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101: Kentucky Lake vs. Barkley Lake

Home | Fishing | 101 | Kentucky Lake vs. Barkley Lake

Kentucky Lake vs. Barkley Lake

Which is the best lake to fish, Kentucky or Barkley?  What are some of the better places on the lakes?

I definitely get this question a lot.  My answer to this question is "I like to fish whichever lake the fish are biting on the best that day". This seems like a cop out type of answer but it isn't really.

 One must realize that these are two different lakes fed by two different river systems.  There are enough variables that many times  the fish can be biting on one lake and not the other, depending on water and weather conditions.
 
An example of this would be that during the summer on any given day they are pulling water on Barkley and not on Kentucky Lake.  Obviously the ledge fishing would be better on Barkley that day or during that period.

Also, the Cumberland River is mostly rock and mud banks whereas the Tennessee River is mostly rock and pea gravel. This is why Lake Barkley can become much more heavily stained than Kentucky Lake following heavy rainfall either in the area or upriver from the lakes.

There are times when the water temperature differences can make a big difference in which lake one might want to fish.  Such as in early spring, Barkley normally heats up faster because it is a shallower lake and the water is more turbid which makes it absorb heat faster.

Just a few degrees warmer during spring can make a big difference when fishing for early Bass or Crappie.

Another difference is the amount and type of cover on the two lakes. Barkley is a much younger lake (1964) and has more natural cover such as laydowns and stumps than does Kentucky Lake (1944).  This makes it easier to find when there are more.  Many anglers prefer to fish Barkley when the fish are relating to wood cover.

Overall both lakes have good populations of sought-after game fish.  However, the one exception to this rule is that there is a much higher population of Smallmouth Bass on Kentucky Lake than there is on Lake Barkley.  This is because Smallmouth prefer clear deep water and rock and pea gravel.  Kentucky Lake provides all these factors much more so than Lake Barkley.

Where to fish

Overall, there are no places on the lakes that are better than others.  However, each lake does have areas during certain times of the year that can provide better fishing depending on the species one is seeking.

This has to do with fish migrations and available cover in shallow water, water temperatures, etc. that changes through out the year.  Kentucky and Barkley are big lakes and fishing on the north ends of the lakes verses 50 miles or more from the dams can be totally different due to all the factors I have mentioned.

Here is an example.  The bass on south Kentucky Lake and south Barkley Lake will spawn earlier than the bass on the north ends of the lakes.  This is due to water temperature variances in the spring.  The south ends of the lakes warm up faster.  But when the fish are in pure spawn on the south ends of the lakes the fish on the north end may still be in prespawn, which means they are much easier to catch.

 So you see, which area one prefers or which lake one prefers can be based on a lot of factors and can change from one day or week to the next.  Again, I like to fish the lake or area of a lake that has the best bite on it at that particular time.

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Fishing 101 Credits:

Written by Dave Stewart, Bass Buster Guide Service
Edited by Shawn Dunnaway
Fishing 101 may not be reproduced or reprinted and is provided exclusively by ExploreKentuckyLake.com

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Bluebird
Photo by Libby Mundy

This male eastern bluebird is looking for an insect to munch on. Easily spotted by binoculars, the males are bluer than the females which are mostly grey in color.