Take In the Beauty of Tennessee’s Buffalo River
Who wouldn’t like to spend a lazy day exploring one of Tennessee’s best-known and most beautiful rivers? I’m not talking about heart-stopping plunges through raging whitewater, but relaxed paddling through some of the prettiest countryside Middle Tennessee has to offer. That’s what you’ll find drifting on the Buffalo River.
Add a couple of fishing poles and you’ve got the makings of a great outdoors day in my book.
For non-anglers, canoe liveries along the middle section of the Buffalo start gearing up in April. They do a brisk business during peak summer season and warm weekends from April to October with the area around Flatwoods being particularly busy due to the number of outfitters – so reservations for your canoe rental is a good idea. Some have campgrounds and cabin rentals if you want to make a weekend of your Buffalo River adventure.
The Buffalo River originates in Lawrence County east of the community of Henryville. It terminates 120 miles later when it joins the Duck River just before emptying into the Tennessee River east of New Johnsonville.
I remember my last paddling trip down the scenic upper section of the Buffalo River like it was yesterday. My wife, our 11-week-old golden retriever puppy and I had joined a small group of canoeists on a float trip organized by one of our neighbors.
Taking its name from the stone bottom that allowed early travelers along the Natchez Trace to cross the Buffalo River at this location, Metal Ford is located at mile marker 382.8, about three miles south of the Meriwether Lewis site and campground on the Natchez Trace Parkway.
We put in at the Metal Ford picnic area and historic site using a wooden strip canoe I carefully designed and built for my wife’s birthday a few years earlier.
After an easy launch, soft sounds of birds flitting along the thickly wooded banks and water dripping from our paddles as we reached forward for another stroke were disturbed only by the aggrieved chattering of a belted kingfisher interrupted during his pursuit of lunch. Peace prevailed until our young pup leaned a little too far over the gunwale and discovered how much fun it was to swim.
But getting back to the piscatorial portion of this post, if I had to pick one smallmouth bass stream in Middle Tennessee it would be the Buffalo River.
Paddlers are less likely to spook fish on this free-flowing river because the canoes can be silent. Stream smallmouth feed in very shallow water so stealth and casting accuracy are important for successful fishing. Creek minnows make the best smallmouth bait. Or use 1/8-ounce jigs with hair or plastic tails in crawfish colors on four- or six-pound-test line. You can also try retrieving a small spinnerbait through the heads of pools before you enter them in your canoe.
Canoeing lets you beach your craft on one of the many gravel bars to get out to fish riffles thoroughly. My favored stretch for catching smallies is just south of I-40 off Hwy. 13.
As happy as anglers are to see downed timber habitat, beware of “strainers,” trees that have fallen across the river. Scout them carefully as they can be a nuisance when you hang up or turn deadly if you get swept into one and become trapped, especially during high water conditions.
So my advice is wet a paddle and wet a line. Even if the fish aren’t biting, the scenery is pretty and the fresh air and clear water are sure to do you good.
Have you fished the Buffalo? Share your stories in the comments!