Cabin Fever Muskies
By Tim Mead        Febuary 12, 2012

Anglers at Cave Run in Kentucky fish for muskies<br> in standing timber
Anglers at Cave Run in Kentucky fish for muskies
in standing timber

Muskie chat rooms are filled with laments.   Muskie anglers who have resisted cabin fever are consoling those who have succumbed.   And the latter are legion.   Yet, open water muskies are on the move.   Rather that bemoan fate, let’s go fishing.  

Cave Run Lake in Kentucky is home to muskies and is as good a spot to try for a 50-inch fish as anywhere in the United States and ranks among the best on the continent.   Muskies that size are by definition rare.   Some are caught at Cave Run, however, every year.

Justin Mullins releases muskie at Cave Run in Kentucky
Justin Mullins releases muskie at Cave Run in Kentucky

Justin Mullins is a full-time guide and outfitter who plies his craft at Cave Run and who has fished for them throughout North America.

Justin concentrates on warming flats in about now.   When I fished with Justin, we headed for a large area of the lake known at the Zilpo Flats.   The Flats are a long, wide, shallow area of the reservoir.   Flooded timber, principally stumps, abound.   As the boat dropped off plane, Justin said, “There were in here yesterday.   We raised 11 , fish and caught 2, including the first ever for my client.   We would have caught more, I think, had he been a more experienced muskie fisherman.   He really did not have a good sense of how big and how powerful they are.   He’s a bass fisherman from Mississippi.”

Justin Mullins begins figure-8 to lure a Cave Run in Kentucky muskie
Justin Mullins begins to figure-8 the lure

Teaching folks the difference between muskie fishing and the fishing styles they may be accustomed to, Justin said, is a major problem for muskie guides.   Justin explained, I try to convince folks that most fish come in the first 5 feet of a cast or the last 5 feet.   They have to do a figure-8 at the end of every cast.   If they don’t, they are sacrificing a major portion of the time a muskie may hit.”

In late winter and spring, flats are a good spot for muskies in southern reservoirs.   While picking up a rod, Justin said, “Here on the flats is where I usually start in spring.   For one thing, my clients and I catch fish here.   There’s no ‘bad place’ to cast, so folks unaccustomed to casting with muskie gear and heavy lures do not have to hit specific targets.   And as you can see on the depth finder, we are just starting to get some growing weed cover.” While there are some spots on Cave Run where coontail is abundant and pondweed patches are developing, the dominant weed at Cave Run is milfoil.   As in other spots where muskies are found, the weeds provide cover for bait and muskies follow the bait.  

Late winter and spring-time muskies might be anywhere on a large flat.   Keep an eagle-eye on the depth finder as these are “roaming” fish, slowly wandering around seeking easy pickings.  

Justin has fished Cave Run for muskies since he was a child.   He has been a full-time guide muskie guide for the last decade.   He chuckled when I asked if he remembered his first trip as a guide.   “Sure,” he answered, “Took a fellow into Big Cave Run.   He caught a 44-incher on a 1-ounce spinnerbait and I have not heard from him since!”

Tthere are “favorite” lures for Cave Run muskies.   After a cold front, the sort of day anglers dread while non-anglers think it would be a good day to “go fishing,” Justin believes an angler should “go to rubber.   Something like a Bull Dawg.” Justin’s favorite colors are black-and-chartreuse, black-and-orange, and sherbet.   For Cave Run muskies, Justin uses the mid-sized Bull Dawg.   Bull Dawgs are frequently fished by cranking the lure just over the cover, with some intermittent downward tugs thrown in.  

Heavy lures require, according to Justin, two things: 1) a superbraid line like Cortland’s Spectron 50-pound test (I’ve had good results with Spiderwire Invisa-Braid), and 2) a stiff, 7-foot rod like a St.   Croix Avid or Premier (I’ve used the Bass Pro Pete Maina version, though Bass Pro Shops dropped the Pete Maina name).   I’d add a quality reel with a large spool, perhaps a Diawa Millionaire.   Particularly with long casts, a large spool releases more line per revolution than smaller reels and as a result the reel does not have to work as hard to cast 90-feet or more.   Many muskie anglers in southern reservoirs prefer mono or fluorocarbon leaders, thinking that wire or cable leaders cut into the standing timber common in such muskie waters.  

We began moving across the flat, Justin casting a favorite Bull Dawg, while I worked a Super Stalker, a plastic twitch bait with a grub tail.   A theory long verified by practice, a pattern can be established more readily if different anglers fish with different lures.  

Shortly after we began, Justin noticed a muskie following his lure that he estimated a little under 40-inches, but the fish did not take.   We were on the inside edge of a large, scarcely visable weed bed.   Farther toward the old river channel and on the outside edges of theweeds, Justin raised another fish that he thought was a little larger, but that fish would not take either.   Justin said, “What that tells me is that the big fish are here.”

Justin Mullins displays a muskie at Cave Run in Kentucky
Justin Mullins displays a muskie at Cave Run in Kentucky

As we circled back over the at flat, Justin lifted his rod sharply and grunted as he set the hook.   Out of the corner of my eye I saw a dandy muskie come out of the water 20-feet from the boat.   Justin was whooping and hollering as though this was the first fish he ever caught.   I hope he never loses that enthusiasm.   In the meantime, I grabbed the net and prepared to land the muskie, a nice fish about 40-inches long.

After a couple of quick pictures, Justin lowered the fish back into the water and it darted off.

While casting, Justin summed up his theory of fishing and guiding.   He said, “I try to play the odds.   If the odds are, the fish are in the weeds, I fish the weeds.   With clients, I try not to provide too many details and simply concentrate on what we have to do to put a fish in the boat.”

On a subsequent trip to Cave Run, long-time angling buddy Bill Shumaker and I caught muskies in Beaver Creek and raised several more.   Bill was throwing his favorite muskie lure, a black-and-white jointed Rapala, while I kept shifting out different lures.   Beaver Creek is also filled with standing timber.

Big Cave Run, Little Cave Run and Warix Run are also spots where muskies congregate.   Be sure to note places where numerous small creeks enter the reservoir as the fresh water is often warmer than the main reservoir.   The warm water often attracts bait fish and muskies.

During summer pool, Cave Run is 48-miles long with 8,270 surface acres.   Standing timber is common throughout the lake, requiring alert boating.   The Licking River section has standing timber nearly the entire length.   Stick to the old river channels, which are clearly marked, and navigation should be easy enough, though periodically, particularly after a heavy rain, there may be floating logs.

Your favorite muskie lure will work at Cave Run.   In addition to the soft plastics, 1-ounce spinnerbaits in favorite muskie colors like white, black, black-and-orange, or black-and-white are good Cave Run choices.   A Squirrely Burt, sucker color in clear water and chartreuse in stained water, is a local favorite.   Shallow Raiders, Jakes or Ernies are productive crankbaits.  

Justin and his dad, Crash Mullins, appear Sunday afternoon at 13:30 EST on the Sportsman Channel.   Their show is titled “Catch Ya in the Bluegrass.”

For many muskie anglers struggling in the throes of cabin fever, a trip to Cave Run in eastern Kentucky may be just the antidote required.   Don’t sell Cave Run short.   There is a good population of muskies there and some trophies as well.   Besides, muskie fishing is lots better than watching re-runs on TV.


Location: Cave Run Lake is nestled in the hills of eastern Kentucky, a little less than 100 miles from Lexington and a few miles west of Morehead.   I-64 passes a few miles north of Cave Run and the Lake is adjacent to Kentucky Route 801.

Transportation: Lexington Blue Grass Airport is a US Air hub and provides access from many cities in North America.   The Avis Car Rental Desk is opposite the baggage claim for US Air, and you can complete the paperwork while waiting for your gear.  

Lodging, meals and other information: Contact the Morehead Tourism Commission, 606-784-6221 or

Guides: Justin Mullins may be reached at Crash’s Landing, 606-780-4260.

Maps: Fishing Hot Spots has a waterproof map of Cave Run,   The map is also available at Crash’s Landing.  


      Click on the Paddles to e-mail Tim.

           Last updated on March 13, 2018