Friday, June 5, 2009


Frankfort, Kentucky - I once drove seven hours to Arkansas to float fish the South Fork of the Spring River for smallmouth bass. I made a trip list early, packed everything imaginable, consulted my friend in Arkansas and thought I had all bases covered.

We reached streamside and stared in disgust and disbelief at a frothy flow of brown water resembling a muddy hog pen. In all our preparation to remember certain lures, rain gear, extra line, spare spools, wader repair kits, first aid kits and such, we forgot to check the flow of the river.

It is easy to overlook some things in your excitement and haste to prepare for a fishing float trip. You should start by visiting the Internet site of the U.S. Geological Survey to see the water flows on the river or creek that you plan to float.

Log on to the agency's website at and scroll down to Kentucky in the drop box located in the upper right corner of the page. Then click on the "real time data" button and then "statewide streamflow table." Streams are separated by their drainage basin, including the Kentucky, Green, Salt and Cumberland rivers. You can check streams in other states as well on this handy website.

This page shows the gauge height, or water level, of the stream and the discharge, or flow, in cubic feet per second. The important information lies after clicking on the eight-digit blue numbers to the far left of the columns of information. This opens to a page showing a graph of the gauge height, and a graph of the flow as well.

The flow graphs possess a red line showing the rise and fall in the velocity of flow. Many of them have a triangle symbol showing the average flow through decades of readings.

This gives floaters an idea of what to expect when they arrive at the stream. If the red line rises quickly toward the top of the graph, the stream is high and probably muddy. If the red line is stable or gently moving toward the middle of the graph, the stream is at its normal level and the water should be clear. If the red line droops toward the bottom of the graph, then the stream is likely low and clear.

Another aspect to consider before a fishing float trip this summer is to not bite off more stream than you can chew. One of the most dreadful feelings in the outdoors is watching the sun go down before you get to your take-out, especially when floating a new stream. As a general rule, five miles in a day gives you ample time to fish.

Books detailing Kentucky streams are available that give you accurate floating mileages as do computer mapping programs from companies such as Delorme. These programs and books also lend an idea of the character and gradient of the section you plan to float.

Inflatable one-person pontoon boats, inflatable kayaks and float tubes make popular and inexpensive float fishing vessels. However, be careful about air bladder expansion during the heat of the day.

"I over-inflated my float tube in the cool weather of the morning for a summer float on the Elkhorn Creek," said Dave Dreves, fisheries research biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. "Then, it got past 90 degrees and the bladder in my float tube popped. Heat makes the air in the bladder expand. I was lucky and fairly close to the take-out. Don't make that mistake and always take a repair kit."

Get out this summer and float some of many great fishing streams that course throughout Kentucky. Just use some simple precautions and common sense and you'll arrive home safe and sound.

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.

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