Occasionally, life presents a completely unexpected opportunity. I was raised in central Kentucky in the heart of the Bluegrass State's thoroughbred country, and even returned for 3-4 years in my 20s. There were tremendous opportunities for fishing – Kentucky Lake, Barren River Lake, Green River, Dale Hollow Lake, Cumberland River and Lake, the Kentucky River, The Ohio – and most importantly to me, smallmouth streams like the North and South Elkhorn, Drake's Creek, Salt River, North Fork of the Licking River, among others. But trout were few and far between, and holdover and wild trout? Despite some exceptional trout-fishing opportunities in border states West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee (the Great Smoky Mountains!), there were few opportunities.
The Cumberland River in southern Kentucky, though, is a blue-ribbon trout fishery. One of the premier tailwaters in the country, and featured in Terry & Wendy Gunn's 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish. But as the closest quality trout fishery with holdover trout, it was still about a 2 ½ drive away. Central Kentucky had nothing close, perhaps with the exception of some small stockers in Red River Gorge.
Imagine my surprise then when I found out there is a private camp right in the heart of central Kentucky, in the county next to the one I grew up in, with browns and rainbows surrounded by limestone cliff walls, bends, pockets, riffles, and deep pools, all leading down to the Kentucky River.
I learned of the place, Boone Creek Gorge, from Gene Slusher, the contributor of the Cumberland River chapter in 50 Best Tailwaters to Fly Fish, and owner of The Lexington Anglers, a quaint but unexpectedly larger Orvis shop than I had imagined, tucked into one of the historic areas on the edge of downtown Lexington.
Gene had mentioned the Boone Creek Anglers Club to me the previous year, while the book was in development, and at the time I thought he was about half nuts (despite the website at boonecreekoutdoors.com). Now Gene's a bright guy – former Vermont law school guy, a passionate carp and musky on the fly guy, and an experienced angler throughout Henry's Fork and Yellowstone (doesn't get much smarter than that). But I just couldn't comprehend central Kentucky with a trout fishery.
So a couple of weeks ago, I called Gene and said I'd like to come down and fish Boone Creek Gorge. I had seen some pictures, and I know the limestone gorges around Kentucky fairly well, and I just had to see the camp.
Gene warned me off a bit – these are stocked trout, though they stock them in fairly significant sizes and numbers. Hey, I don't care man, this is trout fishing in the non-trout town I grew up in; I gotta get there and see it and fish it.
We made plans, and Gene was gracious enough to let one of my fly-fishing buddies, Jason Russo, join us. Now Boone Creek is unique. It's privately owned by a single owner, who has developed the property with hiking and horseback trails, fly fishing, and even some zip lines (though some political squabbles have kept this closed to date). Most intriguing to me, the property features a wonderful, modern lodge complete with hot tub and an extraordinary set of decks overlooking the gorge and steps from the fire pit and water.
What's perhaps most unique is that the lodge is rarely used. Occasionally for the thoroughbred racing season (which is only two weeks long, twice a year), but according to Gene it may average 2-3 fisherman per month in peak season. Despite these trout being stockers, how often do you find this kind of scenario anywhere, let alone in the central Kentucky?
Look at the pictures. This place is unique, and beautiful. And you can only book trips through Lexington Anglers, so having Gene with us was not only a necessity but he also knows the gorge well. We took advantage of an open date on the calendar, and unfortunately it coincided with a big snow melt. The water was running about as high and fast as it could run.
Despite the high water, we were able to make a few crossings and get to a few spots, and we hooked into a handful of 9”-10” rainbows, including one brown that ran a little bigger.
And that's during the toughest conditions you could draw up. The fishing is supposed to be busy and exceptional under normal conditions, and it's easy to imagine. And for any of you who haven't fished in a narrow limestone gorge with cliffs that rise up 100-200 feet from the water, you'll fall in love with the look of this place.
I'm discussing with the Boone Creek Anglers Club and Lexington Anglers a plan for a small retreat with Stonefly Press followers in southern Indiana, southern Ohio, and across the state of Kentucky (and others who might be interested) who are chomping for some local, sizable trout fishing. I'm pretty certain if the owner is willing to let us book the lodge and water for 2-3 days, we'd have to plan for mid-week (the guides for Lexington Anglers head south to Cumberland and Caney Fork or elsewhere on the weekends). Lots of details to work out. But I'd be remiss not to call attention to this place. Uniquely situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, with exceptional lodging and what I understand could be very reasonable pricing. So let me hear from you if it you have any interest, and we'll put something together if we can. I know one thing with absolute certainty – I'm going back as soon as the snow is gone and the water's down, and if we plan a retreat, I'll be in the fishing party.