A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Art Lander’s Outdoors: Laurel River Lake offers good fishing for cool water species fall through spring

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

Laurel River Lake is located in Laurel and Whitley Counties in the Daniel Boone National Forest (Photo from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

Laurel River Lake is in Laurel and Whitley Counties, just off Interstate-75 in Daniel Boone National Forest.

The dam is about 20 miles east of Corbin, on Ky. 1193, about 2.3 miles above the Laurel River’s confluence with the Cumberland River.

This scenic lake is surrounded by tree-covered hills and there are rocky cliffs along much of the shoreline in the headwaters.

The lake is surrounded by tree-covered hills and rocky cliffs (Photo from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

The Craig’s Creek embayment is especially spectacular in the fall when colored leaves are the backdrop for rocky islands and waterfalls.

The main access highways to Laurel River Lake are U.S. 25W, Ky. 1193, and Ky. 192.


The 5,600-acre reservoir, which opened in 1974, has 206 miles of shoreline and is 19.2 miles long at summer pool, elevation 1,015 feet.

The lake is 280 feet deep just above the dam and has an average depth of 65 feet, making it one of the deepest in the state.

The winter pool elevation of 982 feet reduces the lake to 4,200 surface acres.

Lake Manager’s Office

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Resource Manager’s Office, Laurel River Lake, 855 Boat Dock Road, Somerset, KY 42501, telephone 606-679-6337.

The U.S. Forest Service operates campgrounds and manages recreational facilities surrounding the lake. Visit www.fs.usda.gov for details.

Managing Fishery Biologist

Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, Southeastern Fishery District, Marcy Anderson, District Biologist, 135 Realty Lane, Somerset, KY 42501, telephone 606-677-4096.


There are two marinas.

Holly Bay Marina, open year-round, is 18 miles southwest of London, off Ky. 1193. The address and telephone number are Box 674, London, KY 40743, 606-864-6542.

Grove Marina (Photo from Whitley County Tourism)

Grove Marina, open year-round, is 11 miles west of Corbin, off Forest Service Road 558. The address and telephone number are Box 1483, Corbin, KY 40701, 606-523-2323.

Boat Launching Ramps

There are seven boat launching ramps on Laurel River Lake.

There is no fee to launch at the Craig’s Creek boat ramp and High Top boat ramp. At the other five ramps on the lake a Daniel Boone National Forest parking pass is required. The cost is $3 for a one-day, $5 for a three-day or $30 for an annual pass.

Grove boat ramp is off Forest Service Road 558, about 10 miles east of Corbin.

High Top boat ramp is off U.S. 25W, about 7 miles west of Corbin.

Laurel Bridge boat ramp is at the headwaters of the lake, off Ky. 312, about 2 miles northwest of Corbin.

Flatwoods boat ramp is off Ky. 3430, about 7 miles northwest of Corbin.

Marsh Branch boat ramp is off Forest Service Road 744, about 13 miles southwest of London.

Craig’s Creek boat ramp is off Forest Service Road 62, about 15 miles southwest of London.

Holly Bay boat ramp is off Ky. 1193, about 17 miles southwest of London.

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.

Local Tourism Information

Corbin Tourism and Convention Commission, 222 Corbin Center Drive, Corbin KY 40701, telephone 606-528-8860.


Laurel River Lake is an oligotrophic lake of low productivity, but fertility levels are much higher in the headwaters of the Laurel River embayment.

Laurel River Lake is a deep, steep-sided highland reservoir with rocky shorelines, islands and numerous coves filled with flooded timber.

The lake supports a mix of fish species.

On the main lake, cool-water fisheries predominate in the clear waters, including rainbow trout, walleye, and smallmouth bass.

Warm-water species are more abundant in the mid-to-upper lake, where water fertility levels are higher, including largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and crappie.

The main forage fish is gizzard shad.

Rainbow Trout

The rainbow trout fishery is rated fair, with most fish in the 10-to-14-inch range, but larger fish are present.

The population is supported by annual stockings in January. Trolling small crankbaits or spoons during the winter and early spring on the main lake is a productive strategy.


The walleye fishery is rated good, with good numbers of 18-to-21-inch fish, with larger fish more than 24 inches present.

Cast surface baits at night during the spring, During the late summer and fall troll deep-diving crankbaits or drift spinner rigs across points, around islands and parallel to the banks in deep coves.

Smallmouth bass harvested from Laurel River Lake (Photo from KDFWR)

Smallmouth Bass

The smallmouth bass fishery is rated good. It’s a low-density population, but large, quality fish over 3 pounds are present.

There are good numbers of 12-to-18-inch fish. In the winter and early spring casting jigs and swimbaits are good options for targeting larger fish.

Largemouth Bass

The largemouth bass fishery is rated good, with a stable population of quality fish.

There’s a good density of 14-to-18-inch fish, with fish over 20 inches present. The best fishing is in the Laurel River embayment.

Spotted Bass

The spotted bass fishery is rated good, with a moderate density of 10-to-13-inch fish, with fish over 15 inches possible.

The best fishing is mid-lake on rocky banks.


The bluegill fishery is rated good, with numerous 5-to-6-inch fish. Fish crickets and red worms in the upper lake during the summer.


The crappie fishery is rated fair.

The population is dominated by black crappie, with 10-to-12-inch fish present.

Fish the upper reaches of the Laurel River embayment, near the city dam, at the head of the lake.

Tailwater Fishing Opportunities

There is access on foot to the tailwaters from the dam, but there are no developed facilities, except for a parking area at the spillway, off Ky. 1193.

During the spring, walleye often congregate in the tailwaters, offering excellent fishing opportunities amid rocks and flooded timber.

There is a boat launching ramp at the mouth of the Laurel River, off Ky. 1277.

Laurel River Lake fishing is at its best in the fall and throughout the cool weather months. Take advantage of the unseasonably warm weather. Go fishing now.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment