The state of Kentucky offers plenty of opportunities for excellent fishing. Kentucky has 45 major lakes, countless ponds, and over 62,000 miles of creeks, and rivers.
Laws & Regulations
Educate yourself on Kentucky’s fishing laws and regulations to ensure you stay legal and avoid costly fines.
Where to Fish in Kentucky
- Kentucky Lake/Lake Barkley: The state records for spotted gar, white bass, and logperch were all caught on Kentucky Lake.
- Lake Cumberland – The state records for sturgeon and walleye were both caught at Lake Cumberland.
- Dale Hallow – The state record for freshwater drum and world record smallmouth bass were caught on Dale Hallow.
- Ohio River – The Ohio River has produced multiple species state records including: longnose gar, paddlesfish (spoonfish), blue sucker, blue catfish, channel catfish, skipjack herring, and gizzard shad.
- Kentucky River – The state records for Bighead carp and goldeye were caught on the Kentucky River.
- Cumberland River – The state records for brook trout, brown trout, lake trout, and rainbow trout were caught on the Cumberland river..
Fish Species in Kentucky
Kentucky has over 240 species of fish, most of which are not seen by anglers. Below you will find the common game fish that anglers typically see when fishing in Kentucky.
Bass | Catfish | Carp | Crappie | Panfish | Trout | Perch | Pike | Drum
Kentucky has 6 types of bass including: largemouth, smallmouth, spotted (Kentucky Bass), striped, white, and yellow bass.
Largemouth bass are the most targeted species for freshwater anglers. They can be found in every state other than Alaska. They are the largest species of bass.
Learn more about largemouth bass
Smallmouth bass are the most aggressive bass which makes fishing for them a ton fun. They have a ton of fight which makes up for their smaller sizes. Even though they are smaller than largemouth they still can get pretty big.
Learn more about smallmouth bass
Spots are similar to largemouths except they have horizontal rows of small black spots on the lower side. The notch between their spiny and soft dorsal fins is shallower than largemouths.
Spotted bass also have smaller mouths and a circular patch of teeth on the tongue.
Learn more about spotted bass
Striped bass started out as saltwater fish but were added to freshwater where they survived and adapted. They are a schooling fish, so if you catch one it is very likely there are more around.
- Silver-white to pale green color
- Dark back, with white sides and belly
- narrow dark stripes through the length of their sides
- White bass look like shorter versions of striped bass.
Learn more about white bass
- Smallest species of bass
- Brass to yellowish coloring
- Broken stripes on their sides that are offset on the lower side of their anal fin
- Two dorsal fins that are connected by a membrane whereas both white and striped bass are separate.
Learn more about yellow bass
Kentucky has 6 types of catfish including: blue, channel, flathead, yellow, stonecat, and brindled madtom catfish.
Blue catfish have a flat dorsal fin and forked tail. They have smooth scaleless skin with a light blue body and white belly. They have four pairs of whisker-like barbels.
Blue catfish can grow up to 5ft long and more than 100 lbs. The average size you see is 1-2ft long.
Learn more about blue catfish
Channel catfish have a slender scaleless body with a forked tail. They have an olive green to light grey color body with small black spots along their body.
Channel catfish can grow up to 52 inches long and 60lbs. The average size you will see is 1-3ft long and 1-15lbs.
Learn more about channel catfish
Flathead catfish have a flathead and a smooth scaleless body. They have a pale yellow to light brown colored body with a cream belly.
Flathead catfish can grow up to 3-ft long and weight 123lb. The average size you will see is 10-15lbs.
Learn more about flathead catfish
- Yellowish brown on back and sides
- Yellow to white belly
- Rear edge of the tail fin is nearly straight
- Anal fin rays usually number 24–27
- Brown to grey color body with white belly
- Straight to slightly rounded caudal fin margin
- Pectoral fin spine lacks sawlike teeth
- Adipose fin is fused with the caudal fin
- Tan to pale yellow body with 3-4 dark bands on back
- Black spot on tip of dorsal fin
- Dark blotch on adipose fin
- Small, grow to around 5″ long
Kentucky has both black and white crappie.
Black crappie have white bodies with a dark green and black back. Throughout their bodies they have black and brown spots.
World Record: 5 lb 7 oz – 19.25 inches long
White crappie have a white to silver body with a dark green back. They have blotches that make vertical bars across their sides.
World Record: 5 lb 3 oz – 21 inches long
Kentucky has 6 types of panfish including: bluegill, rock bass, green sunfish, redear sunfish, longear sunfish, and warmouth.
- Large, deep bodied sunfish with a small mouth
- Sides are dark bluish-green in color with vertical bars throughout their body
- They have a large dark spot at the rear of the soft dorsal fin
- Their belly is deep orange to rust color
- Adults can grow to 16 in. but usually reach 6-11 in.
Learn more about bluegill
- Dark green or brown color with brassy yellow flecks
- 4-5 wide dark saddles over the back and down the sides
- Often called “redeye” or “goggleye” due to its large, deep red eyes
- Has 5 or 6 spines in their anal fin
- Adults can grow to 17 inches but fish exceeding 12 inches are rare
Learn more about rock bass
- Large, robust sunfish with a large mouth
- Blue irregular stripes of color on the sides of their head
- Large black spot at the rear of their soft dorsal fin
- Adults can grow to 12 in. but usually reach 8-10 in.
Learn more about green sunfish
- Large, deep bodied sunfish with a small mouth with long, pointed snout and small mouth
- Adult males have a red margin on the gill cover flap while females have a light orange flap
- Adults can grow to 15 in. but usually reach 8-11 in.
Learn more about redear sunfish
- Small sunfish with a deep body and small mouth
- Bright red-orange color with iridescent blue spots on their back and sides
- Their belly is mostly red-orange in color
- Has a long gill or “ear” flap, and wavy blue lines on cheek and gill cover
- Adults can grow to 9 in. but are usually less than 6 in.
Learn more about longear sunfish
- Medium-sized, robust sunfish with a large head and mouth
- Dark olive to grey colors with brownish sides and yellow markings
- Dark red-brown lines flowing from the back of their eye
- Adults can grow to 12 in. but most are less than 10 in.
Learn more about warmouth
Kentucky has 4 types of trout including: rainbow, brook, brown, and cutthroat trout.
Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss)
- Distinct red pink stripe down their side
- Black spots throughout body
- Square, broad tail
Learn more about rainbow trout
Brook Trout (Salmo trutta)
- Worm like markings along back & head
- White edges along fins
- Found in eastern North America, Europe, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia
Learn more about brook trout
Brown Trout (Salmo trutta)
- Silver & golden brown
- Orange to red spots with silver rings around them
- Found throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, and Western Asia
Learn more about brown trout
Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus Clarkii)
- Red coloring under lower jaw, looks like it is bleeding from it’s throat
- Black spots on the top half of it’s body
- Found in western United States & southwest Canada
Learn more about cutthroat trout
Kentucky has 2 types of perch including: walleye and sauger.
Walleye (Sander canadensis)
- Olive back that gradients down to gold side
- 5 dark bars along sides
- White tip on tail
Learn more about walleye
Sauger (Sander canadensis)
- Bronze to olive color
- Dark blotches on side with white belly
- No white on tail
Learn more about sauger
Kentucky has 4 types of carp including: common, grass, silver, and bighead carp.
- Babels in each corner of their mouth
- Olive-brown to reddish-brown with a yellow belly
- Large and thick scales
Learn more about common carp
- Olive-brown back with silver sides and a white belly
- Large, crosshatched scales with dark edging
- Do not have barbels
- Short, pointy dorsal fin with 7-8 rays
- Their anal fin have 9 or fewer rays
- Both their dorsal fin and anal fin are barbless on the leading edge
Learn more about grass carp
- Silver body with a gray head and dorsal surface with a white belly
- Eyes on the lower side of their body
- Lack barbels and are toothless
Learn more about silver carp
- Dark gray on their top half with a cream color lower half
- Irregular black spots on back and sides
- Thick-bodied with a wide scaleless head
- Their eyes are forward and low on their body.
- Upturned mouth with no teeth or barbels
Learn more about bighead carp
Kentucky has 2 types of pike including: muskie and grass pickerel.
- Greenish to golden brown coloring on their backs and upper sides
- Long thin body with a flat head and mouth filled with sharp teeth
- 6 to 9 pores on the lower jaw
Learn more about muskie
- Duckbill-shaped snout
- Large mouth with sharp teeth
- Olive coloring with dark barred pattern
- Smallest pike
Kentucky only has one type of drum, the freshwater drum.
- Humped back with sloping forehead
- Gray body with bronze reflection and white lips
- Rounded triangular tail
Kentucky Fishing Records
Find Kentucky’s fishing records for over 60 species and how to qualify & submit your catch for the record fish program.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the most common fish in Kentucky?
The most common fish in Kentucky are bass, catfish, crappie, and various panfish.
Are there wild trout in Kentucky?
Trout have been introduced to various creeks and streams throughout Kentucky. You can find a list of streams and when they are stocked on Kentucky’s Department of Fish & Wildlife’s site.
Is there snakehead in Kentucky?
Snakehead are not known to be found in Kentucky. They are illegal to possess, sell, or release within the state.
What is the biggest fish caught in Kentucky?
The largest fish ever caught in Kentucky was a blue catfish weighing 106.9 lbs on the Ohio River in 2018.