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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Owen County’s Elmer Davis Lake has reputation for producing quality sunfish

Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in a series on small lakes in central Kentucky.

Elmer Davis Lake (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

Elmer Davis Lake is four miles southwest of Owenton, between Ky. 22 and U.S. 127, in Owen County.

The 149-acre lake was impounded from North Severn Creek, a tributary to the Kentucky River.

The lake has 5.6 miles of shoreline, with a maximum depth of 59 feet, and an average depth of 21 feet. Built and owned by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), the lake opened to public fishing in 1960.

Elmer Davis Lake is one of seven small lakes in central Kentucky with lakefront residential housing on private lands that share a boundary with KDFWR-owned lands.

Private landowners must get a permit to construct a floating or fixed boat dock to moor a boat on KDFWR property, and a metal boat dock tag, provided by KDFWR, must be permanently affixed to the boat dock so that it is visible from the lake.

Fish Species/Special Fishing Regulations

Elmer Davis Lake has been a popular spot for sunfish among anglers (Photo by Art Lander Jr.)

Bluegill: Statewide regulations apply. The fishery is rated good/excellent. There are good numbers of six to eight-inch bluegill, with good numbers of fish over eight inches.

Channel Catfish: There is a 12-inch minimum size limit on all catfish species. The fishery is rated good. There are good numbers of channel catfish over 12 inches, with fish over 15 inches common. Flathead catfish are also present in the lake.

Crappie: Statewide regulations apply. Both white crappie and black crappie are present. The fishery is rated good. Most crappie are eight to 10 inches long, but larger fish are present. There was a good spawn in 2020.

Largemouth Bass: There is a 12 to 15-inch protective slot limit. All fish between 12 and 15 inches must be released. Statewide creel limits apply. The fishery is rated good/excellent. There are excellent numbers of largemouth bass in the 12 to 15-inch slot, with good numbers of fish over 15 inches, and trophy-sized fish (23 inches) are present.

Redear Sunfish: Statewide regulations apply. The fishery is rated good/excellent. There are good numbers of redear sunfish between six to eight inches, and trophy-sized fish (10 inches) are present.

Warmouth: Statewide regulations apply. The fishery is rated fair. It’s a small population, but some keeper-size fish are present. Fish around weed beds.

Jug fishing and limb lines are prohibited. Possession or use of live shad for bait is prohibited.

Recent Fish Stockings

• In 2018, 39,600 redear sunfish were stocked.
• In 2019, 1,645 channel catfish and 30,858 redear sunfish were stocked.
• In 2020, 26,200 redear sunfish were stocked.
• In 2021, 3,000 redear sunfish were stocked.

Fish Attractors

Brush piles, staked beds, PVC structures, and pallet structures have been placed throughout the lake. A map of Elmer Davis Lake fish attractors is available online.

Boating Access

There are two paved boat launching ramps for any trailerable recreational boat.

One ramp is at the end of Ky. 1670, off Ky. 22, southwest of Owenton.

The second ramp is at the dam, on Elmer Davis Road, five miles south of Owenton, off U.S. 127.

There is no fee to launch at either ramp.

There is a fishing pier adjacent to the boat ramp on Ky. 1670.

(Map from KDFWR; click for larger image)

Elmer Davis Lake has been a favorite sunfish lake with central Kentucky anglers for decades. In the 1970s, the small lake had a big reputation for producing thick, hand-sized bluegill.

Back then the lure of choice for many anglers was a 1/32 or 1/16-ounce popeye jig tipped with a wax worm, tied to an 18 to 24-inch leader of monofilament line behind a clear float, and cast on ultralight spinning tackle.

In the late 1980s gizzard shad found their way into the lake and the quality of the sunfish fisheries declined.

The presence of shad in small lakes prevents bluegill and redear sunfish from reaching their full growth potential. That’s because the predator fish, mainly largemouth bass and catfish, prefer to feed on shad, rather than fingerling panfish.

Without adequate predation, bluegill and redear sunfish get overpopulated. There are too many small fish, and growth rates slow. Panfish become stunted because they don’t get enough food.

Lower Thomas Lake, which was Owenton’s source of drinking water for over 20 years, and drains into Elmer Davis Lake, was the source of the shad because the water pumped up into the lake from the Kentucky River contained shad fry.

In 2014 Owenton got a new source of drinking water when a water treatment plant opened near the Owen/Franklin County line, off US 127.

By 2016 all the shad in Lower Thomas Lake and Elmer Davis Lake had been eradicated, and with the source of the shad finally shut off, biologists were able to restore one of central Kentucky’s premier sunfish lakes.

In December of 2016, Central District Fishery Biologist Jeff Crosby, of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR), was quoted as saying “We’re excited about getting the lake back to where it used to be, producing big bluegill and redear sunfish.”

Elmer Davis Lake also supports a small population of a third sunfish species, warmouth, which closely resembles a rock bass in coloration and markings.

The lake’s largemouth bass fishery gets a lot of attention from anglers since trophy-sized fish are caught every year.

With quality fisheries, good facilities and just minutes from downtown Owenton, it’s no wonder that the lake has been a favorite for decades. Don’t miss out on a premier fishing opportunity.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. 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.

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