Other Paddling Adventures



Allagash Wilderness Waterway

90 mile trip through the North Maine woods

Allagash Falls

Johnny Standing at Allagash Falls — a mandatory portage

 

Johnny, along with his long time friend Tom Lauria and Tom’s two offspring Anthony Lauria and Kristina Lauria, headed to the Pine Tree State, tackling the 90 mile route of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

Chamberlain Lake

Paddling north on Chamberlain Lake with Mount Katahdin lurking in the background

They set out from Chamberlain Lake on a sunny day, with Mount Katahdin rising in the background. They paddled north, as they would the entire trip, heavily laden with provisions, propelled by their eagerness to see the wilds of Maine.

campfire steaks

Tom Lauria cooks steaks over the campfire

They landed at Lock Dam after a 10 mile paddle, then set up camp. A fabulous sunset ended the day. Then Tom cooked steaks and corn over the campfire. A short portage the next morning took them over Lock Dam down a short rocky stream and into Eagle Lake, where they promptly saw an eagle. The still morning was great for paddling, though a headwind did develop during the afternoon. However, they were rewarded with moose sightings after their 15 mile day led them to Churchill Lake and the Scofield Cove Campsite. The neophyte paddler Kristina was the first to spot the moose.

feeding moose

Moose on Churchill Lake

The wonderful weather they had been in enjoying ended the next morning. A rain fell after they had broken camp, but they tried to wait it out under a tarp, but finally took off and got into heavy rain accompanied with lightning and thunder.

Churchill Rapdis

Churchill Rapids

Finally, the precipitation ended just as they got to the Churchill Rapids, a several mile stretch of Class I-II rapids that were more difficult than I expected. But we made it through just fine. The rangers at the waterway offer a gear portage service around the rapids and we took advantage of it. Afterwards, we paddled on into Umsaskis Lake, reaching the very sloped Ledges campsite.

Ledges Campsite Allagash Waterway

Rolling into the gravel bar below Ledges Campsite on Umsaskis Lake

After a rough night’s sleep due to the sloping of the campsite – very few good tent sites were available, the four of us set off and made our way to Long Lake Dam. Here, the remains of the 1800s dam make a dangerous rapid with metal spikes amid it. We made the short portage around it.

Long Lake Dam Allagash Waterway

Remains of Long Lake Dam

Here, began the most continuous river portion of the Allagash Waterway. A few rapids paddled in a renewed rain took us down to the Cunliffe Island campsite.

Cunliffe Island campsite

Johnny and Anthony drain canoe following yet another rain

The rain continued at Cunliffe Island campsite, off and on, though we were able to cook out. At times we were confined to hanging out under the tarp.

Cunliffe Island campsite in the rain

Stuck under the tarp in the rain at Cunliffe Island campsite

The next day Johnny cooked Texas-sized pancakes, which require THE BIG FLIP.

THE BIG FLIP

We enjoyed more rapids and endured more rain before reaching Round Pond, the final stretch of still water. Additional shoals ensued and the day finally cleared a bit.

Fishing the Allagash

Johnny and Tom cast a rod into the Allagash

Tom and I caught a few chubs, which were the only fish biting in the waterway during mid-August.

Fishing the Allagash Waterway

Fishing the Allagash Waterway

The fast water pushed us down to Five Finger South campsite, where we assessed our drenched selves and gear. Luckily, the night remained dry and even cooled a bit, so we enjoyed the campfire.

Next morning, the river had risen and we were pushed into the sunny day down fun and easy rapids, reaching the Allagash Falls portage.

Allagash Falls Portage

Allagash Falls Portage

The 1/3 mile portage was harder than we expected, mainly due to having unwieldy gear and heavy canoes. Additionally, the trail was very muddy and a rain commenced just after we finished toting our stuff around Allagash Falls.

Allagash Falls

Paddling below Allagash Falls

Our final afternoon of paddling was quite easy since the Allagash River was up and there were many rapids. We made our final campsite at Big Brook East, where a strong afternoon sun allowed us to finally dry out our gear. That evening a chill felt good and the temperature dropped into the upper 40s.

Big Brook East Campsite

View from Big Brook East campsite

More rapids led us to the end of the waterway and our ride back to civilization, ending a dream trip of paddling the Allagash Wilderness Waterway.

Jacks Fork and Current Wild and Scenic Rivers, Black River

11 night, 200 Mile Ozark Canoe Trip

Jacks Fork/Current/Black Rivers

From Mountain View, Missouri to Pocahontas, Arkansas

IMG_6318

Keri Anne casts into azure waters of the Current River

Johnny and his wife Keri Anne embarked on an 11 night canoe trip on the uppermost put-in on the Jacks Fork River near Mountain View, Missouri. The weather and river were right and they began fishing, floating and soaking in the scenery.

IMG_6287

Campsite on Jacks Fork River

 

Smallmouth bass, bream and red eye were abundant as we cast our line through rapids, slow sections and among the rocks.

IMG_6289

Johnny with smallmouth bass

Every morning we awoke with pipin’ hot coffee heated over a campfire, followed by steaming pancakes slathered in real butter and maple syrup. Then we would break camp and commence seeing the sights of the Ozarks, this part which is protected as a national park, Ozark Scenic Riverways.

IMG_6400

Johnny executing “the Big Flip”, turning over a Texas-sized pancake

 

When the afternoons grew warm, we swam. Keri Anne and I were constantly in, on and around the water.

IMG_3794

Keri Anne fishes on an Ozark mountain morning

After 5 days on the Jacks Fork we floated into the Current River, much bigger, a little less clear, but chock full of fish and featuring fascinating springs, bluffs and fast moving water that gave the river its name.

IMG_3798

Blue Springs, a quarter-mile walk from the Current River

On we went down the Current River. We had paddling days ranging from 3 to 27 miles per day on the Current, camping on gravel bars.

IMG_3806

Current River Campsite

We stopped to visit Big Springs, the largest spring in Missouri and one of the largest in the world. It is a short but fun walk to the spring upwelling.

IMG_3827

Keri Anne stands above the mouth of Big Spring

 

We left the national river below Doniphan. The bluffs became fewer and the river more agricultural, but the scenery was still worthwhile. Suitable gravel bars were fewer and tree snags more frequent.

IMG_3838

Keri Anne makes lunch on an Arkansas Ozark afternoon

We picked up the paddling as flood watches were posted for the area. Once in Arkansas we pushed for the Black River, our final waterway. The weather was hot and stormy, with a few mosquitoes at the campsites.

IMG_6479

Johnny watches a crop duster fly by from their campsite on the Black River

 

Their 12 day adventure ended at Old Davidsonville State Park, having got off the water before the high waters came, and they did come. The pair had consecutive paddling days of over 30 miles to get to their end point!

.

 

      St. Regis Canoe Wilderness — Adirondacks

This latest adventure was Johnny’s first foray into the Adirondacks — a great mass of mountains very worth exploring. Joined by longtime friend Ken Ashley, now a Vermont resident, and two other Vermonters — Fred and Ted — the four of them, along with Fred’s dog Bear, entered St. Regis Canoe Wilderness on a clear, cool and sunny day.

View of St. Regis Mountain from St. Regis Pond

Fred knew a great campsite on Little Long Pond, so we paddled and portaged to the site, setting up camp as a chill wind contrasted with the warm sun. We gathered plenty of wood for the nippy evening, cooking steaks for dinner. It went into the 30s that night.

  

         Johnny at a portage                                    View of Little Long Pond

A chilly morn turned cloudy as the four paddlers took a day trip to Ochre Pond. They fished a little but ended up catching some brook trout on another unnamed pond. The best discovery was a great campsite on St. Regis Pond, which they went to the next day.

                            

     Ken Ashley fixing to portage                                  Arriving at camp on St. Regis Pond

We set up on St. Regis on a dark day. Johnny went fishing solo and nailed a 22 inch lake trout, while Fred and Ted went and nabbed some more brookies. We enjoyed another great evening by the fire on an idyllic fall evening.

                                    

   22 inch lake trout                              View from camp                            Ken portaging

From St. Regis Pond we took another day trip to Fish Pond. This trip entailed a couple of pretty challenging portages — hills, bogs, streams and more. We were using a canoe with no dedicated portage yoke so that made it a little tougher. The air was still and the colors fantastic on Fish Pond. After returning to camp they cooked a mess o’ trout for supper in a spitting rain. Ted was a fantastic chef the whole time but Fred added his skill as well. A hard night long rain fell that 4th night.

Fred, Bear and Ted on still Fish Pond

Next day, Fred and Ted paddled back into civilization while Ken and Johnny decided to do a little hiking, taking a grassy track with spur trails. They explored Grassy Pond and went back to Fish Pond on the all land route. Their last night was mild and they watch a full moon rise over St. Regis Pond. Loons called in the distance, making for a fitting final evening.

                     

View of St. Regis Pond                                        Ken’s a hiking blur

A big wind blew on the way out, but with less food Ken and Johnny made their way with ease. Big rains hit just as they exited the canoe area, and the two of them were grateful for their good timing, and drove back to Ken’s Vermont home.

More St. Regis Scenes

Ochre Pond

             Grassy Pond at St. Regis                         Sun rises over St. Regis Pond


Rafting Trip through the Grand Canyon

a trip of a lifetime!

Johnny atop 18-Foot raft with Two Compadres Unseen amid the froth

It was early July when seven compadres and I left Lees Ferry for a 300 mile rafting trip through the length of the Grand Canyon. I was joined by my Tennessee friend Bryan Delay and six Californians led by Tim Schiller (Tim and I had met while backpacking at California’s Yosemite National Park).

The eight of us were divided into three oar-frame rafts loaded with enough food in gear for 19 days. Only one of us, a fellow named Jerry Kaufman, had been down the canyon before, so it was with surprise and wonderment that we traveled by water through the rock wonderland that is the Grand Canyon.

Despite my high expectations the river was bigger, the canyon higher and deeper and the scenery more spectacular than I envisioned. I was manning one of the rafts and was shocked at the size of the rapids. My on-the-job training was a work in progress. We got turned around and hung on a rock on the first rapid! But I gradually learned how to steer the raft.

Throughout the trip neither my raft nor the other rafts two flipped. No one fell out of the boat neither. Here’s something to know: more than 80% of the river it is flatwater and easy floating but when the rapids occur they can be – and usually are — huge. We scouted almost all the rapids and ultra experienced boatman Jerry Kaufman showed the routes. My paddling mantra was “Follow Jerry, follow Jerry, follow Jerry”.

          

           Lees Ferry                                                  At camp                                     Hiking up a side canyon

In the late afternoon we would look for a campsite. Our riverside overnighting locales were spectacular as well — often sand beaches backed against sheer cliffs or at the mouths of side canyons. Simply put, the scenery never quit. Nor did the physical challenges — paddling, hiking and the task of loading and unloading the rafts.

With so much gear, it’s real work to properly load the boats, especially considering the beating they took on the Colorado River. Any average rapid would toss our gear out in a heartbeat if not properly stored and secured. Unloading the boats also took agility — lifting, moving and carrying the gear from its storage place on the raft to the campsite.

The scenery was simply Grand!

The
group cooperated well at camp, and the chores were divided. While on the river
the cold water kept the air cool despite the hot sun. However, while at camp it
was quite hot. The heat was strong while hiking. At night, I was lucky to sleep
on my raft above the cold river, much cooler than sleeping on the land. The
trippers who slept on the land used cots to keep off the sun-burnished ground.

       

Redwall Cavern Near the Granaries

           

                             A citadel                                                                                      Cobble Bar

Bryan at sunset near Kwagunt Campsite

Even though it was thunderstorm season, the Colorado stayed green for the first 11 days. The river was cold and clear since it came from under massive Glen Canyon Dam. Luckily, when we passed the Little Colorado River, its strange aquamarine blue waters were still untarnished. The group did a side hike up the Little Colorado River, then floated down it on our backs.

                                           

                   Little Colorado River                                                                              River Scenery

              

   Desert scenery on the way to the Tabernacle                                      Whitney and Pat in the raft

Waterfall in Clear Creek Canyon

                   

                       Afternoon                                    Flowers in Elves Canyon           Mary, Tim and Whitney near falls

As the days passed I became more adept at paddling the oar frame raft. Our trip fell into somewhat of a routine as much as adventures of this sort could. One exception to our routine was the stop at Phantom Ranch. Here we glimpsed a little civilization before tackling more rapids and seeing what lay around the next bend. The Deer Creek area was good for hiking — we spent two nights there, traipsing up the side canyons, marveling at the rock features and the streams and waterfalls contained within.

              

                Rafts and camp below                           Thunder River                            Tim fords Tapeats Creek

Desert Bighorns about to ram each other

About 14 days in, two of our party, Pat and Mary, left the trip at Havasu Creek, hiking out to the Indian village above and making their way to civilization. The six of us intrepidly carried on. The Colorado turned muddy, undoubtedly from flash floods upstream.

The canyon got impossibly deeper. Here we found one of my favorite campsites, known as Ledges. It was in a narrow section of canyon and offered a stone floor that contrasted with the sand of the usual camps. The river ceaselessly echoed off the sheer canyon walls..

            

        Bryan at Ledges camp                                       Filling the water jugs at Three Springs

Hanging out at Havasu Creek

All trip long we had heard about the biggest and baddest rapid, known as Lava. We camped just upstream the night before. I couldn’t sleep. My gut churned. The next morning, while scouting Lava, we saw a man steering his raft get flipped out. The next raft spur out of control. Uh,oh!

My hands were shaking as my buddy Bryan and I floated toward the white froth of Lava. At the top of the rapid we were briefly stuck on a rock, and twisted around. Onlookers watched in fear from the hills above. I punched us off with an oar and we surged into the heart of the whitewater. By the grace of God we spun in a circle, tossed like a child’s toy, then emerged in calmer water, and stopped at what is known as Tequila Beach. While waiting for the others in our party, three wet rafters pulled up to shore, padding an upside down raft! Bryan and I were grateful to have made it through Lava.

From here down we covered a lot of miles but still had some good rapids, including Killer Fang Falls, where Bryan and I came the closest to flipping over. I had gotten a little cocky by then and steered the raft into the heart of the white insanity. We tipped sideways but somehow managed to keep the raft upright without tipping over.

Scouting Killer Fang Falls — Bryan and I almost flipped here!

Bryan naps while I paddle

Our group still had some more miles to cover before arriving at our end point, Lake Mead. It was hard to believe that we made it to the lake — some 300 miles from our beginning point at Lees Ferry. We camped one last night on Lake Mead, where it got to 111 degrees!

                              

           Lake Mead!                                                                    Johnny and Tim at Lake Mead

Camp on night 18 — it got to 111 degrees

The next day we paddled the final few miles to the takeout and the outfitter met us. The trip was over and the party headed to our respective homes with a trip of a lifetime under our belts.

Thanks to Tim Schiller for getting a permit and organizing this trip.


Canoe Camping the New River

Virginia

Johnny with 19 plus inch smallmouth

The famed New River was the destination for this adventure.  Johnny and pal Kent Roller headed to Southwest Virginia near Radford to paddle and fish the New, which starts in North Carolina, then flows north into the Old Dominion before flowing on into West Virginia, where it cuts the New River Gorge of whitewater fame. They went on a 35 mile 3 night trip.

                             

New River at Sunset Kent fishes for bass below Arsenal Rapids Kent and Johnny took off under cloudy skies and immediately began catching smallmouth bass, bream and rock bass.  It would continue that way nearly the entire trip.  The New has long placid stretches as well as some serious rapids as it cuts through the mountains. The first big rapids, Arsenal Rapids, the two of them pulled the canoe around, then fished below.  The day wore on as the low water made for tedious passage but they eventually made an island for camp.

Massive bluffs border the massive New River

Next morning, the day was sunny and they had to paddle through grasses that inhibited the fishing. But the water begin moving once they got to “The Shallows” a rocky section that was very challenging to get through, but they had to get out just a few times.  The rock shoals and rapids proved to be fertile fishing grounds so they didn’t mind. After lunch they scouted then ran Big Falls.  At low water the rapid wasn’t pushy but had lots of rock. The drops were fun actually.

Like doing stuff like this? Then you’ll love Johnny’s book Backcountry Fishing. 

The guide covers backcountry fishing, whether day tripping in a canoe, day hiking along a remote river, going for a multi-day excursion in Quetico Provincial Park of Ontario or a weeklong backpack fish fest in the Gila Wilderness of New Mexico. Whether fly fishing, spin fishing, or saltwater fishing, with this book in hand you will be prepared not only for how to catch fish in the outback but how to be best prepared for backcountry fishing excursions.

Backcountry Fishing

ISBN: 0897326504

Backcountry Fishing Book Link

That afternoon Kent nailed a big smallmouth, then Johnny got a 19″, then a 19 1/2 inch smallmouth in a 30 minute span. Wow! The afternoon wore on and a campsite was hard to come by, as the New is somewhat populated and has a railroad along it (Don’t worry the fishing and scenery are worth it.)

 

Looking upstream from Clendenin Rapid

More great fishing and river running characterized the 3rd day. Horseshoe Rapids was fun. Since the third day was a Saturday, the river was busy with paddlers and many people were gathered at Horseshoe Falls to watch the canoeists and kayakers ply the river — of course a few didn’t make it. The pair cruised on and found a nice gravel bar, stopping early as not to pass up the gravel bar after having troubles finding a campsite the night before.

 Gravel Bar Campsite on New River

They fished their way down the river on a cool morn. They fished hard while dropping over the last rapids trying to be the last man to catch a fish on the river, taking out in Bluff City. Kent caught the final fish.

More New River Scenes

Confederate Flag painted on a rock outcrop. This is the South, baby!

A canoe camping trip down the New River offers scenery like this

 

Kent with smallmouth bass

Its hard to believe the enormity of the New River

Mountains often crowd the New River in Southwest Virginia


 

Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area

Leatherwood Ford to Blue Heron

 

View of Big South Fork National River

Johnny and Pam Morgan embarked from Leatherwood Ford in early June, setting out on a 27 mile paddle adventure through the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. The day started out sunny and the river was low, running around 200 cfs. It wasn’t long before they reached Angel Falls and the mandatory portage. With plenty of camping gear the portage took a while but the two of them jumped in for a nice swim after they were done

.                   

Johnny at Leatherwood Ford Leatherwood Ford Launch

Late spring flowers were blooming along the shore. Tan bluffs stood out among the lush forest. The occasional rapids sped up the paddle and added some excitement to the stellar national park level scenery. After 5 miles they found a camp on the left bank. The hollow of a feeder stream spilled cool air onto the campsite, which overlooked the Big South Fork.

Pam sets up the tent                                  Big South Fork paddle campsite

Next day, the two of them loaded up and paddled through what is known as the Dead Sea, a long calm stretch with only a few shoals. They fished some and Pam nailed a smallmouth bass. Upon entering Kentucky the rapids resumed, and unfortunately a little rain fell.  They continued downriver under dark skies.

 

Johnny paddles a rapid on the Big South Fork

 After 20 plus miles of paddling, it was clear they were going to make the Devils Jump portage, having had trouble finding a campsite. So they made the portage and took out at Blue Heron, ending a long second day on the river.

Bluffs on the Big South Fork

Paddler on Big South Fork

Devils Jump Rapid


Mississippi River Paddle Trip

Johnny and friend Mark Carroll embarked on their 300 mile sea kayaking trip down the Mississippi River. The pair left Memphis, Tennessee in the late afternoon after having set up their car shuttle down in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Mark paddles away from downtown Memphis

The afternoon sun shone upon downtown Memphis as they made it just a short distance to the first of many campsites on the gigantic sandbars that characterize the Mississippi River when it is low, such as it is in fall. They picked this time of year for three reasons: cooler temperatures, fewer bugs and the gigantic sandbars.

 

Early morning at a sandbar campsite overlooking the river

 The weather during the 10 day trip ranged from highs in the mid 80s to lows in the 40s. The first few days were sunny and clear with brilliant fall skies. Light winds made the paddling less challenging. But be apprised that the current of the Mississippi River is strong but you still have to paddle, especially making the average 30 miles per day that we were making. You also have to be wary of the boils, whirlpools and big waves, especially on the sharper bends of the river.

           

Width of the river Johnny’s sunglasses fell apart on the trip

Tugboats are always around — it is their river. We always gave them a wide berth and did not want to be a hazard to navigation.

Barges came in all shapes and sizes

Wildlife was abundant — we saw deer, beavers, coyotes and birds aplenty, including bald eagles and osprey. The fall migration along the Mississippi flyaway was underway. We saw the “V” pattern of the avian set day after day.

              

Beauty was abundant on the Big Muddy

Terrible storms came in for a few days and we were faced with serious headwinds.  One day the winds were going at 20 to 30 miles an hour against us with gusts to 40. We left early in the morning to avoid the strongest winds and by mid afternoon they were whipping the river up into such a frenzy and combined with the dark skies we set up an early camp.

         

Johnny contemplates windy paddle ahead Mark with storm behind him near Greenville

Our shortest full paddling day was 25 miles and the longest 40. We were pushing ourselves and the sea kayaks to the limit.  The day after day long distances took a toll on us but the challenge was fun.

Below are a few more river pictures …

Fire warms us at rainy camp near mouth of White River

This picture gives an idea of the height of the sandbars on the Mississippi River

     

View from river island Mark finds driftwood and brings it to camp

Sunrise on the Mississippi River

Kayaker view of a sandbar

Pink Skies at campsite near Helena Arkansas

Downtown Helena

     

Mississippi River sandbar breakspot Mark along a wall of riprap


Missouri’s Wild and Scenic Eleven Point River

 

                                         

Good Look Along the River Canoe at base of riverside bluff

Johnny, along with brothers Mike and Steele set out near Alton Missouri in the Ozark’s for a 5 day 50 mile paddle trip on the Eleven Point River.  The Eleven Point has plenty of attributes – giant springs pouring cool clear water into the main river stem, rock bluffs that overlook paddlers, caves honeycombing the surrounding hills, hiking trails emanating from the river to access land features, gravel bars that make superlative campsites and lush woods, including the Irish Wilderness, bordering a 44-mile protected river corridor.

The weather was clear and relatively cool for July in the Ozarks.  The spring fed Eleven Point offered a cool respite for swimming and also good waters for trout.  The Molloy crew ate trout for supper two nights.

 

Mike and Steele at put-in Matt with camp fish The cool, clear river gathers from eleven feeder streams above Thomasville, Missouri, hence the name, then cuts an easterly swath into the Mark Twain National Forest, before turning south to enter Arkansas.  Rapids are primarily Class I, but a few Class II shoals keep the paddling lively. Several access points make finding a trip of your desired length very doable. In addition to gravel bars, the national forest has built float camps along the river.  These consist of upland wooded areas near the river that have picnic table, fire ring, lantern post and privy.

Johnny cooking trout at gravel bar campsite with bluff in the background

Molloy family at campsite on Eleven Point River

Johnny and his family paddled on into Arkansas, taking out at Dalton.  Big rains fell on the last night, and the river rose but they got off before the flood hit downriver.

Dam and mill turbine at Boze Mill Spring Post rain paddle through the fog

 


Canoeing West Virginia’s Greenbrier River

Mountains Line the Greenbrier River

 Johnny and friend Kent Roller left Marlinton, WV in early June, setting out on a 5 night, 60 mile trip down the Greenbrier River.  The weather was cool and cloudy, but the fish started biting immediately, smallmouth bass mostly. They cruised downriver and began looking for camp, pulling over at a gravel bar. Johnny went into the woods, and the canoe slipped off the shore. Kent valiantly dashed through the water to retrieve the escaping boat, taking a spill in the process.

Bank fishing near wildflowers Rail Trail crosses Greenbrier River

After a cool night the two pressed down the river, fishing and enjoying the scenery on a cloudy day.  The fishing remained good.  A rain hit the second night, but it was welcomed as the river was low, sometimes forcing them to walk the canoe through shallows.

 

 

The clear river shone in the sun, as the clouds gave way to sun for the next days. The campsites remained nice, including the last night, where Johnny and Kent camped directly beside the Greenbrier River Rail Trail, in a campsite designed for trail and river users. They got to enjoy part of the 60 plus mile old railroad grade, and saw other trail users.

The two discussed the possibility of paddling other parts of the Greenbrier, as there is 27 miles above Marlinton to paddle, and 44 miles below to paddle, from their takeout point, which was Caldwell, WV.  Another possibility is to paddle down river, then take the Greenbrier River Rail Trail back upstream to the put-in!     Overall, the trip is highly recommended, as it is hard to find mountain rivers that can be canoed for long distances without getting into rough rapids.

Johnny at post marking the miles on the Greenbrier River Rail Trail

Kent’s Double Double

A fishing highlight of the trip was Kent’s Double Double. He caught a smallmouth bass and a rock bass on the same lure at the same time!

Spring River in Arkansas

Four nights to Black River Confluence

Brother Mike and I decided to float the Spring River in the Ozark Foothills.  We started at the fish hatchery near the Missouri border on a rainy October day.  We didn’t float far before we were catching trout.  We fished so much we only made two miles, finding a campsite in the woods.  We needed many trees to hang the tarps up as rain was slated to continue. Got a fire going and cooked trout for dinner, along with some mashed potatoes.

      

Mike and I at put-in Mike on the Spring River

We awoke to a solid rain, but broke camp anyway.  The day remained dark, even as rain came and went.  The Spring River has many steep ledges, some of which we couldn’t get over in a loaded boat, so we had to walk the boats through the chutes.  We made 6 miles, and found a campsite on a grassy shoreline

             

Foggy camp Drying stuff off Next day, we had more ledges to get over and became bolder, just going for the chutes despite the steep drops.  We had a hard time traveling, though, as the fishing was so good we kept staying in the same spot rather than heading downriver.

 

    

Ledge on the Spring River

The next day cleared and we enjoyed the sunshine.  We drifted below the trout zone and moved to catching bass and bream.  More shoals and ledges kept the paddling lively as we went through the town of Hardy.  That area had a couple of big ledges that required a pull over.  The gravel bars tapered off and we had a hard time finding a campsite, but found a leaf covered flat spot. around dark.  The stars shined bright on us as we cooked taters, onions and brats over the fire.

                     

Another ledge near Hardy Lower Spring River The last day was rainy, then turned very cold.  We met the Black River, then had to paddle 3 tough miles UPSTREAM to Old Davidson State Park.  It made for a 19 mile final day that was all paddling and no fishing, but we had caught so many trout on the upper Spring we couldn’t complain.

 


Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area

100 Mile Kayak Trip on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley

Friend and real photographer Mark Carroll joined Johnny as they circled Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. Look at the middle of a map of the United States and try to find a body of water with 300 miles of undeveloped shoreline.  Only one place exists – LBL.  Here, paddlers travel along bays and bluffs of Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, a pair of man-made impoundments that arose from the damming the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers.  A short canal connects the two lakes so adventurous paddlers can circumnavigate the long peninsula of LBL, making a near loop separated at its ends by less than 10 miles of land.  Paddlers can go for days without backtracking and still end up fairly close to their car and point of origin.  The shortest possible route of an LBL peninsula circumnavigation is
85 miles, without exploring or making any side trips.
Add exploration and this route can be extended by many
miles and from five days to over two weeks with16 boat
landings and 9 campground boat launches at LBL.

    

Catchin’ a Bream
Gravel bar on Kentucky Lake

We took off from Boswell Landing and
headed north on Kentucky Lake, making a late campsite.
Next day we headed north, passing the KY 68/80 bridge,
then found a nice gravel bar campsite, and waited for
the remnants of a hurricane to arrive.  It was so still
that evening, it seemed the weather radio was lying.
The winds and rain came, pushing us ever northward the
next day.  There were no other boaters out on this dark
day.  We hunkered under a tarp, pressed against a bluff,
and waited for the storm to pass, which it did
overnight.

Clay Bluff on Kentucky Lake             Drying Map
Under the Tarp

The skies were clearer as we cut through
Barkley Canal and entered Lake Barkley.  The skies kept
clearing as we rounded the horn and turned south.  We
found a campsite beside an old homesite, that was worth
exploring.  The evening turned starry and crystalline,
though a little cooler than the night’s previous.

Campsite with old homesite back in woods
on Lake Barkley

We continued down Lake Barkley. The Lake
Barkley portion of the circumnavigation is longer – 50
miles, and that is traveling in this shortest route
possible with no side tripping.  Barkley has 1,004 miles
of shoreline, so there is no shortage of coves to
explore.  It is narrower than Kentucky Lake and Barkley
is riddled with shallows so barges and bigger boats
often follow the channel that swings all over Lake
Barkley tracing what was once the meandering path of the
old Cumberland River.  Slender islands pock the lower
lake, potentially causing navigational problems.  Not
all these islands are shown on maps, further
complicating route finding.  In spring, when Barkley is
at its highest, more passages between islands will be
open.  Be especially cautious in fall, when the lake is
lower.  If you pick the wrong side of an island to
paddle you may end up in a dead end mudflat and have to
backtrack, or will be prevented from accessing the LBL
side of the lake for camping opportunities.  Barkley’s
shoreline is more continually forested with fewer gravel
bars and bluffs, making finding a backcountry campsite
more challenging.  Don’t wait until just before dark and
expect to find a campsite. Give yourself ample time to
explore peninsular points and creek mouths for a
suitable tenting locale.  Campsites can be harder to
find, especially when compared to Kentucky Lake.  As a
final resort, Barkley’s lake access points at road ends
can be your backup campsites.  These lake access points
can also be used for starting or ending trips.

Johnny On Lake Barkley

        Next morning, we sipped
coffee expectantly watching a warming sunrise in the
east.   The two of us returned to the main channel of
the Cumberland River, unwilling to chance the straits
between the islands.  Ahead, two deer swim onto a
willowy island from LBL, then shake off as they reach
dry land.  Upon seeing Neville Bay (the grassy lake
access is visible from the main lake), we keep the LBL
shoreline within view.  It is imperative to find Neville
Bay, otherwise you might miss Gatlin Point Campground
ramp, the final LBL take-out, as several very long
narrow islands block Gatlin Point from view if paddlers
follow the marked river channel.  Mark’s car waits at
Gatlin Point and we drive back to Boswell Landing,
ending our circumnavigation.


Tracing Lewis and
Clark while Paddling

The Missouri Wild and Scenic River The Missouri Wild and Scenic River was
the destination on this trip.  Three of us flew to
Great Falls, Montana and set out on the mighty Missouri
from Fort Benton, following the path of Lewis and Clark
on the 200th anniversary of the greatest adventure the
United States has ever seen.  I was joined by Tom Lauria, Vic Alvarez and Al “Big Man” Farrell.  The scenery was
fantastic!

Johnny
at a campsite where Lewis and Clark
Stayed on the Missouri River in Montana

We were immediately impressed with
the scenery – the rock bluffs, wide, fast moving river and green groves of
cottonwood contrasting with the blue sky.  The greenhorns of the crew — Al and
Vic – were adapting nicely.  The sun beat daily as we cruised through the White
Cliffs so eloquently described by Meriwether Lewis back in 1805.

On the Missouri

Our paddling trip of 150 miles was broken by
day hikes to high vistas, through slot canyons, to intriguing rock formations
such as the Hole-in-the-Wall and to historic points, such as the knob where
William Clark first beheld the Rocky Mountains, which the Corps of Discovery was
to surmount.  The hike to Clark’s vista point was long and hot.  Truthfully, we
weren’t sure we reached the exact point as it wasn’t marked. A highlight was camping among
ancient and giant cottonwoods at a Corps of Discovery campsite.  These trees may
have shaded Lewis and Clark. All the riverside campsites were desirable,
however.  The settings were panoramic and the company was enjoyable.  The
“musquetors” were next to nil. Sadly, the trip ended after a week
and we flew back east, having executed a classic American adventure.

Paddling Buffalo National Wild and
Scenic River

Another adventure was a 6 night canoe camping trip on the Buffalo River of Arkansas with my oldest brother Steele. The Buffalo is one of our country’s oldest wild and scenic rivers and on of the few places in the East that you can go extended river trips without seeing anything but an occasional bridge. In early October, we started at Tyler Bend. The water was 1.8 feet.

Bluff on the Buffalo River, Arkansas

We started catching bass and bream right off. The weather was warm and we really enjoyed camping on those pebble bars, across from sheer canyon walls, tipped with pines and other trees. We saw numerous birds, including bald eagles, as we scraped over a few shoals. Of course, no trip would be complete without a little rain.

We were hammered by thunderstorms one afternoon, eventually pulling over and setting up the tarp, cooking inner beneath our little shelter. The water was a bit stained the next morn, but soon cleared. We continued to enjoy the meandering watercourse and the gorge-ous atmosphere.

A big moon kept us company on those last cold nights. Like most trips, this one ended too soon as we came to the confluence with the White River and Cartney Landing where one of the many outfitters in the area had left our car.


Boundary Waters of Minnesota

View of Lac La Croix from near Camp

The
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota,
straddling the Canadian border, was the setting for this
June adventure. Long time outdoor partner John Cox  and I
left South Hegman Lake, northwest of Ely, a town that serves
visitors like us who come from all over the United States to
visit  what we call “Canoe Country”  on the Echo Trail and
entered the wilderness. Two portages and a little paddling
later we ended up on Little Bass Lake and their first night
a less than stellar camp.  Minnesota’s state bird – the
mosquito – greeted warmly at the campsite. Some rain fell
and was an ongoing event during this trip.

John with bass on Little Bass Lake
Pictographs on North Hegman Lake

Next day,
we continued our 9 day trip, aiming for the vivid
pictographs on North Hegman Lake, amazed at their pristine
condition. The next surprise came while fishing. I hooked a
14 inch smallmouth bass and while reeling it in to the
canoe, a northern pike came from nearby and clamped down on
the bass with its jaws, startling the bass and me! I reeled
the two fish in, technically what I call a “double-double –
catching two fish on one lure – then pulled the pike off the
bass, then unhooked the bass, undoubtedly grateful for a
second chance at life. Pike are at the top of the food chain
in northern Minnesota lakes.

We
resumed a northward journey toward the Canadian border,
making the notorious Angleworm portage, a 460 rod challenge
of muskeg, bogs, boulder fields, and hills to reach
Angleworm Lake, where solitude awaited. That means we
carried the canoe, our camping gear, fishing rods, tackle
boxes, paddles, food and everything that fit into the canoe
1.5 miles one way. So if you count going back and forth
twice to carry everything, that adds up to about 6 miles of
walking and toting.

Lakeside pitcher plants

Portages
like this are one of the reason’s I was using my 17 foot
ultra-lightweight 42 pound Wenonah canoe. It is easier to
carry. Another travel day followed. John and I were
portaging, paddling and fishing through a series of small
lakes, heading north. We ended up at tiny and dark Wagosh
Lake, where we found a bluff camp and angled for northern
pike and perch. The lake was ours – there’s only one
campsite on it, effectively eliminating the competition.

Johnny on beaver dam
– View from campsite on Wagosh Lake

From
Wagosh it was time to hit the big water and the big fish. We
got to Crooked Lake and the Canadian-American border on a
windy, dark morning, then headed west along the border. The
two of us immediately ran into some fish, including a big
smallmouth John caught.

I was
tossing spinners for bass and hooked something big. Whatever
it was simply started stripping line off the reel. I hung on
tight. After about a half-hour of carefully playing the fish
– I had four-pound test line on my ultralight spinning rod
–I landed a pike longer than my leg. Wow! That alone made
the trip.

Pike caught on ultra light rod with a
spinner

We found
a wooded campsite overlooking the main lake, with a beach
access. A couple of rounds of topwater bass fishing were a
big success. Ironically, we had stayed at the same campsite
several years previous, but it didn’t dawn on us until
later.

 

Crooked Lake
Beach Camp on Crooked Lake

Next day
we continued onto the chain of lakes dividing the United
States from Canada. From Iron Lake, we portaged around
Curtain Falls, a huge froth pouring thousands upon thousands
of gallons of water toward Lac La Croix. We were we were
fortunate to find another great campsite, perched on an
island hill overlooking a long stretch of water.

We spent
two days there, allowing John’s shoulder to recover after he
took an awkward spill, retrieving a lure on a rocky shore.

Curtain Falls

Muddy Bottle Portage
View from camp

We awoke
to big winds, forecast to get bigger. The blow forced a
short day as we continued on Lac La Croix. After fighting
our way island to island, fortune smiled on John and I, as
we ran into a first rate camp in the lee of the wind. Gusts
pealed up to 45 miles an hour while we hunkered in the
trees.

       Johnny
relaxes as wind howls
Rainbow signified end to bad weather

Beyond
Lac La Croix we turned south into a series of lakes where
multiple portages and paddling and fishing led to tour final
camp on Oyster Lake. John and I savored a final cool night
in the pines before exiting the Boundary Waters the next
day, another adventure under our belts.

Sunset on Oyster Lake

Western Boundary Waters of Minnesota

Campsite on Lac La Croix
Campsite on Lac La Croix

This summer, Johnny and his wife to be Keri Anne Sherwood headed up to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Minnesota. We started at Crane Lake, the westernmost entry point to the BWCA. It was a five-mile paddle to enter the actual wilderness. We made our way to Little Vermilion Lake and found an open grassy can’t facing in the wind. Yellow flies were troublesome. But the long North Country day was great.

Motor Portage at Loon Falls
Motor Portage at Loon Falls

Next day we arose and made our customary hot coffee and butter and syrup slathered pancakes then headed toward the Loon River. We enjoyed having a motor portage around Loon Falls. They spent three days on Loon Lake, camping and catching fish. Keri Anne caught her first smallmouth bass fishing with top water plugs.

Keri Anne with a smallmouth bass caught on topwater
Keri Anne with a smallmouth bass caught on topwater

The yellow flies eased up as we left Loon Lake and headed for Lac La Croix. The fishing really picked up on the big lake. We were nailing northern pike and smallmouth bass. As usual the winds blew and we got a little rain but the weather was mostly nice. We found some great campsites around Snow Bay. We continued easterly through the lake, camping on islands, rock outcrops and underneath pines. The distant wildfire rendered the area hazy for a couple of days. We swam a lot since it was rather warm.

Hanging out in the tent, waiting for night to fall
Hanging out in the tent, waiting for night to fall

One of our favorite campsites was near the pictographs across from Irving Island. It had a combination of beach, rock outcrops and shade as well as a perfect canoe landing.

IMG_3247
Irving Island bluffs where pictographs are
View from our campsite
View from our campsite

After nearly a week on Lac La Croix, we headed into some smaller lakes. Working our way up Pocket Creek, we then portaged to Pocket Lake and Finger Lake. The smallmouth bass were biting everywhere it seemed. We swam often that afternoon due to the heat but it cooled down into the 40s that night.

Johnny with a nice smallmouth bass
Johnny with a nice smallmouth bass

We were cooking over a fire breakfast, lunch, and dinner, engaging in a little campfire cookery. The two of us also read a lot and enjoyed being out of contact with civilization and the ever growing electronic universe.

Figuring out how to load the canoe
Figuring out how to load the canoe

A series of portages and small lakes take us back to Lac La Croix, where we enjoyed more fishing, camping, and relaxing. A strong headwind made our return to Loon Lake challenging. However, on our final day we paddled 20 miles and said goodbye to the Boundary Waters after 12 days.

Keri Anne checks out colorful pitcher plants after a portage
Keri Anne checks out colorful pitcher plants after a portage