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Kentucky Lake and its neighbor, Lake Barkley, are two of the most noted fishing destinations in the country.
These two western Kentucky/central Tennessee waters have long been recognized as premier destinations for bass and crappie fishing, drawing recreational and professional anglers from across the country.
Yet they’re actually two of the best waters when you’re seeking an all-around angling destination.
If species diversity is an attribute you appreciate in a fishery, then Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are waters you need to know. Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill and more are all found in these reservoirs; not only in numbers, but also in size.
The lakes are constants all on major professional bass and crappie fishing tournament trails. While that means little to fly fishers in terms of recreation, it does tell you that the fish are there waiting to be caught.
Kentucky and Barkley are huge. In fact, Kentucky Lake, at 160,300 acres, is the largest reservoir by surface area east of the Mississippi River. Barkley, at 58,000 acres is no slouch. Consider the fact that the two lakes are connected by a navigable channel, and you have at your fingertips well more than 200,000 acres of prime fishing.
Understanding how to catch fish in reservoirs of this magnitude comes down to timing. You need to know how fish are reacting to current conditions, including weather patterns and water clarity, but most importantly water temperature.
Knowing what phase of their annual cycle fish are in, and how they behave during those cycles, is the key to filling a cooler with crappie or landing a trophy bass.
On both lakes, crappie are king. Largemouth bass are extremely popular, but I’d be willing to bet that if you asked 10 randomly selected individuals to quickly name the first fish that comes to mind when you say Kentucky Lake, at least seven would say crappie. Crappie aren’t just plentiful in both lakes, they’re large, too. Both lakes are home to black crappie and white crappie, and fishing for these table fare favorites is a year-round ordeal.
Although neither lake is recognized as a bluegill Mecca, both produce healthy crops year in and year out. They also have good populations of redear sunfish, which grow large. For the sake of this article, consider the term bluegill to represent both.
The sheer number of professional bass tournaments fished on the two reservoirs each year is enough to tell you Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley are nationally recognized largemouth bass fisheries.
When tackling such immense bodies of water, all one can do is try to understand the effects of timing and temperature, then break the lake down into smaller sections.
Smallmouth bass inhabit both lakes, but Kentucky Lake is known to have a greater population. It simply comes down to habitat, and Kentucky Lake has more deep water with a rock bottom and pea gravel flats than Barkley.
That’s not to say you can’t get into smallies on Barkley. It’s just more common on Kentucky.
Barges, bass fishermen, pleasure boaters, float planes, catfish and the list goes on. Kentucky Lake or Lake Barkley are quintessential big-water destinations. Both are known for one thing — fish. Lots and lots of fish.
See you down the trail.
Brandon Butler is a syndicated outdoors columnist.
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