Sea Monsters! The 10 Biggest Trophy Fish Ever Caught in Kentucky

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: October 11, 2022
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For some of the best fishing in Kentucky, anglers head to Lake Cumberland, the Ohio River and many smaller lakes and streams with lucky fishing holes. Some of the biggest catches in Kentucky pass the hundred pound mark. Other records have been around for more than 75 years. If you are out to catch some trophy sized fish and want to know what the targets to beat are, here are the 10 biggest trophy fish ever caught in Kentucky.

10) Freshwater Drum: 42 pounds 13 ounces

Freshwater drum are large freshwater fish
Freshwater drum are large freshwater fish with a similar appearance to carp.

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Freshwater drum are similar in shape and size as carp. One of the differences between the two is that carp have barbels on their face and drum do not. Drum prefer to live in deeper waters of lakes and rivers so bring a long line if you are targeting drum.

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The biggest freshwater drum ever caught in Kentucky was a 42 pound 13 ounce drum caught by Alan Cooper on Dale Hollow Lake. This is one of the most recent Kentucky records taking place in the spring of 2021, on April 26th. As the fish tale goes, Cooper had the fish weighed on the guide’s boat but didn’t realize it was a record breaker. He released the drum back into the water but then took the time to look it up. The record was 38 pounds, set back in the summer of 1980. They circled back around and located the drum that was near the top of the water recovering from the catch. Cooper snagged it again with a net and was able to get it officially weighed and claim the new state record.

9) Muskellunge: 47 pounds

Closeup of a muskellunge being held by an angler
Muskies are powerful fish with many small, sharp teeth

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Muskellunge (or muskie) are a longer, thinner fish than drum and carp, and they have a reputation of being tricky to catch. If you do land a muskie be sure to steer clear of their mouth full of sharp tiny teeth. If you are looking for large muskie it is advised to fish in large lakes (makes sense). The biggest lakes in Kentucky, and some of the best fishing lakes, are Kentucky Lake, Lake Cumberland and Lake Barkley.

Although the three biggest lakes in Kentucky have excellent muskie fishing, the biggest muskie was actually caught on the 5th largest lake. Sarah K. Terry was fishing on Cave Run Lake when she reeled in a 47 pound muskie. Cave Run is an 8,270-acre lake in the Daniel Boone National Forest about 70 miles east of downtown Lexington. Terry made her record breaking catch on November 2, 2008 and the record stands today.

8) Common Carp: 54 pounds 14 ounces

man holding giant common carp
There are four carp species in Kentucky and the largest common carp weighed 54 pounds 14 ounces

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There are four carp species that the state of Kentucky recognizes in their record program, common, grass, silver and bighead carp. Bighead carp are typically the biggest of the four but common carp can weigh more than 50 pounds as well. The biggest common carp caught in Kentucky was one of those that was more than 50 weighing 54 pounds 14 ounces. Ricky Vance of Paris, KY caught this record breaker on March 13, 1971 while fishing in the south fork of the Licking River. The Licking is a tributary of the Ohio River and is a popular spot for canoeing, kayaking and fishing. Muskie are the main draw for anglers but clearly there are some good sized carp as well.

7) Smallmouth Buffalo: 55 pounds

Bufalo fish
The Smallmouth Buffalo fish can be found in rivers, lakes, and streams throughout North America.

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Another fish in the carp/sucker category are the buffalo fish (a kind of sucker). Buffalo fish are shaped more like carp and drum vs muskie and can get to be more than 50 pounds as well. The biggest smallmouth buffalo ever caught in Kentucky was a 55 pounder caught by Clinton Roby on Kentucky Lake. Roby’s catch was made on March 23, 2000. Kentucky Lake is the biggest lake in the state located in the far SW corner on the border with Tennessee.

The biggest smallmouth buffalo ever caught in neighboring Tennessee was a 62 pounds 7 ounces, but it wasn’t caught on the Tennessee side of the Kentucky River. It was pulled from the Percy Priest Reservoir. You can imagine there may be some rivalry between the states of this shared lake.

6) Striped Bass: 58 pounds 4 ounces

Striped Bass
Striped bass are distinguished by the stripes running along their bodies.

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Bass fishing is a popular sport fish with bass fishing tournaments held all over the US. Anglers fish for black bass like largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass (Kentucky bass). But they also fish for true bass like striped bass (stripers). The biggest striped bass ever caught in Kentucky was a 58 pound 4 ounce striper caught by Roger Foster of Somerset, KY. Foster was out fishing on Beaver Creek, just off of Lake Cumberland on December 11, 1985 when he reeled in this trophy-sized catch. Does it get below freezing in southern Kentucky in December? Yes, it can, but the average is daily temp in the winter is the high 30’s. Foster’s fishing trip was definitely chillier than the prime summer fishing.

5) Grass Carp: 58 pounds 8 ounces

grass carp
Grass carp are unusual in that they are herbivores.

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Another carp on our list is the grass carp which is a little unusual in that they are herbivorous fish, eating only algae, weeds and plant matter. But all those veggies help them put on the pounds with some grass carp getting bigger than 50 pounds.

The biggest grass carp in Kentucky was 58 pounds 8 ounces, caught by Robert Marsh. In the summer of 2009, on June 17, Marsh was fishing on Forest Lawn Lake in Kenton County when he reeled in this giant grass carp. Keep in mind grass carps diet when choosing bait; canned corn, cherry tomatoes, and freshly cut grass all make irresistible bait for these veggie lovers.

4) Bighead Carp: 65 pounds 1 ounce

As is typical among bottom feeders, the bighead carp has eyes facing downward.

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The biggest of the carp in Kentucky are the bighead carp. If you thought the vegetarian grass carp had an interesting diet, you will be surprised to hear that bighead carp are actually filter feeders and live off of tiny zooplankton (similar to whales). They add in a little algae and the occasional small insects as well to round out their diet.

The biggest bighead carp ever caught in Kentucky was caught by Eddie Young on the Kentucky River. Young was fishing on July 18, 2020 when he bagged this bighead, beating the old record by one pound. The news report mentioned that Young was about to head home for the day when he decided to switch out his bait for one last shot. What was the lucky bait for this record breaker? A bobber with a night crawler, sounds better than zooplankton to me!

3) Flathead Catfish: 97 pounds

Flathead catfish
The largest flathead catfish in Kentucky weighed almost 100 pounds!

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Now for a big jump from 68 pounds to almost 100! A 97 pound flathead catfish was caught by Esker Carrol on June 6, 1956 making this a 66 year-old-record to date. Is there a hundred pound flathead somewhere in Kentucky? Quite possibly but anglers have yet to haul in one as heavy as 97 pounds since.

2) Paddlefish: 106 pounds

American Paddlefish swimming in a stream
The American Paddlefish is smooth-skinned and almost entirely comprised of cartilage.

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Breaking the hundred pound mark, a 106 pound paddlefish was caught by William Chumbler on the Ohio River. Chumbler made the record catch on March 23, 2004. Kentucky gets its unique northern border shape from the twisting and turning Ohio River.

In the research journal Fisheries researchers were looking at paddlefish populations in the Mississippi River. They were comparing how conservation groups differed on different sides of the Mississippi that are governed by different states. They recommended “swimways”, similar to flyways used by migratory birds, as a way for states to work together to manage their populations. This theory might be applied to the Ohio River as well with the river flowing along the border of multiple states.

1) Blue Catfish: 106.9 pounds

Blue Catfish
Weighing 106.9 pounds, the blue catfish is the largest fish ever caught in Kentucky

©M Huston/Shutterstock.com

Just a tad bigger than the paddlefish, a blue catfish holds the spot for the biggest trophy fish ever caught in Kentucky. The blue cat weighed in at 106.9 pounds and was also caught on the Ohio River. Glynn Grogan broke the record four years ago on October 20, 2018. His lucky fishing hole was below the Olmstead Lock and Dam. That might be your go to spot for catching the next biggest fish in Kentucky. Good luck!

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man holding giant common carp
man holding giant common carp
© Fabien Monteil/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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Sources
  1. Kentucky, Available here: https://www.kentucky.com/news/state/kentucky/article244401287.html
  2. Beech Tree News, Available here: https://beechtreenews.com/articles/catch-release-catch-again-alan-cooper-lands-state-record-drum
  3. T & F Online, Available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03632415.2012.722877
  4. Kentucky State, Available here: https://fw.ky.gov/Fish/Pages/State-Record-Fishes-and-Awards.aspx