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The apex predator of Kentucky waters

IF YOU HAVE EVER WANTED TO TANGLE with a big fish in Kentucky, the musky fits that bill. Known as the fish of 10,000 casts, the musky can be a challenge to hook as well as to land. Thankfully, the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources has chipped away at the number of casts needed through its stocking program, but the landing part is still up to you. 

The muskellunge (Esox masquinongy), commonly known as the musky, is native to Kentucky waters and has evolved into an apex predator willing to seek and destroy big artificial baits placed in the right spot. Musky have become a much sought-after sportfish and can put up a battle second to none, even on big tackle. They can be found in their native river systems here in Kentucky as well as the reservoirs those rivers feed. Musky can reproduce in their native river systems, but stocking is required on Kentucky reservoirs due to the lack of ideal spawning conditions. The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources also supplements several stream systems with hatchery-raised musky. 

Whether you fish with lures or live bait, make sure they are big. When fishing for musky, you don’t need a lot of finesse—you need lures that are big, colorful and sometimes loud, to entice these toothy critters. Shazana Hardy, a tournament angler, shares what she likes to throw in the spring. Hardy has won back-to-back Musky Hunter tournaments on Cave Run Lake (2021 and 2022). Her tournament partner is her fiancé, Tim Barker, who is a guide on Cave Run Lake. Along with the Musky Hunter tournament wins, Barker won the 2018 Professional Musky Tournament Trail. 

Hardy says you have to get muskies’ attention in the spring. “The fluctuating water that’s often muddy, coupled with the musky’s unwillingness to eat due to its pre-spawn disposition, makes loud, obnoxious lures the go-to baits during this time,” she says. “Another great way to catch a musky in the spring on Cave Run Lake is by trolling through likely spawning areas using a spread of eight rods, all with different trolling baits.” 

If you want to feel the fun of a top-notch musky tournament, be sure to register for the Professional Musky Tournament Trail, hosted by Morehead Tourism. The season kicks off right here in Kentucky on Cave Run Lake, April 29–30. The event’s format has been developed not only with professionals in mind, but also the many other excellent musky anglers who may just enjoy the camaraderie of fishing with a little competition thrown in. Learn more at

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