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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Buckhorn Lake offers beautiful mountain scenery and muskie hideaway

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth article is a series about Kentucky’s major reservoirs.

Buckhorn Lake is located west of Hazard in the Daniel Boone National Forest (Photo from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Buckhorn Lake is in Perry and Leslie Counties, about 28 miles west of Hazard, in the Redbird Purchase Unit of Daniel Boone National Forest.

Completed in 1967, the lake was built by impounding the middle fork of the Kentucky River. The dam is 43.3 miles above the middle fork’s confluence with the north fork in Beattyville, and the drainage area above the dam is 408 square miles.

The main access highways are Ky. 28, Ky. 1833, and Ky. 257.


Buckhorn Lake is 21 miles long at summer pool (elevation 782) and has 1,230 surface acres, with 65 miles of shoreline.

The seasonal drawdown of the lake is 25 feet, to accommodate winter and spring rains. At winter pool, elevation 757, the lake is reduced to 550 surface acres.

At summer pool Buckhorn Lake averages about 25 feet deep and is 60 feet deep above the dam.

The Lodge at Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park (Photo from Kentucky State Parks)

State Park

Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park, 856 acres, is on the east shore of the lake off Ky. 1833.

Facilities include a lodge (36 rooms), five cottages, a dining room, conference center, gift shop, hiking trail, beach and playground. For information telephone 606-398-7510.

Lake Manager’s Office

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Resource Manager’s Office, Buckhorn Lake, 804, Buckhorn Dam Road, Buckhorn, KY 41721, telephone (606) 398-7251. The daily lake information line is 606-398-7157.

For information on campgrounds operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Buckhorn Lake, visit www.lrl.usace.army.mil.

Managing Fishery Biologist

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Eastern Fishery District, Kevin Frey, District Biologist, 2744 Lake Road, Prestonsburg, KY 41653, telephone 606-889-1705.


There is one marina. Duffs Bay Marina, open seasonally, is within walking distance of the Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park lodge.

(Photo from Kentucky State Parks)

The address and telephone number are 4441 Ky. 1833, Gays Creek, KY 41745, 606-398-7770.

Boat Launching Ramps

There are six boat launching ramps on Buckhorn Lake.

There is no fee to launch a boat at any of these ramps.

Anglers take note: periodic flooding, especially in the late winter and spring, and the drawdown to winter pool in the fall, can caused launching issues at some ramps.

During the 25-foot drawdown to the winter pool, some ramps may be covered in mud, and as the lake rises in the spring, drift and debris collect on the main lake and may hamper navigation and launching at some ramps.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers works diligently to address this situation, which occurs periodically. When high water recedes, the drift left behind is piled on the shore and burned. Floating debris is corralled with log booms and tied off to the shore.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for KyForward. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

The Duffs Bay Marina boat ramp is southwest of Gays Creek, Kentucky on Ky. 1833.

The Confluence boat ramp is off Ky. 257, about 11 miles southwest of Krypton, Kentucky.

The Dam boat ramp is off Ky. 28, about 1 mile east of Buckhorn, Kentucky.

The Gays Creek boat ramp is off Ky. 1833, 5 miles north of Buckhorn Lake State Resort Park.

The Leatherwood boat ramp is on the west side of the lake where Ky. 484 ends in the lake.

The Trace Branch boat ramp is off Campbell Creek Road, 8 miles southwest of Krypton, Kentucky.

Local Tourism Information

Hazard Perry County Tourism Commission, 497 Perry Park Road, Hazard, KY 41701, telephone 888-857-5263.


Buckhorn Lake is a mesotrophic lake of moderate productivity.

This highland reservoir, which is prone to flooding in the spring, has a surprising amount of shallow water. Fish cover includes scattered beds of rooted aquatic vegetation, pockets of standing timber, submerged roadbeds, and drift piles near the dam.

Buckhorn Lake supports populations of muskellunge, white bass, sunfish (bluegill), largemouth bass, crappie, and catfish. The main forage fish is gizzard shad.

Spring floods impact the spawning success of some species.


The muskie fishery is rated fair. Overall numbers are good, but a majority of the fish are less than 36 inches in length.

A muskie caught in Buckhorn Lake (Photo courtesy of Chris Haley, Buckhorn Guide Service)

The daily creel limit is one muskie, and there’s a 40-inch minimum size limit.

In winter and early spring fish are congregated in the lower lake and near the dam. Summer fishing is best near the Trace Branch area of the lake and in the fall, beginning in September, muskies start to move up on shallow flats adjacent to creek channels, on the edges of weed beds.

Spring and fall muskies are caught fishing from the banks in the tailwaters.


The crappie fishery is rated good, with good numbers of 9 to 11-inch fish, occasionally some 13-inchers.

Summer and fall, good fishing occurs on the shallow mudflats adjacent to the main lake channel.

Largemouth Bass

The largemouth bass fishery is rated good. Good spawns in recent years will benefit populations. There are increasing numbers of 15 to 21-inch fish.


The catfish fishery is rated excellent, with high numbers of channel catfish and good recruitment. Flathead catfish in the 40 to 50-pound range are also available.

During the spring spawn, fish rocky areas.


The sunfish fishery (bluegill) is rated good, with a good size distribution. Most fish are in the 7 to 8-inch range.

At summer pool, in the spring and summer, fish around weed beds in shallow coves and on main lake mudflats.

Off the beaten path, in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, Buckhorn Lake is at its best when fall colors are at their peak, and muskies are coming up shallow in its weeded coves.

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