What I love about fly fishing is that it is the perfect “Add On” to any trip. Im planning on passing through Kentucky this year, and I have a day available to toss a fly. Being a northern boy, I thought it might be tough to find some cold-water to hunt trout in Kentucky. From my research, that isn’t the case.
Best Places to Fly Fish in Kentucky
1. Cumberland River
Wow, the Cumberland watershed is on fire! The Wolf Creek Dam rehabilitation project is far enough in the past to let the fishery bounce back with a vengeance. It’s great to see how a little bit of discomfort (during renovations) can yield a success.
Read more about the Project at the US Corp of Engineers article here Wolf Creek Rehabilitation. https://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/Missions/Current-Projects/Construction/Wolf-Creek-Dam-Safety-Rehabilitation-Project/
Down river from the dam you can expect a cold-water tailwater fishery.
Where to Fly Fish on the Cumberland
You get the best of both worlds on the Cumberland River. Above and below Wolf Creek Dam is best fished with a boat. Below I’ve detailed two launches with access, below the dam you can wade, but streamer fishing is recommended. On might even think about taking a two handed spey fly rod to really get a stream out into the river.
Below Wolf Creek Dam
I’d recommend checking out the Riverside Inn Motel (A link to read more about Riverside Inn)
Above Wolf Creek Dam in Lake Cumberland
In this impoundment, you really need a boat. Lake Cumberland is a fishing paradise. It’s a little tougher to fly fish because this is a lake, but it can be done. Sinking lines with streams stripped in to imitate bait fish is the best way to hook into game fish.
The best sport fish to target are largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, sunfish and striped bass. Look for bait fish breaking the surface if your targeting stripers on a fly rod. Bring some streamer flies that imitate gizzard shad.
Recommended Flies for above and below Wolf Dam.
- Clousers, size 2 tied heavy for Stripers. Great colors are white and bright green.
- Brown Sculpins and Crayfish patterns below the dam. Size 4 to 6 in brown and reddish colors.
2. Green River
Looking for some smallmouth action on a fly? The Green River is your chance to feel the tug of a true trophy. If you’ve ever caught smallmouth in a river you know what I’m talking about. Combine a 16 inch smallie with a current and you’ll know why I’m excited about this water.
Best fished with a small boat, canoe or kayak the Green river is what I call a stop and go fishing trip. Stop at the likely spots and go when you see some slack water.
Where to Fly Fish on the Green River
Pack a canoe and a lunch and float from Roachville Ford Rd down to Russel take out.
Recommended Flies for the Green River
- Bass Poppers in a size 6. The best colors seem to be yellow and black. Spun deer hair is a little softer and allow smallmouth to hang on a little longer.
- Clousers are a mainstay for smallmouth. Size 4 is a great representation, because smallies tend to be territorial a flies that are white/red/silver are good.
3. Elkhorn Creek
This might be one of the best rivers in the state for tossing flies to smallmouth bass. Wading is easy and it’s all ways easier to cast a fly with your feet firmly planted on the ground.
The Elkhorn is another river that’s best fished from a canoe or even a small pontoon boat. Most of the shore is private so access is limited. To avoid the problems of spotting a vehicle I would recommend a using a livery. Having a ride back to your vehicle is nice after a day on the water.
For the fly fisherman the Elkhorn is a perfect river. Wear saddles to wet wade and be careful some of the bend pools are deep. The best fishing is in those fishy deep water runs that smallmouth favor and just below the rapids.
Where to Fly Fish on Elkhorn Creek
Recommended Flies for Elkhorn Creek
- Wooly Buggers in crayfish colors are a good pick Size 6 to 8.
- For top water action, deer hair poppers
4. Hatchery Creek
Years ago the state of Kentucky commissioned the creation of Hatchery Creek. This is a man-made creek is over a mile long and is designated a catch and release fishery. Starting at the cold-water discharge of the trout hatchery at Wolf Creek Dam.
Being man-made I wondered if people could create a fishery that is better than what mother nature could offer. To really get the inside scoop I spoke to Brad Redmond who worked on the design of the creek and guides fly fishermen.
How to Fish Hatchery Creek
To fly fish Hatchery Creek effectively you must know how to tight line nymph. Folks might think nymphing is easier than dry fly fishing, but drifting a fly underwater adds another dimension to fly fishing. Read this article about tight line nymphing.
Hatchery Creek holds true trophies, the fish are there catching them is the tough part.
Quoting Brad Redmon (Link to Facebook to contact him) “Slow down take your time and make every cast count. “
Where to fish on Hatchery Creek
Okay, I struggled with providing a map. My conscience is telling me I can’t. The absolute best way to fish this water is with Brad Redmon ( LINK to his contact information). He’s going to teach you the secrets of this amazing cold water resource.
Tight line nymphing is his specialty and Brad has intimate knowledge of this water. He was part of building it!
Recommended Flies for Hatchery Creek
- Tiny midges nymphs like a Zebra Midge in size 18-20. Bead head versions will help get the fly down to where the trout are hiding.
- The other nymph Id recommend is a heavy beadhead size 14 caddis nymph.
5. Laurel Creek
Running through the northeastern Kentucky is a “Put-Grow-Take” trout fishery. Access is difficult because this is a gorge and creek side bushwacking is in order. Often though hard work is a reward when working harder than other fishermen. Fly fish the pocket water with a dry dropper setup.
6. Otter Creek
Otter Creek is actively stocked with trout by the state of Kentucky and the Derby City Fly Fishers. This creek is an easy 25 minute drive from Louisville, KY. It is a recreation area and has limited daylight access so you should check the states website for hours.
In the summer smallmouth bass, spotted bass and sunfish are the sport fish. Winter is a great time to explore Otter Creek with a fly rod. The crowds are down, but the fish are still around. It’s rumored that 20 inch rainbows have been stocked here.
7. Kentucky Lake
Jumping back over to a little bit of a warm water fishery. This maybe one of the best still water lakes for a fly fisherman, bass, panfish and those deeper water stripers. A boat is needed, this lake has little shoreside development so a canoe or kayak is perfect.
For the fly fisher, you’re going to be challenged to work hard for the trophy fish. This lake does get significant fishing pressure so the bass learn quick to avoid poor presentations.
This is the perfect place to try something that spin fishermen and baitcasters can’t. Think about those small nymphs and poppers that you can cast but they can?t.
Recommended Flies for Kentucky Lake
- Small Streamers, I’m going to suggest a Black Nose Dace size 10 or a Micky Finn.
8. Floyd’s Fork
Watch the weather with this recommendation. A little bit of rain can make this water muddy and even crest it’s banks. Look for the best fly fishing access in The Parklands which is a series of five parks the North Beckley Paddling Access is a great bet.
The typical Kentucky species are present for the fly fisher: small and largemouth bass along with spotted bass.
Check the regulations when fishing Floyd’s Fork, slot and creel limits are usually in effect. A good link for this information is with the KDFW.
9. Dix River Tailwater
You’ll need to work for the prime water on the Dix River. The best fly fishing is the tailwater below Dix Dam. Downstream from the dam is surrounded by private land so it isn’t possible to get direct access unless you get a property owners permission.
You can access this area via a shallow draft boat that can handle a small motor. Motoring or paddling upstream is a 4-mile trip, so plan for a full day when power generation is minimal.
The rewards are great though, limited access means the small mouth bass leading up to the dam haven’t seen much fishing pressure and as you get closer to the dam tail-waters the rainbow and brown trout show up. This is a full day along adventure, but knowing the state stocks significant numbers of fish and access is limited, this day of fishing could be memorable.
Recommended Fly Fishing Gear for Kentucky
For fly fishing gear to use in Kentucky, I would seriously recommend looking into bringing the TFO DRIFT Fly Rod (link to Amazon) The more that I fish with this fly rod, the more I appreciate it. You can add sections to increase the rod length without re-stringing the fly rod. Amazing! I’ve also written about this rod in my Recommended Fly Rods (link to article).
Official References for Fly Fishing in Kentucky
- Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources – https://fw.ky.gov/Fish/Pages/Find-a-Place-to-Fish.aspx
- Derby City Fly Fisher, https://derbycityflyfishers.com/