Tips From the Experts: Franklin County Water Sports

by Cori Urban

If you’re floating ideas for things to do this summer to keep cool and have fun, cast your glance to Franklin County and its Connecticut and Deerfield rivers recreational opportunities.

Boating, fishing and tubing opportunities will make a splash with individuals and families alike from the hills of West County to the valley below.

And it’s not just the activities that are memorable; the views are spectacular.

“This part of the Connecticut (River) is quite rural and has a wide variety of views from cliffs to wide open fields,” said Carter Wall, government affairs and community relations manager for FirstLight Power, which offers a variety of activities on the river. “The water is mostly slow-moving and calm and navigable for a long distance. It’s also a great place to see wildlife.”

She suggests taking in The French King Gorge and Barton Cove. “The French King Gorge is quite narrow, with high walls, and has beautiful different types of stone on either side. North of the gorge in Northfield you can paddle past some of the most beautiful farms in New England and get some lovely wide-open views,” she said. “Barton Cove has beautiful cliffs along certain sections and nesting eagles.”

Whether you choose to kayak, canoe, motor boat, paddleboard, raft or fish, getting onto or into the water in Franklin County can be refreshing, relaxing or exhilarating.

Whitewater Rafting at Zoar Outdoor

Zoar Outdoor offers whitewater rafting on three sections of the Deerfield and two of the Connecticut, and according to Bruce D. Lessels, president, “must-stop" places along the Deerfield include Zoar Gap, Miami Beach and Dragon's Tooth. On the Connecticut, don’t miss Rock Dam.

Zoar Gap is the biggest rapid on the section below Fife Brook Dam and a place where many people access the river. There's also a great hiking trail from Zoar Gap that leads to the top of Negus Mountain. Miami Beach is a remote-feeling spot in the middle of the Zoar Gap section and a great place to play on surf waves or swim. Dragon's Tooth is one of the toughest rapids on the Monroe Bridge Dryway section of the Deerfield and a great place to spectate. “Rock Dam is a river-wide ledge that forms a really fun chute that is the most exciting rapid on this section,” he added.

Rock Dam Fishing in Turners Falls

Mike Didonna, owner of Deerfield Fly Shop — which offers guided tours and sells supplies — said there is “great” fly fishing all along the Deerfield River, especially from Fife Brook Dam in Florida to the Connecticut River; some sections are catch and release.

The Deerfield River offers great fly fishing and scenery: “You feel like you are 40 miles away from civilization and you forget about the stresses of daily living. … It’s a very scenic river,” he said.

Generally good choices for fly fishing on the Deerfield are dry flies, nymphs and streamers, he said, depending on the time of year.

Crab Apple Whitewater Inc. offers a variety of trips. “You can choose half-day and full day trips on mild, intermediate or wild whitewater as we coordinate our trips with regular dam releases from the many hydroelectric and flood control dams in the area,” explained Jennifer L. Mooney, manager. “We truly love what we do and the positive energy is infectious.”

Lessels said it's common for people to talk about overcoming a fear of rafting after experiencing the Zoar Gap raft trip, and they also frequently talk about what a great way it is for connecting with friends and family.

His favorites spot is the dryway below the #4 dam in Shelburne. “It's a really fun hidden whitewater section that features a long class II-III rapid and a particularly short shuttle that's easy to walk,” he said. “The put-in is down a steep, loose slope, so you need to be careful, but the run is worth the care.”

Spring, summer and fall each offer something special on the Connecticut River. “Obviously the foliage season in the fall is spectacular — particularly the French King Gorge, because the sides are so steep,” Wall said. “In spring and summer, the Rock Dam is a popular spot for fishing. In spring, the mountain laurels on the sides of the French King Gorge are amazing, and you can do great bird-watching in Barton Cove, particularly during migration season.”

Wall suggests pulling out at historic Cabot Camp where the Millers River meets the Connecticut, or paddling up the mouth of the Millers River, “a nice quiet spot for a paddle.” Munn’s Ferry has boat-access-only camping, very peaceful, right on the river.

Her tip for recreation on the river: It’s always quieter during the week. Lessels concurred: “Shoot for midweek or early/late season for the fewest crowds and the best opportunities to enjoy the river.”

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