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The headwaters of the Kentucky River run off Pine Mountain in southeastern Kentucky and flow all the way to Carrollton in northern Kentucky. The river travels for 225 miles to its confluence with the Ohio River after the North and South Fork meet at Beattyville. In this entire stretch, one of the most scenic and best pools to fish and float lies just southeast of Nicholasville.
Pool 8 of the Kentucky River offers access to the lower portions of Sugar Creek, Paint Lick Creek and Silver Creek. They make three of the best creeks on the river to fish for largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass. While fishing these waters, anglers may also occasionally encounter a muskellunge lurking under a root wad.
The Kentucky River makes a large southwestern bend that forms the southern border of Jessamine County and the northeastern border of Madison County. Ages ago, the river flowed against the uplift known as the Lexington (or Cincinnati) Arch and cut downward, forming the high river cliffs known as the Palisades. Taking a canoe or kayak trip in Pool 8 gives the paddler an intimate view of the Palisade region, allowing you to witness in person the spectacular power of flowing water through the ages.
Fall is a great time to experience the grandeur of the palisades in Pool 8. The Kentucky River usually flows tranquil and green-clear in fall with minimal boat traffic. This stretch of river is a good one for families and beginning paddlers to hone their craft and experience one of the overlooked treasures of central Kentucky.
The first 3.5-mile, half-day float begins at either the Hunters Ferry Road Ramp in Jessamine County or at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources Poosey Ridge Boat Ramp at the end of KY 595 in Madison County. They lie opposite from one another on the river as they are the landings of the historic Hunters Ferry. The take-out is either at the John Nickell Boat Ramp at the end of KY 39 in Jessamine County or the Buckeye/Paint Lick Boat Ramp in Garrard County. The John Nickell Boat Ramp has ample parking with an excellent ramp.
The shuttle from the Hunters Ferry Road Ramp to the John Nickell Boat Ramp take-out is considerably shorter, but the accommodations, ramp and parking at the Poosey Ridge and Buckeye/Paint Lick Boat Ramps are much better. Extremely limited parking exists at the Hunters Ferry Boat Ramp. This ramp is suitable for only canoes, kayaks and small boats. Please respect private property while using these ramps.
Boaters would be wise to paddle just upstream of these ramps to the mouth of Silver Creek on the right. Silver Creek holds an excellent population of smallmouth bass and anglers who paddle upstream to the flowing section should do well. Silver Creek smallmouth love 3-inch pumpkinseed boot-tailed grubs rigged on 1/8-ounce leadheads. This section of creek also holds good numbers of largemouth bass. White weightless soft-plastic jerkbaits worked among root wads and undercut banks produce strikes from largemouth bass.
Apply subtle twitches of the rod tip and work the lure almost in place in these spots. A fat largemouth that ignored other offerings often cant stand this and will heartily strike.
The rocky outcrop known as Upper Hunters Bar is an excellent spot to work a medium-running crawfish-colored lure for smallmouth or spotted (Kentucky) bass. This bar lies just upstream of these ramps on the Jessamine County side of the river.
As you float downstream, several palisades come into view. The sand and gravel outcrop at the mouth of Sawmill Run, known as Lower Hunters Bar, is another spot to try the crankbait for bass.
The river flows straight after Lower Hunters Bar for a little over a mile until you see a large rock bar on the right. The rocks of Wildhorse Branch Bar constrict the rivers flow somewhat and concentrate bass. Smallmouth bass hit 1/8-ounce brown and orange jigs worked in the rocks of the bar. The swirl just downstream of Wildhorse Branch Bar is another place to try for bass, but may also hold muskellunge in fall. Some maps list this bar as a boat ramp, but it is no longer open to public use.
The take-out lies just downstream of Wildhorse Branch Bar at either the John Nickell Boat Ramp on the Jessamine County (right) bank or the Buckeye/Paint Lick Boat Ramp on the Garrard County (left) bank. These two ramps mark the landings of the historic Paint Lick Ferry, established in 1789. Paint Lick Ferry made a vital crossing of the river for early Kentucky settlers and operated until 1950. Showboats that traveled the river stopped at the landing for performances at the mouth of Paint Lick Creek prior to World War I.
These ramps mark the put-in for another nearly 4-mile float to opposite the mouth of Sugar Creek. The take-out is privately owned by the Sugar Creek Resort and reservations must be made for use. Sugar Creek Resort also rents canoes and kayaks (www.sugarcreekresort.net). You may make the resort as a take-out for a float of roughly eight miles by using either Hunters Ferry Boat Ramp or Poosey Ridge Boat Ramp as a starting point.
Paddlers should make a trip into Paint Lick Creek, just upstream of the Buckeye/Paint Lick Boat Ramp on the Garrard County side of the river. Paint Lick Creek forms the border between Madison and Garrard County and is one of the more productive spotted bass streams in central Kentucky. A 4-inch black finesse worm slowly worked through brush, root wads or around sunken logs draws strikes from spotted bass. This presentation will also fool smallmouth bass in the flowing sections near the first riffle.
After flowing through the "S" shaped bend known as Teeters Turnhole Bend, a large limestone bluff comes into view on the right. The river flows through a slight bend to the left until you reach the mouth of Sugar Creek on the Garrard County (left) side. Sugar Creek may be the best largemouth bass fishing creek along the Kentucky River.
Sugar Creek largemouths love the color white. White spinnerbaits, pearl or bone-colored shallow-running crankbaits and white soft-plastic jerkbaits all work well for largemouth bass that can run up to five pounds. Target root wads and undercut banks with these lures in Sugar Creek.
The take-out is on the Jessamine County (right) side of the river, directly across from the mouth of Sugar Creek.
The Kentucky River Blueway Trail is a multi-county cooperative effort to promote recreation and tourism opportunities on the river. Their website at www.kentuckyriverblueway.com has an excellent guide for historic and culturally significant areas that boaters may see while on the river as well as access points, maps and other vital information.
The Palisades region of the Kentucky River is one of our states natural wonders. It is hard to believe such beauty is just a half-hour drive from the Lexington metropolitan area. Get out and enjoy this underused resource before winter hits.
Sugar Creek Resort: