Willisburg Lake, Washington County, KY

by John Kirkland


I decided to head down to Willisburg Lake on a pleasant, 80° Saturday afternoon in August. I’ve seen this lake on maps and have thought about checking it out for several years. Located a couple of miles south of exit 42 of the Bluegrass Parkway and lying along the “Triple Five” (555) highway, Willisburg is a 126 acre reservoir with a marina and decent launch ramp. Launch fee is $5. I was able to make it there in under an hour from the southwest side of Lexington, even with construction on the Parkway.

Willisburg is a pretty lake, and even though I was there on a prime Saturday with good weather, it was very quiet on the water. I saw only one other boater on the water, trolling with multiple crappie jigs rigged with live minnows (available at the marina). He was just finishing up his 30 crappie limit, catching one every couple of minutes. He said that there are lots of crappie, but they don’t have much size.

View from a cove on Willisburg Lake

I took my kayak out and went up into the cove directly opposite of the launch. I paddled into the wind, to the mouth of the little creek in the end of the cove. Allowing the gentle breeze to push me back, I cast a chartreuse rooster tail, with no luck, followed by a shakey tail tube jig [no luck], a nightcrawler on a slip bobber [couldn’t get anything to even steal that from me], and finally a yo-zuri pin’s minnow. I managed to catch one 10″ largemouth, casting into about a foot of water in the creek mouth.

I threw a variety of other lures, but no connections. What surprised me was a lack of bluegill and other panfish that typically hit spinners and steal bait. Not sure how the populations are set up. There are shad in the lake, which can affect panfish…

Others on the lake said that 5-lb bass had been caught recently. I believe this, given the buffet of shad that covered the surface in the hour before dark. I guess I’m still working out a successful approach to catching bass in a shad-filled lake. I know it can be done, and that the bass that are caught can be very nice.

Willisburg seems like a lake with promise. Crappie are abundant, and using minnows under a slip bobber seems to nail them pretty well. The lake is close to Lexington, Frankfort, Lawrenceburg, and other towns in the area, and is one of the easier lakes to find and get into. Good highways all the way there—none of the winding little paths that are usually required to reach water.

There is a little bit of shoreline that a person could fish from, but it is limited. Accessibility might be troublesome for wheelchairs. The ramp is steep and drops off immediately—good for a trailered boat, but a bit more challenging for a kayak (getting out, especially). There is a convenience dock available.

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5 thoughts on “Willisburg Lake, Washington County, KY”

  1. There’s some nice YouTube vids of bassin’ in early September for Willisburg lake. I went about 9 weeks ago, looking for crappie. The biggest one I caught wasn’t more than 7″ long, but they were plentiful. They hit a black tube with chartreuse tail, fished around visible stumps/trees, mostly in the small slough to the north from the marina.

  2. I have found that red eye shad lip less crank baits work great in lakes that are already full of shad. Give them what they are used to eating. Just throw it out and rip it back to you at a slightly above average speed. Sexy Shad pattern works well most places. If you can find the Tennessee Shad pattern…..it’s probably gonna be a good day! Good luck!

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