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Art Lander’s Outdoors: Kentucky’s Salt River flows into the Ohio River south of Louisville


Editor’s note: This is the fourth article in an occasional series profiling the river basins of Kentucky.

The Salt River is 150 miles long and flows into the Ohio River south of Louisville.

The river basin is the fifth largest in the state, and drains about 2,920 square miles in six north-central Kentucky counties.

The Salt Ruver Basin (Graphics from U.S. Geological Survey; click for larger graphic)

Arising in Boyle County, east of Danville, the Salt River flows north for about 50 miles towards Lawrenceburg, then turns towards Shepherdsville, westward for 90 miles, joining the Ohio River at West Point, in Hardin County, just 22.4 road miles south of Louisville.

It’s a shallow, relatively narrow river that frequently floods.

The river and its tributaries flow through beautiful valleys with rich river bottom soils, providing excellent growing opportunities for grain farms, and pasturing cattle.

There are three forks:

• Floyds Fork is 62 miles long and arises in Henry County, near Smithfield, flowing southwestward through eastern Jefferson County, merging with the Salt River near Shepherdsville, in Bullitt County.

Floyds Fork is named for Col. John Floyd of Virginia who was Jefferson County’s first landowner and early settler. As deputy surveyor of Fincastle County, Floyd surveyed the land around the Falls of the Ohio in 1774.

He claimed two 1,000 acre parcels of land in what is now the heart of St. Matthews, a suburb about five miles east of downtown Louisville. He built a cabin, and later a fort, on Beargrass Creek, along what is now Breckinridge Lane.

Kayaking on Floyd’s Fork (Photo from FLickr Commons)


Special fishing regulations, bank access and carry-down sites for fishing kayaks and other small boats on Floyd’s Fork

• The Rolling Fork is 108 miles long and flows through the Knobs Region.

Arising in Boyle County, the Rolling Fork flows westward through Marion County, then north forming the border between LaRue and Nelson counties. It continues northward into Bullitt County, merging with the Salt River west of Shepherdsville, near the boundary of Bullitt and Hardin counties.

Boat ramps for trailered boats, bank access, and carry-down sites for fishing kayaks and other small boats on Rolling Fork

• The Beech Fork is a 112-mile tributary to the Rolling Fork.

It arises in eastern Marion County, flowing northwest into Washington County, then southwest through Nelson County, where it merges with the Rolling Fork near Boston.

Early History

The river is named for the Bullitt’s Lick settlement where Henry Crist established a salt-producing operation in 1779 near present-day Shepherdsville.

Art Lander Jr. is outdoors editor for the Northern Kentucky Tribune. He is a native Kentuckian, a graduate of Western Kentucky University and a life-long hunter, angler, gardener and nature enthusiast. He has worked as a newspaper columnist, magazine journalist and author and is a former staff writer for Kentucky Afield Magazine, editor of the annual Kentucky Hunting & Trapping Guide and Kentucky Spring Hunting Guide, and co-writer of the Kentucky Afield Outdoors newspaper column.

The most important historical event in the river basin occurred almost a century later on October 8, 1862 west of Perryville, in Boyle County, along the Chaplin River, a 85.6-mile tributary of the Beech Fork.

Confederate and Union force clashed during the Civil War in the Battle of Perryville, also known as the Battle of Chaplin Hills, the largest and most deadly engagement of the war in Kentucky.

In desperate fighting the Confederacy suffered 510 killed and 2,635 wounded, the Union, 845 killed and 2,851 wounded. A total of 74,000 soldiers were joined in the battle — 16,000 of Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Mississippi, and 58,000 of Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Union Army of the Ohio.

Parklands of Floyds Fork

In August 2010 The Parklands of Floyds Fork was established as Louisville’s newest public park.

Located in eastern Jefferson County, south of Eastwood, the park has grown over the years and now includes four connected units: Beckley Creek Park, 616 acres; Pope Lick Park, 575 acres; Turkey Run Park, 1,076 acres, and Broad Run Park, 685 acres.

The recreational facilities are fishing lakes, wooded hiking trails, groomed trails for walking, running and biking, picnic grounds, an interpretive visitor center, stream access for kayaks and other small boats, a prairie preserve, and extensive forests.

The Parklands of Floyds Fork relies on donor contributions, memberships, and endowments to cover annual operating expenses.

Map of Parklands at Floyd’s Fork

Streams and Lakes

Clear Creek and Guist Creek, both in Shelby County, are tributaries to Brashears Creek, a 26-mile stream that flows into the Salt River in Spencer County, just below the dam that impounds Taylorsville Lake.

There are two major lakes in the river basin:

• Guist Creek Lake, in Shelby County about five miles east of Shelbyville, was formed by impounding Guist Creek.

The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) built the lake in 1961 and it opened to public fishing in 1963.

Guist Creek Lake (Photo from Kentucky Tourism)

Guist Creek Lake is 317 surface acres, with 27.4 miles of shoreline. The lake’s average depth is 15 feet, with a maximum depth of 47 feet.

The lake is maintained year-round at elevation 760, and is the water source for the city of Shelbyville.

Guist Creek Lake is a eutrophic lake of high productivity.

The lake supports quality fisheries that includes three species of catfish (Channel Catfish, White Catfish and Flathead Catfish), two species of crappie (White Crappie and Black Crappie), two species of temperate bass (hybrid striped bass and Yellow Bass), Largemouth Bass, Saugeye and Bluegill.

Special regulations for fishing, boat ramps for trailered boats and bank access for Guist Creek Lake

• Taylorsville Lake is 25 miles southeast of Louisville in Spencer, Anderson, and Nelson Counties.

Impounded from the main stem of the Salt River, the dam is four miles upstream of the city of Taylorsville and 60 miles above the Salt River’s confluence with the Ohio River. The lake opened in 1983.

Taylorsville Lake is 3,050 acres at summer pool (elevation 547). The winter drawdown is minimal, only two feet, reducing the surface acreage to 2,930.

At summer pool, the lake is 18 miles long with 75 miles of shoreline. Taylorsville Lake is relatively narrow, only 2,000 feet wide at its widest point, and is 75 feet deep at the dam.

Taylorsville Lake (Photo from Army Corps of Engineers)

Taylorsville Lake State Park is 8.5 miles east of Taylorsville, on Park Road, off Ky 248.

The 1,200-acre park, open year-round, was established in 1983. Facilities include a campground, open seasonally, with 45 RV sites and 15 equestrian sites, both with water and electricity, and 15 primitive tent sites.

There are bathhouses, playgrounds and a 24-mile trail system, open to hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.

For information telephone 502-477-8713.

Taylorsville Lake is a lake of high productivity, the most fertile major lake in Kentucky.

The lake supports populations of Largemouth Bass, two species of temperate bass (hybrid striped bass and White Bass), two species of crappie (White Crappie and Black Crappie), saugeye, Bluegill and three species of catfish (Channel Catfish, Blue Catfish and Flathead Catfish). There is also a very small population of Smallmouth Bass in the extreme upper lake, and upstream of the lake, in the Salt River.

< a href="https://app.fw.ky.gov/fisheries/waterbodydetail.aspx?wid=91">Special fishing regulations, boat ramps for trailered boats, and bank access on Taylorsville Lake

Fish and Wildlife

The Salt River Kentucky River basin supports a wide variety of fish and wildlife species.

Periodic flooding creates wetland habitat for turtles, waterfowl, river otters and beaver. Wooded uplands are rich in white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.

There are lots of stream fishing opportunities. Many stretches of the river and its tributaries are wadeable, and ideal for fishing kayaks and other small boats. In spring there is a white bass run in the headwaters of Taylorsville Lake, and several miles of the Salt River above the lake.

Floyds Fork has become the premier trout fishing destination in the Louisville area because of a greatly increased stocking program.

“At the Parklands, we will increase trout stockings from 3,600 fish annually to 12,000,” said Jeff Crosby, Central Fisheries District biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR).

The stockings were expanded from three months to six months, and now include February, March, April, October, November and December, at five stocking sites. Crosby said each site receives 400 trout per stocking.

The increased stocking plan began on February 11, 2022, when crews from the KDFWR Fisheries Division unloaded the initial stocking of 2,000 trout.

The stocking sites include: just upstream of the I-64 bridge; the Sara and Lyon Brown Bridge on the southern edge of Beckley Creek Park; at the mouth of Pope Lick Creek; at Cane Run Paddling Access, and at Seaton Valley Bridge, just upstream of Seaton Valley Paddling Access.

By regulation, from October 1 through March 31, it’s a catch and release fishery — all trout are to be immediately released and only artificial baits may be used during this time.

The lakes in the basin offer good fishing for black bass, temperate bass, crappie, sunfish, saugeye, crappie, and catfish.

Boating/Fishing Access to the Salt River

The Salt River basin is somewhat overlooked but offers excellent stream fishing opportunities for small boaters.

Some of the best fishing in Kentucky for saugeye is at the two major lakes in the basin.

The Parklands of Floyds Fork is arguably the state’s top city park, a green corridor just minutes from downtown Louisville that offers a wide range of outdoors opportunities.

Launching ramps for trailered boat, banks access and carry-down sites for fishing kayaks and other small boats along Salt River


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