Duck River Kayak Trip: Normandy Dam to Three Forks
Normandy Dam to Three Forks Bridge
This trip is about 9 miles as the trout swims or the kayaker paddles and took me and a friend three hours and 45 minutes to complete, including the portage at Courtners Mill Dam.
Normandy Dam is an easy access point; the portage at Courtners Mill Dam on the right side is relatively easy (portage access on the Courtners Mill side is no longer allowed); and the exit point Three Forks Bridge is fairly easy, though with steep steps leading up to the parking lot.
The water is almost completely free flowing, with one very shallow point about eight miles into the journey as you near Three Forks. Fishing is excellent anytime of year with lures or live bait, and trout can be caught in March and April before the water gets too warm.
What It's Like Kayaking the Duck River
The Duck River offers kayaking enthusiasts a variety of water conditions but is ideal for the beginner to intermediate levels, as the often slow-moving water and natural obstacles present few difficulties. The trip from Normandy Dam to Three Forks is a perfect example of this and only takes three to five hours to complete, depending on how often you paddle, of course.
The author and a friend completed the journey in just under four hours on March 29, 2015, in slightly chilly weather, including the portage at Courtners Mill Dam which only took fifteen minutes, and we took the time to paddle around below the dam and take pictures. From Courtners Mill to Three Forks the flow of water picked up speed which kept the paddling to a minimum.
When the water is low, as it was on this journey, it makes the paddling less rigorous and the float much more enjoyable, as the water still moved us along at a brisk pace. This stretch is conducive for the beginner because the water flow is fairly quick for the Duck, which cuts down on extensive paddling which can be tiresome for an inexperienced kayaker. Spending a lot of time and energy paddling can quickly dehydrate you so always bring plenty of water and snacks to keep you going.
The kayak trip itself was fairly quick in terms of being on the water as it is around three and half miles from Normandy Dam to Courtners Mill Dam and around six and half miles from Courtners Mill Dam to Three Forks Bridge. The water was swift and the current steady from Courtners Mill Dam until we reached our exit at Three Forks Bridge.
We saw plenty of wildlife and no other kayakers or canoeists throughout the entire course of the river. The scenery is quiet and serene, making for a peaceful day. While this is a popular trip for kayakers later in the year as temperatures warm up, in March we had the river all to ourselves.
Duck River Wildlife and Fishing
Be sure to bring your camera as we saw many natural wonders from picturesque settings to the wide diversity of wildlife the Duck River hosts. I have paddled from Normandy Dam to Columbia, Tennessee and have seen river otters, raccoons, opossums, turtles, bald eagles, great blue herons, geese, snakes, lizards, frogs, deer, foxes and caught a wide variety of fish from bluegills, bass and crappie to even a catfish, all on lures.
I have included some of the wildlife we saw in pictures with this article including some ducks from which this river gets it name. Be sure to have your camera handy as you may never know what animal may make an appearance just around the next bend in the river.
The fishing in this stretch of the river is excellent and we passed many fishermen on the banks or wading, fishing for the rainbow trout which had recently been released from the Normandy Fish Hatchery nearby. This author caught two keepers a good mile and a half below Cortner Mill Dam, using Panther Martin lures (black w/ gold spinner). I only saw one fisherman below Cortner Mill Dam, but he had caught his limit and was heading home.
Great Blue Heron
Catching Some Rays
Preparing for the Trip
Becoming a kayak enthusiast can be fairly cost-effective once you get past the initial expense of buying a kayak, paddle, and life jacket.
Being prepared on a kayak trip is essential for having a good time. I always bring plenty of water and food (snacks are the best), extra batteries for my camera, fishing gear, and a watertight container to keep my valuables. Car keys should be kept on your person and secured to you in case you take an unexpected swim; I attach them to a carabiner clip that mountain climbers use.
Another good tip is to wear a hat and sunglassses because even on cloudy days the sun's glare off the water can lead to sunburn and make seeing your course difficult. You can always take them off if you find you don't need them.
Finding a fellow kayaker to share the experience with offers you the ability to have two cars, one for the drop off and one at the exit point. Because the Duck River curves around on itself so much, often the straight-line distance between two points is half the distance of the actual kayak trip. Having a partner is great for flexibility, safety and convenience and highly recommended.
Normandy Dam to Three Forks Bridge
Cortner Mill Dam
Reading the River
As a beginning kayaker it is important to learn to read the river; this means looking for the natural way the river's current flows over the terrain. This learned skill has allowed me to take the quickest, easiest route and use the flow of water to propel myself with minimal effort and only slight course corrections. This is an important skill to learn because the Duck River has many low water spots, where the river widens out and the water level is only ankle deep.
Taking the swiftest current route will prevent you from bottoming out in shallow areas, as it is always a drag to have to get out of your kayak and move to deeper water and then get back in again.
Although white water rapids are fun and exciting, they are created by underwater obstacles that can hinder your kayak as it moves down the river, so you may want to avoid them. Each underwater obstacle can create unusual and unexpected water currents so be sure to not take any situation lightly.
I have found that even in long stretches of relatively slow moving water, paddling at a steady pace will move you quickly through them, so don't despair because there is always a current on a river that will help move you along. On this journey the current is steady and occasionally swift so that long stretches of paddling are not necessary.
- The Duck River: God's Gift to Tennessee
A brief history of the Duck River that runs through middle Tennessee, and the endangered and diverse animal life in its ecosystem.
A Beautiful Float
It is easy to appreciate nature when you are surrounded by the beautiful scenery and quiet solitude that the Duck River has to offer. Floating along the Duck offers me the quiet bliss that allows me to unwind after a long hectic work week.