A big ol’ bass
Picture it. You relax next to a glistening body of water as the sun sinks in the sky when, all of a sudden, the peace is shattered by a tug on your fishing line. You set the hook and battle the fish that leaps out of the water. Finally, you haul it ashore and hold it up for the camera. You are rewarded for outsmarting the fish—for putting the right bait in the right spot at the right time—and the feeling of accomplishment will keep you coming back.
There is no summer activity as rewarding as fishing. It’s an inexpensive way to get away from the bustle of life and immerse yourself in the serenity of the outdoors, with your only concern being where to find the fish today.
Where to find the fish? That’s a fisherman’s biggest obstacle. Luckily for local anglers, Louisville has an abundance of waterways in and around the city. Unfortunately, the sheer volume of water available for fishing can be overwhelming. Combine that with the facts that each spot offers only a limited number of species, some spots are not easily accessed without a boat and that the truth in fishing stories tends to be dubious at best, and it can be tough to find a good fishing location without first wasting your time at unproductive spots.
That’s where I come in: I’ve experienced the frustration that results from fishing in a fruitless location, and as a result, I put together this list of the five best places to fish within about 45 minutes of downtown Louisville. No matter what species you target or your preferred style of fishing, the following list should provide you with at least one place where you can spend a few hours this summer and catch some fish.
1. Tom Wallace Lake
Location: just off Mitchell Hill Road in Jefferson Memorial Forest
Size: 5.4 acres
Boat access: Canoes, kayaks or boats powered by electric trolling motor are allowed, but there is no boat ramp.
Primary species offered: catfish, trout, bluegill/sunfish
Like many Metro Parks lakes in and around Louisville, Tom Wallace is stocked annually with trout, catfish and sunfish as a part of the Fishing in Neighborhoods (FINs) program. Trout are stocked in October and then again in February and early March. Trout fishing is generally best shortly after the fish are stocked as they are eagerly sought by anglers looking to catch a meal. The stocking schedule for Tom Wallace and the other lakes in the FINs program is available here. What trout are not kept from the lake generally die off as the weather warms up in May, so wait until October to try trout fishing at any of the Metro Parks lakes.
In the meantime, Tom Wallace boasts healthy populations of catfish and panfish (bluegill and sunfish). In addition, largemouth bass can be caught on occasion, despite not being stocked in the lake any more. In fact, a 10-pound, 4-ounce monster was caught at Tom Wallace in 2009. Tom Wallace’s location in Jefferson Memorial Forest does help relieve it from the intense fishing pressure that most Metro Parks lakes face, so there is more consistent fishing and generally slightly larger fish offered there. However, especially after trout stockings, it can still be crowded. Overall, I think it offers anglers the best chance of any Metro Parks lake to go out and catch a few quality panfish or catfish, and you may even tangle with a nice largemouth bass.
2. Long Run Park
Location: just off Flat Rock Road
Size: 28.7 acres
Boat access: A boat ramp is available for boats powered by electric motor only.
Primary species: largemouth bass, bluegill/sunfish, channel catfish
Long Run is probably the best public bass fishing destination within a half hour of downtown Louisville, which makes it worthy of inclusion on this list. It is probably best fished via canoe, kayak, or a small boat, but there is plenty of bank access as well. Long Run is heavily fished, which can lead to some slow days, but it is not too tough to catch a few small bass in the shallow grasses on any given day. In addition, the lake has been known to surrender larger bass in the 3- to 6-pound range, most often from deep cover.
If you are not a bass fisherman, Long Run is stocked annually with 625 channel catfish, and there is solid bluegill and sunfish angling to be had around the banks. Each spring, there is even some decent crappie fishing. Long Run is not necessarily the place to go if you are looking to catch large numbers of fish, but it is a fairly consistent bass fishery and offers good panfish and catfish fishing.
3. Taylorsville Lake
Location: Settlers’ Trace (1238 Settlers Trace Road, Taylorsville, Ky.) is the closest access point to Louisville at about 40 minutes from downtown; Taylorsville Lake State Park (1320 Park Road, Mt Eden, Ky.) is about 50 minutes away.
Size: 3,050 acres
Boat access: Fishing from a motorized boat is almost a necessity; there are several ramps available for public launch including Settlers’ Trace and State Park.
Primary species: largemouth bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill, hybrid striped bass
Taylorsville Lake is the closest of Kentucky’s large river impoundments, and with its size comes several advantages and drawbacks. It offers anglers the opportunity to fish for many species in a variety of locations, and it also holds far more trophy-sized fish than any small pond or stream. However, because it is so large, bank fishing is limited—it is not worth the trip unless you have access to a boat. In addition, it’s heavily pressured by Louisville fisherman and pleasure boaters, which can make the lake crowded and the fish wary of lures.
Despite these drawbacks, it is still probably a Louisville resident’s best chance at good largemouth bass fishing on public waters within an hour of the city. Try fishing steep banks with shad-imitating crankbaits in early spring and shallow timber with crawfish-imitating jigs or soft plastic baits throughout the summer and fall. The lake is also known for its runs of hybrid striped bass during spring and fall. In addition, quality bluegill and catfish can be caught nearly year-round.
4. Floyd’s Fork at Beckley Creek Park
Location: just off Shelbyville Road across from Valhalla Golf Club
Size: over 2 miles of creek
Boat access: Kayaks are a great way to fish the stream and are available for rent at two locations.
Primary species: smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, trout, bluegill/sunfish, channel catfish
Floyd’s Fork has been a hotspot for Louisville anglers for decades, and the new Beckley Creek Park has made it even better by offering anglers and their families so many amenities, including two kayak launch points and a plethora of entertainment options for children. Probably the best way to fish Floyd’s Fork is via canoe or kayak. Many fishermen put in at the launch point next to the William F. Miles Park Lakes and drift either to the Creekside access point further downstream in Beckley Creek Park or, if you have several hours to spare, to the Fisherville access Point along Taylorsville Road. Check out the possible routes here.
If kayaking does not suit you, wading in the stream is another fun way to fish it. You cannot cover as much area this way, but if you find the right spots there are plenty of fish to be caught. Probably the best place to start is the Creekside access point. From there, you can wade upstream toward the water treatment plant—said by many anglers to be the best spot on Floyd’s Fork—or downstream toward a series of pools just past the “leaping deer” bridge known for its smallmouth bass fishing. If you do wade, be careful! Don’t go when the water level is flowing at higher than about 500 cubic feet per second (that info is provided on the Beckley Creek Park website), wear boots or old tennis shoes to guard against sharp rocks, and be wary of steep drop-offs into deep pools, especially around the water treatment plant.
There are multiple methods that can catch you fish on Floyd’s Fork. Some anglers choose to fly fish for panfish, small bass and trout. There is no more exciting way to catch fish, but Floyd’s Fork is probably not the best place for a novice fly fisherman to take up the trade because the overhanging trees can make casting tricky. Most anglers attack the creek with a light action, spinning outfit rigged with a small crankbait or jerkbait, in-line spinner, or soft plastic bait. Some of my favorite baits that will catch every species that live in the creek are a Rebel Teeny Wee Crawfish crankbait, a Roostertail, and a 3-inch grub on a 1/8 oz. leadhead. And, of course, live worms or minnows will meet plenty of success.
5. Falls of the Ohio State Park
Location: Just across the I-65 bridge in Southern Indiana; parking at Interpretive Center (201 W Riverside Dr, Clarksville, Ind., 47129)
Size: stretch of river about 2.5 miles long
Boat access: Boat fishing is not recommended.
Primary species: catfish, sauger, walleye, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, smallmouth bass, carp, drum
The Falls of the Ohio is a truly unique place to fish. Just minutes from downtown Louisville, the fast-flowing water beneath the lower unit of McAlpine Dam combines with the rocky terrain to form a fish haven. The Falls is best accessed by parking at the Interpretive Center that overlooks the river and walking down to the bank. There are a few good spots within walking distance of the Interpretive Center. When the water level is low and the fish are active, the best bet is walking to the left of the center toward the dam wall. The fast current there is packed with spawning sauger in the winter and hybrid striped bass in the spring and summer. There is also a deep hole right in front of the interpretive center that can be good for catfish and a large eddy to the right of the center that holds all species of fish that inhabit the area.
Some words of warning about fishing the Falls of the Ohio: The current is nothing to fool around with. Fishing is not advised if the water is flowing in excess of 18 feet per second at the lower dam (the water level can be accessed here or by calling 775-5056), and no matter what the water level, walk with caution on the slippery banks.
The Falls of the Ohio is unrivaled in its ability to produce excellent fishing for so many species. By fishing a small grub on a heavy jighead in the fast water beneath the dam, it is possible to catch sauger, striped bass, hybrid striped bass, smallmouth bass and drum all in one outing. Or, for anglers targeting catfish, fishing chicken livers or fresh skipjack on the bottom in the deep holes or eddies is a surefire way to catch a few fish, with the very real possibility that a fish in excess of 50 pounds could take your bait. I have spent days catching fish after fish in sub-40 degree weather at the Falls, with no idea what species I would pull out of the water next. That kind of action cannot be found elsewhere in Louisville, and in very few other places around the country.