Elkhorn Creek, Central Kentucky

North Elkhorn, Scott County

by John Kirkland

Both branches of the Elkhorn offer exceptional smallmouth and panfishing. The trick, like any waterbody, is knowing when to go, where to access, and how to get there.  The South Fork of the Elkhorn Creek runs from southern Fayette, Woodford, and Scott counties before joining the North Fork at Forks of the Elkhorn in Franklin County. The North fork runs through Northern Fayette, Bourbon, Scott and Franklin Counties.   Having grown up in Lexington, I knew that the Elkhorn existed, but had never considered fishing there.  It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I decided to check it out.  I couldn’t believe that I had missed the Elkhorn my entire life; beautiful, serene, and so near by.

There are many places to access the creek, whether by foot, wading, float-tubing, kayak, canoe, or motor boat.  A couple of spots, such as Great Crossings, off 227 West of Georgetown, offer a park-like setting with parking, picnic tables, port-a-potty, and well-defined bank access that is largely wheelchair accessible. The park, situated at a low-head dam, has a small, free boat ramp above the dam.  Below are rocks and a bank where people can fish the boil from the edge, or wade into the stream further down.  Take 460 (Main St.) west out of town about two miles, then right on 227.  There are signs to guide you.

Galloway Bridge, North Elkhorn
Galloway Bridge, North Elkhorn

Great Crossings, on the North Fork, is easy to get to and easy to park.  As such, it is popular with locals, and is frequently crowded on nice weekends from April to November, when the sun is out and temperatures are decent.  I wouldn’t say the fishing there is excellent—it is over-fished—but there are fish caught there, and if you’re willing to get wet, you can wade to less-populated spots.  I once saw a 10 year old boy battle a 20-pound carp. He landed it, offered it to others fishing in the area, then threw it back finding no takers. His rig: a Zebco combo and a piece of bread.

Of course, when the rains have been heavy, the waters rise. At times, the area is a raging, muddy torrent.  Fishing these conditions is pointless, and the water can be dangerous.  Kayakers take to the high waters in the spring and late fall; canoes and float tubes are common in the summer months.  In the drier periods from June to October, the creek offers great wading, with many stretches no more than knee deep.

One spot, Fishers Mill, lies just west of Midway, on the South Fork.  Take 421 west from Midway, turn right on Fishers Mill Rd, about a mile or so from town.  Half a mile down, you come to a bridge, which is marked “Fishers Mill”.  There is no formal parking, but the right of way is fairly generous—park off the side of the road.  You may see other vehicles parked there.  Access to the creek is via a rough trail heading next to the bridge, on the southwest corner of the bridge.  You will step right into the water here, there is no beach or landing.  The first riffle is the most treacherous.  You can move either upstream or down; both directions offer smallmouth, rock bass, sunfish, and other creek species.

Downstream from Fisher's Mill Bridge, South Elkhorn, Midway, KY
Downstream from Fisher’s Mill Bridge, South Elkhorn, Midway, KY

The best luck I’ve had at Fishers Mill has been floating a live crawdad, hooked once through the mid section.  Of course, this requires catching crawdads, which is relatively easy in the shallow riffle just downstream from the bridge.  A small net helps tremendously in this pursuit, but the task can be done entirely by hand.  Locate a medium sized, fully submerged rock in the shallows (partially submerged rocks at the edge may hold crawdads, but also often hold copperheads and other snakes).  You’ll see the crawdads moving around the area.  Very slowly, turn the rock over—wait for the dust to settle.  There might be a crawdad staring at you.  Carefully, gently position one hand behind, and one over top the creature, then suddenly grab with both hands.  It is easiest when you push them straight down into the sand, then grab them squarely by the carapace (head).  For fishing, you will need to pinch off the claws—careful not to get pinched (they may be small, but they definitely know how to pinch). Hook once between the head and tail.  I find that the technique works best when you don’t add a sinker; it tends to hang up in the rocks. To fish, cast into a moving stream, and let it drift into a pool. Then hold on—smallmouth love this presentation, as do rock bass and the occasional panfish.  Medium sized craws tend to be best (about the length/width of your pinky or smaller). The small ones tend to come off easily, and the large ones are hard for the fish to eat.

I also have luck with yellow or chartreuse roostertails, small creek minnow crankbaits, and live minnows or red worms.  Float the live baits, and try casting the lures across the pools or near the grassy shoals.

An entire book could be written about fishing the Elkhorn—these are just a couple of ideas for someone new to the area or new to creek fishing to try.  I’ll post other reports on various spots on the Elkhorn and other creeks in Central Kentucky, going forward.


Learn more about various Elkhorn Creek related topics on the following pages:

Mainstem

Robinson Dam

Forks of the Elkhorn

Kayaking the Elkhorn

Royal Springs

T.N. Sullivan WMA


Locator map for Elkhorn access points:

 

 

22 thoughts on “Elkhorn Creek, Central Kentucky”

  1. Just got done with a little fishing at Fishers Mill. Struck 2 smallmouth about 12 inches each. Used poppers. Not much for the day, but very fun top water action.

  2. I live in middle Tennessee but have been in Frankfort for work this week (April 21, 2014). After finding some very good info on this site (Thank You), I went to TN Sullivan WMA (Directions found on KDFWR website) to fish Elkhorn Creek. I went to this public area due to the trespassing laws here in KY. As stated above by others, I called a KDFWR officer and he said that wading in the creek in non public areas constitutes trespassing. I fished for about 2 hours ( 5pm-7pm) and caught 6 smallmouth and 3 rock bass. The largest was 2 lbs. I was happy to catch these fish, and in fact, never waded, as the fish were hanging close to the bank. I was throwing a Zoom Fluke Jr with no weight on a 1/0 worm hook. This is a beautiful creek and hope to have more time in the future to fish it again. We have many nice creeks like this in middle Tennessee as well. Thanks again for the great info on this site.

    1. Thanks for the update and details! You’re right about the trespassing laws–we have discussed it somewhat over the years. I’ll have to get up to TN Sullivan–I’ve seen it on the map, but haven’t made it there yet.

  3. I live on Elkhorn and can launch my Bass Hunter from my back yard. I have fished it for many years and caught many fish. I love this creek and love to fish either from my Bass Tracker with my grand children or by myself from my Bass Hunter.
    If you see me just say hello Wayne.

    1. Does most of the Elkhorn have enough water for canoeing now? 2 of us are thinking about coming down from Indiana in September and trying to decide whether to set up a base camp or just bring all our gear in the canoe and see what we find? Any recommendation for a weekend fishing/camping/canoeing trip?

      1. Currently, the water is pretty low. The USGS stream flow site (link on the Resources tab) can tell you about stream flow conditions in real time. With regard to camping, it will probably make sense to research and set up in a spot that you know is okay. There are a few spots along the creek that are either designated campgrounds or state-owned (Canoe KEntucky, T.N. Sullivan WMA, etc.), but the rest is private property. Unlike some of the more remote rivers in the area (Rockcastle, Green), the Elkhorn runs fairly close to property owners homes. If you just set up camp somewhere, it is possible that you will be run off by the landowner.

        You should check out CanoeKY.com. They run a livery service, and have good information about various runs and conditions. They are located north of Frankfort on the Main Stem of the Elkhorn.

        September is usually a good-weather month. It also tends to be dry, so water could be an issue. If there is water, it should be an awesome trip!

  4. It is probably important to let readers know that wading is considered trespassing by the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. According to the Department, KRS 150.092 requires landowner consent before wading in a stream that flows over private property. The statute states that

    “Persons shall not enter upon the lands of another to shoot, hunt, trap, or fish, or for other wildlife-related recreational purposes, without the oral or written permission of the landowner, tenant, or person who has authority to grant permission”

    Because the bottom of a creek is owned by the owner of the adjacent land, walking on the creekbed constitutes entering their land to fish. (according to the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.) The statute further provides that a fish and wildlife officer may arrest or issue a citation to anyone violating the provision. The officers are trained with this understanding of the law, so whether or not their reading is correct if you violate their reading they will cite you.

      1. I tried to search around for some offical documentation of this but came up empty handed. I did find some discussion of the ruling on the Bluegrass wild water association (local kayak club) forum with more details of the trial. It is possible that someone within this group may have official access to the details. I will continue to search for some official literature on this and post a link to BWA’s forum on this issue.

        http://www.bluegrasswildwater.org/bwaforum/read.php?5,15547,15575

      1. I have heard this, and I tried to track down the ruling. I could not find the actual ruling. If you have a way to pull the case number or ruling, I could pass it along to a friend who is an attorney (who I asked about this a while back). While this would be great news for anglers (and boaters, swimmers, etc.), it seems to be contrary to the actual law. The court case in question concerned a situation where someone was wading, and the property owner began shooting at the person. I’d really like to see a formal legal opinion about this…it would sure make access to fishing easier.

  5. In Kentucky the property owner owns the bottom of the stream. You are not trespassing when you float down the creek. HOWEVER, it is trespassing anytime you touch the bottom in any part of the creek that is not publicly owned. Therefore, wading in a creek is trespassing if it is not public property. This is a common misunderstanding, but it is important to know because you can get in trouble for trespassing when wading in a creek.

    on a side note, what are some other public access points? thanks.

  6. I’ve never waded the streams in Kentucky although I did grow up living in the creeks and streams every chance I had. My question is; “Is wading considered trespassing in these waters as it is in some states since you are touching bottom thus the soil owned by someone else?” Thanks for your response

    1. I’d consult the KY Fish and Wildlife regulations and/or KY Revised Statutes for full clarity on this subject, especially if you’re talking about small tributaries and seasonal streams.

      I try to include bona fide public access points to the streams and lakes that are profiled on this website. Generally, the shoulder of a highway is public right of way (Fisher’s Mill on the South Elkhorn, Galloway Pike Bridge on the North, etc). Also, county parks and low-head dam access areas (Robinson, the locks of the Kentucky) are public. They should be clearly marked if parking or access is not allowed.

      In any case, it is important to treat any waterway with respect, not leave garbage behind, etc. I’ve come across groups of people acting wild in some of these places–drinking, throwing beer bottles everywhere, shooting guns/fireworks. This kind of behavior makes landowners bristle, for good reason.

  7. I fish Elkhorn every chance I get. Mostly in the summer when the temperature is hot & the water is cool. There are several places to fish on this creek, but I have always done good anywhere around Newtoen Pike. I have caught some large small mouths, but it seems this section of the creek holds some very big largemouths. I have caught a 7+ pounder & numerous smaller ones. Well worth the trip.

  8. I fished below Robinson last Sunday, and conditions are great for wading right now. We went down most of a mile, and the deepest water encountered was to my waist.
    I caught a nice 14-inch smallmouth, and hooked and fought with something HUGE, 10-15 pounds. The fight went on about three minutes, and he was peeling line the whole time. I thought it was a turtle at first, but it moved much too fast and slapped a tail at one point, before throwing the lure. That was a thrill…I was throwing a bronze colored pinhead minnow by Yo-zuri, which is definitely the lure that has my attention at the moment. Not a cheap lure (about $9), but two nice fights, plus two additional big hits, in the space of less than an hour.
    Thanks-John

    1. Quite possibly, though there could be points where you would run too shallow. Wading much of this part of the creek, the water level recently has been 1-3 ft, with some gravel shoals more like 4-5 inches. If you launch above a low head dam, you should get enough draft for a pretty good stretch.

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