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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s Nolin River Lake is known for its excellent white bass fishery

This is the 16th article in an ongoing series about Kentucky’s major reservoirs.

Aerial view of Nolan River Lake (Photo from Flickr Commons)

Nolin River Lake is in Edmonson, Grayson, Hardin, and Hart Counties, about 17 miles south of Leitchfield, KY.

The dam is on Ky. 728, 7.8 miles upstream from the Nolin River’s confluence with the Green River.

The lake is just a short drive from Mammoth Cave National Park, one of Kentucky’s most popular tourist attractions.

Construction on Nolin River Lake started in January 1959 and was completed in March 1963.

The main access highways are Ky. 259, Ky. 88, and Ky. 1827.


The 5,795-acre reservoir is 39 miles long and has 172 miles of shoreline at summer pool, elevation 515.

The drawdown to winter pool, elevation 490, reduces its size to 2,890 surface acres.

Nolin River Lake is 75 feet deep just above the dam, and the lower lake has an average depth of about 30 feet.

Above Wax, KY, the lake is much shallower, with an average depth of about 15 feet.

State Park

Nolan Lake State Park offere extensive trails open to hikers and mountain bikers. (Photo from Kentucky State Parks)

Nolin Lake State Park is west of Cub Run, KY, where Ky 1827 (Brier Creek Road) ends at the lake.

The 333-acre state park opened in May, 2001, and is open year-round, weather permitting.

Facilities include a campground, with 32 campsites with hookups for water and electricity and 27 primitive campsites, a 9.2-mile trail that leads to a waterfall, open to hikers and mountain bikers, a public beach, and a playground.

For information telephone 270-286-4240.

Lake Manager’s Office

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Resource Manager’s Office, Nolin River Lake, 2150 Nolin Dam Road, Bee Spring, KY 42207, telephone 270-286-4511.

Managing Fishery Biologist

Northwestern Fishery District, Jeremy Shiflet, District Biologist, 1398 Highway 81 North, Calhoun, KY 42327, phone: 270-273-3117.


There are three marinas.

Wax Marina, open seasonally, is on the east shore of the lake, 15 miles south of Clarkson, KY, at the Ky. 88 bridge. For information telephone (270) 242-7205

Moutadier Resort and Marina, open seasonally, is on the west shore of the lake, 12 miles south of Leitchfield, off Ky. 259, on Ky, 2067 (Moutadier Road). For information telephone (270) 286-4069.

Ponderosa Boat Dock, open seasonally, is in the upper lake, 13 miles south of Clarkson, KY, off Ky. 88. For information call 270-242-7215.

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.

Boat Launching Ramps

There are seven boat launching ramps.

The VanMeter (Dam site) boat ramp is on the south shore of the lake at the dam, off Ky. 728. There is a $5 fee to launch.

The Dog Creek boat ramp is 10 miles northeast of the dam, off Union Light Road (Ky. 1015). There is a $5 fee to launch.

The Iberia boat ramp is 5 miles southeast of Peonia, KY, off Ky. 88. There’s a $5 fee to launch.

The Moutadier boat ramp is on the west shore of the lake, 12 miles south of Leitchfield, on Ky, 2067 (Moutadier Road), off Ky. 259. There’s a $5 fee to launch.

The Wax boat ramp is on the east shore of the lake, 15 miles south of Clarkson, KY, at the Ky. 88 bridge. There’s a $5 fee to launch.

The Brier Creek boat ramp is 7 miles northeast of the dam, in Nolin Lake State Park, off Ky. 1827. There is no fee to launch.

The Bacon Creek boat ramp is north of Cub Run, KY, Brigg Webb Road, off Ky. 728. There is no fee to launch.

Local Tourism Information

Grayson County Tourism, 425 South Main Street, Leitchfield, KY 42754, phone 270-259-5587.


Nolin River Lake is a eutrophic lake of high productivity.

Cover types include standing timber, stump beds, deadfalls, rock piles and rock bluffs.

Nolin River Lake supports populations of largemouth bass, two species of crappie (white crappie and black crappie), walleye, white bass and two species of catfish (channel catfish and flathead catfish).

Gizzard shad is the main forage fish.


The walleye fishery is rated fair.

Most fish are in the 16 to 18-inch range, but larger fish over 20 inches are present.

Early spring, fish Bacon Creek and upper river with lead head jigs and plastic grubs.

In summer, troll Sportsman’s Paradise, Conoloway Creek, and the longer main lake points. Also in summer, try fishing at night under lights near the main channel in the upper lake with jigging spoons, live shiners or shad.

Some fish remain in the upper river year-round.


The crappie fishery is rated good.

Both white and black crappie are present, with black crappie representing about 10 percent of the population. Black crappie are more abundant in the clear, rocky lower lake.

Crappie populations have been increasing in recent years. Good numbers of fish over 10 inches will be available in 2021. Fish wood structure in shallow water for spawning fish. During summer, fish main lake brush piles and standing timber in coves, in 12 to 18-feet of water for larger fish.

The 9-inch minimum size limit was adopted in 1992.

White Bass

Nolan River Lake white bass (Photo from Flickr Commons)

The white bass fishery is rated excellent.

There are large numbers of 11 to 14-inch fish in the population.

The spawning run is substantial, upstream from Bacon Creek in April. Anglers cast lead head jigs rigged with plastics, small crankbaits, or live minnows.

In summer there are jumps around main lake points. Night fishing under lights is good too, with anglers fishing in the main channel, casting small crankbaits, jigging spoons or still-fishing live shiners or shad.

Largemouth Bass

The largemouth bass fishery is rated good.

The population is stable, with good numbers of fish over 15 inches. Nolin River Lake has a reputation of producing quality fish, and the occasional lunker. About 60 percent of the black bass in the lake are largemouth.

Fish the upper lake, beginning at Dog Creek. During the summer the best fishing is at night.

Nolin River Lake is the only major lake with a 15-inch-and-1 minimum size limit on largemouth and smallmouth bass. It was established on March 1, 1996.

Swimbaits are a top lure in the late spring and summer for big largemouth bass that are suspended above the thermocline, over ledges, humps or points that extend out into the lake.

One advantage of the swimbait in this scenario is that it can be fished progressively deeper with each cast until the fish are located.


The catfish fishery is rated good.

Channel catfish and flathead catfish are present in the lake.

There are good numbers of 15 to 20-inch channel catfish, with larger fish present. Fish the upper lake, above Sportsman’s Paradise and Cane Run, and the river in early spring. The rocky main lake banks are best from mid-May through June.

Flathead catfish are much lower in number, but every year several large fish, weighing more than 30 pounds are harvested. Fish late-May through June along the steeper rocky banks with large shad, shiners or bluegills.

Special Regulations / Minimum Size Limits and Daily Creel Limits

Black Crappie: 9-inch minimum size limit.

White Crappie: 9-inch minimum size limit.

Largemouth Bass: 15-inch minimum size limit, but one fish under 15 inches may be kept in the daily creel limit of six.

Smallmouth Bass: 15-inch minimum size limit, but one fish under 15 inches may be kept in the daily creel limit of six.

Walleye: 14-inch minimum size limit, daily creel limit of 6.

Tailwater Fishing Opportunities

Nolan River Lake Dam (Photo from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Nolin River Lake tailwaters is a bit unusual in that there’s not much current. It’s more like a lake environment, extending 7.8 miles to the Nolin River’s confluence with the Green River.

There’s boat ramp below the dam, with no fee to launch, and a concrete fishing platform in the tailrace.

Trout habitat extends for about 3.5 miles below the dam.

Rainbow trout are stocked in April, May, June, July, September, October and November, an annual total of 9,000. Brown trout have been stocked annually since 2017, about 300 a year. There are some holdover trout in the 12 to 16-inch size range, but their numbers are low.

Farther downriver in the tailwaters anglers have an opportunity to catch other cool-water fisheries, walleye, sauger, white bass and hybrid striped bass.

The removal of Lock and Dam 6 near Brownsville has allowed more fish to move into the tailwaters.

In the spring, from mid-March through mid-April, there are high numbers of white bass in the tailwaters, occasionally hybrid striped bass.

Fish Attractors

The fish attractor program has been active since 2010, in part because the 25-foot drawdown to winter pool provides good access via dry land, to construct habitat structures, in a very efficient use of time and resources.

Brush piles, Christmas trees, wooden pallet stacks, plastic pallet stacks and plastic pipe fish attractors have located in large areas throughout the lake.

Map of Nolan Lake

Bank Access and Fishing Piers

There are three fishing piers, near Wax Marina, near Dog Creek boat ramp, and near Moutadier boat ramp. Fish attractors have been placed in the lake surrounding the fishing piers.

Bank access is good at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-operated campgrounds at Wax, Dog Creek and Moutadier.

Additionally, there is bank access at Nolin Lake State Park.

Under construction, and scheduled to open in 2021, is a new bank access area near Conoloway boat ramp, reach by a hiking trail.

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