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Wade the Lake Cumberland tailwater to beat the heat and catch fish

Wade the Lake Cumberland tailwater to beat the heat and catch fish  

By Lee McClellan

The dog days of summer slow everything down. The heat and humidity along with the long days make outside work sweaty and arduous as June gives way to July. The weather forecast calls for temperatures of 90 degrees and above this coming weekend.

Fishing slows during the dog days as well. Catching game fish from a lake during a 90-degree plus day provides a challenge that anglers often fail to conquer.

Wading the cold waters of the Cumberland River below Lake Cumberland makes the best bet for a successful day fishing with the added benefit of escaping the heat for a time. Any breeze scrapes cold air from the river’s surface and makes the hottest day bearable, not to mention the oodles of brook, rainbow and brown trout and a chance at the newly stocked cutthroat trout.

Late summer provides a reliable pattern for water releases from Wolf Creek Dam. “The power demands at this time of year peak in the afternoon and evening,” said Dave Dreves, assistant director of Fisheries for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “They usually run the most water during that time. It is not set in stone, you need to check the flow before you plan a trout fishing trip.”

There are a couple of ways to check the release schedule, visit the TVA generation preschedule page and consult the “WOL” column. The number 45 represents one turbine of generation.  You may also log on to the Tennessee Valley Authority home page and click on the “Check Your Lake” tab under the “Lake Levels” box and scroll down to “Wolf Creek.” The generation this week peaked from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Central time.

“At the dam and at the Little Indian Creek Access at the end of Ray Mann Road, the water will be on you quickly,” Dreves said. “The best time to wade near the dam is usually in the early morning in summer, basically from daybreak to about 10 a.m.”

Boyd’s Bar at the Little Indian Creek Access makes an excellent morning wading spot for trout. The easy to wade bottom of Boyd’s Bar allows anglers to get well out into the river on a summer morning. This spot, reached via a gravel road just below Wolf Creek Dam, consistently produces good numbers of rainbow, brook and the occasional brown trout with hope of catching a cutthroat trout.

The access at Helm's Landing is another productive, and popular, wading spot. “Helm’s Landing is 4 1/2 miles downstream from the dam,” Dreves said. “You can usually fish until noon at Helm’s on a typical summer generation schedule, before the water starts to rise.”
Helm’s Landing is also wader-friendly with the deeper channel across from the boat ramp that holds trout. Large brown trout often gather in the eddy just downstream of the boat ramp when there is some current in the river.

The Rockhouse Access is one of the inimitable places to fish in Kentucky. From Helm’s Landing, take KY 379 south through the ghost town of Creelsboro until you see the Cumberland River on your left. Soon, the Rockhouse, also called the Creelsboro Arch, comes into view with a gravel road providing access to the parking area.

Formed 300 million years ago by the grinding power of the Cumberland River on one side and Jim Creek on the other, anglers must walk through this massive natural bridge to access the river.
“It is deep at the Rockhouse, walk downstream toward what are called the Gateway Rocks and fish there,” Dreves said. “I like the Rockhouse, but the Long Bar Access is much more preferable in summer.”

The relatively new Long Bar Fishing Access​ grants anglers fantastic wading water a little upstream of the Rockhouse, but on the opposite side of the river. “You have a lot more area to wade at Long Bar,” Dreves said. “It will also give you another four hours to fish compared to near the dam in summer. You may fish until 2 o’clock or so until the water hits you.”

Long Bar, also called Snow Island, is comprised of a 12-acre island with a back channel that anglers can cross at low water. 

Anglers may get directions and other information for the Little Indian Creek Access, Helm’s Landing, the Rockhouse and Long Bar Fishing Access on the “Where to Fish” page on the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife homepage at 

For spinning anglers, Dreves loves the Trout Magnet, a diminutive stick-shaped soft plastic with a slit cut in the tail. It is rigged on a 1/64-ounce head and suspended under a foam strike indicator.

“You are casting it out and drifting it back,” he said. “Cast as far away from you as you can. Change your float and depth until the lure is just above bottom. You should hang bottom occasionally.” 

Small suspending jerkbaits and tiny crawfish-colored crankbaits also score trout as does the venerable in-line spinner.

“For fly fishing, nymphs are always good on the Cumberland,” Dreves said. “Terrestrials such as grasshopper and ant patterns work well in late summer.”

There is an old joke about wading the Cumberland River. Place a $10 bill under a rock along the shoreline, so it will motivate you to get to the shore and retrieve it when the water rises from dam releases.

“Don’t be afraid because the fish really turn on when the water starts rising,” Dreves said. “Pick out a stick or a rock along the shoreline to gauge and start moving to shore when you see the water rising. You will have ample time to fish the hot bite and get out of the water if you pay attention.”

The Cumberland River below Wolf Creek Dam is a perfect antidote to a blistering hot summer day, with cool conditions and ample numbers of trout.