(This article is the twenty-seventh in the periodic Blue Water Trails series highlighting the floating, fishing and tourism opportunities on Kentucky’s streams and rivers).
FRANKFORT – The headwaters of Green River above Green River Lake imprinted historical greatness on the descendants of the earliest settlers of the area.
Capt. Abraham Lincoln obtained the first recorded land grant in what is now Casey County with 800 acres along the Green River. His 8-year-old son, Thomas, narrowly escaped death during an Indian ambush that killed Capt. Lincoln in 1786. Without Thomas, we would never hear of his son Abraham Lincoln, arguably the greatest President of the United States.
Col. William Casey was one of the first explorers of the upper Green River region and Casey County is named for him. He eventually settled near Green River near what is now Columbia in Adair County. Casey married Jane Montgomery and their granddaughter married John Clemens. Their marriage brought them a son, Samuel Clemens, known to most by his pen name, Mark Twain.
A float on the headwaters of Green River in Casey and Adair counties reveals the attraction of the area to these pioneer families. The pastoral beauty of the valley and of the river itself is one of the most unique landscapes in Kentucky. This nearly 26 ½-mile section of the Green is also home to a healthy population of black bass, rock bass and channel catfish.
The river in this stretch flows gently at normal levels, perfect for families. To check the flow, go to the Louisville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers webpage at www.lrl.usace.army.mil/ and click on the “Water Information” tab. Then, under the “Lake Information” tab, move your mouse over the “Daily Lake Bulletins” heading, then click on the “Green River Basin, KY” tab. At the top of this page, check the GRR line under the AVG 24 HR INFLOW column.
This is the best gauge for the water conditions on this section of the Green. The best levels for fishing are from 100 cubic feet per second (cfs) up to 750 cfs or so. Flows above this level are for experienced paddlers only.
The first float begins in Liberty at the Old Water Plant Access on KY 70, just past its junction with U.S. 127. Look for the white water tank atop an historic brick building. This float ends roughly 3 ¾ miles downstream at the new KY 70 Bridge.
Another access exists at the Central Kentucky Agricultural Expo Center that makes a short 1 ¼-mile float (or wade) from the Old Water Plant Access or makes a nearly 2 ½-mile float from the Ag Expo Center to the KY 70 Bridge. Make sure to obey local rules when using the Ag Expo Center Access.
In periods of higher flow, paddlers may also access the Green on Roys Mill Road off KY 70 and take out at the Old Water Plant Access for a 3-mile float or just over a 4-mile float to the Ag Expo Center Access.
The Green in this section is small and intimate and may require dragging through shallow bars during times of low flow. Water willows line the rock bars all along this section of the Green. The edges of them should be fished with green pumpkin-colored 1/16-ounce tube jigs for both spotted and smallmouth bass.
After a straight stretch just after the put-in, the Green bends to the right and flows under the U.S. 127 Bridge, then under the new footbridge at the Ag Expo Center. As the Green flows around the Ag Expo Center, it takes a hard left. The deep hole in this bend is a good spot to prospect for channel catfish with night crawlers.
A blob of night crawlers rigged on a 3/0 circle hook with a few pea-sized split shot about 18 inches above the hook will score channel catfish throughout this entire stretch of Green River.
The Green soon takes another sharp bend to the left. A river-wide drop that requires scouting at most water levels greets paddlers in this bend.
The river flows through a series of hard bends before reaching the KY 70 Bridge. The outsides of these bends are good places to find smallmouth bass with a 3-inch black curly-tailed grub.
The take-out is on the right (looking downstream) at the KY 70 Bridge. You must turn right onto Business KY 70 just after crossing the new KY 70 Bridge, coming from U.S. 127. Take an immediate right on the steep gravel road that ends under the bridge. A four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended for this access.
The next float begins at the KY 70 Bridge and ends 7 ¼ miles downstream at the Green River Valley Ford Access (also known as Rubert Ford). Green River Valley Road is on the right about a mile south of the Bread of Life Café on U.S. 127. Just after the put-in, the Green bends to the right and enters into a fairly deep stretch. Any woody cover in this deeper stretch should be probed with a pearl-colored soft-plastic jerkbait rigged weedless.
A weightless soft-plastic jerkbait drives any largemouth or spotted bass near the cover crazy. You can practically work this lure in place with gentle jerks of your rod. The lure then sinks in a death spiral that bass can’t stand.
The river flows straight for a time before a series of tight bends. The gravel bars that constrict the flow and increase speed are great places to work the tube jig on the bottom for smallmouth bass in this section.
After a long straight stretch that follows a half-circle bend to the right, paddlers should pay attention once they see a road enter the river on the right. The take-out is a few hundred yards downstream on the left.
The next float begins at Green River Valley Ford Access and ends 13 ¼-miles downstream at the KY 206 Bridge at Neatsville. This float is a test of endurance and paddlers should put in early and expect to take out at dusk in the summer.
This stretch holds a burgeoning population of channel catfish in the deeper holes. Undercut banks are productive channel catfish spots in streams during the summer. Commercial stink bait or dip bait presented near the undercut bank draws channel catfish out from their hiding spots.
After Goose Creek enters the river at Dunnville on the left, the Green makes a hard left hand bend and then straightens. It loses its intimate headwater character and becomes more riverine through this stretch, making excellent largemouth bass habitat.
Fisheries biologists recently sampled largemouth bass in the 4-pound range through here. The woody cover lining the long deep pools should be worked with a square-billed, shallow-running crankbait in the fire tiger color. The soft-plastic jerkbait worked in the same areas also draws strikes from largemouth bass.
The mouth of Goose Creek is roughly the halfway point of this float. If you reach this point and the day is waning, you need to step up the paddling pace to make the take-out before dark. The take-out is just downstream of the KY 206 Bridge on the right.
The last float of 2 ¼-miles begins at the KY 206 Bridge and ends at the Green River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Access. The entire float is within the boundaries of Green River WMA. The wetlands along the river attract a wide variety of waterfowl and other bird species.
This is an excellent half-day float for birders or anglers who want to take their time. The flowing waters above and below the large island downstream of the KY 206 Bridge hold smallmouth bass. In spring, the lower mile of this stretch may hold muskellunge venturing upstream from Green River Lake to spawn.
Take Duckbill Rd. from the put-in at the KY 206 Bridge to the take-out at a river ford. Green River Lake begins just downstream of this take-out at summer pool.
Paddlers may spend a weekend floating the river combined with boating on nearby Green River Lake. You find accommodations in Liberty, Campbellsville or Columbia.
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.
Casey County Tourism:
Columbia-Adair County Tourism Office:
Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a life-long hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.