Small Water Fishing McNeely Lake

By Art Lander Jr.

FRANKFORT, Ky. Jefferson Countys McNeely Lake is a good destination for canoeists, kayakers and those in small boats because the use of gasoline-powered motors is prohibited.
Located in Okolona, a suburb about 15 miles south of downtown Louisville, the 51-acre, L-shaped impoundment is reached via the Beulah Church Road exit off the Gene Snyder Freeway. Turn right onto Cooper Chapel Road and follow the signs. The lake is located within the 746-acre McNeely Lake Park, operated by the Louisville Metro Parks system.
Theres a concrete boat launching ramp and courtesy dock close to the park entrance. There is no fee charged to launch.
Open to fishing in 1955 and owned by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, McNeely Lake has 3.3 miles of shoreline and a maximum depth of 30 feet near the dam. However, most of the lake is less than 10 feet deep.
“McNeely Lake has lots of bank access,” said Jeff Crosby, central district fisheries biologist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. For being so close to town, its a dandy fishing spot.
Theres good bank access on the western shore of the lake, including several fishing piers. Other facilities include a picnic area with shelter, playground, restrooms and walking trail. Park hours are 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

McNeely Lake holds good populations of redear sunfish, often referred to as shellcrackers. The lake also offers quality fishing for largemouth bass and channel catfish. The best fishing area on McNeely Lake lies southeast of the dam and is only accessible by paddle or an electric trolling motor.

Most anglers fish for bluegill, redear sunfish, crappie and catfish.
The lake is managed under statewide creel and size limit regulations. Shad may not be possessed or used for bait.
Shad eradication in 1997 greatly improved panfish populations. Beds of water willow that extend about 10 feet from the shore provide cover for panfish.
Recent sampling of the lake revealed a good number of 6- to-8-inch bluegill and 6- to 9-inch redear sunfish. “The redear sunfish like the deeper water on the edges of flooded grass,” said Crosby.
Drifting is a good fishing strategy for redear sunfish and bluegill.
Red worms, mealworms and wax worms are the best live bait and should be fished on light spinning tackle. The basic panfish rig is a long shank No. 10 hook, a small split-shot sinker and a bobber. Attach the split shot about 10 inches above the hook.
Adjust the depth of the bait so that it is suspended just off the bottom. Larger redear sunfish tend to stay in deeper water, away from the banks, from 4 to 8 feet deep.
McNeely Lake also receives a yearly stocking of 1,300 channel catfish measuring up to 9 inches.
The area southeast of the dam that is not accessible to bank anglers tends to offer some of the best fishing because theres less pressure. It takes about 20 minutes to reach this spot by paddling or motoring with an electric trolling motor. This small arm of the lake is surrounded by woodlands. It features scattered stump beds in the lake bed and numerous fallen trees along the banks.
Theres good cover for largemouth bass. Sampling revealed largemouth bass are present in all sizes up to 21 inches. “There are lots of 10- to14-inch bass, and good quality bass weighing 2 to 3 pounds,” said Crosby.
These fish provide excellent sport with fly fishing gear or light spinning tackle.

Media Contact: Art Lander 1-800-858-1549, ext. 4414


Outdoor writer/photographer Chris Erwin has been active in the outdoors for more than forty years, 15 years as president of NM Bassmasters, four years director of the Kentucky B.A.S.S. Federation, Musky Guide from 1986-1992, Founder of Kentucky Angling.Com, Freelance writer for 12 years, currently the Secretary of the Kentucky Outdoor Press Associations, and Editor of Kentucky Angling News Magazine Chris is also the Outdoor editor for the Greater Ashland Beacon Newspaper. 

  10 comments for “Small Water Fishing McNeely Lake

  1. Thanks for the article. Had zero luck with fly fishing for bass until switching over to a top water frog with weed guard (southeast of dam it gets really weedy, weed guards on all artificial lures mandatory)

  2. I am a 30+ year resident very close to McNeely Lake and have seen several changes in water quality over the years, when the non-reproducing grass carp was introduced was the best I’ve seen, they’re all gone now and with the golf course draining into the lake the water quality has deteriorated. My concern is eating the fish out of the Lake, with all the herbicides, insecticides and fertilizers used that eventually end up in the lake how safe are the Fish to eat.

    • Drove through McNeely Park today (06/01/16) and was astonished at how bad the lake has become. At the boat ramp there’s a thick blanket of algae completely across the lake, the rest of the lake is almost as bad, you almost can’t drop a boat into it, I would not even try a Kayak. This is the worst the lake has ever looked in 30+ years. I knew when the golf course went in it was going to destroy the Lake. I have no idea how bad it smells, just sat in the truck at the bottom of the boat ramp with the windows up.

  3. Titus,
    I would contact someone at the DFWL and see if they are any information on that subject, fish are tested annually to prepare the fish advisory each year. Sampling fish from almost every body of water across the state and most of the time warnings are posted on or near launching ramps. However, your best bet is to check with someone more directly connected with that process. We are an outdoor magazine we do publish articles directly from the DFWL but the magazine is not directly connected with the DFWL.

  4. I dont own a boat at all and was thinking of going fishing near the main entrance of mcneely lake just Curious if the fishing os still good or if i actually want to catch fish do i need a boat?

  5. I have a small bass boat with a 40hp outboard and trolling motor on the bow. Can I launch my boat at McNeely if I use just my trolling motor?

  6. Posting in 2020. I’ve gone to mcneely quite a bit this summer and fall. I think covid has really amped up the pressure on this lake. Weekends have been crowded. During the week is better. There are fish, but it’s tough sledding. I’ve had no luck with bass this year.

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