Department of Fish and Wildlife
Kentucky Afield Outdoors: Blue Water Trails – Slate Creek
(This article is the thirty-first in the periodic
Blue Water Trails series highlighting the floating, fishing and tourism
opportunities on Kentucky’s streams and rivers).
FRANKFORT, Ky. – Bath County was once a
center of iron production in Kentucky and produced a great percentage of the
iron smelted west of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the early years of Kentucky
Jacob Meyers left
Pennsylvania in 1782 to search for iron ore deposits in the wilderness of
Kentucky. He eventually held nearly 10,000 acres along Slate and Mill Creeks
and began construction of an iron furnace in 1791.
Furnace, also called the Old Slate Furnace, used local ores to produce kettles,
plowshares, nails and cookware of such quality that the U.S. Navy contracted
the furnace to produce cannonballs. Many made their way down river to New
Orleans during the War of 1812. Andrew Jackson fired cannonballs produced by
this furnace during his victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans.
still stands sentinel along the banks of Slate Creek and the public park around
it serves as an excellent access point for floats on the stream. Slate Creek
flows through the heart of scenic Bath County, where the Outer Bluegrass Region
meets the Cumberland Plateau. Several floats on Slate Creek showcase this
incredibly scenic and overlooked corner of Kentucky.
The best water
flows for Slate Creek are between 75 and 200 cubic feet per second (cfs).
Consult the Slate Creek Gauge on the U.S. Geological Survey’s stream flow
webpage at http://waterdata.usgs.gov. David Baker, stream
biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, sees
smallmouth bass up to 17 ½ inches and largemouth bass over 18 inches in Slate
Creek during population monitoring. The biologists rate the rock bass
population as excellent.
Baker said the
flowing outside bends make the best smallmouth bass habitat on Slate Creek
while woody cover in deeper water holds largemouth and spotted bass.
The first float
begins in Montgomery County at the historic community of Howard’s Mill, once on
the road to the most fashionable resort of early Kentucky, Olympian Springs.
The springs served as the terminus of Kentucky’s first stagecoach line, coming
from Lexington. Legend states that Henry Clay won, then lost, the resort in a
Paddlers may park
and launch boats at the Mt. Sterling water treatment plant at Howard’s Mill on
KY 1331. The take-out is nearly 5 ½ miles downstream at the Little Egypt Ford
on Ford Road (also called Snedegar Road on some maps) off KY 1331, for a
relatively short shuttle. Be sure to launch boats well below the low-head dam.
A steep path leading from the gravel parking lot grants access.
The first part of
this float flows straight until bending right several times in a rough
horseshoe shape. Pitch 3-inch green pumpkin-colored tube jigs rigged on
1/8-ounce leadheads for smallmouth bass on the outside flowing bends in this
Slate Creek then
makes two bends to the left, the second of which features a small bluff. The
rocky shoals in this bend hold smallmouth bass. Just downstream on the right, a
small, but deep, pocket holds Kentucky (spotted) bass. The creek then makes two
opposite sharp bends, the first to the right with the second to the left. These
bends should be probed for smallmouth bass.
After the second
bend, the creek flows relatively straight until bending to the right. The
take-out at Little Egypt Ford is on the right, just downstream of the bend.
The next float
begins at Little Egypt Ford and ends 13 miles downstream at the bridge over
Slate Creek on Kendall Springs Road off KY 36 in Owingsville. This is an
extremely long float for a stream of this size and paddlers should plan to
launch near daybreak to reach the take-out at dusk.
The beginning of
the float flows straight before a nearly 180-degree bend back to the left,
nearly flowing back into itself. The rocky outside banks of this bend hold
contains some remarkably deep holes and those with abundant woody cover hold
largemouth and spotted bass. A black 4-inch finesse worm rigged on a 1/16-ounce
leadhead draws strikes. Let the light worm slowly fall from branch to branch of
the sunken tree top. A largemouth bass hiding in such lairs attacks this
that anglers paddle through the many long, shallow holes with little current in
this stretch. Concentrate on the flowing water in the bends and where rock bars
constrict and increase the flow.
Slate Creek makes
a perfectly shaped horseshoe bend to the left about the time paddlers hear the
rumbling of commerce on Interstate 64. Baker said this section of creek holds
abundant rock bass, especially in the mouth of Salt Well Creek, which enters Slate
Creek on the left just before the I-64 Bridge.
The take-out is on
the left, just downstream of a low-head dam at the Lions Club Park. The
low-head dam must be portaged on the left. A small access road parallels
Kendall Springs Road on the right just before the bridge over Slate Creek.
The next float
begins at this access and ends nearly 4 miles downstream at the Old Slate
Furnace (Bourbon Furnace) Park on KY 36, just south of Owingsville. This makes
an excellent half-day float with a quick shuttle.
The creek bends
gently to the left at the beginning of this float before making a sharp turn to
the right. Anglers should work a green pumpkin tube jig in the flowing water on
the outside of this bend for smallmouth bass.
Slate Creek makes
two more sharp bends to the right that hold smallmouth bass. After a relatively
straight stretch, the waters of Mill Creek enter Slate Creek on the right.
The mouth of Mill
Creek holds rock bass that strike black and silver in-line spinners. Slate
Creek often runs slightly stained. In-line spinners attract largemouth,
smallmouth and spotted bass as well as rock bass in stained water.
The take-out at
the park is on the right, just downstream of the mouth of Mill Creek. Ample
parking with an easy carry awaits paddlers at the park.
The next float
begins at the Old Slate Furnace Park and ends at the low water ford on
Water-Dell Road off KY 111. This float requires a long shuttle, but is the best
section of Slate Creek for smallmouth bass.
Biologists see the
largest smallmouth bass in this stretch of the stream. Slate Creek runs fairly
straight before flowing under the I-64 Bridge at the beginning of this float.
After the bridge, the creek makes a series of bends that hold smallmouth bass.
around the I-64 Motorplex and under the U.S. 60 Bridge, the creek flows in an
“S” shape. A double-tailed skirted grub in the motor oil color worked in the
flowing water on the outside of these bends is a good choice for smallmouths.
Slate Creek then
flows relatively straight for a long ways and receives the waters of Prickly
Ash Creek on the left and Skillet Branch on the right.
KY 111 for a time, the current of Slate Creek slows from the influence of Forge
Mill Dam downstream. The dam lies downstream of a hard bend to the right.
Floodwaters carved a small channel around the right abutment of the dam, making
an easy portage at normal water levels. The take-out is on the left, a short
distance from the dam.
The last float is
for the intrepid. The put-in is on Water-Dell Road. The take-out is 5 ½ miles
downstream on the Licking River at the site of the historic Wyoming Ferry. This
ferry, just downstream of the mouth of Slate Creek, served as an important
crossing of the Licking River and thrived with a charge of .50 cents for
vehicle or horse, each way. Modern highways made Wyoming Ferry obsolete. It
closed in 1950.
The rock strewn
bends at the beginning of the float hold smallmouth bass as does the flowing
water above and below the many gravel bars in this stretch. Largemouth and
spotted bass hold in any woody cover. Anglers may encounter a muskellunge from
the Licking River in spring and fall on this float.
The take-out on
Ferry Road is unmarked and runs to the left a short distance from the second
entrance to the Old Wyoming Road loop off KY 111. Look for a power pole on
Ferry Road as well as the old cable that guided Wyoming Ferry, still lodged and
hanging from an enormous sycamore tree along the river there. This access is
crude and muddy with parking for only two vehicles.
abundant accommodations for paddlers. Visitors can combine a weekend of
paddling on Slate Creek and fishing Cave Run Lake, which forms the southeastern
border of Bath County.
The Blue Water
Trails series supports Gov. Steve Beshear’s Adventure Tourism Initiative. Log
on to Kentucky Fish and Wildlife’s Blue Water Trails webpage at fw.ky.gov for a detailed map.
Bath County Tourism: