Trout angling in Kentucky is just plain tremendous. We have a wide variety of habitats, ranging from small mountainous streams to large rivers, tailwaters, and lakes. Anglers can choose from among wild brook trout, put-and-take rainbows and browns, catch-and-release, and even huge trophy-size trout. It’s hard to narrow down where to go when planning a trout-fishing endeavor in the Commonwealth.
One of our great trout destination choices is the Daniel Boone National Forest (DBNF). The DBNF is expansive and covers around 704,000 acres of rugged, scenic terrain. Numerous streams and rivers cut through the landscape, offering a wide variety of fishing opportunities, including all three species of the trout found in Kentucky waters. Before looking at some of the streams in the DBNF, let’s review the trout stream classification system within the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) trout management program.
According to the KDFWR: “A systematic approach to trout management began in 1983 in conjunction with an inventory and rating of both existing and potential trout streams. Streams are rated based on a score of 1 (excellent), 2 (good), 3 (fair), or 4 (poor) for each of six parameters: 1) trout utilization (if previously stocked), 2) fish population structure, 3) water quality, 4) habitat, 5) fishing success, and 6) aesthetics. A mean score of 1.0 to 1.4 is excellent, 1.5 to 2.4 good, 2.5 to 3.4 fair, and 3.5 to 4.0 poor for each stream.
“A stream may not be considered for trout management, even though it received a fair or good rating, if any of the parameters rate poor or there is lack of public access. Several streams that have an overall rating of excellent or good are only managed for a put-and-take rainbow trout fishery due to a fair or poor rating for water quality, fish population structure, and/or fish habitat.”
This classification and rating system resulted in the development of four classes of trout streams in Kentucky. Class I streams are deemed exceptional, receive a rating of excellent and have a population of wild brook trout. Class II streams are considered to be high-quality streams, which have been rated either excellent or good and are managed for put-grow-take trout fisheries or have carryover beyond one year. General trout streams are Class III, have a rating of either excellent or good and are managed for put-and-take trout fisheries. The last classification, Class IV, represents marginal trout streams that are rated fair and are managed for put-and-take trout fisheries.
There are 14 rated trout streams within the DBNF. Of the 27 streams in Kentucky classified as either exceptional Class I or high-quality Class II, seven of those are located within the DBNF. It’s a hard choice to narrow these down to the top five streams because there are so many factors to consider.
Some streams offer easy access, while others are nearly impossible to reach. Some have fishing opportunity for more than one species of trout, while others only have only one species to offer. Some streams allow year-round harvest, while others are part of the delayed-harvest seasonal catch-and-release program. Still other streams have catch-and-release regulations in place the entire year.
Following is a look at five DBNF streams rated as either Class I or Class II and offer opportunity for rainbow, brown and brook trout.
BARK CAMP CREEK
Anglers have the opportunity for a mixed creel at Bark Camp Creek in Whitley County. Both rainbow and brown trout are stocked into this water and yield nice catches to diligent anglers.
Bark Camp Creek is a “classic mountainous stream,” according to biologist John Williams. He describes the area as very scenic with lots of hemlock trees and rhododendrons lining the banks of the stream. The creek is surrounded by forest and affords both the opportunity for easy access and also, for those anglers willing to hike a ways, a chance to get away from the road.
The stream is very clean and has very little mud or silt. It has lots of areas with boulders and gravel and quite a few ripple areas, too. In fact, according to Williams, the ripple-pool combinations are fairly consistent all the way down. During years with normal water levels, most pools along the creek will be up to 3 to 4 feet deep at their deepest spots, with a few areas reaching to 6 feet deep.
A gravel road runs down to the creek and across it, over a concrete culvert. Many people will fish right close to this area, since it affords easy access and is also a spot that receives a good portion of the stocked fish. This area is great for kids and the elderly because of the easy access. Obviously, there’s a lot of fishing pressure in this immediate area, especially when the stocking truck is due to arrive.
From this access point, there’s also a trail alongside the creek going both upstream and downstream. After hiking along this trail for a few hundred feet, you’ll start to get the feeling of being in a fairly remote location. The landscape lends itself nicely to quieter, more pleasant fishing away from the crowds.
Most of the trout will remain near the stocking areas initially, but will spread out some as time elapses. Additionally, biologists and volunteers will carry fish in buckets for stocking in specific pools and other areas of the stream, especially during periods of low-water conditions that make it more difficult for the fish to spread out on their own.
Brown trout are stocked in Bark Camp Creek only once per year. The stocking amounts to around 500 browns and usually occurs in March. Rainbow trout are stocked in March, April, May, June, and October. This stream is part of the delayed-harvest program for seasonal catch-and-release. Anglers must release all trout they catch between October 1 and March 31. Only artificial baits are permitted during this time period.
EAST FORK OF INDIAN CREEK
Another creek that is part of the delayed-harvest program and also offers both brown and rainbow trout is East Fork Indian Creek in Menifee County. Around 3,900 rainbow trout are stocked there each year during March, April, May, and October. A one-time stocking of around 700 brown trout is also performed there annually.
Forest Service Road 9B parallels the creek for a good ways here. From this road, anglers can gain access to the creek. Several areas along the road are easily accessible. Anglers should be cautioned that while many of the forest service roads are marked with a small sign indicating their road number, many others are not marked or the sign has been destroyed. A forest service map or topographical map will be your best bet for locating
It’s also along this road that the KDFWR stocks rainbow trout into the creek. Most stocking is done at the more easily accessible areas. Brown trout are backpacked and stocked into the farther upper reaches of the creek.
This stream is fairly large in some areas and offers good opportunity for fly-fishing and casting. Many streams in the DBNF are surrounded by thick forest growth, making casting difficult if not impossible. This stream offers a little more opportunity and has a variety of habitat along its course. There are good ripple-pool combinations, with some places being fairly deep. There are numerous deep, clear pools and areas with large boulders. The stream narrows considerably upstream.
Initially, most of the best fishing occurs close to the stocking areas. Eventually, the trout begin to spread out, making other areas more desirable. Anglers can have easy access off the service road, but these areas can be heavily pressured at times. More secluded fishing can be found by hiking.
The brown trout are stocked in a less-accessible area. This is done deliberately, so that the fish are not caught out rapidly and remain available for anglers looking to target brown trout specifically. Anglers in search of browns should proceed down the forest service road until they reach a gate across the road. This gate is open at certain times of year and closed the rest of the time. From this gate, anglers may then hike into the headwaters area to fish for brown trout.
CHIMNEY TOP CREEK
Anglers looking for browns will also want to try Chimney Top Creek in Wolfe County. This stream offers a stretch of around 3.3 miles of fishable trout water. It is in a very scenic area and offers a little more seclusion, thanks to being a little less accessible than some of the DBNF streams.
Access is gained from Forest Service Road 10, also known as Chimney Top Road. There is a pull-off area where anglers can park and hike down to the stream. Many people also camp in this area.
The KDFWR must put forth a lot of effort to stock this stream. There are no easy access places to pull the stocking truck close. Department personnel must backpack the trout in to the stream. Therefore most stocking is done off a trail alongside the creek, which is known as Rough Trail.
At Chimney Top Creek, brown trout are stocked only once per year, usually sometime during the month of June. But the specific date is purposely not announced. Around 450 trout are released at this time and will average 3 to 4 inches in length. Stocking personnel release fish in both Chimney Top and Right Fork.
Brown trout have been stocked at this creek since 1990 and show good signs of carryover. The trout grow well in the stream and reach the minimum harvest size fairly quickly. Some angler reports have indicated catches of brown trout up to 18 or 19 inches at Chimney Top.
The lower section of the creek is much bigger than upstream. This section has some fairly large open areas and affords the opportunity for some casting and fly-fishing. Upstream, the creek narrows, which limits fishing opportunity.
There is a variety of habitat along the stream. There are sections with large boulders and other sections with a lot of woody habitat such as fallen trees and submerged structure. Some time back, big rains washed a lot of debris into the lower section. There are some fairly deep pools in the creek and also some long stretches of fairly shallow water.
PARCHED CORN CREEK
Brook trout are an entirely different game altogether. In Kentucky waters, they are in limited supply, difficult to access, and tough to catch. Additionally, they are governed by catch-and-release regulations the year around.
There is also much debate among some anglers over the brook trout. Many folks say there are no trout native to Kentucky waters and that all species have been introduced to the Bluegrass State through stocking. Others argue that there was a small native population of brook trout in certain streams.
Regardless of what the true history concerning brook trout may be, we do have fishing opportunities for them now. The KDFWR has stocked brook trout in the past, and stockings have also been done by at least one private individual. There are currently no stockings ongoing for brook trout in Kentucky.
One of the two DBNF streams that have wild brook trout is Parched Corn Creek in Wolfe County. It is the easier of the two to access. Even then, there is no direct access, and it can be reached only by hiking.
Parched Corn Creek joins the Red River between where Chimney Top Creek and Swift Camp Creek meet. The river and is around 1.5 miles or so from where Swift Camp Creek goes into the river. Forest Service Road 10 travels along one ridgetop while Highway 715 parallels it on another ridgetop. Parched Corn Creek is located in the drainage between these two roads.
There are some signs of natural reproduction in the creek for wild brook trout. Fish as small as 2 inches have been sampled, even though stocking was being discontinued there several years back. Anglers should expect most fish caught from this stream to be fairly small, with the largest usually between 7 to 10 inches.
The KDFWR has sampled the creek occasionally through the years. Their last sampling was done in 2000, when biologists sampled more fish than during the last previous sampling in 1994. Sampled fish were between 2 and 7 inches in length. The area of the creek sampled had a maximum width of 12 feet with an average depth of 9 inches and a maximum depth of 12 inches.
The only other stream in the DBNF with wild brook trout is Dog Fork in Wolf County. Listed as having a mile of fishable water, Dog Fork is given an excellent rating of 1.0 and designated a Class I stream.
However, it definitely has some drawbacks. Access to Dog Fork is very limited, making it extremely hard to reach. In fact, the stream itself is even hard to locate. The trail leading to this stream is not well marked well and is extremely difficult to navigate, due to deadfalls and other debris that require hikers to climb around through thick brush and rhododendrons. A forest service map or topographical map is a necessity when trying to find this stream.
Biologist Lew Kornman says Dog Fork is for “the die-hard fisherman only,” and that many anglers won’t go back a second time. “The only draw to this creek,” Kornman says, “is if an angler wants to catch a brook trout in a Kentucky water, this is a place it can be done.”
There are waterfalls on this creek, and most of the brook trout are above the falls. Below the falls you’ll find many other species of fish, which compete with the trout for food.
Some parts of the stream are difficult to fish. It gets very narrow in some areas, and the surrounding foliage can be quite thick. In fact, parts of the creek are completely overhung by a canopy of rhod
Where the creek widens, fishing is a little more accessible. The maximum width that anglers can expect would be about 12 feet from bank to bank. Samplings at the creek have shown an average depth in the pools to be around 16 inches, with a maximum depth of 30 inches.
A very important reminder for anglers is to check current regulations for trout fishing and harvest before fishing on any of the streams mentioned here. At the time of this writing, there were some proposed and pending regulation changes in store for trout angling in Kentucky, beginning in 2006. These changes should appear in the 2006 Sport Fishing and Boating Guide or on the KDFWR Web site at www.fw.ky.gov.