Kentucky Reservoir

Fishing in Tennessee

General Description

Kentucky Reservoir is a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) mainstream reservoir that lies within the states of Kentucky (52,083 acres) and Tennessee (108,217 acres).  Water levels fluctuate between 359 feet above sea level (full pool) and 354 MSL (winter pool). 

The reservoir is connected to the Cumberland River (Barkley Reservoir) through a navigation canal at Tennessee River mile 25.3.  The reservoir within Tennessee borders nine Tennessee counties with approximately 113 tributary creeks and three major river embayments (Duck River, Beech River, and Big Sandy River). 

Other major embayments include Panther Creek, Leatherwood Creek, White Oak Creek, Richland Creek, Harmon Creek, Trace Creek, Cypress Creek, Birdsong Creek, Eagle Creek, Tom's Creek, Morgan Creek, Lick Creek, Cub Creek, Indian Creek, and Horse Creek.  

Major sport species harvested by anglers include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, catfish (three species), white crappie, black crappie, sauger, and white bass.  A reciprocal agreement exists between Highway 79 in Tennessee (Ned McWherter Bridge) and Highway 68/80 (Eggners Ferry Bridge) in Kentucky.  All waters within this area, excluding Blood River, may be fished by anglers possessing either a Tennessee or Kentucky fishing license.  The anglers must abide by the fishing regulations of the state in which they are fishing.

A variety of fish habitats have been placed into the reservoir over the years to concentrate fish for anglers. These include Christmas trees, shallow-water stake beds, and deep-water treetops. Recently, a transition to artificial structures has occurred which include the following designs:

Shallow-water fish attractor sites are marked with PVC pipe and deep-water sites are marked with a buoy and refurbished on a consistent basis to maintain effectiveness. Cypress trees have also been planted in certain areas during low water conditions to stabilize substrate and provide additional habitat during higher water levels. Information about locations and types of structure for fish habitats can be found at:


Includes the following dewatering areas—West Sandy, Big Sandy, Gin Creek, Camden Bottoms, Duck River Bottoms, Busseltown, Perryville, and Gumdale. The dewatering areas are closed to fishing 5 days prior to and during the late waterfowl season.

  • Largemouth/Smallmouth/Spotted Bass: 5 per day in combination. 
  • Largemouth Bass: 15 inch minimum length limit. 
  • Smallmouth Bass: 15 inch minimum length limit. 
  • Spotted Bass: no length limit. 
  • Crappie (all species): 20 per day in combination,10 inch minimum length limit—this includes all dewatering areas.
  • Catfish (all species):  No creel limit for fish 34 inches and less in length; only one fish over 34 inches in length may be harvested per day.
  • Striped Bass or Hybrid Striped Bass: 2 per day in combination, 15 inch minimum length limit. 
  • White Bass: 15 per day, no length limit.
  • Yellow Bass: no creel or length limit. 
  • Walleye: 5 per day, 16 inch minimum length limit. 
  • Sauger: 10 per day, 15 inch minimum length limit. 
  • Paddlefish: 2 per day; season is open from April 24 through May 31. Culling is prohibited. 
  • Redear Sunfish: 20 per day, no length limit. 
  • Bluegill/Warmouth and other sunfishes: no creel or length limit.

What you can catch

Black Bass

Largemouth Bass are abundant in Kentucky Reservoir and make up most of the Black Bass fishery. Spotted and Smallmouth Bass are present but are not as popular with anglers. Black bass prefer some type of cover along the shoreline but largemouth bass in Kentucky Reservoir are also known for occupying ledges near the overbank or within embayments. The average weight of angler-harvested largemouth bass has exceeded 2.3 pounds during the last ten years.  The daily creel limit for all three species is five in any combination with a minimum length limit of 15 inches on Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass; there is no length limit on Spotted Bass.

Fishing Tips:

Bass fishing is successful year-round and fish location can vary depending on water temperature and depth.  Bass prefers areas with rock banks, natural habitats, and channel drops. Baits used include deep diving crankbaits (colors include blue and yellow or shad mimicking, like the Tennessee Shad), Alabama rig, artificial worms, and jigs around ½ oz. in weight. Other lure colors include dark green, black, orange, red, and crawfish. Anglers will also use a Carolina rig with a worm or plastic lizard after the spawn, slowly fishing the bait around submerged cover.  


Black and White crappies are abundant in Kentucky Reservoir and are sought by anglers for table fare.  Crappies prefer to cover at different depths depending upon water temperature and time of year.  The average weight of angler harvested Black and White crappies in the last ten years are 0.77 pounds and 0.76 pounds respectively.  The daily creel limit for both species is twenty in any combination with a minimum length limit of 10 inches.

Fishing Tips:

Crappies are structure-oriented fish and fishing is successful year-round.  Water temperatures and water levels will dictate fishing style, but fishing TWRA shallow and deep water established structures would be recommended. However, crappie anglers have developed “private” beds as well.  Cooler water fish tend to hang on the deeper structures in water greater than 10 feet but will move shallower as water temperatures warm. Fall crappie can usually be found following schools of shad preparing for the winter.  Angling styles vary but single-pole vertical jig fishing with a #1 or #2 hook tipped with a minnow, spider rigging, and trolling are all popular.  Baits include orange, red, and chartreus jigs and many anglers tip their jig with minnows.


Bluegill and Redear Sunfish are the two most sought sunfish species in Kentucky Reservoir.  Kentucky Reservoir has several different species of sunfish making this family of sport fish the most abundant in the reservoir.  Sunfish prefer to cover in various depths and make beds on flats during spawning season.  The average weight of angler harvested Bluegill and Redear Sunfish in the last ten years are 0.36 pounds and 0.49 pounds respectively.  The daily creel limit for Redear Sunfish is twenty with no length limit.  Bluegill and other sunfish species do not have a creel or length limit.

Fishing Tips:

April to June are the prime months to target Sunfish. Preferred bedding areas are located in shallower water around thick brush in the water or on shallow flats. Baits include jig heads with a float using crickets or worms. Other setups include a split shot and a small hook using wax worms or a small spinner using plastic grubs.

Sauger, Walleye, and Saugeye

Sauger are more abundant than Walleye or Saugeye (a hybrid cross of Sauger and Walleye) in Kentucky Reservoir.  Saugers prefer deeper pools and higher flows, and they tend to migrate on a regular basis. The average weight of angler-harvested Sauger in the last ten years is 1.43 pounds.  Sauger has a daily creel limit of ten, with a minimum length limit of 15 inches.  Walleye has a daily creel limit of five with a 16-inch minimum length limit.

Fishing Tips:

December to March is the prime fishing timeframe and the most popular areas are located on the downstream side of TVA dams like Pickwick Dam.  Baits usually consist of a larger jig head with white or chartreuse curly-tailed grub or a red jig head with a blue and black skirt. Many anglers will use a 1-1/4-ounce jig with a “stinger” line tied to the eye of the jig.  This stinger line is three to four inches long tipped with a #1 treble hook.  Anglers will allow the jig to settle on the bottom and then fish the bait with an upward motion of about a foot (jigging).  When flows are low, the main river channel near the Duck River can also produce good sauger fishing.


Although Channel, Blue, and Flathead Catfish are abundant in Kentucky Reservoir, Blue Catfish are the most harvested by sport anglers. Catfish are usually caught by anglers in the main river channel when the flow is present. Average weights vary by species and there is no creel limit on any species less than 34 inches in length. Only one fish over 34 inches can be harvested/day/angler.

Fishing Tips: 

Catfish fishing is good year-round.  Targeted areas range from 15- to 60 feet of water depending upon water temperature and flow.  The bite is better during slow to medium flows compared to higher flow rates. Preferred baits include chicken liver, cut bait (Shad or Skipjack), shrimp, nightcrawlers, shiners, and Kool-Aid-soaked chicken (flavors vary). Bait size will determine the size of the fish caught. Jug fishing on the mudflats off the main channel is also a popular method.

Contact Information

Region 1 Office: 731-423-5725
Toll-Free:  800-372-3928
E-mail the office  

Interactive Map of Kentucky Reservoir
Interactive Map of Kentucky Reservoir
Fishing Regulations
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