Cave Run Lake, a
pristine, crystal-clear body of water located in the foothills of the Appalachians, is becoming a top destination for
houseboaters searching for awesome scenery, a relaxing environment and world
class muskie fishing.
It is doubtful many have ever heard of tiny Cave Run, a
small tributary of the Licking River that flows fairly close to Morehead, Ky.,
just off I-64. Few ever heard of Morehead until a young football quarterback by
the name of Phil Simms was drafted by the New York Giants and became a star in
the National Football League.
Fifteen miles from the Morehead University
campus where Simms played, a new
star was born in the form of 8,500-acre Cave Run Lake (named
by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for the small tributary that entered the Licking River near the Cave Run Dam). Built primarily as
a flood control and recreation reservoir, Cave Run (completed in 1973) is the
largest lake in northeastern Kentucky and
regularly attracts visitors from major cities in Kentucky,
Virginia and numerous other states. That's because
the lake is surrounded by a near wilderness and remains free of ice in winter.
Some boating and lots of fishing occur on a year-round basis. The lake is best
known, however, because it is considered one of the top muskie-producing lakes
in the world!
There's something special about tangling with a
tackle-bustin,' lure-chompin' mouth-full-of-teeth aqua-monster known
scientifically as Esox masquinongy
ohiensis-which means "muskie" to most
Because muskellunge at Cave Run are of the purest strain of all
muskie in America,
anglers cherish catching one of these great fish. And they get big, too! The
current Kentucky state record for muskie came
from Cave Run in early November, 2008, when 14-year-old Sarah Terry of nearby Mt. Sterling
hooked and landed a 54-inch beauty that tipped the scales at an even 47 pounds!
Sarah released the fish, meaning that this prize is still swimming in the lake,
waiting to do battle.
When Cave Run Lake was
in the planning stage, folks in Washington
decided Kentucky needed a lake that would fit
naturally into the surrounding Daniel
Forest, where such noted frontiersmen as Daniel
Boone and Simon Kenton explored and hunted amid the towering hardwoods, craggy
cliff lines and clear-flowing rivers and streams.
The planning and construction all came together in 1973,
when the gates were closed on the dam, and the waters of the upper Licking River
began backing up over little hillside farms, pasturelands, iron bridges, small
churches and more than 4,000 acres of trees that were left standing for fish
At the same time, work began on Scotts Creek
and Longbow marinas, the only two development permits issued for the entire
lake. Today, Scotts
Creek, which is home for more
than 120 houseboats and offers a number of rental units, is the busiest place
for boaters on the lake. The smaller Longbow marina, located in the upper end
of the reservoir (near the only place a road crosses the lake), is affected by
annual draw downs for flood protection. Yet a couple dozen privately-owned houseboats
are docked here. The owners prefer to cruise the narrow, upper Licking River channel where wildlife and wild scenery
abound. There's also a real chance these boaters will latch onto one of the naturally-spawned
muskellunge that thrived in the Licking before Cave Run was impounded.
This is the area of the lake where country music super stars
Billy Ray Cyrus (achy-breaky heart) and his famous daughter Miley Cyrus can often
be seen cruising the lake when they visit the Cyrus farm where they stable Mountain
The houseboating season at Cave Run gets underway in April when
a vast, colorful array of blooming redbuds and dogwood adorn the surrounding
woodlands. Balmy southern breezes bring boaters out of winter doldrums as they
head for the lake to fish for muskie and bass that run the shoreline in
preparation for spawning. Anglers fortunate to own or to rent a houseboat tie off
their rigs to trees lining the shore near famed muskie fishing spots like Big
and Little Cave Run, Zilpo Flats, Clay Lick
and a hundred other places where muskie live in the reservoir. Living on
top of your fishing hole makes it handy to try your luck anytime you wish, and bringing
along a small boat or canoe is also a great idea.
Pin-pointing dead sticks (dead trees still standing after
being flooded for four decades), fishermen cast tandem-blade spinnerbaits
dressed with white or all black skirts past any structure they can see in the
clear water. Many muskie are caught by fishermen out after the lake's large and
smallmouth bass populations. Even crappie fishermen hook up with monster size
muskie while fishing light lines, limber poles and tiny minnows and jigs amid
underwater brush and newly-emerging weed growth-almost any time of the year.
The lake's muskie population remains steady year after year
because of supplemental stocking of the species from Minor Clark Hatchery,
located just below the Cave Run Dam. The muskie "fingerlings" range upward of
16 to 18 inches in length, which assures a healthy survival rate. Because
fishery biologists are stationed full-time at the hatchery, they have ready
access to harvest numbers, catch and release and other important information
needed to manage the muskie fishery properly. Because local guides and
experienced muskie fishermen practice catch and release almost exclusively,
Cave Run is brimming with fish that measure by the foot, rather than pounds and
Because the reservoir is surrounded by public-owned lands,
houseboaters can simply tie up to the shoreline, grab a shotgun and a turkey
call during spring gobbler season and have a better-than-average chance of
bagging a fat gobbler for the grill. Non-hunters have a field day trekking the
woodlands in search of the delicious morel mushrooms that grow near the top of
the hills where the ridgeline faces the morning sun. Judged as second only to the
famed truffles of western Europe, sautéed morels make the perfect topping for a
thick steak or juicy burger seared on the houseboat grill.
Perhaps nowhere do boaters have better access to woodlands
where spring wildflowers carpet the forest floor. Grab a picnic lunch, a field
guide to wildflowers and head out for a few hours of awesome beauty and identification
of species that have been native to the Appalachians
for millions of years.
Summer is prime time for houseboating at Cave Run. The kids
are out of school and there's no better vacation to renting a houseboat (if you
don't own one), stocking it with plenty to eat and drink and heading out to
your own piece of wilderness for a few days. The entire shoreline is
accessible. Houseboaters who enjoy swimming can pull up to the white sand beach
or find a thousand private places to take a dip around the lake.
Muskie fishing at Cave Run in summer is a deep trolling
game, pulling lures and spoons deep across points and steep turns in the old Licking River channel. Nighttime is fertile for muskie
hunting as well. Big fish move up to shallow flats at night, where fishermen
toss big black bucktails and noisy surface lure for heart-attack strikes that
often occur in the inky blackness.
My favorite season of all at this picturesque mountain lake
is autumn. Surrounded by a deciduous hardwood forest, the hills are a brilliant
canvas of blazing reds, gold, russets, orange, and yellows. Naturalists say the
color extravaganza equals or surpasses that which occurs in the Northeastern U.S. It is also an ideal time to find esox
prowling the shorelines, feeding up for winter. This is the season when the
largest muskie come to the boat. It's not uncommon to hook up with a half dozen
of the finnesters in an average day of fishing in the fall, and there's a good
chance you'll hook one that stretches out past three feet in length!
The houseboating season at Cave Run winds down in late
October, though rentals can be arranged for later dates if reservations are
made in time. My choice for the late season is to rent a unit and keep it tied
to the dock where all utilities are available. Some of the best muskie fishing
in the entire lake during autumn is in and around Scott Creek Marina in the Scott Creek
arm of the lake.
No doubt about it, Cave
is a unique place in the Southern Appalachians.
The water is pure, the scenery is unspoiled any time of the year, the East Kentucky
Mountain folk are a true
pleasure to be around and don't forget the esox. The muskellunge at Cave Run
are ready and waiting to provide an experience in fishing no one will ever