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.
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.
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.
North Elkhorn, Scott County