Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Muskellunge fishing heats up in fall

This is the first installment of a series of articles titled “Fall Fishing Festival” profiling the productive fishing on Kentucky’s lakes, rivers and streams in fall.

FRANKFORT, Ky. – The angler’s whoop traveled fast and loud over the water from the back of Buck Creek on Cave Run Lake.

Bringing a trophy muskellunge to the boat after a spirited fight uncorks raw emotions and provides a unique sense of satisfaction. In this instance, the 45-inch torpedo of a fish was a new personal best and the fourth muskellunge the angler had caught on this cool, calm, overcast Friday in mid-September.

The fall muskellunge bite was turning on, and word traveled quickly. A parking lot that held only a handful of boat trailers on Friday was full Saturday.

The shorter days, brisk nights and cooler water temperatures of early fall trigger the start of some of the finest muskellunge fishing of the year. Cave Run, Green River and Buckhorn lakes are the state’s top destinations as they have been proven to produce trophy fish.

Sarah Terry’s state record came from Cave Run Lake in November 2008 and was caught on a silver Double Cowgirl in-line spinner. It measured 54 inches and 47 pounds.

In recent weeks, muskellunge at Cave Run Lake have been caught in the backs of creeks – many of them loaded with weed beds and standing timber – in 8 feet of water or less. Weed beds near submerged channels and across the main lake flats aren’t to be overlooked either.

“They’re looking for one thing: food to get them through the winter,” said Tom Timmermann, northeastern fisheries district program coordinator with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Bass go through a heavy feeding period in the fall, and muskellunge do the same thing.”

Smaller lures such as a 4-inch balsa wood crankbait in silver and black, a ½-ounce dressed in-line spinner or a ¼-ounce skirted buzz bait can be effective in early fall. As the water cools, consider upsizing to rubber and hard-bodied jerkbaits, and single and double-bladed in-line spinners and spinnerbaits.

“Don’t overlook those smaller baits,” Timmermann said. “If you’ve never fished Cave Run before, you can throw some of those larger bass crankbaits, especially in black and white colors, and do pretty well.”

Buckhorn Lake in Leslie and Perry counties is rated good for muskellunge and holds ample numbers of fish in the 36 to 40-inch range.

In early fall, target the back of creeks and shallower areas that have weed beds. The best fishing once the lake level has reached winter pool is on the lower end of the lake by the dam, said Kevin Frey, eastern fisheries district program coordinator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

Crank baits, jerk baits and bucktail spinners are proven producers. Generally, orange and sucker-imitating colors work well in the creeks while silver, purple or chartreuse are go-to colors for the main lake.

“There are several good spawns of shad throughout the year,” Frey said. “There will be a lot of smaller shad, so there could be an opportunity to try some muskie-sized baits and some bass-sized baits.”

Leatherwood Creek, Otter Creek and Meetinghouse Branch are a few of the best spots for fall muskie on Buckhorn Lake. The tailwaters can be excellent for muskellunge as well.

“There’s lots of bank access,” Frey said. “There’s also a small creek that comes into the tailwater. Over the years, that’s been popular with local anglers.”

Fisheries biologists routinely see muskellunge exceeding 45 inches on Green River Lake, which is rated excellent for the species.

“It certainly still has big fish potential,” said Eric Cummins, southwestern fisheries district program coordinator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife.

While a lot of the standing timber is gone, Russell Branch is one notable exception. Try the slides on main lake bluffs and the edges of flats. Robinson Creek features expansive flats with some isolated brush piles and flooded timber.

The upper reaches of creek arms often will hold muskellunge.

“It’s just a little cooler than the main lake itself,” Cummins said, “and they can find whatever they’re eating.”

Where there are shad, muskellunge probably aren’t far away. Give a shad-imitating crankbait a try. Jerkbaits also produce on Green River Lake.

Kentucky Fish and Wildlife maintains these fisheries and others around the state by stocking them with 13-inch long muskellunge reared at Minor E. Clark Fish Hatchery in Morehead.

Cave Run, Buckhorn and Green River lakes received stockings of the sub-adult fish this week. On average, it takes five to six years for a muskellunge to reach 36 inches, the minimum size limit in these impoundments.

Lake level and outflow information for Cave Run, Buckhorn and Green River lakes can be found online via the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ webpage at


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