Dix River, Kentucky
August 15, 2009
by John Kirkland
After weeks of rain, a short dry spell finally allowed the water levels of the Kentucky River and its tributary, the Dix River, to fall closer to normal. I’ve been waiting on the water to try paddling up the Dix, which can only be reached from the Kentucky River (there is no public access to the Dix River below the Lake Herrington Dam). Information about how to get there, and where to launch is spotty at best, but after some searching, talking to locals, and hard paddling, I found the Dix River.
The only public ramp is easy to miss. Take 29 from Wilmore, and when you get almost to Highbridge (the structure, not the water company), turn right on Lock 7 Road. Go to the bottom of the hill; there is a sharp bend in the road there. Instead of going around the bend, go straight through what appears to be a gate, and on the immediate left there is clearing and a sign indicating the boat ramp. The ramp is narrow, and cut directly into the clay bank. Park in the grass, and pay the launch fee in the blue box ($2 for canoes and kayaks, $4 for trailered boats). Kayakers beware: I found out the hard way that the concrete ramp drops right off into four feet of water there (most ramps have gravel or rocks shoring up the sides. Not this one.)
After launching, I began paddling upstream toward the mouth of the river. (A note of caution: if you weren’t already aware, the Kentucky River is a muddy, filthy, trash filled river. The surrounding scenery is gorgeous, however.) After rounding the bend, Highbridge comes in sight. At one point, the bridge was the highest railway span in the world. Paddle past the bridge, and the mouth of the river is on the right.
It is a pretty good hike up the river if you are paddling it. From the ramp, the mouth of the river is almost a mile. The to the dam is another three miles upstream. I paddled my kayak for a solid hour to get to just below the dam, where I started fishing. A motor boat could make the trip faster, but the river is filled with submerged timber, rocks, and the occasional stump or outcropping. A boat with a draft of more than 3-4” risks running into submerged objects or whacking a prop on something solid, so go slow and watch carefully.
This is supposed to be a fishing report—I fished a solid two hours, hooked one unknown fish that got away quickly, and one bluegill slightly larger than the roostertail I was throwing. To be fair, others on the water reported the same results. I did, however, see lots and lots of trout. I saw a few monster (20-plus inches) trout surfacing to feed. I’m really more of a bass fisherman, apparently.
As you paddle up the Dix, you pass a small waterfall on the right. There is a sign posted there noting the fishing restrictions in place—artificial lures and flies only, no organic or live bait allowed (or even possessed). Also noticeable is the clarity of the water; the muddy, trashy water of the Kentucky is replaced by cold, clear, constantly moving water released from the dam above. In the hot, muggy, 90 degree August afternoon, the cool water interacts with the hot air, creating a foggy mist that floats over the river. It is beautiful, and quiet, except for the sounds of the dam and power plant upstream.
From the bottom of the dam, I started drifting downstream, fishing as I went. Trout are visible in the beaks behind the large rocks that tumble off the limestone palisades above. A friend of mine mentioned using a peach-colored freshwater shrimp pattern to entice the brown trout there. I found that a black Mepps Fury, chartreuse roostertail, pink roostertail, rainbow creek minnow, and various diving and floating crankbaits have no effect on these fish at all. I’ll be certain to talk to some experienced trout anglers before I try that again.
The Dix River isn’t easy to get to. It is a pretty serious paddle for a casual afternoon of fishing. It is a beautiful place, primarily populated with other paddlers (I saw only two motor boats above the waterfall). I have heard and read many stories about great fishing there, but I hit it on a day that just wasn’t happening. I may try it again in another season, like autumn. I’ll update this report if I get back there and have different luck.