Barkley Reservoir

General Description                          

Barkley Reservoir (57,920 acres) is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). the mainstream reservoir which lies within the states of Tennessee (10,350 acres) and Kentucky (47,570 acres) on the Cumberland River.  Water levels are fluctuated between 359.0 mean feet above sea level and 354.0 MSL; full pool (359 M.S.L) is usually achieved by May 1 and water levels gradually decline to winter pool (354 M.S.L) after July 4. 

The reservoir is also connected to the Tennessee River (Kentucky Reservoir) through a navigation canal at Cumberland River mile 32.8.  The reservoir within Tennessee borders three Tennessee counties and large embayments include Lick Creek, Long Creek, Dyer Creek, Hickman Creek, Neville Bay, and Saline Creek. The majority of the reservoir in Tennessee is riverine habitat.

Since Barkley Reservoir lies in close proximity to Kentucky Reservoir, many anglers ignore this hidden gem.  Major sport species caught by anglers include largemouth bass, white crappie, black crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, white bass, catfish (three species), and sauger. A fishing license reciprocal agreement does not exist on Barkley Reservoir between the states of Tennessee and Kentucky.

Deepwater fish attractors have been constructed and installed into the reservoir to concentrate fish for anglers. Recently, a transition to artificial structures has occurred:  Shallow water fish attractor sites are marked with PVC pipe and deep-water sites are marked with a buoy which are refurbished on a consistent basis to maintain effectiveness.   

Includes the following dewatering areas—Barkley Unit 1 (also known as Dover Bottoms) and Bear Creek WMA. 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. 
  • 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.

Black Bass

Largemouth Bass are abundant in Barkley Reservoir and make up most of the Black Bass fishery. Spotted and Smallmouth Bass are rare in the lake although good catches of smallmouth bass have been reported in the Cheatham Dam area. Largemouth bass prefers some type of cover along the shoreline but are also known to inhabit ledges and pockets on the main river during the warmer months. The average weight of angler harvested largemouth bass has exceeded 2.7 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 upon water temperature and depth.  Bass prefer areas with rock banks, natural habitat, and channel drops. Bass prefer the back of embayments during high flow and creek channels toward the mouth of embayments during moderate and low flows. During the early Spring, buzz baits are a popular choice; when the water warms in April and May, tossing spinnerbaits amongst the buttonball bushes can prove to be successful.  Other baits used include deep diving crankbaits (colors include blue and yellow or shad mimicking, like the Tennessee Shad), the Alabama rig, artificial worms, and jigs around ½ oz. in weight. Other lure colors include dark green, black, orange, red, and crawfish.  Good largemouth fishing can be found in Lick, Hickman, Dyer, Neville, Saline, Guices, and Yellow creeks between Cumberland City and the Kentucky state line.


Although both Black and White Crappie are abundant in Barkley Reservoir, white crappie is the most harvested since white crappie prefers shallower water which is where the majority of crappie anglers fish for crappie. Crappie prefers shallow cover in the Spring and will move to deeper water as the water temperatures increase.    The average weight of angler harvested White Crappie in the last ten years has been around 0.75 pounds.  The daily creel limit for both species is thirty in any combination with a minimum length limit of 10 inches.

Fishing Tips

Crappie is a structure-oriented fish and fishing can be successful year-round but is dependent upon water temperatures and water levels. Crappie moves to the back of embayments during high flow and move to the main channel or mouth of embayments during moderate to low flows. Cooler water fish tend to hang on deeper structures around 10’ and deeper.  As the water warms the fish move shallower. Angling styles vary but single pole vertical jig fishing, spider rigging, and trolling are all used.  Another popular method is to jig a #2 hook tipped with a minnow among the flooded buttonball bushes. This style of fishing puts anglers in the middle of bushes so the loss of hooks and bait are common.  Other baits include orange, red, and chartreuse jigs as well as jigs tipped with minnows.


Bluegill and Redear Sunfish are the two most sought sunfish species in Barkley Reservoir.  Barkley Reservoir has several different species of sunfish making this family of fish the most abundant sport fish in the reservoir.  Sunfish prefers cover in various depths and make beds on flats during the spawning season.  The average weight of angler harvested Bluegill and Redear Sunfish in the last ten years is 0.36 pounds and 0.48 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 in the shallower water around thick brush in the water or on large flats. Baits include jig heads with a float using crickets or worms. Other setups include a split shot and #7 or #8 hook using wax worms or a small spinner using plastic grubs (Beetle Spin).

Sauger, Walleye, and Saugeye

Sauger is more abundant than Walleye or Saugeye (hybrid cross of Sauger and Walleye) in Barkley Reservoir.  Sauger prefers deeper pools and higher flows, and they tend to migrate below Cheatham Dam on a regular basis from December thru March. During the warmer months, sauger are usually found on deep-water points or humps in the lake.  The average weight of angler harvested Sauger in the last ten years has been 1.51 pounds.  Sauger has a daily creel limit often with a minimum length limit of 15 inches.  Walleye has a daily creel limit of five with a minimum length limit of 16 inches.

Fishing Tips

December to March is the prime fishing timeframe and the most popular areas are located on the downstream side of the USACE dams like Cheatham Dam.  Baits usually consist of a larger jig head with various colors like white or chartreuse, curly-tailed grub, or red jig head with blue and black skirt fished in depths 15- to 25-feet of water. 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).


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 a 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/angler/day.

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 or no flow rates. During the summer anglers should look for deep ledges or pockets in the bends of the river.  Preferred baits include chicken liver, cut bait (Shad or Skipjack), shrimp, nightcrawlers, shiners, and Kool-Aid soaked chicken (flavors vary). Bait size will determine size of fish caught. Jug fishing on the mud flats 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

Other Contact info
Lake Barkley State Resort Park: 270–924–1131
Land Between the Lakes: 800–525-7077   

Interactive Map of Barkley Reservoir
Fishing Regulations
Buy a license link