long and narrow, with its banks notched by numerous creeks and coves. Jenny Wiley State Park provides bank and boat access.

Some muskellunge sweep through the dam into the Johns Creek tailwaters below, where there is another good fishery.

Dewey Lake also offers a very respectable bass fishery, with 20-inch largemouths capable of tackling one of your musky lures.

Licking River

A tributary of the Ohio River in northeastern Kentucky, the Licking River is one of the best native muskie rivers in Kentucky. Areas above and below Cave Run Lake can produce fish, but the section below is best. 

The Licking River is the source of muskellunge broodstock for the Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, and all the muskies stocked statewide are reared at the Minor E. Clark Fish Hatchery, located in the tailwater below the Cave Run Lake Dam.

The tailwater, which stretches several miles downriver, is probably the most likely place in Kentucky to catch muskellunge in a river environment.

Throughout most of the year, the Licking River is slow and plodding, making it excellent for canoe and kayak fishing. Numerous put-ins and take-outs are available, with the Upper and Lower Blue Licks area offering some particularly pleasant floating.

Muskellunge prowl the river’s deepest pools and often bite large bucktail in-line spinners and type of white spinnerbaits generally used for bass. Innumerable deadfalls line the banks of the river, offering perfect muskie cover.

Many of the larger creeks that feed the Licking River have muskellunge, too. Triplett Creek, a tributary that flows into the Licking River not far below the Cave Run Lake Dam, supports a highly underrated muskie population. 

Kentucky River

The Kentucky River, which flows 255 miles through the heart of Kentucky, is among the most underappreciated muskie fisheries in the state. Muskellunge are native to the river, and the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife stocks them in the section from Heidelberg to Irvine. 

A series of locks and dams break the Kentucky River up into pools. Tailwaters below Lock and Dam #12, #13 and #14 are prime muskie haunts.

In spring, some of the best spots are creeks that feed this section, including Sturgeon Creek and Station Camp Creek.

Though the main stem of the Kentucky River is better known for muskie fishing, muskellunge inhabit its three upper forks as well.

The Middle Fork of the Kentucky River, which is impounded to form Buckhorn Lake mentioned above, is especially good. Anglers commonly battle muskies in the 30-to-40-inch range in the Buckhorn tailwaters.

The Kentucky River also is among the state’s better places to catch catfish.

Tygarts Creek

A modest-sized tributary of the Ohio River in northeast Kentucky, Tygarts Creek doesn’t get a lot of attention from muskie hunters or anyone else. But long before the days of dams and reservoirs, it was locally famous for the huge fish that inhabited its small pools.

Confirmed muskellunge up to 51 inches have been caught in this narrow ribbon of water, which is ideal for fishing from a canoe or cartop boat. It’s a picturesque stream, ideal for float trips.

Tygarts Creek fishes best in the fall, when temperatures are moderate and water levels are usually stable. Try throwing crankbaits or jerkbaits in gold patterns with a bit of chartreuse to mimic the native golden redhorse and spotted suckers that muskies love to dine on. 

The nearby Little Sandy River and Kinniconick Creek are more muskellunge haunts well off the beaten path. Fish measuring 40 inches are not unusual.