Want to indulge in a bit of fishing fantasy? Think about this: A cold-water stream so painstakingly sculpted that it’s a runway model vision of what a trout fishery should be. Riffles, runs, pools, spawning cover, cut banks—all of it swimming with rainbow, brown and brook trout and surrounded by rolling, timbered terrain and open under artificial lure only, catch-and-release regulations.
Well, fantasize no more. It’s coming.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, with input from and in conjunction with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kentucky Division of Water, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, is turning this fanciful idea into reality.
This new water—currently tagged with the practical but unimaginative name of Hatchery Creek—will have everything a trout fisherman could want with its chutes and pools, riffles and runs, and three species of trout. Interspersed along the 6,000-foot-or-so-long stream also will be carefully crafted, gravelly spawning habitats that state fishery officials hope will generate some natural trout reproduction.
Andy Mowrey expects the creek, in Russell County, to be open by late fall or early winter.
Well, none really.
Funding has been in place for several months, thanks to mitigation fees that are required whenever a stream or wetland is altered or impacted. Those funds are put back on the ground through projects like Hatchery Creek.
“I’m very excited about this project,” said Mowrey, project manager for the Wetland and Stream Mitigation Program, which is part of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources but funded through mitigation funds that come from more sources than can be reasonably explained here. “And everyone I’ve talked to about it is excited.”
Whenever a stream or wetland is altered or otherwise impacted, mitigation or compensation for that change and/or loss, is required.
“You can do the mitigation yourself or pay ‘in lieu of’ fees,” Mowrey explained. “That’s our program. We take that money and try to find the best potential project—the best restoration that we can find.”
The Hatchery Creek project met the requirements and more. It will begin immediately below the outlet at the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery at Wolf Creek Dam and flow for about a mile through a natural valley across wooded Corps property, where it will empty into the Cumberland tailwater, which is the state’s largest and most productive trout fishery. The mouth of Hatchery Creek
will be constructed as a fish ladder, a series of step pools that will provide an avenue for trout to move from the tailwater into the stream and back again regardless of the tailwater level.
The creek also will be above the tailwater’s high-water mark, leaving it fishable even if the tailwater is at flood stage.
“When the tailwater is high, it will inundate the lower end of the creek, of course, but most of the creek will not be affected by the level of the Cumberland,” said state trout biologist Dave Dreves.
The $1.95 million Hatchery Creek project isn’t being done just to appease trout anglers, although they certainly will benefit. The job actually will reroute the flow that now exits the hatchery outlet (the site of the annual Catch a Rainbow Kids’ Fishing Derby) and pours into a deep and unstable ravine, which is dumping piles of sediment into the Cumberland tailwater.
“The ravine is actually fishable, but it’s very dangerous,” Mowrey explained. “It’s deep and steep with a lot of trees and down falls. And it’s pouring very large amounts of sediment into the Cumberland. That’s why we’re doing this. We’re mitigating for that impact, which is the sediment entering into the Cumberland River.”
Hatchery Creek will have two road crossing access points (the hatchery outlet and the campground annex road), but it will mainly be a walk-in fishery. Dreves said the state game agency plans to request special catch-and-release, artificial lures-only regulations for the new water.
“It will have to be approved by our commission and go through the approval process,” Mowrey noted. “But catch-and-release and artificial [lures] only is what we’re requesting.”
The full length of Hatchery Creek will flow through public property and be fully accessible. The area is downstream from the Wolf Creek campground and upstream from Ray Mann Road.
“This is all Corps resource area now and that won’t change,” Mowrey said.
A 300-foot-wide protection corridor also will surround the creek, legally guarding it from timber harvest, dredging, filling or other manmade changes—a standard protection afforded most mitigation work, Mowrey said.
Construction was expected to begin in the early spring and should take about six months.
“If everything goes as scheduled, it should be fishable by late fall or early winter this year,” Mowrey said.