Lake Reba, Richmond, KY

August 1, 2009

Lake Reba, Richmond, KY

by John Kirkland

Lake Reba Site

I love a surprise.  After a rainy week, prospects for kayaking up the Dix River weren’t looking good—the USGS web page showed water volume on the Kentucky River at High Bridge to be 20 times higher than the week before, killing my plan to check out trout fishing on the Dix.  The day was getting old, so I decided to head to Lake Reba in Richmond, KY, only 35 minutes away.

I had been on Reba once before in the late ‘90s.  It was a poor experience then.  My expectations for this trip were minimal; most word of mouth has been dismal, and the KDFWR web site only mentions weed problems and stunted fish.  I figured I could take some pictures and catch a bluegill or two—and wait out the wet weather for another weekend.  Leaving Lexington at 4:30 PM, it was a little after 5 when I was in the water.  The facilities at the launch area (no fee) are fairly nice, with several hundred yards of shoreline for foot access and a concrete slab pier that is accessible for wheelchair and folks who have a hard time walking on the sloped grass banks that lead to the water.

There are a few small islands and a number of weed mats, along with a rock pile or two in the 75 acre lake. There is a significant weed problem in the lake, not surprising because of its shallow depth (27 feet is the deepest, but much is 5-10 feet), as well as being bounded by a golf course and city park (lots of fertilizer/chemicals).  Not to cause paranoia, but worth noting is that the southern end of the lake borders the Bluegrass Army Depot, home of a major chemical weapons storage and destruction area.  Though I’m sure it is perfectly safe to eat fish out of the lake, I feel like there are better places to catch dinner.

A muggy 85 degree, slightly overcast August day, the air definitely felt like Kentucky summer.  I began by paddling to the first island, and throwing a shallow crankbait near overhanging brush, then moved to a floating weed patch, then a long stretch of shoreline.  After an hour of trying this tactic, with no strikes, and no visuals of any fish (the water is crystal clear, just lots of weeds), I tied on my old favorite chartreuse roostertail.  Another hour of casting, and around 7 PM, as I contemplated heading back and declaring the lake a waste of time, a bluegill came from the depths to hit the lure right next to the boat.  Fishing the shallows and weedy edges had produced nothing, because everything in the lake was on the bottom, apparently.

I paddled toward a tree trunk and weed mat, that turned out to be a rock pile.  Several casts, allowed to sink first and retrieved slowly, hooked a couple of little bluegill.  Better than nothing, but I was looking for more. Noticing a weed mat and another small island further up the lake, I started to paddle up the middle to try another spot.  Halfway there ,I noticed swirls on the surface, between small floating patched of weeds that dot the surface.  I decided to fish the middle, and did so by sinking the roostertail to the bottom (5-6 feet), then starting a slow, staggered retrieve.  I could feel weed cover on the bottom, but never did snag anything or lose any lures on tangles.  After about 10 casts, I hooked something-certainly a bass by the long, quick movements.  I started reeling, and then he really pulled back, pulling line off a pretty tight drag. This fish had size!

I loosened the drag so he wouldn’t break the line.  The fight lasted a good 90 seconds.  Each time I got him near the boat, he would run again.  Finally, he quit, and I got him close enough to lip into the boat.  A nice, hog-headed largemouth, maybe 19 inches, and every bit of three pounds plus.  Just barely hooked—one more twist, and he would have gotten away.  I snapped a couple of quick pictures, and let him go.  Now I was dialed in on how and where to fish this lake.


In the next half hour, using the same lure and retrieve, I landed four more decent 12-13 inch largemouths.  No pictures, but plenty of fun.  Three other boats joined me in that time.  One boat continued fishing the edges, and he caught bluegill every other cast.  The two other boats were using the same technique I had hit upon, in the middle, on the bottom, slow and staggered.  Those two boats were catching decent bass every couple of minutes, as well.

After an hour, I switched lures.  I tied on a Shallow Fry, which had been my bass assassin on Cedar Creek Lake.  On the third cast, I hooked a nice one, which circled twice, peeling off the drag.  Then it stopped, and the line was stuck.  I pulled very slowly, and the snag gave way, revealing a massive clump of weeds.  The line snapped, but I grabbed the weed clump, and retrieved the lure.  I tied it again, and threw a few more times, hooking a 12 inch largemouth.  I pulled him to the boat, and as I pulled him out of the water, he jerked and snapped the line, lure in mouth.  I circled, waiting and watching for the lure to float to the surface.  No luck.  It was getting dark, and I had a pretty good paddle back to the ramp ahead of me.

Lake Reba managed to surprise me.  I went with low expectations, and ended up with the largest bass I had caught in years, along with several other nice ones. As I rolled back toward the ramp, dozens of shore-fishers had set up for the evening bite.  Plenty of “woo-hoos” could be heard, as they reeled in catfish, bluegill, and bass.  What a great Urban Fishing lake, I thought.  I just wished that Lexington, Richmond’s neighbor to the north, could get its act together and work on producing a comparable fishing lake.

The Details

Lake Reba is just off of US 52 on the southeast side of Richmond, KY. The city website has good information and maps: Lake Reba Site . There is a 15 inch minimum on bass, maximum of three per angler.  The lake is limited to electric motors only, and there is parking for 10-15 trucks with trailers.  Restrooms, courtesy dock, cleaning station, and parking are all adjacent to the ramp.   A large city park and Gibson Bay golf course border the lake, and the amenities of town are nearby.

7 thoughts on “Lake Reba, Richmond, KY”

      1. We didn’t do well at all, we fished off the pier for a least 4 hours and only hooked 3 small bluegill. The fish did not seem to be biting at all this weekend.

    1. I don’t know that for certain, but golf courses in general are notorious for their use of chemicals to maintain the turf. Gibson Bay is owned by the City of Richmond, which has $90,000 budgeted for chemicals for their three courses (budget detail). While I don’t know the specifics of what they apply to the course, it stands to reason that some quantity of the maintenance chemicals end up in Lake Reba.

      Similar caution makes sense in any situation where there is direct runoff. Water adjacent to residential areas, agricultural operations, parking lots, etc., is potentially polluted. This unfortunately includes most of the water covered on this website. Lake Reba seems very clean and nice, but the over-abundance of weeds suggests fertilizer runoff. There is, of course, a big question mark about Bluegrass Army Depot, which also drains into the lake. Public information suggests that the site is environmentally safe (save for the chemical weapons contained within). We don’t really know what flows out of the installation, though, in terms of other chemicals and substances. While nothing suggests anything sinister coming from the depot, there is a bit of a creepy feeling I get thinking about what is just upstream.

  1. Headed back to Reba yesterday for a couple of hours–great weather! 65 and sunny…

    Caught a nice 14 inch bass at the edge of the weed line in the back of the lake, throwing a chartreuse roostertail. Also caught another 10 inch bass and six bluegill (two decent ones).

    A good first trip on the kayak for 2010…

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