Wade Fishing the Streams of Eastern Kentucky

Author Chris Erwin

Some treasures of Kentucky are hidden in the slow moving peaceful streams that run through the state like veins in a living breathing thing. It’s a different way to soak in nature that many fishermen over look in these days of fast boats with a run and gun attitude jumping from point to point, fishing against the clock. In this ever more completive tournament climate that pushes you every minute you are on the water.

There is a different way, one that is slow, moving only steps at a time instead of miles. Wading the streams of Eastern Kentucky is far from the fast life. Getting your feet wet and seeing nature from a view where you’re standing with rocks under your feet, and the feel of water rushing past your legs is something that many new anglers have never experienced.

Stepping into East Fork, Little Sandy, or Tygart Creek is something that many residents of Kentucky have never done even though they may have lived in the state all their life.
Tygart Creek has been written about and explored through the writings of outdoor writers like Soc Clay, Sam Piatt and many others. Its beauty and peaceful nature has been the subject of many backwoods stories that have filled the pages and fueled the imagination of many readers.

Tygart Creek is about 88 miles long, considered to be part of the Mississippi Water shed it is, in fact, a tributary of the Ohio River. Tygarts Creek is named for early Kentucky explorer Michael Tygart, who ended up drowning near the head waters. The creek is formed in southwestern Carter County by the confluence of minor tributaries, Upper Tygart Branch and Flat Fork. It is joined a few miles downstream by the larger tributary known as Soldier Fork. Tygarts Creek flows generally north-northeastwardly past Olive Hill and Carter Caves State Park into Greenup County, where it flows into the Ohio River at South Shore Kentucky. Along the way, it passes through the Gorge area where high walls line the creek. The splendor of this section is world famous and when water levels permit this six mile stretch is a favorite canoe trip by both locals and visitors alike.

The fishing is good in almost all the pools of Tygart’s Creek, bass( both smallmouth and largemouth), bluegill, red eye, and musky all make this little slice of the past its home. Spinning tackle or short fly rods are both well suited for this creek. As a young man, I waded Tygart creek only using a hand full of tackle; it was an adventure that will be with me to the end.

Slipping in the water just off route 182 near the bridge has been a well-known entry point. Many anglers today use float tubs to navigate the deeper sections of the creek and at times this becomes a good place to use a canoe, but for me back in my youth. This was a place to get wet; walking the bank to find the honey holes was a way of life and half the fun.

The lures of choice then were poppers and Creek Chub Darters, along with a four inch plastic worm rigged with two brass beads and a weed-less hook. I had never heard of a Texas rig back in those days but this nearly weightless rig sure caught a ton of fish. I used a spin-cast ultra-light rod, one that was set up like a spinning outfit but used a spin-cast reel instead of an open bail spinning reel. Armed with my little plastic lure box that snapped to my belt, an old pair of tennis shoes, ones my mother had declared worn passed daily use, and I was ready for a day of fishing.

It was a time of exploration, every bend in the creek opened up and new pool of water. I quickly learned about eddies, “run in” and places where roots of trees would hold fish right against the bank. Casting my ultra-light offering into these hiding places would pay off repeatedly, most of the fish would be considered small but the fun was anything but small. Just when you thought you were never going to see a big fish. One would pound your lure, and then the fight was on! In shallow water on light tackle it was a thrill that will always be in my memories.

If this type of fishing has sparked some interest in you, it’s time to do a little leg work and find where you want to enter the water and where you want to end up, if you are going to cross private land to enter the water you should get permission. Be sensitive to crossing fences and where you plan to park your car.

Tip: by using two cars you can park one where you enter the water and leave the other where you plan to exit the water; it’s also a good idea to have a change of clothes to keep from getting your interior wet once you exit the water.

There is nothing quite like wading a natural stream, the beauty and wild nature of streams in Kentucky are unmatched in fishing opportunities.

Suggestions for stream fishing: Ultra-light rod or short fly rods. In some sections you can use casting gear if you are in areas that contain musky. Small in-line spinners, top water baits like poppers, darters, ¼ oz. spinner-baits (safety-pin type) and small plastic worms and Jigs. Some finger nail clips and small dip net, waders if you want to stay dry or some good water shoes if you plan to get wet. It’s also a good idea to put things like your wallet, fishing license and cell phones or water sensitive items like watches or GPS units into water tight plastic bags.

The other two streams that I listed at the beginning of this article were Little Sandy River and East Fork, which is also part of the little Sandy River, not to be confused with the East Fork of Indian Creek, in Daniel Boone National Forest.

The East Fork of The Little Sandy River and the Little Sandy main branch comes together in Greenup Kentucky sum 45 miles from the head waters of East Fork that then makes its way to the Ohio River. The main branch of the little Sandy is about 84 miles long forming in Elliott County passing through Carter and Greenup counties; it’s also worth noting that Grayson Lake is made from the impounding of the Little Sandy River. Grayson Lake is 1,510 acres making a 17,085 acre park. The spill way on to the Ohio River is loaded with excellent wading opportunities. Along with the other fish listed; this river also has a white bass run that produces good catches in the spring months.

While these streams are popular for Smallmouth they are also stocked with Trout, while all locations may not hold Trout many areas do.
If you get the chance to wade the streams of eastern Kentucky we would like to hear from you.

Tell me your stories; we may select some of them to publish here in the magazine.
Till Next Time
Good Fishing


Outdoor writer/photographer Chris Erwin has been active in the outdoors for more than forty years, 15 years as president of NM Bassmasters, four years director of the Kentucky B.A.S.S. Federation, Musky Guide from 1986-1992, Founder of Kentucky Angling.Com, Freelance writer for 12 years, currently the Secretary of the Kentucky Outdoor Press Associations, and Editor of Kentucky Angling News Magazine Chris is also the Outdoor editor for the Greater Ashland Beacon Newspaper. 


  12 comments for “Wade Fishing the Streams of Eastern Kentucky

  1. Chris,

    I was there, in Tygart’s Creek…Today!

    Yesturday afternoon, a buddy of mine called me up and asked what I was doing today. I told him that I had no plans, but if he was calling about fishing, that we could definately make plans to do so. We knew we were going to be wading, we just didn’t know where. I told him that I would like to try a place we had never been. We had a few places in mind, but I was trying to get out the door and head to Cave Run Lake for some other fishing at the time. We decided that each of us would think about it, and I would call him when I was back from the lake.

    After arriving home, I grabbed the phone, dialed him up and got nothing but his voicemail. Good thing too, because he was going to want to know what I had decided, and I still hadn’t reached a conclusion. After getting no answer from him, I decided I would do a little research. I opened up the computer and googled “Wade fishing Eastern Kentucky”. At the top of the list was this article…”Wade Fishing the Streams of Eastern Kentucky”. With each word I read about Tygart’s Creek, my enthusiam grew. I also became stunned. The buddy that I was going fishing with is married to a woman from Greenup County. How could I not know about this creek?

    I am from Morgan County and although the article metioned the Little Sandy, which is only minutes from home, all of my attention was on Tygart’s Creek. Just as I finished the article, my phone started ringing and I picked it up saying, “I know where we’re going, and we’re parking at a bridge that I have no idea how to get to!”

    When I told him we were going to Tygart’s Creek and questioned why I hadn’t heard anything about it, he replied, “Son, that runs right next to my in-laws!” He said that he had mentioned it before and he did remind of the only time he had fished it was from a jon-boat a couple of years ago with a friend of the family, fishing for muskie. They fished even farther down stream than his in-laws. I’m not sure exactly how far their place is from the bridge at route 182, but I know that it’s not too close.

    I pretty much read the entire article to him over the phone, and told him that I definately would like to go to the bridge the was mentioned. I had absolutely no idea how to get there, and although he didn’t travel those exact roads or cross this particular bridge, he is in this general area nearly every weekend, and was pretty sure he knew exactly how to find it. I also googled a map, just in case!

    We left early this morning, driving past and checking out the Little Sandy in Elliott County along the way. The excitement made the trip seem twice as long. We turned off route 60 onto route 182, not knowing exactly how far the bridge was. In no time, we were heading down a long, winding hill and it became obvious that at the foot of this hill would be the bridge I had read about the night before.

    After getting our gear together we headed down the trail that lead under the bridge and into Tygart’s Creek. I stopped, turned around and told my buddy that it was simply amazing to think that I had found this spot from out of nowhere, by searching on the internet. My imagination was running wild, thinking that here I was, standing under the exact same bridge getting ready to fish the exact same pools of water that I had read about the night before and 12 hours prior, didn’t know even existed. I was amazed!

    We headed down stream. If I was to imagine the perfect stream to wade fish…It would look pretty much just as Tygart’s Creek looks. The fishing started pretty slow. I decided I was going top water. I love top water fishing if the water allows it and I wanted to test these waters for bass. My buddy fished with in-line spinners, mostly Rooster-Tail and Mepps. Not too far down stream, I hooked my first fish on my Tiny Torpedo. A nice little small mouth probably just under the size limit of 12″. One last jump right at me, and he threw the hook, so I never got my hands on him. We fished on, and my buddy would randomly pull in some small bluegill, small mouth, or a rock bass. Meanwhile, I managed to catch a couple of smallies right around 12″. I also managed to hook another, only for it to do as the first one and throw the hook before I got ahold of him. Further down stream, I made a cast between several good size rocks laying off the bank, into the water. I twitched my torpedo one time and the water exploded. “This is a better fish!” I excitedly told my buddy…several times! And he was…Another small mouth, around 16-17″. We continued down stream and had reached a particular hole of water that I just could not believe we hadn’t caught a fish out of. I made another cast to the opposite side of the creek. I twitched and popped my bait back across the hole of water. All of my bites had come right from the bank every time, all day, so as my bait made it’s way to the middle of the creek, I was less eager to work it as slow. I started bring it in a little quicker and at about 20′ away, I noticed it…”Muskie!! Muskie!!” I repeated, right as all heck broke loose on the surface of the water. I’m in knee deep water, fishing with ultra-light tackle, and I have a muskie on the end of the line…Holy Cow! Now this isn’t no big muskie, but I am fishing with ultra-light tackle, mind you, and it is, after all, a muskie!! My buddy was just, giddy, with excitement. I could hear him laughing as I was watching and fighting this fish. Round and round we went…Water was flying everywhere. I’ve caught a bunch of muskies at Cave Run, but never in a creek when I was knee deep in the water with them. I thought that I would try and back up toward the bank and just drag him up there with me, I knew I wasn’t going to pull him up out of the water with the rod I was using, and grabbing ahold of a muskie isn’t exactly ideal while it’s still in the water. I just wanted to get my hands on him before one of those teeth touched my line! He started running toward the bank, to my left side, when suddenly he turned and made a quick dart right at me…”POP!!”…”He just broke your rod”, my buddy exclaimed! I took a straight line to dry land, broke rod and all, knowing that I better do something if I was going to get my hands on him. I headed out of the water, and since my rod was already broken, I pulled him right up out of the water behind me. It was a small muskie, like I said, he was probably 24-26″. Defintely not making the 30″ size limit, but definately the best wade fishing catch I’ve ever made. Even though it was an expensive catch! Lucky for me, I had an extra rod and reel. The bad part was, it was way up stream laying in the truck. My buddy snapped a few pictures, we laughed about the broken rod and the landing process, watched him swim away, and headed back to the bridge.

    I landed three smallies and a muskie. Two small-mouth come off and I missed several other bites. My buddy also landed three small-mouth, but none of them were over 8″. He also added a large-mouth, 3 or 4 blue gill, and a rock bass. Missing several bites himself and also losing a fish or two.

    Today, June 4, 2011, “I waded Tygart creek only using a hand full of tackle; it was an adventure that will be with me to the end.”

  2. Tim,
    Thanks so much for your reply to this story. When I wrote this story it was my hope that someone that has never got their feet wet in Tygart would get out there and give it a try. I have to admit that my trip to the Cherokee Nation fishing the streams there along with Cave Run being so high this spring got me thinking about a time when I spent my fishing time on the banks of the creeks and rivers of this great state.. If you took pictures and would like to add then to your reply send them to me and I will add them..

    Thanks again for sharing,

    Chris Erwin
    ps the Cherokee is posted if you would like to read it..

  3. i live in Greenup County, near the Boyd County Line. I can’t walk very far and have to use a “Jazzy” to get around. Is there a place I can get close to the water without wading and fish from my scooter? I love to fish, but haven’t been able to get close to the edge of lakes and streams. Please help me find a place mentioned in this article to get to the edge with a scooter.


    R. Blair

  4. Richard,
    Many of our lakes are wheel chair accessible, Greenbo State Park has sidewalks that run right along the water edge in the dock area, Yatesville Lake also has a good fishing pier that lets you get close to the water. You can also check with the Kentucky Department of Fish& Wildlife for a full list of wheelchair accessible areas around all of the lakes in Kentucky.

  5. Thanks for taking the time to educate the public about fishing. I live in Middletown ky and I was wondering where the best place to park my truck (legally) to start fishing would be? My second question is about the laws pertaining to fishing the creeks and if some of the creek is private property? I’m also courious about camping over night along the stream? Thanks for your time
    Nicholas binns

  6. Myself my son and grandson have been creek fishing. Boone , Kenton ,Campbell Bracken Counties. I myself have been creek fishing for about 40 yrs off and on my son been fishing creek for about 20 yrs and my grandson who will be 10 yrs old in November has been creek fishing for about 4 yrs and we all love it there isn’t anything better. In October first or second week we our planning a trip to Carter Caves. We want to fish Tygart Creek Wading if possible. Do you have any information that would be helpful?

  7. i was raised about a mile up a “holler” from tygart’s creek. wasted many summer days fishing a small section of it when i was a teenager. loved every minute of it. i’m not in the area now, but your article brings back memories and makes me dream of doing a nice long float fishing trip that you described.

    i was lucky enough to catch one of the muskies one of your readers mentioned; 33 inches. as musky go, it wasn’t huge, but i was about 16 and it was a monster.

    these wading streams you mention could be fun.

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  9. I have lived my whole life in the Iron Hill area of Tygart, and have fished as long as I can remember. I have been to Florida, Huntersville and other major lakes, I have a nice bass boat and fish local lakes. But the best times I have fishing are when I wade or take my kayak to Tygart, Buffalo, or Kinniconnic in Lewis Co. I can’t tell you the number of 16″ to 19″ smallmouth I have caught out of those creeks. Along with an occassional 20″+!!!! I love my eastern Ky creeks!

  10. A nice article! I am doing some research in search of T&T’s first rod shop here in Chambersburg, PA and have
    been corresponding with Tom Dorsey. The information you included
    has been helpful as well as an enjoyable read.

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