Duck Rive kayaking

Float the Duck River for Fishing Fun

I guess you could say I’m a flat water guy. I’m generally more interested in seeing the sights and catching fish than running rapids. The Duck River, an easy, scenic canoe or kayak float that is secluded and pristine for much of its length, is most certainly my kind of river.

It meanders its way west across Middle Tennessee nearly 270 miles from its headwaters on the Highland Rim near Manchester to its mouth on Kentucky Lake. It is one of the most biologically diverse rivers in North America with more than 50 species of freshwater mussels and 151 species of fish. It has pretty and interesting rock bluffs, forested hillsides and, as you might imagine, lots of critters that quack. The upper Duck River flows past a 2,000 year-old American Indian ceremonial site known as Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park, but the best canoeing and fishing sites are yet to come.

Duck Rive kayaking

The Duck River has more varieties of fish per mile than any other river in North America and you’re likely to see great blue herons, kingfishers, deer, turkey, beavers, ducks and the occasional mink and otter. Stealthy canoes and kayaks give paddlers excellent opportunities for candid camera shots.

The Duck River is relatively small as it flows into the Normandy Lake basin where a dam stretches 2,807 feet across the river. The dam does not produce electricity, but this pretty little lake provides flood control and water supply for Normandy Hatchery. Normandy Lake has no marinas but there are two recreation areas for camping and six boat ramps along its 72 miles of shore line. Normandy Lake is popular with bass, walleye, crappie and stripe anglers. There are trout below the dam for about 11 miles where the water remains cool enough for rainbow and brown trout.

The Normandy Hatchery lies in a bend of the Duck River and keeps the river stocked with trout and walleyes. One of the best sections for a canoe or kayak float trip begins below Normandy Dam. If the fishing is hot, you’re likely to catch your limit before you reach the historic grist mill dam at Cortner Mill four miles downstream. From this location it is an additional 7.6 river miles to take out at the U.S. 41 bridge.

For a real treat, make reservations for dinner at Cortner Mill Restaurant where milling corn meal and flour have given way to serving dinner by reservation Tuesday through Saturday and champagne brunch on Sunday. Plan for an overnight stay nearby at the Parish Patch Farm and Inn and you’re all set for a quiet relaxing evening.

Cortner Mill

Cozy hammocks at the Parish Patch Inn invite you to kick back and enjoy the peaceful surroundings. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)


This 300-acre country estate has 21 rooms and suites in six buildings. Swimming, fishing, hiking, canoeing, bicycling, jogging and bird watching are readily available on the farm. The owners allow canoe access to the river from their property. They welcome pets of all sizes and types “from hamsters to elephants” as long as they are at least one year old. Kids have room to explore, swim in the pool, hangout in the playhouse and see what’s happening with the beefalo grazing on the farm.

Downstream the Duck River continues its way past Henry Horton State Park which has camping, lodging and ranger-led canoe trips with canoe rentals available at a nearby outfitter. In Columbia, more than 2,000 acres that were originally intended to create a TVA reservoir is now managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency as the Duck River Complex, a State Natural Area within the 12,800-acre Yanahli Wildlife Management Area. The Duck River flows past the 1817 Gordon House at milepost 407.7 on the Natchez Trace Parkway before reaching Centerville. It joins the Buffalo River shortly before emptying into Kentucky Lake a few miles east of New Johnsonville near US 70.

Duck River Henry Horton

An eight-mile canoe trip on the Duck River at Henry Horton State Park floats over gravel bars, around islands and along scenic bluffs.

The lower section of the Duck offers anglers a good chance of hooking up with hefty stripers as well as the species mentioned above except trout. Canoes can be rented through a local canoe vendor for this half-day trip.

Not much can beat a day on the Duck River! Let us know if you’ve been a quackin’ in the comments!

Duck River dam

Four miles downstream from Normandy Dam, you’ll need to take out or portage at the site of the historic Cortner Mill Dam. (Photo: Cathy Summerlin)

Hi there! I’m Vernon Summerlin. Like many, I came to Nashville to break into the music industry. After years of striving, I...Read on



    tammy green



    Debbie Cobb

    Where can I just go swimming


    Julia Gilmore

    We have a flat bottom alum boat with motor can we fish in the duck river safely

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