Wolf Creek Dam/Cumberland River - Fishing

Wolf Creek Dam
Wolf Creek Dam. Courtesy of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Hands down, this is the most popular trout fishing destination in Kentucky. Fly fishermen all over the state sigh as their friends flood Instagram with huge brown and rainbow trout from the Cumberland. Flowing from the massive Cumberland Reservoir, the tailwater maintains cold trout water for 75 miles below Wolf Creek Dam, more than any tailwater in the south.

The Cumberland River in its entirety is one of the largest river systems in the country, starting at Wolf Creek Dam and eventually meeting the Mississippi. For the upper sections in Kentucky and Middle Tennessee before entering Tennessee, anglers and paddlers will see steep gorges and rocky cliffs. Though there are a few opportunities to wade fish when the water is low around ramps and parks, the Cumberland is best explored with a drift boat, canoe, or kayak.

WHAT MAKES IT GREAT

Here you will find that the cold tailwaters below the reservoirs at the right elevation provide a better habitat for trophy trout. Case in point with the Cumberland. From the bow of a drift boat or the seat of a kayak, riffles, log jams, and other potential trout hideouts can be efficiently targeted while enjoying the gorgeous scenery. Southern tailwaters are gaining notoriety among the nation’s fly fishing community, and the Cumberland allows area anglers to cash in on excellent trout fishing without envying western anglers (as much).

Like other tailwaters in the south, the constant change of flow from the dams lead to inconsistent hatches that are hard to match. Therefore, you must either choose to imitate small midges (available year round and a favorite of rainbow trout) and small baitfish, which draw large brown trout. The best method is to cover water quickly, and using midge flies drifted at the end of riffles or streamers casted around logs.

As far as planning a float, many choose to put in at the dam and float the 16 miles to Winfrey Ferry. For a shorter float, plan on taking out at Helm’s landing, only 4.5 miles from the dam.

WHO IS GOING TO LOVE IT

You don’t have to be a world class fly caster with a fancy boat to enjoy the Cumberland. If you can comfortably handle your canoe, kayak, or old jon boat and cast with a fly rod, you can get on to fish.

Though this should be on a short list for any southern or midwestern trout angler, this is a notable bucket list destination for streamer junkies. As mentioned above, the Cumberland winds through steep, remote gorges in a wild part of Kentucky, so it’s a great place to cast a line and float while taking in the scenery.

DIRECTIONS, PARKING & REGULATIONS

Parking is always open at the dam and Winfrey’s Ferry, but be sure to park your car (and trailer if you have one) well out of the way for other anglers launching their boat.

All anglers must have a Kentucky Fishing License, otherwise there are few regulations that usually accompany trout streams. As always, please practice catch and release.

TIPS

Difficulty: 4 stars
Fishing a large tailwater is challenging for any angler who is unfamiliar with new water. If you fish the right structure and can handle you craft, you’ll enjoy the beauty of the Cumby.
Time to Complete: 0.25 :hours
Distance: 0.1 :miles
Seasonality: 
Summer
Favorable flows are available throughout the year, but are less common From October to March. 
Fees/Permits: False
Dog Friendly: "Yes"