By Heather Mullinix
The Caney Fork River flows from Cumberland County down to the Cumberland River. Many have seen this waterway, as Interstate 40 from Crossville to Nashville crosses the river no less than five times.
Below Center Hill Dam, the river flows with a noticeable, but gentle, current, allowing paddle enthusiasts to enjoy a peaceful journey spotting some native wildlife and enjoying scenic views not available from the road.
With recent heavy rains, canoeing the river has been unsafe, with water swelling the river. Finally, the waters receded and myself and the Chronicle's Kristin Bowman donned lifejackets and took our chances on the river.
We arrived at Canoe the Caney, a division of JaBeez Watercraft Rentals, just off Interstate 40 at Silver Point. There, we boarded a bus and were on our way with some pointers to make our trip pleasant and safe.
There are a number of outfitters that serve the river with canoe or kayak rentals and the necessary gear. For those with their own gear, these outfitters can help shuttle you to the river and back again.
Our trip began in the shadow of Center Hill Dam with the water flowing with a strong current. We had barely been pushed off from shore before the current was sweeping us down the river.
We were going just six miles on this trip, with the take out at Happy Hollow. We were armed with two paddles, life jackets and instructions to stay to the right when the river forks.
Usually, the six mile trip takes about three hours, giving you plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely paddle down the river and perhaps stop at a beach for a picnic lunch or just to enjoy the pristine beauty and variety of wildlife. Thanks to the recent heavy rains, the current was carrying us along at a brisk pace. Very little paddling was required out of us or any of the others on this morning voyage. We mostly had to paddle to keep the boat in the center of the river, away from some low hanging branches around the bank.
The trip was self-guided, and we were all armed with the instructions on where our ride home would meet us. Some of the others in the group were familiar with the river, but when we got there, it was clear we were in the right place.
Along the way, we enjoyed some wildlife sighting, including the Blue Heron. Some days, lucky river rats can spot bald eagles. On the banks, there might be deer or more domesticated creatures, such as cows that could be heard from nearby fields.
Outfitters supply the gear you'll need and can help you plan your day, choosing from common river trips of six or nine miles, to helping you create your own adventure. If you've got your own gear, just let them know where to pick you up. There are several access points along the river, and excursions can vary from the six-mile trip to a 20-mile voyage all the way to the South Carthage boat ramp on the Cumberland River.
Just remember, safety first. Check the Tennessee Valley Authority generation schedule, www.tva.com/river/lakeinfo/index.htm. When TVA is generating, water is released from the base of the dam, forcing a large amount of water into the river. That can make a usually gentle current to become dangerous. The water release schedules often change without notice, depending on weather conditions and power system requirements. Always use caution.
There's a few other things you'll probably want while your on the water, including a small cooler with water to keep yourself hydrated and snacks or a picnic lunch to enjoy on the banks of the river. Sunscreen will help keep you from having a souvenir sunburn and sunglasses will reduce the sun's glare off the water. You'll want a camera to capture your memories and plastic bags or dry bags to keep your camera, phone and car keys safe from the water, just in case.
We finished our trip in about two hours and didn't break a sweat. The weather was perfect and we all made it to dry land without taking a dip in the river. That's good because it's always cold in the Caney Fork. I dipped my hand in at one point and was determined no one would go overboard today.
In addition to offering scenic views and a tranquil trip down the river, fishermen can also enjoy excellent fishing, including trout, bluegill, walleye, bass and crappie. With long stretches of water, the Caney Fork River offers good opportunities to fish from a boat or from the bank, or even wading in the river.
It's considered one of the best trout fishing spots in middle Tennessee. There is a limit of seven fish a day, and only two of those can be brown trout. Brown trout have to be at least 18 inches in length to be taken. But one doesn't have to take all they catch. Catch and release is encouraged to help keep the fishing habitat healthy. Regardless if you plan to keep your catch or return it to the river, you'll need a Tennessee fishing license.
After your trip on the river, there's lots to keep you busy in the area, including hiking at Edgar Evins State Park or nearby Burgess Falls and Cummins Falls. Return to the other side of the dam and you'll find the pristine Center Hill Lake. Enjoy a pontoon boat ride, go water skiing or just enjoy a little swimming at one of the many recreation areas nearby.
Those wanting to extend their stay on the water can also find numerous campgrounds and cabin rentals.