The Two Faces Of Paint Creek

Sponsored by

You can double up on the fun when fishing this Kentucky stream

September 2023

Article and photos by Jimmy Jacobs

Paintsville Lake is a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood-control facility located in the northeast quadrant of Kentucky, roughly a two-hour drive southeast of Lexington. Below the reservoir, Paint Creek is managed as a put-and–take, tailwater trout fishery, and is the only trout water  located in Johnson County.

Presently the number of catchable–sized rainbow trout released in Paint Creek is 2,000 per month, with plantings taking place from April to November. From 300 to 800 brown trout are released in the creek as well. These fish are stocked via a pipe that connects the parking area the dam to the creek, allowing easy access to the hatchery trucks.

Stocked rainbow trout are the staple of the Paint Creek fishery.

This small stream actually provides two distinct angling sections to challenge visiting fly casters.

Where the tailrace comes out of the dam, the stream is surrounded by a concrete walkway that leads into paved fishing platforms along either shore. Downstream of those platforms, steeply inclined rip rap lines both banks for several hundred yards down to the end of the Corps of Engineers land. Some lines of the rip rap sized rocks have also been placed in the water to break the flow into a half dozen pools. There also is a footbridge across the creek, making for easy access to the entire tailrace area from either bank. This entire channel courses through a well-maintained park, creating a rather civilized angling setting

The “civilized” portion of the tailwater.

Thanks to the excellent facilities, fishing pressure is quite heavy immediately following stockings, especially from bank-fishers using spinning gear.

Fortunately, there is another facet to the Paint Creek fishing. At the downstream end of the Corps land, State Route 40 crosses the stream on a metal bridge. Just above the bridge, on the western shore, a feeder tributary enters the main creek. At this location the shoreline rip rap has ended, giving way to naturally vegetated banks, though they too are rather steep. There also is a small shoal at this location, with a deep pool just above it.

Farther downstream Paint Creek takes on a more natural look.

Below the Corps land, Paint Creek flows through private lands as it courses for 7.5 miles down to its junction with the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River at the town of Paintsville. Anglers still have access to the stream by floating that section. There is no boat ramp at the dam, but canoes or kayak can be carried down to the water to launch.

The fishing pressure downstream of the public land drops dramatically. This is popular float trip, but most of the folks encountered are just paddling through to enjoy the terrific scenery the forest and cliffs along the creek provide. However, enough of trout move down to this area to offer fishing opportunities.

Smallmouth bass are the main target in lower Paint Creek.

Trout water continues in this section for 3.8 miles to the U.S. Highway 460 bridge. Though the trout are less common, carry-over rainbows and browns of up to 20-inches do turn up there. Additionally, the farther downstream you float, the more likely you are to encounter smallmouth bass. Once below the US 460 bridge, those are the predominant fish in the creek.

If, however, you are tossing Wooly Buggers or streamers for the smallies, don’t be overly surprised if your next hook up is a walleye. The creek does have a population of those fish as well.

There are no access points along the lower section until you reach the town of Paintsville at the mouth of creek. The take out there is located on River Road, just off SR 40 at the old Paintsville Water Plant.

The bottom line is you can enjoy two options for fly-fishing during a day on Paint Creek, That is especially true when venturing downstream in a paddle craft. The trout and smallmouth bass just might keep you quite busy.

%d bloggers like this: