Blue Water Trails – Gasper River
This is the head of Put-In Rapid at low water, just downstream of the KY 626 Bridge over the Gasper River in Warren County.
From Kentucky Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Resources
FRANKFORT, Ky. – A visitor to the Gasper River region quickly understands how living in the region brought early settlers closer to a higher power. The area spawned a religious awakening known as the Great Revival around 1800. The rolling Pennyroyal hills of Logan, Warren and Butler counties give visitors vistas of growing green hay with fingers of wind moving through them in early summer. This beauty touches the soul of even the most jaded. The Gasper River drainage is one of the most pastoral regions of Kentucky.
The Gasper is also one of the best smallmouth bass streams in the state with decent year-round flow and excellent habitat.
A series of floats on Gasper River give a paddler an intimate experience of this gorgeous region where several close relatives of George Washington bought land and settled in the early 1800s. Western Kentucky University produced an excellent website called the Warren County Blueways at www.wku.edu/blueways. The website contains an interactive and printable map with GPS coordinates, access locations, floating mileages and other important information along with links to participating partners. This map corresponds with brown metal markers at locations on the river to avoid confusion and also on the map that accompanies this article.
The first six-mile float begins in northeastern Logan County on the River Road Bridge (also listed as New Harmony-Richelieu Road on some maps) near the defunct community of Richelieu. The take-out lies at the end of Hullett Lane off KY 1083 (Galloway Mill Road). This take-out holds room for only two vehicles and is close to a home, so users should tread lightly and ask permission.
This section of the Gasper flows through rolling farmland with fairly high banks composed of rock and dirt. The flowing area above and below riffles with some depth hold smallmouth bass that strike black 4-inch finesse worms rigged on 1/16-ounce leadheads. The Gasper breaks apart forming flowing braids of water around islands in this section and may require some dragging in summer.
The take-out is on your left (looking downstream) and easily missed. Look for several power lines crossing the river.
The next float begins at Hullett Lane and concludes roughly three and one-half miles downstream at the KY 1083 Bridge. This float features stream drops, rock gardens, islands and plunge pools, perfect smallmouth bass habitat. A weightless pearl with purple back soft plastic jerkbait worked in pockets and along the many downed trees in this section will produce strikes.
The take-out at the KY 1083 Bridge is steep with minimal parking. Paddlers must carry out their boats on the right upstream side of the bridge and should get landowner permission. Paddlers may continue for about five miles to the next take-out at the KY 626 Bridge (Jackson Bridge Road) for a full day of floating and fishing.
Just before the KY 1083 Bridge, Clear Fork of Gasper River meets the main Gasper River on the right, adding flow, depth and width to the river. The river begins to change character at this juncture as more exposed bluffs greet the paddler along with larger deeper holes that hold better smallmouth bass.
The last few miles of this run have sizeable rock gardens that grow to interesting rapids with higher flow. The most scenic stream bluffs in southern Kentucky rise above the paddler from the Gasper carving its way through the millennia down into the Barren River hills in this part of Warren County.
Fish skirted double-tailed grubs in the motor oil color on 1/8-ounce standup leadheads just above and below riffles and rock gardens for smallmouth bass in this part of the Gasper. This section also holds many stretches of broken bedrock that create holes for large smallmouth to hide in and ambush prey. These hides can produce smallmouth bass 17 inches and longer.
The next float of a little over three and one-half miles begins at the KY 626 Bridge and ends at the U.S. 231(Morgantown Road) Bridge near the community of Hadley. Paddlers using this access must park on the north side of KY 626 between a metal fence post and the bridge with room for three vehicles. A working farm surrounds this access and users must not park on the south side of KY 626 or block farm gates. Tread lightly and do not linger when using this access.
Just after flowing under the KY 626 Bridge, the Gasper takes a hard left into a rapid that rises to Class II at higher water levels. This rapid is known as Put-In Rapid and followed by what whitewater paddlers call Surfers as the Gasper takes a bend to the right. Surfers Rapid has some standing waves for whitewater kayakers to surf. A short way downstream is a series of standing waves known as Retreat Rapid, named for the Catholic Retreat Center on the left side of the river.
Retreat Rapid is followed by Barking Dog Rapid as the river turns hard to the left. These rapids present a fun, but fairly easy, challenge to experienced whitewater paddlers, but can upset the boats of the inexperienced. If you can hear Put-In Rapid roaring and the river is full from the right hand bluff to the left bank at the KY 626 Bridge, then only experienced whitewater paddlers should launch. At normal summer flows, these rapids become rock gardens that may require a walk through and drag.
The Gasper flows tranquil for the remainder of this float with the take-out on the right at the U.S. 231 Bridge. Ample parking exists at this access, but don’t block other vehicles.
The next float of roughly 10 miles begins at the U.S. 231 Bridge and ends at the confluence of the Gasper with Barren River. This is a good run for beginners and families, but requires an early morning put in and a take out at dusk if paddlers also plan to fish.
The Gasper snakes back and forth in this section and grows more riverine. Spotted and largemouth bass become more numerous and 4-inch black curly-tailed grubs rigged on 1/8-ounce leadheads worked beside fallen trees and root wads garner strikes. Crappie and bluegills also reside in the same cover in the slower flowing holes.
A large parking area that holds up to 25 vehicles awaits at confluence of Gasper and Barren rivers at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources’ Barren River #2 Voluntary Public Access (VPA) site. Paddlers should continue on past the KY 1435 Bridge (Barren River Road) for a short distance and take out on the right hand point where the Gasper and Barren meet. The carry out is much easier than the steep one at the KY 1425 Bridge.
On the downstream side of the Gasper River and Barren River confluence is the bluff known as Sally’s Rock, named for Sally Beck. Her father was postmaster and owned a store near Barren River. Sally would wave a white handkerchief to steamboats passing on the river to send mail or announce news via a megaphone around the turn of the 20th Century. Steamboat captains and passengers alike looked forward to passing Sally’s Rock, although a large portion of it fell into the Barren River in 1910.
An interesting six-mile side float is to put in on Browning Road on the Clear Fork of Gasper River and paddle to the KY 1083 Bridge on the main Gasper River. This remote, intimate stream holds many rock gardens and small pockets that make a perfect venue for fly rod anglers pursuing smallmouth bass.
A visit to the South Union Shaker Village at historic Auburn, Kentucky is an interesting side trip for paddlers visiting the Gasper River. This Shaker community started in 1807 and ended in 1922. South Union holds restored buildings and a Shaker museum.
Bowling Green has many accommodations for visitors along with the Corvette Museum for car buffs.
Shaker Museum at South Union:
Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau:
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.
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.