[DIY] Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Kentucky

Kentucky Fishing and Boating Access Sites Map

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​The Bluegrass State isn’t just the home to derbies and a lot of yummy fried foods, it’s also a great fly fishing destination. In fact, the state boasts dozens of rivers and countless lakes, and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stock a large number of these with trout. If you’re in search of an angling adventure, Kentucky has you covered no matter where in the state you plan on going.

Like many states, Kentucky imposes some restrictions on trout fishing. This is necessary in order to help non-native populations to survive, thrive, and grow. Because the nearly one million fish must be brought in from a hatchery, and cannot reproduce in their non-native environment, it’s vital that the state regulate their existence and make sure conditions are perfect for them to provide fishermen with a rewarding experience. As long as you’re familiar with the rules and regulations, you’ll find no lack of places to hone your craft among the many bodies of water the state has to offer.

​Best Trout Fishing Spots in Kentucky

With the state stocking more than 100 waters, plus the rivers and streams that grace the landscape across the state, it can be hard to know where to start. There a few locations that stand out as favorites and are must-see fly fishing destinations for Kentucky visitors.

Cumberland River

This 75-mile tailwater that runs below Lake Cumberland in southern Kentucky is the result of waters that are released through the Wolf Creek Dam, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project. The waterway is a popular fly fishing site, and with good reason – it receives yearly stock of around 160,000 rainbows and 38,000 browns each year, making it a premier location for the angler.

While there are a few places on the Cumberland where wading is possible, it’s highly recommended that you fly fish this tailwater by boat. Not only is a boat preferable due to the large ratio of deep areas, but because the river is quite lengthy, a boat comes in handy to navigate between good fishing sites without having to muck along for miles. A drifter with a motor is your best bet.

The Wolf Creek Dam has four generators, and any of them could be operating at a given point. The fishing is better when the water is lower. The Cumberland is unique in that it rises extremely slowly. In other words, when they start generating power, you are not in danger of a 12-foot rise within a few minutes’ time. The water travels at about four miles per hour, and the path is so long that it takes quite a while before you’ll have to worry about switching spots or climbing the bank. There is a release schedule available, so you can plan your trip accordingly.

Access can be tricky, which is another reason to bring a boat. There are more public access points the closer you are to the dam, but the further along you go, it could be miles between access points. Fortunately, there are a number of areas to launch a boat, and even fish right offshore. The Kendall Recreation Area ramp is just below the dam, off of U.S. 127. Nearby is a hatchery creek outflow, which is a choice area to cast, and Boyd’s Bar, which is known to yield rainbows and browns aplenty.

Another shoal with a reputation for being worth the stop is Rainbow Run, a long gravel bar just downstream from the Rockhouse Natural Bridge, which sits about 10 miles downstream from the dam.

While not the best choice for the casual wader who just wants to get to the bank quickly, spend some time leisurely casting, and get out quickly as well, Cumberland River is a great option with plenty of 5+ pounders for those fly fishermen who either thrive on the challenge of locating a good wading spot, or have a boat and love to use it.

You may keep one brown trout per day on the Cumberland, and it must be at least 20 inches. You can keep five rainbows, with just one over 20 inches, and one brook at least 15 inches in size. These regulations apply to all of the river’s tributary streams as well.

Otter Creek

Located outside Fort Knox, Otter Creek not only receives 1700 trout from the KDFWR, but Fort Knox also adds 15,000 of the fish on top of those. You’ll need to buy a fishing permit (as well as a Kentucky fishing license) but you then get the benefit of easy access through the Otter Creek Park. Check with Fort Knox Hunt Control ahead of time, as the park sometimes closes down specific sections for different applications like training. After catch-and-release ends in April, you can score some hefty trout and serve them up on your dinner table (following state limit laws, of course).

Other Good Creeks

There are plenty of other great options for some casual on-the-fly action. These include:

  • Rock Creek – the second most stocked stream in the Commonwealth, Rock Creek gets over 17,000 fish per year. Running through the Daniel Boone National Forest all the way down to the Tennessee border, this pure and pristine environment features crystal clear waters and rugged, rocky surroundings.
  • Trammel Fork – located off Route 231 south of Scottsville, this four-mile stretch of wade-able water gets rainbows and browns, offering bug chuckers a rewarding expanse of riffles and pools in which to try their luck.
  • Goose Creek – this put-and-take stream is located on the Casey-Russell county line, and feeds into the Green River. You’ll have the best luck near the start of the creek, however, and the 1500 trout that are deposited monthly result in a good chance of taking home your whole daily limit.

Kentucky Trout Streams and Tailwaters

Trout fisheries in Kentucky’s streams are represented by brown, rainbow, and brook trout. Before 1980, Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) stocked primarily rainbow trout for put-and-take fisheries.

As of 2017, the trout program includes six streams (17.2 miles) that have natural brook trout populations and four tailwaters (79.9 miles) and 16 streams (71.5 miles) for put-grow-take brown trout or rainbow trout fisheries.

There is one tailwater (75.2 miles) managed for a put-grow-take brook trout fishery. There are a total of 290.2 miles (88.0 miles in tailwaters) of trout fisheries in 63 streams that include 14 tailwaters.

Fifty-two percent (149.5 mi) of the total miles of trout stream fisheries is represented by brown trout.

There are 8.7 miles in two streams that are managed for put-and-take and put-grow-take brown and rainbow trout fisheries at Fort Campbell Military Reservation that lies in both Kentucky and Tennessee.

Kentucky trout streams are classified by the quality of the stream as measured by the number of days per year the stream remains below temperatures that can support trout.  There are four classes of trout streams in Kentucky with Class I streams being the highest quality.

Kentucky Class I, Class II, Class III and Class IV trout streams are listed below.​

CLASS I TROUT STREAMS: exceptional trout streams that have a minimal number of days (<5) above 72° F in a calendar year and have a maximum temperature that remains below 72° F during the period June-September. These streams have the maximum holdover potential and also include those streams with natural brook trout populations.

Stream

County

Type

Bad Branch (Wild River) - closed to fishing by Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission

Letcher

Brook - wild

Dog Fork*

Wolfe

Brook - wild

Martins Fork (Wild River) - section in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park closed to fishing

Bell/Harlan

Brook - wild

Parched Corn Creek*

Wolfe

Brook - wild

Poor Fork (Jefferson National Forest)

Letcher

Brook - wild

Shillalah Creek - section in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park closed to fishing

Bell

Brook - wild

Big Caney Creek

Elliott

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-t)

Paint Creek**

Johnson

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-g-t)

Elk Spring Creek***

Wayne

Rainbow (p-g-t)

Lynn Camp Creek

Hart

Rainbow (p-g-t)

Roundstone Creek

Hart

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-g-t)

Jennings Creek

Warren

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-g-t)

Looney Creek

Harlan

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-g-t)

Special Regulations and Notes

*Located in Daniel Boone National Forest

**16-inch length limit, 1 fish daily creel limit, and artificial bait requirement for trout

***Seasonal Catch and Release

p-g-t: put-grow-take fishery

p-t: put-and-take fishery

​Catch and release required of all brook trout and no use of live bait at Dog Fork, Parched Corn Creek, Shillalah Creek below the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park (CGNHP), and Poor Fork above Hwy 932 bridge.

CLASS II TROUT STREAMS: high quality trout streams that have a low number of days (<25) above 72° F in a calendar year and have a maximum temperature that remains below 75° F during the period June-September. These streams may still provide holdover trout but are not considered exceptional.

Stream/Tailwater

County

Type

Cumberland Lake (Cumberland River, including mouth of Crocus Creek

Russell / Clinton / Cumberland

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-g-t, p-t) Brook (p-g-t)

Herrington Lake (Dix River)

Mercer/Garrard

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-g-t, p-t)

Laurel River Lake (Laurel River)

Laurel/Whitley

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-g-t, p-t)

Nolin River Lake (Nolin River)

Edmonson

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-t)

Bark Camp Creek (SCR)*

Chimney Top Creek​*

Whitley

Wolfe

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-t)

Brown (p-g-t)

Fletchers Fork

Ft. Campbell – Montgomery (TN)

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-g-t, p-t)

Little West Fork

Ft. Campbell – Montgomery (TN)

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-g-t, p-t)

Laurel Creek

Elliott

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-t)

Cane Creek (SCR)*

Laurel

Rainbow (p-t)

War Fork*

Jackson

Rainbow (p-t)

Sulphur Spring Creek

Simpson

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-t)

Trammel Fork (SCR)

Allen

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-t)

Royal Springs

Casey Creek (SCR)

Scott

Trigg

Rainbow (p-t)

Rainbow (p-t)

Special Regulations and Notes

*Located in Daniel Boone National Forest

SCR - Seasonal Catch and Release

p-g-t: put-grow-take fishery

p-t: put-and-take fishery

12-inch statewide size limit and 3 fish daily creel limit brown trout

CLASS III TROUT STREAMS: general trout streams that have a significant number of days (>25) above 72° F in a calendar year and most likely will be unable to provide significant carry-over to the next year. Class III streams are separated from Class IV streams by having a lower number of days that the stream remains at or above 73° F during the month of June and a lower maximum stream temperature in June.

Tailwater

County

Type

Buckhorn Lake (Middle Fork Kentucky River)

Perry

Rainbow (p-t)

Carr Creek Lake (Carr Fork)

Knott

Rainbow (p-t)

Cave Run Lake (Licking River)

Bath/Rowan

Rainbow (p-t)

Fishtrap Lake (Levisa Fork)

Pike

Rainbow (p-t)

Martins Fork Lake (Martins Fork)

Harlan

Rainbow (p-t)

Paintsville Lake (Paint Creek)

Johnson

Rainbow (p-t)

Yatesville Lake (Blaine Creek)

Lawrence

Rainbow (p-t)

Stream

County

Type

Beaver Creek (SCR)

Wayne

Rainbow (p-t)

East Fork Indian Creek (SCR)*

Menifee

Brown (p-g-t)

Rainbow (p-t)

Clear Creek (SCR)

Bell

Rainbow (p-t)

East Fork Little Sandy River

Boyd

Rainbow (p-t)

Craney Creek

Rowan

Rainbow (p-t)

Hatchery Creek

Russell

Rainbow (p-t)

Russell Fork

Pike

Rainbow (p-t)

Swift Camp Creek (SCR)*

Wolfe

Brown (p-g-t) Rainbow (p-t)

Right Fork Buffalo Creek

Owsley

Rainbow (p-t)

Sinking Creek

Breckinridge

Rainbow (p-t)

Special Regulations and Notes

*Located in Daniel Boone National Forest

SCR - Seasonal Catch and Release

p-g-t: put-grow-take fishery

p-t: put-and-take fishery

CLASS IV TROUT STREAMS: marginal trout streams that have a significant number of days (>25) above 72° F in a calendar year and most likely will be unable to provide significant carry-over to the next year. Class IV streams are separated from Class III streams by having a higher number of days that the stream remains at or above 73° F during the month of June and a higher maximum stream temperature in June.

Tailwater

County

Type

Dewey Lake (Johns Creek)

Floyd

Rainbow (p-t)

Grayson Lake (Little Sandy River)

Carter

Rainbow (p-t)

Taylorsville Lake (Salt River)

Spencer

Rainbow (p-t)

Stream

County

Type

Big Bone Creek (SCR)

Boone

Rainbow (p-t)

Greasy Creek

Leslie

Rainbow (p-t)

Left Fort Beaver Creek (SCR)

Floyd

Rainbow (p-t)

North Fork Triplett Creek*

Rowan

Rainbow (p-t)

Raven Creek

Harrison

Rainbow (p-t)

Rock Creek (SCR)

McCreary

Rainbow (p-t)

Station Camp Creek

Estill

Rainbow (p-t)

Sturgeon Creek

Lee

Rainbow (p-t)

Otter Creek (SCR)

Mead

Brown (p-g-t)

Rainbow (p-t)

Triplett Creek

Rowan

Rainbow (p-t)

Goose Creek

Casey

Rainbow (p-t)

Middle Fork Red River (SCR)*

Powell/Wolfe

Rainbow (p-t)

Floyds Fork

Jefferson

Rainbow (p-t)

Right Fork Beaver Creek

Floyd

Rainbow (p-t)

West Hickman Creek

Fayette

Rainbow (p-t)

Special Regulations and Notes

*Located in Daniel Boone National Forest

SCR - Seasonal Catch and Release

p-g-t: put-grow-take fishery

p-t: put-and-take fishery

Best Time to Fish in Kentucky

Fishing is permitted year-round in Kentucky, and the state imposes different seasons, limits, and rules, depending upon the type of fish and the location where it is caught. You’ll want to read over the rules before planning your destination and timing, so that you can optimize your experience by keeping your catch if that’s what you desire.

You’ll also want to base your timing on hatches. At the Cumberland River there is a late winter blue-winged olive hatch, and one in October. Sulphurs hatch from mid-May through June, and Caddis tend to hatch in late winter to early spring.

​What You Will Need When You Get There

You’ll want your chest-high waders, wading boots with rubber soles, a rain jacket, Polarized sunglasses (these allow you to see into the water better), a brimmed hat for sun protection, bug repellant, insect net for your head if you’re going during the warmer months, accessories such as nippers and a pocketknife, plus whatever flies and rods you want. If you’re wading the Cumberland, you’ll want a wading staff for tracking the water levels.

As to your rod, a 5 or 6 weight should suffice for most of your Kentucky fly fishing, with a 9-foot, 5X tippet for dry fly and a 7.5-foot 3-4X tippet for nymphing. Streamers tend to attract the larger trout – particularly in the Cumberland River – but nymphs and midges are crucial as well, and produce great results. Dry fly fishing during the caddis and mayfly hatches will yield the most lucrative take, and pay attention to the terrestrials as well during the late summer and fall.

Kentucky Fishing Regulations

Fishing licenses are available through the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. Minors under the age of 16 do not need a fishing license, nor do residents fishing on their own land. Resident members of the service who are on a furlough greater than three days, as well as those fishing in Mammoth Cave National Park do not require a license either.

Residents can buy a license for $20, non-residents for $50. Residents can get a one-day or three-year license, while non-residents can choose from a seven- or 15-day license. Trout permits cost $10 for everyone. Kentucky even has a combined husband-wife license available for $36 – yearly only, and not available to non-residents.

Kentucky Fly Fishing is Not to Be Missed

Kentucky has plenty to offer anglers, and even though trout are not native and cannot sustain a population on their own, the state works hard to maintain an incredible population throughout the hospitable waters that grace the landscape statewide.

There are quite a few separate limitations and regulations for various creeks, rivers, and lakes, so you’ll need to pay close attention to which ones apply during your planned fishing trip, but there’s plenty of the year when catch-and-release doesn’t apply so you’re sure to be able to configure exactly the right itinerary for your wants and needs.

Give Kentucky a chance and you’ll be rewarded with large populations of sizable fish, stunning landscapes full of local greenery and clear waters that will enhance your Kentucky fly fishing experience by leaps and bounds.