The Licking River derives its name from the many salt springs and licks that attracted extinct prehistoric beasts such as the woolly mammoth, giant mastodon and later animals we know such as elk, white-tailed deer and bison.
Two of the most famous licks along Licking River, the Upper and Lower Blue Licks, start and end two good floating opportunities for canoeists, kayakers and owners of john boats. This area literally drips with frontier Kentucky history. The remoteness of this part of the Licking and the deep gorge its water carved through the ages make the paddler feel they are in the age of Boone.
The first float begins at Upper Blue Licks in Nicholas County. Upper Blue Licks lies near the eastern edge of Clay Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and once served as the southern terminus of the Cabin Creek War Road. This ancient road served as a highway for Native Americans from north of the Ohio River to hunt the animals drawn to the salt licks at Upper Blue Licks. The road also served as an entry point into the interior of Kentucky for pioneers.
Although pioneers followed the blazes cut in trees and drawings of the sun, moon and animals left by Native Americans on the Cabin Creek War Road to Upper Blue Licks, the modern visitor should use KY 57 north in Nicholas County. The put-in for this 6 ½ mile float is at the end of KY 57 where it meets Licking River. You will see a pull off on the left when the road reaches the river where you can haul your boat down to the river bank. If you keep driving until you parallel the Licking River for a time, you’ve traveled too far.
The old ford for KY 57 is easily visible at the put-in. This section accommodates the rankest beginning paddler since the Licking rarely drops along this stretch. At low water in fall, this float will give your paddling arms a workout. A small john boat with a small outboard or electric trolling motor would work well on this section of Licking River.
The take-out is on Clay WMA, off KY 3315 (Cassidy Creek Road). Follow the boat ramp signs at the Clay WMA offices on KY 3315. This gravel road goes for several miles and forks early into the drive. Veer to the right and keep going until the road dead ends at the ramp parking lot.
When floating this portion of the Licking River, look for newer looking rip-rap rock on your left (looking downstream) at the take-out or you can easily float past the ramp.
A second, much longer float begins at the Clay WMA boat ramp and ends at the boat ramp for the Blue Licks Battlefield State Park. Roughly 15 miles of water lies between these two boat ramps. Paddlers should be on the water by 9 a.m. or earlier to complete this mainly flat water float in one day. A john boat with an electric trolling motor or small outboard would do fine on this stretch, although some shallow riffles and shoals may require getting out and walking or carrying the boat.
A secondary put-in on Cassidy Creek would shorten this float by nearly four miles. This bridge crosses Cassidy Creek on Cassidy Creek Road (KY 3315) just after turning onto the road from KY 32 at Myers, Kentucky. However, Cassidy Creek flows seasonally with limited parking at the put-in and requires landowner permission to access the bridge. You could plan on doing this particular float and get to the put-in only to find dry bed rock, not water. Spring would be the best time to use this put-in on Cassidy Creek.
This section features prominent bluffs and deep, long pools with a few riffles and flowing shoals. Once the new U.S. 68 bridge comes into view, the take-out is around the next bend of the Licking on the right (looking downstream).
The Licking River is one of Kentucky’s best native muskellunge streams. When the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plugged the Licking River for 48 miles in the 1970s, Cave Run Lake evolved into one of the best muskellunge lakes in the United States.
Those long, deep pools with woody cover hold muskellunge. A medium-running crankbait designed for bass in chrome, gold, orange or firetiger colors is an overlooked and deadly presentation for Licking River muskellunge. Fish this lure close to the woody cover and make several casts at different angles. Muskellunge are notoriously slow to strike.
Use a small wire or nylon leader for muskellunge fishing in the Licking River. Monofilament fishing line is no match for a muskellunge’s teeth. Braided fishing line offers more protection than monofilament, but a muskellunge’s teeth can still slice through it.
A white or chartreuse bass spinnerbait is another excellent choice to fish around the stumps, limbs and fallen trees for muskellunge in the river. This lure doesn’t hang as much in the wood as the traditional in-line spinners dressed in bucktail used in the northern states for muskie.
Smallmouth bass hang around the riffles and flowing shoals of this section of the Licking River. Since the water in the Licking usually runs dingy, 4-inch white-curly tailed grubs rigged on 1/8 or 1/4-ounce leadheads work well. Smaller white or chartreuse spinnerbaits worked above and below riffles draw strikes from smallmouth. A 4-inch skirted double-tailed grub worked slowly on the rocky bottom also yields smallmouths.
Spotted, or Kentucky, bass abound in the Licking River. Probe fallen trees with Texas rigged black 4-inch finesse worms and black boot-tailed grubs for spotted bass. Live crappie minnows fished in the same areas produce spotted bass as do smaller shad-colored crankbaits.
Try the Licking River this fall for spectacular views of the fall colors. A good chance exists that you will not see another person during the entire float.
You can make an excellent fall getaway by staying and enjoying Blue Licks Battlefield State Park. The park offers camping, cottages and lodge rooms for rent and the Hidden Waters restaurant. History buffs may also enjoy the Pioneer Museum at the Blue Licks battlefield and the Heritage walking trail. The Battle of Blue Licks was a disastrous defeat for the Kentuckians at the hands of the British and their Native American allies in August of 1782.
Blue Licks Battlefield State Park: 1-859-289-5507 or on the Internet at BlueLicks@ky.gov.
The Blue Water Trails series supports Gov. Steve Beshear’s Adventure Tourism Initiative. Log on to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Blue Water Trails webpage at fw.ky.gov for a detailed map Sept. 10.