A Picture Perfect Day at the Lower Caney Fork River
I returned to my favorite Middle Tennessee trout stream last week. It’s been years since I canoed the entire lower Caney Fork River – 28 miles from Center Hill Dam to the mouth at Carthage. My recent visit wasn’t for canoeing but for photography. The water was very low and my “Old Man Boat” (a shallow-draft john boat) wasn’t the craft I needed. A canoe or kayak would have been ideal.
When water is being discharged from Center Hill Dam, the river will accommodate larger boats near the dam. Nearer the mouth, the water remains deep enough for bass boats. TWRA has several paved launching ramps: (from north to south) South Carthage, Gordonsville, Bettys Island, Happy Hollow and Buffalo Valley (just below the dam on the eastern side).
The Long Branch ramp on the western side of the river just below the dam used to be the only paved ramp on the river – it’s adjacent to Long Branch Campground. The campground lies along the river with steps leading to the water. This is a very popular area with trout anglers. It offers 60 campsites with electric hookups, water and a large, day-use group picnic shelter. A fish cleaning station and playground are also within the campground.
Just across the river is The Buffalo Valley Nature Trail that offers a scenic place to walk and watch wildlife; various water birds, turkey and deer. The trailhead begins at the Resource Manager’s Office and Information Center, follows the Caney Fork downstream to the mouth of Wolf Creek and loops back.
You could hardly ask for better fishing. The Caney contains bass, stripers, stripe, walleye and other game fish; however, it is best known for trout. Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) stocks the stream with thousands of trout each year, including rainbows, browns and brookies. Brook trout have been the most recent species to be stocked. Typically, they are a high altitude fish found in the upper elevations of the Smoky Mountains, however, they are thriving in the Caney Fork River.
Fishing from the bank and wading are popular methods for trout anglers. Fly fishermen wade along the flats and gravel bars to cast to the deeper pools holding trout. Of course, many anglers use canoes or kayaks. If you don’t have one, there are several nearby companies that rent them and provide transportation.
One sure way to learn the lower Caney Fork is to float its 28 miles. I broke my float into a three-day trip – that’s without having to strain at the paddle. Shorter trips are possible by selecting access points spaced at the desired intervals. A good canoe fishing trip is about six to eight miles long. If you’re just interested in paddling and sightseeing, you’d probably want to cover more miles.
Most people take the six- and nine-mile trips for a day’s outing but if you want to make longer trips you’ll want to camp overnight. No matter how long you stay on the Caney Fork, you’ll enjoy the fishing, wildlife, thick green forests, fields, steep bluffs and the changing scenery of the winding river… and take a camera.