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
||Carson Island Park
|Carson Island Park
||Elkhorn City Park
|Elkhorn City Park
||RT 195 Bridge
Recommended River Levels for Boating/Fishing*
Russell Fork River at Elkhorn City, KY|
||Gauge Height in Feet (ft)
||Flow in cubic feet per second (cfs)|
*These ratings are only recommendations. Skill and experience will dictate level appropriate for each angler.
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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- 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.
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- 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.
The following length frequencies are representative of the top 4 species sampled in Russell Fork.
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