Licking River (Kentucky)

The Licking River is a tributary of the Ohio River, approximately 320 mi (515 km) long in northeastern Kentucky in the United States. The river and its tributaries drain much of the region of northeastern Kentucky between the watersheds of the Kentucky River to the west and the Big Sandy River to the east.

Origin of name

The Native Americans called the river Nepernine, but when Dr. Thomas Walker discovered it in 1750, he called it Frederick's River. One earlier name, Great Salt Lick Creek, makes reference to the many saline springs near the river that attracted animals to its salt licks. The origin of the present name is unclear, though possibly related to this previous name.


Numerous aboriginal peoples inhabited the watershed for at least part of the year for several thousand years, but no tribal lands are recognized to have been displaced by European settlement. The Melungeons— a mysterious, pale Native American group— occupied points on the southern end of the river, as well as Shawnee and Cherokee tribes. Other, older settlements of unnamed groups in Bath County on Slate Creek can also be found in the region. The river served as an important transportation route for Native Americans and early European pioneers. In the 19th century, it was an important trade route.

In 1780, during the American Revolutionary War, a group of American frontiersmen under George Rogers Clark gathered at the river's mouth for their march up the valley of the Little Miami River.

In 1782 the river was the site of the Battle of Blue Licks. The Newport Barracks in Newport guarded its mouth from 1803 to 1894.

It is currently in use by the Cincinnati Junior Rowing Club, where they practice for their national championships. Their extensive collection of high school hardware spans 11 national titles from 1998-2008.


The Licking River rises in the Cumberland Plateau of eastern Kentucky, in southeastern Magoffin County. It flows northwest in a highly meandering course past Salyersville and West Liberty. In Rowan County in the Daniel Boone National Forest it is impounded to form the large Cave Run Lake reservoir. Northwest of the reservoir it receives Fleming Creek approximately 8 mi (13 km) northwest of Carlisle and flows across the Bluegrass region of northern Kentucky. It receives the North Fork from the east approximately 10 mi (16 km) northwest of Mount Olivet and the South Fork from the south at Falmouth. It joins the Ohio opposite Cincinnati, Ohio, where it separates the cities of Covington and Newport. The river was used as the south-western border of the original Mason County and is the southwest border of Fleming and Rowan counties today.

Flora and fauna

The river is considered by ecologists to provide a unique ecosystem in the region. The lower river is considered to be a rare example of a native muskie stream. The river basin also supports several unique fish species including: redside dace, mimic shiner, streamline chub, slender madtom, blue sucker, paddlefish, and eastern sand. There are also more than 50 species of mussels, of which 11 are endangered. The watershed provides wetland stopover habitats for about 250 species of migratory birds, which is considered to be an unusually high number. Several state and federal agencies, as well as private organizations such as The Nature Conservancy have sought to protect the diversity of habitat in the region.

The largest common carp ever taken in the state of Kentucky (54 lbs., 14 oz.) was caught in the South Fork of Licking River.

In 1984 Pat and Brian Mulloy of Butler, Kentucky caught a 79 and a half pound flathead catfish in a deep hole of the Licking River near Boston. The fish was caught legally on a trot line baited with small bluegill. The mainstem of the Licking River boasts three sport species of catfish including the channel, blue, and flathead in some areas closer to the Ohio. The flathead catfish caught by the Mulloy's is still one of the largest caught legally out of the river.


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