FRANKFORT - Cave Run Lake has been Kentucky’s top muskellunge fishing destination since the lake first reached summer pool in 1974.
The lake’s reputation was built on its rugged beauty and its accessibility, lying just minutes south of Interstate 64. The sheer number of quality muskellunge produced through the decades also bolstered Cave Run’s reputation.
March is the traditional start of muskie fishing on the 8,270-acre reservoir in Daniel Boone National Forest, stretching across Bath, Menifee, Rowan and Morgan counties.
“When water temperatures start to rise into the 40s, muskies go into spawning mode and move into the shallows at the heads of creeks,” said Tony Grant, a muskie fishing guide on Cave Run Lake since 1989. “They are drawn to waters running into the lake.”
Anglers look for stained water because it’s often a few degrees warmer. The influx of nutrients attracts shad and other baitfish. Some of the best areas of the lake to fish in early spring are Warix Run, Caney Creek and Scott Creek, which have broad shallow mud flats that warm up fast on sunny days.
Grant fishes downsized lures when the water is still cold; mostly lipless crankbaits with loud rattles, such as the one-ounce Rattlin’ Shad or Rat’ L Trap.
As the water warms up into the 50s, he casts 5- to 6-inch shallow-running crankbaits and up to 11/2 - ounce spinnerbaits. “Later in the spring muskies begin to move out onto the mid-creek points, and eventually to the main lake,” said Grant. “They get deeper as the warm weather progresses.”
Every spring the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources samples the lake’s muskie population by electrofishing.
“Through the years we’ve found that muskies are distributed throughout all sections of the lake in March,” said Fred Howes, northeastern fisheries biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “We find excellent numbers of 30-inch and larger muskies.”
Howes said he believes little if any natural reproduction by muskies occurs in the lake. The population is maintained through annual stockings of about 2,800 12- to 13-inch juvenile muskies.
“The number stocked can fluctuate from year to year, based on spawning success at the Minor Clark Fish Hatchery,” said Howes. The hatchery is just below the dam.
Survival of the stocked muskies is good. Typically by age five, a muskie in Cave Run Lake has reached the 36-inch minimum size limit and weighs about 13.5 pounds.
There is a good carryover of larger fish because so many anglers practice catch and release. “Based on 2007 data, we estimate that about 61 percent of the 36-inch or longer muskies caught were released,” said Howes. “That high catch-and-release rate maintains a quality fishery.”
Since its impoundment, Cave Run Lake has produced two state record muskies, including the current record: a 47-pounder caught on Nov. 2, 2008 by Sarah K. Terry of Mt. Sterling.
The license year expired Feb. 28, 2013. You’ll need to buy a new fishing license, available in the sporting goods section of department stores and tackle shops, to fish now. Licenses and permits may also be purchased online from the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at fw.ky.gov or by calling 1-877-598-2401. The entire Spring Fishing Frenzy series will be posted at this same website for future access to these articles.
Art Lander Jr. has been writing about the outdoors since the 1970s. He is a staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine.