Caney Fork River
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Flat Water Canoeing in Middle Tennessee

I’ve been meaning to write a blog sharing my love of Middle Tennessee’s flat water rivers for several months now and I figure there’s no better time as summer starts throwing its hottest days at us, threatening to drive us all indoors.

Not to worry if you don’t have a canoe of your own. Canoe liveries rent everything you need, drop you off and pick you up on the Caney Fork, Harpeth, Duck and Buffalo Rivers. Renting a canoe is a great way to get your feet wet (at least figuratively, but pack a change of clothes just in case) without spending a lot of money.

These four rivers provide lots of eye candy with plenty of wildlife, wild flowers and topography; but which river is most likely to yield a couple of keepers for the main course in response to worm, minnow or lure du jour?

The Lower Caney Fork

It’s tough to beat the lower Caney Fork River below Center Hill Dam. There are lots of fishing hot spots on its 28-mile run to join the Cumberland River at Carthage. The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) stocks the stream with rainbows, brookies and browns each year.

Caney Fork River

The cold water of the Caney Fork River provides a strong fishery for bass, stripers, stripe, walleye and other game fish. It’s best known for trout though.

On weekends the banks below the dam and downstream for several hundred yards are lined with anglers flipping fly rods. But novices using spinning rods tipped with corn, salmon eggs, power baits, worms and minnows land their share of pan-sized trout too.

Joel and Janis Martin ran Big Rock Market when I first started fishing the Caney for trout in the early 1980s. Since then they’ve upgraded the market, offering cabin rentals and adding Caney Fork River Runners. They take pride in planning your adventure to fit individual, family and groups to paddle the river or Center Hill Lake.

Canoe the Caney offers canoe rentals and shuttle services for float trips that create a memorable day on the water. A pirate outing for your family buccaneer, a throne for your little princess or a picnic for your sweetie make an outing extra special. Both outfitters coordinate float trips with TVA’s generation schedule.

Neighboring Edgar Evins State Park has lodging and campsites on Center Hill Lake. Long Branch Campground below the dam offers 60 campsites with electric hookups.

The Harpeth 

The Harpeth River is designated a State Scenic River along much of its 115-mile length. There are four Harpeth Rivers in Tennessee and they converge near the Pasquo-Bellevue area before joining the Cumberland River a few miles above Cheatham Dam.

Harpeth River

The beautiful Harpeth River is perfect for beginning canoeists and family floats. Fishing tip: Catch bass, rock bass, warmouth, bluegill, catfish and crappie with minnows, worms and crickets under a bobber.

The river’s widths range from 20 to 50 feet, but like most Middle Tennessee rivers in summer it is shallow enough in spots for your canoe to drag the bottom.
The area along Highway 70 near Kingston Springs has several canoe outfitters including Canoe Music City, Foggy Bottom Canoe, and Tip-A-Canoe.

Harpeth River State Park links several canoe access points and historic sites along 21 miles of the waterway but Montgomery Bell State Park about 13 miles west is the closest state park with lodging, camping and dining.

Duck River

Nearly 40 miles of the Duck River has received Tennessee State Scenic River designation. On Saturday, Aug. 10, a guided float on a very flat and easy stretch of the Duck River should be a good trip for inexperienced paddlers. It will be led by Forrest Evans from the Tennessee Natural Areas Program. Canoe rentals are available at a special discount for the four-hour float. To register contact Forrest at 615-532-0431 or email Forrest.Evans@tn.gov by Aug. 9.

Duck River outfitters include River Rat’s Canoe Rental in Columbia and Duck River Canoe and Kayak Rentals in Lewisburg. Camping and lodging are available at Henry Horton State Park.

Duck River

The Duck River winds 269 miles through Middle Tennessee. Popular with canoeists in search of an easy, scenic float, and anglers interested in largemouth and spotted bass, bream, catfish and crappie.

The Buffalo River

If I had to pick a favorite brown bass stream in Middle Tennessee it would be the Buffalo River. Much of its free-flowing 125 miles has been designated a Tennessee State Scenic River. I’ve found creek minnows make the best smallmouth bait; take tuffy minnows if you don’t want to catch your own.

The Buffalo has canoe liveries along Hwy 13 including Crazy Horse Canoe Rentals north of Waynesboro, Flatwoods Canoe Base in Flatwoods, Buffalo River Resort and Heath’s Canoe Rental in Lobelville.

Buffalo River

The Buffalo River is just right for catching smallmouth bass on a pleasant and leisurely float trip.

Which Middle Tennessee river floats your boat this summer?

Looking for more great summer trip ideas? Visit our Summer in Tennessee site and enter our #MakeSummerLast sweepstakes for a chance to win a Tennessee vacation for 4 to Chattanooga!

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

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