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Russell Fork

The Russell Fork begins in Virginia and flows through Jefferson National Forest and Breaks Interstate Park into Kentucky through the communities of Elkhorn City, Belcher, and Millard where it then meets the Russell Fork. The Russell Fork is narrow and has a high gradient with many riffles and various classes of rapids (paddle craft users should research and be cautious). Cobble, boulders, and bedrock are the main substrates found in the river as it carves its way through the East Kentucky mountains. The Russell Fork provides anglers with the opportunity to fish for quality smallmouth bass, rock bass, channel catfish, and walleye.








Russell Fork Access Site to Site Mileages

Put In Access Site

Take Out Access Site

Total River Miles

Ratliff Hole Carson Island Park 1.3
Carson Island Park Elkhorn City Park 1.3
Elkhorn City Park RT 195 Bridge 8.6




Recommended River Levels for Boating/Fishing*

Russell Fork River at Elkhorn City, KY
Rating Gauge Height in Feet (ft) Flow in cubic feet per second (cfs)
Low <5.5 ft <75 cfs
Good 5.5-7.0 ft 75-500 cfs
High >7.0 ft >500 cfs
*These ratings are only recommendations. Skill and experience will dictate level appropriate for each angler.

Resources for River Levels:

U.S. Geological Survey
(Provides real time stream flows on rivers and streams around the state)

Current Stream Levels On Russell Fork @ Cedarville, KY


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Russell Fork Public Access Site Descriptions


Ratliff Hole: (Additional Information/Directions)


A gravel/dirt access is located in the Kentucky portion of Breaks Interstate Park just off US-80 east of Elkhorn City. A large, paved parking area, bathroom, and picnic area are available. The section of river at this site is best suited for canoes, kayaks, and bank anglers. Caution should be taken when launching at this site as rapids are present a half mile downstream from the launch point.



Carson Island Park: (Additional Information/Directions)


This is a gravel/dirt access point located on the outskirts of Elkhorn City on Carson Island Road. A large, paved parking lot, with seasonal bathrooms, and a covered pavilion are available. This site is suitable for small john boats, canoes, kayaks, and wade fishing.



Elkhorn City Park: (Additional Information/Directions)



This gravel/dirt access is situated next to the Center Street bridge (US-80) in Elkhorn City. Paved parking is available and vehicles can be driven fairly close to the river for easy loading and unloading of paddle craft. This site is suitable for canoes, kayaks, and wading. There are no other amenities at this location.



RT 195 Bridge: (Additional Information/Directions)


A gravel/dirt access located about 5 miles downstream from Belcher, KY and just upstream of the KY-195 bridge. Turn by the railroad tracks onto a gravel path and make your way down to a large gravel bar that is exposed at flows acceptable for paddling and fishing. Be advised that the path down to the river is rough, muddy, and may not be suitable for all vehicles. No other amenities are available at this location.


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Fishing Tips

Smallmouth Bass
Smallmouth bass can be found through the Russell Fork, but areas directly above and below gravel shoals will produce the most and best quality fish. Rocky banks with current and depth are also a solid option. The majority of bass tackle will work, but crawfish imitations, 3 ½ inch tube jigs, and 3 or 4 inch curly tail grubs are the best options here.
Rock Bass
Target chunk rock banks with woody debris and log jams in the slow, shallow pools. Try fishing small inline spinner baits, 2 inch crawfish crank baits or 2 inch black grubs over the rocks. Don’t overlook a weightless 3 inch senko rigged wacky style, as quality rock bass willing strike this bait. Rock bass can also be taken on live bait fished near or on the bottom. Try fishing minnows, red worms and small crayfish.
Channel Catfish
arget deeper pools and tight bends in the river with log jams and slow to moderate current. Fish baits like chicken livers, worms, cut bait, and stink baits suspended or on the bottom. Best luck would be around dusk and dawn or low light conditions when catfish are more active.
Try fishing buck-tail jigs with minnows or a curly-tailed grub bumping the bottom in back eddies and near the current. Metal jigging and blade baits and bright colored crank baits also work in these areas.
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Fisheries Overview


The following length frequencies are representative of the top 4 species sampled in Russell Fork.

Smallmouth Bass length frequency graph 


Channel Catfish length frequency graph 


Kentucky Spotted Bass Length frequency graph 


White Bass Length frequency graph 




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