Kentucky’s Hatchery Creek

The state of Kentucky isn’t really known for trout fishing. But they do have the Cumberland River which flows in the lower east section of the state, not far from the Tennessee line. This river has some massive trout along with torpedo sized stripers and crisp green and white walleye cruising the depths.

There’s also a hidden gem called Hatchery Creek. It’s a man made stream full of “wild” trout. Sound crazy? That’s what I thought.

Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)

The TVA has been constructing large dams on rivers since the Great Depression. They create massive lakes and then use the passing water from the dam to generate electricity. The resulting deep lake is used for recreation and the tailwater beneath the dam is not only a food factory for trout, but an excellent fishery.

Fly fisherman who wade tailwaters like the Watauga, South Holston or the Cumberland are at the mercy of the TVA for prime fishing conditions.

The Wolf Creek Dam in Jamestown

The TVA has a dam on the Cumberland River in Jamestown, KY. Next to the dam is a national fish hatchery, and that’s where things get interesting — The fish hatchery requires constant flow from Lake Cumberland to keep thousands of hatchery trout alive and healthy. In the past, the expelled water simply flowed a mile down to the Cumberland river without serving a purpose. In 2012 that changed in a huge way.

Hatchery Creek is a man-made stream with wild trout. Quite the paradox.

A Man-Made Trout Stream?

Kentucky decided to bring in biologists, tons of rock and then used the flow from the fish hatchery to literally build a trout stream. Pools, riffles, wetlands and everything else trout need to be happy. The price tag hit over $2 million, but it worked. The trout in the river figured out the new stream was there, and big fish moved in. I’m talking 20+ inch rainbows and browns.

A beautiful spot in a lower section of Hatchery Creek were a side section splits off.

Don’t let the name fool you — Hatchery Creek is inhabited by anything but hatchery fish. In fact, I think trout are now spawning in the creek which is huge, as they can’t spawn in the Cumberland River.

So this man-made creek is now producing wild trout. Quite the paradox, right? And when you hook into one of these beauties, you can see the difference from a stocked fish. They’re simply gorgeous.

The Layout of Hatchery Creek

When you turn off the main road towards the Wolf Creek Dam you’ll take the first right and then the first left. In about 300 yards there will be a parking lot on the right for accessing the creek.

My daughter fishing the Upper Reach of Hatchery Creek.

The Upper Reach

At the headwaters of the creek is a very short section where they do stock trout. This consists of a couple pools and riffles and then hits a spill way that sort of keeps the stockies in a single place. The orange highlighted section below is this area. Any type of bait or lure can be used here, and trout can be kept.

I find great pleasure in hitting this area sometimes, catching a stocked rainbow, and releasing it just below the spillway. Talk about a new lease on life! It’s quite fulfilling — When you’re there you should try it.

Hatchery Creek on the Map

Lower Hatchery Creek

The next section begins lower hatchery creek, and this is where the big fish can move in from the river. They have to jump up about 7 pools when they leave the river, and then they can make their way up to the spill way.

Don’t underestimate fishing below the spillway below the stocked section. Sometimes there are MASSIVE browns in there just waiting for an injured stocked fish to get washed over.

The Wetlands

Each green section on the map marks a wetlands area. These are a network of water ways that meander through beautiful forest. It’s a little more tricky to navigate, but you can definitely find fish.

Riffles and Pools

The blue areas above are typical rock-bottom riffles and pools. Your classic small trout stream feel. In these you can hook into beautiful small trout and large fish that will break tippet. My personal best to date was a nice rainbow in upper hatchery creek that inhaled a size 12 or 14 green drake nymph.

My daughter wading through a section in Lower Hatchery Creek.

What Are The Fish Like?

They’re gorgeous. You can always tell a wild fish over one dumped in from a fish hatchery. Trout just look better when they live like God created them to live. The creek is supposed to have rainbow, brown and brook trout. I’ve personally only caught rainbow and brown.

You can see the difference in a fish that didn’t come from the hatchery.

Hatchery Creek trout are also picky. I’ve been totally skunked on a trip out before. If you’re not using stealth, or matching what’s in the water, or not presenting the right way, they’re not having it. Remember, this is a catch and release fishery that is fished HARD. And I wouldn’t even consider going on the weekends.

Summer Fishing

Can you catch fish in the summer? Yes. However, there is algae growth that crowds an already small stream, and most of the large trout have gone back to the Cumberland River. Plus you’re dealing with a lot more people which can make things more of a challenge. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t nice fish in there.

A 2020 summer rainbow caught just below the spillway of the Upper Reach.

October through Early Spring

When the air turns crisp in late October and the browns begin to spawn, everything changes for the better. Small pools that only held 12-inch fish in the summer now have 18+ inch fish on a regular basis.

A small Hatchery Creek rainbow from 2020
A Hatchery Creek rainbow from early 2020

The rainbow above was caught near the end of the Lower Reach of Hatchery Creek. Meaning, this fish had recently moved it from the river. I’ve found these bows to be a little less picky than the ones who have moved a half mile upstream and seen 5 million flies.

Catch and Release Only

The entire Lower Reach of Hatchery Creek is a catch and release only, artificial lure only trout fishery. This makes for picky yet persistent fish. I highly encourage you to report anyone you see doing otherwise — Have had to do it once myself already. However, most of the time it isfly fisherman. And as you probably know, the type of person who invests the time to learn fly fishing is also the time of person who has a sometimes greater respect for nature and the rules.

Thanks for reading! If you live near Jamestown, KY definitely give the creek a try. It’s a beautiful place, especially in the winter! In fact, part of my short film entitled Rose and the Outlaw was show there.