Lots & Lots of Lake Cumberland

by Dennis Hoover

Good times and big fish at Lake Cumberland.

Lake Cumberland shines during Crappiethon USA when 1,200 to 1,400 tagged tournament fish offer a chance to win big prize money. That's about one fish per mile of wonderful rocky and wooded shoreline! However, Cumberland offers more than fine crappie fishing. Many species run bigger. There's a solid record of a 58-pound "rockfish" which Yankees call striped bass. A 22-pound walleye seems almost reasonable, but you'll have to ask the folks at the Visitors Center about a catfish that supposedly weighed in at 208 pounds.

Do, given the huge size of the lake, consider a guided trip early in your visit if you plan to fish for several days. One thing seems certain, at least ten species of fish give you plenty of chances to, as one local put it, "make the grease stink."

Typical Cumberland rocky banks and solid cover.

Even if a guide shows you the best general areas to fish it's always wise to check the lake's surface temperatures -- these will vary near live stream inlets -- against the optimum temperatures for the gamefish species you seek. Then adjust your methods and depth. For your convenience we've added a Water and Air temperature chart below.

Catfish and panfish provide a year-round "basement" to building big catches. Catfish bite best in the lake and its tributaries from just before Memorial Day to Thanksgiving. You can try the usual stink baits for catfish, but live and "recently" deceased shad minnows and lively nightcrawlers do at least as well, and wives whon't make you store your bait in the fridge in the garage.

Crappie are the mini minnow munchers of all time and tiny jigs tipped with various oddments and suspended under bobbers do the job if there's just enough riffle on the water to move the jigs. Bream -- bluegills to Yankees -- offer solid light tackle action too. They're especially nice for fly anglers and ultralight buffs who can take them with little popping bugs. Tiny spinners work too, but your best bet is a lively cricket or small red worm.

Ultralight Action

Crappie and white bass offer light tackle action just about everywhere with March, April and May the hot seasons. Minnows work well, but my choice is small jigs and spoons that offer a bit more lateral and vertical coverage and make sure I stay awake. Move until you find fish and check out some of the back coves.

During summer months, specimen panfish can suspend in the lake just about anywhere, or head up into live stream inlets for cool water. Even better, white bass go "on the jumps" when schools savage bait in the middle of the lake.

Bucketmouth Bass

The crappie pattern works for largemouth bass that hide in and around cover on major tributaries. If you houseboat, consider a john boat, bass boat, skiff or even a canoe so you can get back into the heavy, often shaded sections that produce good action all year among the stumps and along mud banks. Early and late in the year there's no finer place to toss spinner baits or big plugs. And, if you fish points in the main lake in the spring before spawning season you may get a striper too. 

Wild Walleye & Super Sauger

Walleye and Sauger may seem odd fish to find in the south, but they do well in the deep cool waters behind dams and fill in the angler's winter months nicely. Best spots include the Big South Fork headwaters and tailwaters below Wolf Creek and other dams. Minnows and jigs, minnows alone either freelined or under bobbers, jigs and most of the usual combinations work. Big walleys, like big "rocks" hit trolled plugs too. So do very large smallmouth bass and the odd black bass. So pay close attention to your flasher or graph finder. Those big marks aren't gators.

Realistic Rocks

"Rocks" AKA striped bass offer your best shot at a big fish in the shoulder seasons before and after summer crowds. Stripers spawn by running up into free flowing streams that suspend their released eggs. Before this happens in the spring, big stripers -- almost all are females -- tend to hang around long points.

A big Redfin or Cordell in rainbow trout or red head/white body can, if you properly position your boat, be cast well up along the bank and every so slowly retrieved so it leaves a long V-wake as it wiggles, but does not submerge. You need a windless morning or late evening before or after the light's on the water for this. You won't catch many fish, but you will catch a very big fish that, with an eye on the future, you can release to spawn. Besides, the smaller males in the four to 15 pound range taste better.

Life After Fishing

There's lots to do at Lake Cumberland besides fish. So when we stay in resorts or B&Bs or trailer in our own boats we usually fish early and late during summer. During the day you can play golf at the Burnside Island Golf Course on Christmas Island or at several decent Somerset courses.

Paddling offers quiet days, and an excellent chance to sneak up on fish and wildlife.

You can run white water, admire Yahoo Falls, the tallest in Kentucky, ride horses, check out the game refuges or admire the scenery and more in Daniel Boone National Forest.

Several marinas rent boats, party barges, canoes, wave runners and other watercraft. You'll find guides available through resorts and a host of accomodations. Many resorts and other accommodations offer attractions like swimming pools, beaches, playgrounds or tennis courts. There are at least five campgrounds -- one, General Burnside Island State Park -- even has an 18 hole golf course. But wherever you go Southern hospitality deserves its capital reputation. When folks say, "You'all come back" they really mean it.

Publisher's note: To see what's where on the many local rivers and ponds topographic maps help. While you can buy individual "quads" for limited areas you might consider the new, and up to date CD-ROMs that might cover 200 or more quads. These let you examine large areas in great detail to turn up new spots to fish, and they allow you to then print only the areas you want. Even better they work with GPS systems as well

Information Sources

Other Information:

Somerset-Pulaski County Tourist Commission, Box 622, Somerset, KY 42502 800-642-5287

Daniel Boone National Forest, 2995 Lincoln Farm, Rod. Hodgenville, KY42748 606-745-3100

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, 452 Versailes Road, Box 817, Frankfort, KY 40602 502-694\504700

Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, Game Farm Road, Frankfort, KY 40601 502-564-4336


Kentucky Licenses (1995)

Resident Non-Resident
Annual $12.00 $30.00
Combo Hunt/Fish $30.00 n/a
Joint Husband/Wife $22.50 n/a
Trout Stamp $5.00 $5.00
3-day Fishing n/a $12.50
15-day Fishing n/a $20.00

Note: Kentucky offers free fishing days the first weekend in June.

Creel & Size Limits

Species Day Limit Possession Limit Size Limit
Black Bass 6 12 15"
Rock Bass 15 30 none
Walleye & Hybrids 10 20 15"
Sauger 10 20 none
White/Yellow Bass 30 60 none
Striped Bass (rockfish) 2* 2 24"
Crappie 30 60 10"
Rainbow Trout 8 8 none
Brown Trout 8 8 none
Kentucky Bass 6 6 none

* Lake Cumberland Restrictions

Lake Cumberland Average Temperatures

Month Air Surface
January 40 44
February 42 45
March 52 48
April 62 62
May 70 73
June 77 81
July 78 84
August 73 83
September 66 73
October 53 63
November 43 56
December 40 48