FRANKFORT, KY. – Before the construction of modern highway bridges, people relied on ferries to cross the Kentucky River. Ferries drove robust businesses and anchored communities near the river. Now, those communities and the ferries that were their lifeblood lay discarded in the dustbin of history; bypassed by four lane interstates and concrete bridges. Ferries exist in modern Kentuckians’ memory from the names of the rural roads that lead to their long obsolete landings on the river bank.
Only one ferry, the Valley View Ferry between Jessamine and Madison counties, still operates on the Kentucky River. The rest lost their long battle against progress.
Paddlers and anglers can use some historic ferry landings while enjoying a slice of the Kentucky River that seems to transport boaters back to the time of stagecoaches and showboats by floating Pool 10.
This pool begins at Lock and Dam 11 near College Hill in Madison County and ends at Lock and Dam 10 in Boonesborough. This section of the river flows through the rolling verdant hills of Madison and Clark counties that retain the rural character of the time before automobiles. A paddler on Pool 10 can hardly believe they are just a few miles, as the crow flies, from the bustling commercial centers of Winchester or Richmond.
Two floats totaling about 12.5 miles showcase the exceptional scenery and paddling of Pool 10. The water of Kentucky River in late summer flows as clear as it does all year; perfect conditions for beginning paddlers, families and fishing. This stretch of river holds muskellunge, largemouth, smallmouth and Kentucky (spotted) bass.
The shuttles for these two floats are much shorter on the Clark County (north) side of the river. Paddlers could float this entire stretch of 12.5 miles in one day, but would need to launch early in the morning and expect to take out at dusk.
The first 6.5 mile float begins at the old ferry landing at Merritt, Kentucky, beside the mouth of Red River in Clark County. Take KY 89 south from Winchester to a right onto Red River Road and follow Ferry Road to the river. The owners charge $5 to use this access, also known as Red River Boat Dock and Ramp. If the owners are not there, place the money in the mailbox labeled “Pay Here.” You can also access Pool 10 from the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ ramp on the Madison County side on KY 977. However, the access to the take-out at the end of Jackson Ferry Road lies on the Clark County side of the river.
Anglers may want make their way up Red River, one of Kentucky’s native muskellunge streams. Fish root wads, logs and any downed trees with a medium-running crankbait designed for bass in the gold or firetiger color. A white double Colorado blade spinnerbait fished in the same areas also draws strikes. Kentucky River muskellunge often prefer smaller lures than those in reservoirs.
Fish this same stretch of Red River with a weightless white soft plastic jerkbait for largemouth and Kentucky bass. Target undercut banks, root wads and submerged logs.
About a mile downstream from the mouth of Red River, paddlers float around Maupin Bend until the small tributary Bull Run comes in on the right (looking downstream). The points at the mouth of Bull Run make a good spot to work a medium-running crawfish-colored crankbait for largemouth bass.
After floating under a power line, Upper Howard Creek enters the river on the right. The upper reaches of this historic creek held the former home of the Shawnee village, Eskippakithiki. The Iroquois called the relatively flat area around the village “kenta aki” or “place of level land.” Some historians believe pioneers corrupted this pronunciation into Kentucky and it stuck.
Anglers who paddle up to the flowing section of Upper Howard Creek may catch smallmouth bass on 3-inch black curly-tailed grubs rigged on 1/8-ounce leadheads. The points at the mouth of the creek are good spots to try for largemouth bass or muskellunge.
The take-out lies nearly two miles downstream at the end of Jackson Ferry Road on the right. Look for an old time rope swing hanging from a tree limb as the road lies just beyond it. Limited vehicle parking exists at this access and visitors should be careful to avoid trespassing onto adjacent land. The road sign for Jackson Ferry Road is easy to miss off KY 974, shown on some maps as Muddy Creek Road.
The next float of about 6 miles begins at Jackson Ferry Ramp and ends at Old Habits Boat Ramp on Four Mile Road in Clark County. Jackson Ferry, sometimes referred to as Muddy Creek Ferry, was a main crossing point on the river from northern Madison County to southern Clark County and the city of Winchester until closing in the 1950s.
The mouth of Muddy Creek lies just downstream of Jackson Ferry on the left, at the end of a rock bluff. This creek mouth holds muskellunge, especially in spring. The sand bar across the river and slightly downstream is a good spot to work a medium-running chrome crankbait for largemouth and Kentucky bass.
The small tributary Indian Creek meets the Kentucky River on the right just downstream of the sand bar. The rocky point formed on the upstream end of this confluence is a good spot for Kentucky bass.
As the river makes a long bend to the left, the rocky banks on the outside bend hold an occasional smallmouth bass, especially when rains bring some current to this stretch. The tiny stream of Bar Run enters the Kentucky River a little over two miles downstream of Indian Creek on the left. Four Mile Creek meets the Kentucky River about one mile further on the right. The lower section of Four Mile Creek holds numerous log jams and submerged trees, perfect habitat for muskellunge.
A weightless white soft plastic jerkbait fished in this cover also produces strikes from largemouth bass. Simply toss this lure into the log jam or submerged tree and gently twitch the rod tip to nearly work the jerkbait in place. A largemouth lurking in the wood that ignored other lures often can’t resist this presentation, especially in the hazy, lazy dog days of late summer. The take-out at Old Habits Boat Ramp is another mile downstream on the right at the mouth of Two Mile Creek. They charge $5 to use their ramp on Four Mile Road, reached by taking a right onto KY 1924 from KY 627.
A unique side trip on KY 1924 involves climbing the hill to the restored Union Civil War fort at Boonesborough. The fort defended this strategic Kentucky River crossing against Confederate raiders from 1863 to 1865. A short and steep hike from the parking area on KY 1924 leads to a stunning overlook few Kentuckians see. This trip lends a glimpse into the daily life and grind of a Union soldier stationed at this fort. The Winchester-Clark County Tourism Commission offers a self-guided cell phone tour for this site at 1-859-592-9166.
Visitors can combine a day of paddling and exploring the rich history of Clark County and the city of Winchester. The Winchester-Clark County Tourism Commission offers guided cell phone tours of downtown historic sites as well as driving tours showcasing Civil War related sites and the unique stone fences of Clark County. For more information, visit their webpage at: www.tourwinchester.com or call 1-800-298-1905.
Winchester also offers hotel accommodations as does nearby Richmond. Jeff Cress at Three Trees Canoe and Kayak has RV campsites along the river and offers shuttles and canoe and kayak rentals on Pool 10 by advance reservation.
Three Trees Canoe and Kayak: