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Art Lander’s Outdoors: In Rough River Lake, hybrid striped bass, catfish and crappie abound

Editor’s Note: This is the 18th article in an ongoing series about Kentucky’s major reservoirs.

Rough River Lake is in west-central Kentucky, about 16 miles northwest of Leitchfield, KY in Breckinridge, Hardin, and Grayson Counties.

Construction began in November 1955 and the lake was completed in June 1961. The dam is 89.3 miles above the Rough River’s confluence with the Green River, and six miles above Falls of Rough, KY.

The main access highways are the Western Kentucky Parkway, Ky. 79, Ky. 259, and Ky. 737.


Rough River Lake (Image from Bing Maps)

At summer pool (elevation 495), the surface acreage is 5,100 acres, with 220 miles of shoreline combined in the north and south forks. Rough River Lake is 65 feet deep just above the dam.

The winter drawdown reduces the lake to 2,180 acres at elevation 470.

State Park

Rough River Dam State Resort Park is just east of Falls of Rough, KY, off Ky. 79.

Established in 1962, the park encompasses 637 acres. Facilities include a 40-room lodge, restaurant, gift shop, 17 two-bedroom cabins, swimming pool for lodge guests, beach, airstrip, hiking trails, and orienteering course.

Facilities have seasonal operational days and hours. For information call 270-257-2311.

Lake Manager’s Office

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rough River Lake, Resource Manager’s Office, 14957 Falls of Rough Road, Falls of Rough, KY 40119, 270-257-2061.

Managing Fishery Biologist

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Northwestern Fishery District, Jeremy Shiflet, District Biologist, 1398 Highway 81 North, Calhoun, KY 42327, 270-273-3117.


There are three marinas.

Peter Cave Marina, open seasonally, is six miles north of Leitchfield, off Ky. 737. For information, call 270-259-4859.

Rough River Dam Marina (Photo from Kentucky State Parks)

Rough River Dam Marina, open year-round, is adjacent to Rough River Dam State Resort Park, off Ky. 79. For information, call 502-257-9961.

Nick’s Boat Dock, open seasonally, is 5 miles west of McDaniels, off Ky. 79. For information call 270-257-8955.

Boat Launching Ramps

There are seven boat launching ramps.

The Axtel boat ramp is 4 miles east of the dam, off Ky. 79. The fee to launch is $5.

The Cave Creek boat ramp is 5 miles south of the dam, off Ky. 736. The fee to launch is $5.

The Eveleigh boat ramp is in the lake headwaters, 2 miles south of Madrid, KY off Ky. 259. The fee to launch is $5.

The Laurel Branch boat ramp is 6 miles east of the dam, off Ky. 110. The fee to launch is $5.

The North Fork boat ramp is south of Roff, Ky, off Ky. 259. The fee to launch is $5.

The Peter Cave Marina boat ramp is six miles north of Leitchfield, KY, off Ky. 737. The fee to launch is $4.

The Rough River Dam Marina boat ramp is just south of the dam, off Ky. 259 There is no fee to launch.

Additionally, there are several private boat launching ramps in neighborhoods of vacation homes around the lake. Public access may be limited, and some ramps are unusable at the winter pool when the lake is lowered 25 feet.

Local Tourism Information

Grayson County Tourism Commission, 425 S. Main Street, Leitchfield, KY 42754, telephone (270) 259-5587.

Fisherman on Rough River Lake (Photo from Kentucky State Parks)


Rough River Lake is a mesotrophic lake of moderate productivity.

The upper ends of the two forks are slightly more fertile than the lower lake.

Because of its close proximity to metropolitan Louisville, Rough River Lake is a favorite with pleasure boaters. Some of the shoreline is developed with private vacation homes.

Cover types include rock cliffs, private boat docks and slips, and several islands, including an 80-acre island across the lake from the Laurel Branch boat ramp.

Rough River Lake supports populations of two species of black bass (largemouth bass and smallmouth bass) hybrid striped bass, two species of catfish (channel catfish and flathead catfish), and two species of crappie (white crappie and black crappie).

The main forage fish is gizzard shad.


White crappie, pictured, are the dominant of two crappie species in Roough River Lake (Photo from Flickr Commons)

The crappie fishery is rated good/excellent.

Both white crappie and black crappie are present, with white crappie the dominant species.

In recent years lots of big fish have been caught, with good numbers of 10-inch plus fish available, and good numbers moving into the 9-inch harvestable size.

Fish shallow water two to five feet deep during the spawn.

Brush piles in 10 to 15 feet of water hold larger fish during summer, especially mid-lake. In fall/early winter, fish structure near the shore as the water level drops.

Hybrid Striped Bass

The hybrid striped bass fishery is rated excellent, with large numbers of fish between 15 and 20 inches, and trophy fish up to 10 pounds present.

Fish the upper south fork in the spring. Troll main lake points in summer or fish jump on the main lake, from the dam to Tules Creek on the north fork and the dam to Little Clifty Creek on the south fork.

Fish main lake points and sand/mudflats in the fall and winter. The thermocline typically keeps fish less than 17 feet deep from June through September.

Largemouth Bass

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 largemouth bass fishery is rated fair/good, with a good number of bass 15 inches plus.

May and September have been the most productive months for bass anglers based on recent creel data. Target large woodpiles and rocks near shore during spring. Water and fishing conditions change regularly so be flexible in fishing location, tactic, and pattern.


The catfish fishery is rated good/excellent, with large numbers of 20-inch plus channel catfish available.

There are lower numbers of flathead catfish, but trophy fish available.

Fish upper lake areas in early spring and steeper rocky banks during mid-May to June for spawning fish. Fish upper river areas and main lake river bends in the fall/early winter as water level begins to drop.

Special Regulations / Minimum Size Limits and Daily Creel Limits

Crappie: 9-inch minimum size limit for both white crappie and black crappie.

Black Bass: 15-inch minimum size limit, but one largemouth or smallmouth bass under 15 inches may be kept in the statewide daily creel limit of six.

Tailwater fishing opportunities

The tailwaters were closed to fishing for several years due to dam construction. The tailwaters are open now and will continue to be open until the final construction phase begins. There is bank access along tailwaters.

There’s good to excellent fishing for hybrid striped bass, flathead and channel catfish, and crappie. Hybrid and crappie angling is best in April, catfish best late-May through June.

No trout are stocked in the tailwaters.

Fish Attractors

Fish attractors have been placed in about nine locations throughout the lake.

Brush piles, Christmas trees, and pallet stacks have been placed in four locations in the north fork, and brush piles, Christmas trees and plastic structures have been placed in five locations in the south fork.

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