Float #106 – 108: Eleven Point River

22 Jul

Cane Bluff to Myrtle

F106_ElevenPoint

Eleven Point River
Oregon County, Missouri
Friday, July 4 – Sunday, July 6
39 Miles

July 4th weekend is always crowded on the river, and I prefer my rivers quiet and pristine most of the time. However, I can’t waste a 3-day weekend sitting at home so what better place to be than the Eleven Point. The Eleven Point is rarely crowded since it is so far from any major city and the water is too cold for most people. The weekend turned out to be beautiful with unseasonal cool temperatures and the water was higher than normal due to recent flooding. I almost wish it had been hotter since the water is so cold!

We were joined by our friend Jake from Nashville to float 3 days on the Eleven Point from Cane Bluff (which is above Greer Spring) down to Myrtle (just above the Arkansas state line). Jake’s brother Jess, his girlfriend Kat, and her dog Nellie joined us for the first two days. We camped at Hufstedler’s on Thursday night and had them shuttle our boats up to Cane Bluff and our car down to Myrtle all for a reasonable price. Hufstedler’s is my favorite outfitter on the Eleven Point and we have been going there for well over 10 years. The camping is cheap, the firewood is free, the rental and shuttle prices are reasonable and the owners are pleasant, hardworking people.

Friday morning we woke up early and broke camp while waiting for Jess and Kat to arrive. They pulled in to our camp right on time, so we got all our gear together to ride the shuttle van up to Cane Bluff. We were unloaded and ready to put on the water by 10:30. Earlier in the week the Eleven Point and surrounding areas were hit with a flash flood and the water was still draining, making the river level higher than normal and a little bit murky. I have never been up at Cane Bluff with the water at that level. It was nice because Cane Bluff can be tricky in the summer and fall and you sometimes have to portage low spots. Not this time! We sailed over places that were normally scraping. However, all the new trees in the river made for plenty of new obstacles. All of them were passable, but it did make things tricky for anyone unfamiliar with this river, or canoe skills in general. One of the things I like best about the Eleven Point is that it can be more challenging than it looks, especially when the water is flowing swiftly!

Eleven Point River

Putting in at Cane Bluff

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

DW, Jake and I brought our fishing poles and put them to work as soon as we hit the water. Over the weekend we caught some smallmouth, bluegill, and plenty of trout. I don’t know if the river was recently stocked with trout, but I have never caught that many here before. We each caught a few nice sized rainbow trout and I caught a brown trout. If we hadn’t been in a blue ribbon area we could have kept them! Kat did some fishing as well and caught her share. Poor Nellie (the dog) sniffed a fishing lure and hooked herself, requiring some emergency nose surgery. She was fine as soon as the hook was out and you couldn’t tell anything had happened.

Eleven Point River

Snake suns on a log

Eleven Point River

Greer Spring

Eleven Point River

Hwy 19 Bridge at Greer

Eleven Point River

Jake’s trout

Six miles down from Cane Bluff, Greer Spring enters the river on the right side. Greer Spring turns the Eleven Point from creek to river. The second largest spring in the state, Greer is beautiful and massive. The spring branch is bigger than the river itself where it meets the Eleven Point. At the time of this trip all the springs were higher than normal due to the rains, and Greer was pumping out an impressive amount of water. I had never seen it that high before! Thus, the waters of the Eleven Point were colder than usual, consisting mostly of fresh spring water in a rush southward, not spending much time warming in the sun.

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Yellow Crowned Night Heron

Eleven Point River

Turner Mill Spring

Eleven Point River

Jake in Turner Spring

Eleven Point River

Turner access

Just after Greer Spring branch is Greer access off of Hwy. 19. The best reason to put in at Cane Bluff is to see the change in the river once Greer Spring comes in. If you put in at Greer access you will miss it. The river flows quickly from Greer access, through Mary Decker Shoals (a rocky boulder dash) to Turner Mill Spring and access. At Turner Mill the remnants of the old mill and the spring are on the left side of the river and the campground and access are on the right side of the river. The spring flows out of a cave in the face of a bluff just up the hill from the river. It can be reached from a short hiking trail behind the bathroom. The trail is usually flanked by poison ivy, so tread carefully! Turner Spring was also pumping out an impressive amount of water and DW, Jake and Jess plunged in the flow for some hydrotherapy.

We camped just below Turner Mill on Friday night on a small gravel bar that was quite peaceful (except for all the frogs yelling about which one has the sexiest voice). The men gathered firewood, and Kat and I avoided the ticks and poison ivy while setting up our tents. We enjoyed a nice fire and a good meal that evening while we watched the bejeweled sky. The stars are spectacular on the Eleven Point and we saw several meteorites before hitting the bed sometime around midnight. The next morning we broke camp in a leisurely fashion and were back on the water between 10:30 and 11.

Eleven Point River

The jumping rock

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Boze Mill Spring

Eleven Point River

Another snake

Eleven Point River

Campfire

Our second day on the river was spent much in the same fashion as the first; fishing, swimming and a couple of stops along the way. The next access down from Turner Mill is Whitten. Whitten is often very crowded on the weekends and a popular spot for locals to park their campers and hang out. Between Turner and Whitten is a large rock on the left side of the river that is one of DW’s favorite for diving. Usually the rock is about four feet out of the water and a bit difficult to pull up beside and climb up. This time it was only a couple of feet out of the water and looked so small compared to normal. We stopped here for a bit while everyone took their turns diving into the deep waters. The rest of our day was leisurely up until the last couple of miles. The river slows down somewhat after Turner and there are more long lake-like pools between the swift bends.

We stopped at our favorite spring on the Eleven Point, Boze Mill. There were a lot of people so we didn’t stay long, but we did take our turn dipping into the large spring fed pool. Usually the water coming our of Boze Mill is breathtakingly cold, but it was definitely warmer and cloudier this time. I guess it was pumping out rainwater mixed in with the spring water, still colder than the river though! Right around the bend from Boze Mill is Halls Bay Chute, a class 2 or 3 rapid and the largest drop on the river. When you approach this rapid stay on the left side of the river, as the right is usually shallow and full of rocks. This time the water was so high you could get over the rocks with no problem. I was afraid the water would be high enough to blow out the rapid, making it much less exciting. However it was more fun than usual. The wave at the bottom of the drop was much bigger than normal. A wall of water broke over my boat and filled the cockpit while thoroughly soaking me. Jake was right behind me as we turned into the eddy to bail out our kayaks. Next came Jess and Kat, who filled their canoe with about 6 inches of water but made it through without spilling. DW made it through with a little less water in the canoe. After I bailed my boat I continued downriver behind everyone else and passed Jess & Kat being rescued by a couple of helpful locals in a jon boat. Apparently, they had decided to bail their boat in the worst possible spot, against a tree, and swamped the entire canoe. Luckily with DW and the jon boat’s help they were able to salvage it before the canoe sank entirely. I sprinted downriver to pick up their yard sale (spilled items). Jess & Kat took it in stride and no one was any worse for wear.

Just before we reached Riverton access we came across another swamped canoe being rescued by a jon boat. This one was jammed underwater against a downed tree that had fallen across the main channel. So the lesson here is: swift water + tree = a bad time. Jess and Kat took off the water at Riverton, where we ran into the couple who had been in the other swamped canoe. They were a bit shaken up, as they had been sucked under the tree when their boat capsized. Luckily, everyone was ok, but they didn’t seem interested in floating again any time soon. We said our goodbyes to Jess & Kat and DW, Jake and I headed downstream to find a camping spot for the night. Within the next half hour we came upon a large gravel bar that had washed into the forest with plenty of firewood and flat spots for our tents. Another excellent night of camping was had with a much bigger fire than the previous evening.

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

Eleven Point River

The fattest turtle

Eleven Point River

The next morning dawned a little bit overcast as we groggily stumbled from our tents. We heated our breakfast and broke camp, getting back on the water around 10. The section of the Eleven Point down from Riverton to Myrtle is much less popular, but worth doing. There are several springs and it is usually a peaceful float. I saw a lot of turtles, some of them soft shell, and many birds. This section is not entirely within the National Scenic Riverway, so there are more signs of civilization and some riverside cabins. We only saw a couple other people the whole day, as almost everyone takes out at Riverton.

Eleven Point River

Morgan Spring

Eleven Point River

Blue Spring

Eleven Point River

Hwy 142 bridge

Eleven Point River

Myrtle access

About nine miles from Riverton is Morgan Spring float camp on the right side of the river. Float camp is used generously as it is literally one campsite with a stone table, fire ring and lantern post. But it is a beautiful spot right on the bank of the spring branch. It is easy to miss if you’re not looking for it, and this time there was a tree blocking the spring branch. We managed to wriggle around it and paddle up the spring branch a little bit. Around the corner from Morgan Spring is Blue Spring (one of many Blue Springs in the state). This Blue Spring is the eighth largest in Missouri and well worth checking out. There is a footpath somewhere on the bank that leads to an overlook, but I don’t know where that is exactly. We usually paddle up the spring branch to check it out. With all the newly fallen trees it was quite a bit of work to get up the spring branch. We sent DW in first. If he could maneuver that fully loaded canoe between branches, so could we in our little kayaks.

After exiting the spring we passed under Hwy. 142 bridge. There is an access just before the bridge on the left side of the river. We stopped on a gravel bar and ate lunch just around the bend. The sky was beginning to get stormy looking and we could hear thunder in the distance. Luckily, the rain missed us and it was soon sunny again as we paddled down to Myrtle. Myrtle access is on the right side of the river, one mile before the Arkansas state line. We pulled off the river around 3:30, loaded our gear and headed back to Riverton to pick up Jake’s van. On our way home we stopped at Stray Dog BBQ & Pizza in Van Buren for some excellent pizza and wings, which is our little tradition for the end of an excellent Eleven Point trip. We all had a great time. Floating the Eleven Point always soothes my soul and I feel quite refreshed after a weekend spent on the chilly spring-fed waters.

Our next major float trip will be in Minnesota as we are headed there for vacation. Out of state floats are always a fun new adventure and Minnesota loves floating as much as Missouri does, so I’m looking forward to it!

Critter Count: Blue Herons, Green Herons, Yellow Crowned Night Herons, Hawks, Snakes, Turtles, Deer, 1 Mink

Float #104 & 105: Big Piney River

26 Jun

Slabtown to Ross Bridge

F104_BigPiney

Big Piney River
Texas and Pulaski Counties, Missouri
Saturday, June 21 & Sunday, June 22
15 Miles

Over the years I’ve noticed that we tend to float a lot of rivers around the same time every year. This is one of those. Last year we floated the Big Piney a week later than we did this year. Two completely different groups of people and two different styles of float trips, but the river calls us back right on schedule every time! This year we did an overnight fishing float with the St. Louis Adventure Group. There were about 12 of us in all, spending two lazy days on the river fishing every hole we meandered past.

We arrived at Slabtown camp on Friday evening. I set up camp while DW and the rest of the drivers ran the shuttle to Ross Bridge access. Slabtown is a National Forest Service campground. It is very small with only 3 sites in a sort of communal setting. There is no water, restroom or trash service; but that also means there is no fee to camp. I last camped at Slabtown many years ago and it looks like the Forest Service has improved it since then. There is now a small parking lot next to the camp so you can unload your gear easier, new fire pits and picnic tables, and the boat ramp looks improved as well. Gone is the walk-in access to the camp, which was up a steep staircase from the boat ramp parking.

We spent Friday evening around the campfire getting to know new people and catching up with some friends we knew from previous SLAG trips. DW and I got to bed a little late and woke up around 8am to find most of the group had already set out an hour before. That’s nothing new for us though, we’re never in a hurry when we’re on river time! Our good friends Tommy and Val usually slack off at the end of the group too, which is one reason we get along so well. It took us a while to get all our gear from camp down to the boats and packed up for the trip. We were on the water just before 10am and it was already so humid and warm that I had to take a swim before I even got into my boat.

Big Piney River

Putting in at Slabtown access

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Right around the corner from Slabtown access is a large gravel bar across from a craggy bluff, which just happens to be where we camped on the river last year. This year’s two-day float is the same stretch we did in one day last year, but when you are fishing things go a lot slower. We started catching fish pretty soon after hitting the water. The Big Piney is a blue ribbon smallmouth area, which means smallmouth bass must be at least 15″ to keep. We didn’t catch anything close to that big, but we did catch a lot of medium-sized smallmouth, goggle eye and bluegill. There were some beautiful bluegill in this stream with such vivid coloring, and a lot of tiny little fish finger size bluegill that were almost the same size as my lure. That didn’t stop them from getting hooked though! Within the first hour of fishing a goggle eye managed to steal my brand new crawdad lure. That was one of three lures I lost over the weekend (I’m really good at losing lures). I lost two more to snags (I’m also really good at catching trees).

Big Piney River

A large dragonfly commandeers my fishing pole

Big Piney River

Lily pads are blooming

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Prewett Spring

The Big Piney is a great river with excellent fishing and many tall beautiful bluffs. Everyone always raves about the bluffs on the Jacks Fork (which are great), but the Big Piney has just as good a selection of pine-topped cliffs along the river. Another great thing about the Big Piney is that it isn’t very busy. We only saw a handful of other people the whole weekend. This is probably due to the fact that it is a little farther from the city than the Ozark National Scenic Rivers and there is a lack of outfitters on the Big Piney. There is only one on the upper river and two or three on the lower river. We also didn’t find much trash until we got to the last five miles of the float (which is stretch frequented by the lower river outfitters). The river is mostly surrounded by National Forest, so there aren’t many cabins or other signs of civilization along the way. There are a few springs on the Big Piney. The big spring branch on this stretch is Prewett Spring, which comes into the river on the left side. The head of the spring is a ways up the branch on private property, so I’ve never walked back there to find it. Swimming in the water where the spring flows into the river is good enough! It was very cold, especially compared to the Big Piney water, which is not too cold at all.

The whole first day of this trip there were ominous clouds and the sounds of thunder upstream from us. I was hoping it would never actually catch up to us, but a few miles from our camp we got caught in a downpour. It rained as hard as it possibly could for about 20 minutes and then it was over. Luckily it was a warm rain with no wind, so no harm done. We just paddled through it, though we had to pay extra attention since the huge, fast raindrops obscured the water so you couldn’t read where the obstructions were. We reached the rest of our group camped across from a large bluff, bailed out all the rainwater from our boats and set up our camp. The evening was spent stargazing, watching the spectacular firefly show, and the distant lightning illuminating the thunderheads. It didn’t rain on us again during the trip, but it was never too far away.

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Our camp on the river

Big Piney River

A rock slide

Big Piney River

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. We cooked our breakfast over the coals from last night’s fire and broke camp. We were on the water a little earlier than the day before, but we were at the back of the group again (as usual). Within the first couple miles we came upon a hillside that had a few rock slides that looked fairly recent. That’s something you don’t see too often in Missouri. We spent the day fishing and swimming. There was a lull in the fishing around mid-morning when they weren’t biting, but then it picked up again soon after. One noteworthy animal sighting was a box turtle swimming across the river. That’s something we’ve never seen before. He was funny because he saw us and couldn’t pull his head into his shell while swimming, so he was looking a little panicked. He made it across just fine though.

Big Piney River

A box turtle swims across the river

Big Piney River

Big Piney River

Swift water

Big Piney River

Coming up to Ross Bridge

We stopped for lunch on a shaded gravel bar, ate the rest of our food and did some swimming. The last couple miles of the float we spent picking up trash, as there was more trash in that last couple miles than on the whole other part of the float. I did find a nice water gun and a cup koozie. We arrived at our take out around 2:30 and spent about an hour unloading the boats and loading the gear back into the car. It was a very relaxing weekend and I had a lot of fun fishing and spending time on this beautiful stream with good company. When we arrived home we found that the storms had been much worse at our house. We had a maple tree split in half and smash our backyard fence. Lovely to come home to a big mess when all you want to do is unload your gear and ride the couch for the evening. At least it didn’t damage anything more important.

We are planning to spend 4th of July weekend on the Eleven Point with our friend Jake from Nashville. I’m really looking forward to that trip, as the Eleven Point is my favorite stream in Missouri!

Critter Count: Ducks, Turkeys, 1 Bald Eagle, Turtles, Soft Shell Turtles, 1 Box Turtle

Bonus Prizes: 1 cup koozie, 1 water gun

 

Float #103: Little Piney Creek

20 Jun

Newburg to Jerome

F103_LittlePiney

Little Piney Creek
Phelps County, Missouri
Sunday, June 15
6 Miles

This is a short little float from Newburg access on the Little Piney down to the confluence with the Gasconade River. We have always wanted to do this float in order to complete the whole Little Piney and this past Sunday was our opportunity. We met up with our friend Richard who lives near St. Robert and is always down for a Piney float of Little or Big variety. The shuttle between Newburg and Jerome access did not take long and we were on the water shortly after noon. It turned out to be a warm, sunny day despite driving through some storms on the way there.

The Little Piney is more creek than river and has excellent fishing and technical paddling. It doesn’t often get cleared of debris, so there are a lot of fallen trees that can cause jams. That is where the technical part comes in. If you are in a kayak you may be able to wriggle around most of them. In a canoe not so much. It also takes some precise turning to get around the jams, so if you are a novice you will be either be portaging or falling out of your boat a lot (both good options).

Little Piney Creek

The bridge at Newburg access

Little Piney Creek

Little Piney Creek

Floating under a fallen log

Little Piney Creek

A heron poses on a tree

The water was at a good level for this float, we didn’t bottom out much at all. The Little Piney does have a year round source at Lane Spring and a few smaller creeks that feed it, but it is usually best to float in the spring when there is more rain. In the late summer it can get pretty low in spots. I didn’t bring my fishing pole on this trip, so of course I spotted a few big fish in the creek. We also saw plenty of herons, turtles and a couple of turkeys.

Little Piney Creek

Little rapid on the Little Piney

Little Piney Creek

A decrepit bridge

Little Piney Creek

RR bridge

Little Piney Creek

We floated under several bridges on this trip. The first was an old concrete bridge that hopefully has been closed. It looked pretty scary and unstable. There was a lot of debris jammed underneath it and one little section that was clear to float through. I would not want to approach that sucker in high water! We also floated under a railroad bridge, I-44 bridge and another railroad bridge at the confluence.

Little Piney Creek

DW floats by

Little Piney Creek

Floating under I-44

Gasconade River

Looking upstream at the RR bridge across the Gasconade

Gasconade River

Jerome access

The water was flowing at a nice pace so we didn’t have to paddle too much. We stopped for lunch on a gravel bar about a mile above the Gasconade and swam a bit too. Once you pass under I-44 the confluence is just around the corner. The Gasconade was up a bit and flowing rather quickly. The Gasconade is usually a painfully slow river, so it was nice to not have to slog through it for a change. Jerome access is just a mile down from the confluence. You can’t miss it as it is an imposing pile of limestone that glows brightly in the sunlight. Jerome access has a nice boat ramp, plenty of parking and a restroom. We arrived around 3:30, loaded our gear into Richard’s truck and he shuttled us back to Newburg to our car. We had a great time and it was nice to finally complete the Little Piney.

The next trip is an overnight fishing float on the Big Piney and then we are scheduled to do the Eleven Point for the 4th of July!

Critter Count: Herons, Turtles, Turkey

Float #102: Flat Creek

23 May

Lower Flat Creek to Dry Creek

F102_FlatCreek

Flat Creek
Barry and Stone Counties, Missouri
Saturday, May 17
10 Miles

The second day of our Southwest MO camping trip we headed East about 45 minutes to Flat Creek. This is a beautiful stream that flows into Table Rock Lake. There is swift water, good fishing and lots of wildlife. Even though this creek flows into the lake the water doesn’t back up or slow down too far upstream. DW, Jake and I got help with the shuttle from our caver friend Bobcat. He dropped our gear with Jake and me at the Lower Flat Creek access and helped DW run the car down to the Dry Creek access. Since we don’t know the area we weren’t sure how much water was in the upper creek, so we decided to do the lower section. Once we arrived we saw that there was plenty of water and we could have easily floated down to the access we put in at. I think it would only be a problem in the middle of summer or particularly dry weather.

Lower Flat Creek Access

Lower Flat Creek Access

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Old bridge piling

Old bridge piling

It was another chilly day with highs in the 60s. As we set off the sun came out and warmed things up for about an hour and then the clouds took over again. I wanted to do some fishing on this trip, but my fishing pole had other ideas. I caught every snag possible and the line kept wanting to tangle. It was a bit breezy too, so I eventually gave up and focused on paddling and enjoying the scenery. I enjoyed this float more than the previous day on the Elk River just because the water was faster and it was a bit more scenic. We saw several Bald Eagles along the way, which I always enjoy.

Tight squeeze ahead

Tight squeeze ahead

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Flat Creek has its share of obstacles with a couple tight spots and fallen/overhanging trees. There was one spot that was almost a log jam, but there was just enough space to wriggle between trees. Luckily the water was slower there and didn’t push the boat around. It was a tight entry though and I somehow got turned around and ended up floating through backwards.

Another tight spot almost flipped my boat, but I can still brag that I have never fallen out of my kayak! There was an overhanging tree with a mess of branches on one side and a low hanging trunk on the other side. There was a small space between the two obstacles to float through. I miscalculated just enough to catch the trunk and pin my boat against the tree. The water was flowing swiftly and began to turn my boat sideways. When your boat goes sideways you’re pretty much doomed to get wet. Water started to fill the cockpit and my ass was swamped! However, I was able to gain some leverage against the tree and back my way out of the pinch. I then hobbled over to the bank to bail out. Thankfully I always carry an extra change of clothes in cool weather, so I didn’t stay cold and wet for long.

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County road bridge

County road bridge

After I bailed out we ate lunch on the gravel bar and then proceeded downriver. This creek reminds me a lot of the Huzzah as it is similar in size, but I think the water was prettier and a bit quicker overall. It would make a great spring overnight fishing trip, as you could reasonably do the entire creek in two days. We didn’t see many houses or cabins along the way and only a couple of farms with cows near the river. It was very quiet and peaceful with just enough action to test your skills.

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The creek becomes a lake

The creek becomes a lake

About a mile above the lake the water began to slow down and the creek widened. Our takeout was just after the waterway became deeper and very broad, on an upper finger of the lake. DW and Jake sprinted ahead of me, but I took my time and enjoyed the scenery. The sky was beginning to get very overcast and looked like it might rain, but it did not. The Dry Creek access does not have much parking, maybe room for two or three vehicles and the road is very rough. 4 wheel drive is probably a good idea.

We loaded our boats and headed back to camp after a very enjoyable float. I would definitely recommend Flat Creek if you like small streams and good fishing. The next day we made the long 4 1/2 hour drive back home to unload and catch up on sleep before heading back to work on Monday.

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese, Green Herons, Blue Herons, 2 Adult Bald Eagles, 1 Juvenile Bale Eagle, Turkey, Turtles, Cows

 

Float #101: Elk River

23 May

Big Bend to River Ranch

F101_Elk

Elk River
McDonald County, Missouri
Friday, May 16
8 Miles

This was an unseasonably cold weekend in May for us Missourians. That didn’t stop us from getting out on the water to float some new rivers. DW, our friend Jake from Nashville and I were in Southwest MO at the biannual MVOR camp event for cavers. Since we had never been this far in the corner of the state we hit some new float territory rather than go caving. The day was partly cloudy with highs in the 60s; pretty chilly for this late in May! The Elk River was about an hour drive from our campground, but it seemed like a good float trip with many vendors to run shuttle. We chose River Ranch Resort because they have an 8 mile float with a $10/boat (weekday rate) shuttle, which is pretty cheap.

We arrived at River Ranch and loaded our boats and gear into their school bus and they dropped us at their private access 8 miles upriver. The Elk River reminded me a lot of the upper/middle Meramec in size and water quality. The water is a pretty blue green and fairly clear. The river was pretty quick in spots and there was some fun, choppy water in several areas.

Jake & DW prepare boats at the put-in

Jake & DW prepare boats at the put-in

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This waterway is made up of several creeks that converge to form the Elk River. Big Sugar Creek is the uppermost portion of the waterway and is later joined by Little Sugar Creek to become the Elk. Indian Creek joins the stream further down and greatly increases the flow of water. All of these creeks are floatable, especially during the spring. It looks like a good place to explore if I’m ever down in the area again.

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Choppy water

Choppy water

The majority of this float was fairly remote with a few riverside cabins and campgrounds along the way. Once we reached the lower portion it became a bit more urban, but not overly so. It looks like the lower portion this river can become pretty crowded and perhaps a little rowdy on summer weekends. There were a lot of campgrounds and riverside bars and clubs when we reached the town of Noel at the end of our trip.

Five miles above Noel is a railroad bridge, followed closely by a low-water concrete bridge. As we passed under the railroad bridge a train made up of a string of engines rumbled overhead. The low-water bridge is a higher out of the water than most. A portage here would only be necessary in flood water.

Train crossing

Train crossing

The concrete bridge

The concrete bridge

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAbout a mile above Noel the river slows down as you approach the dam to Shadow Lake. We took our boats out at River Ranch, which is the last access before the dam. There were some people on the clubhouse deck at River Ranch who were having a good time. I rescued some guy’s hat after his girlfriend threw it in the river, so I got to be someone’s hero for a minute. DW had found an inflatable novelty dice further upstream, which apparently belonged to someone who was partying on the deck. They were overjoyed to have their junk back and we were glad to not have it littered on the water!

Overall it was a good float and a pretty river. I would definitely do it again and explore territory farther upstream. The next day we headed East of our campground to float Flat Creek, which was very enjoyable as well.

Critter Count: Ducks, Geese, Herons, Turtles, Soft Shell Turtles

Bonus Prizes: 1 kid’s minnow net

Float #98-100: Jacks Fork River

30 Apr

The Prongs to Bay Creek

F98_JacksFork

Jacks Fork River
Texas and Shannon Counties, Missouri
Friday, April 18 – Sunday, April 20
25 Miles

Last summer we floated the Jacks from The Prongs and enjoyed it so much we wanted to come back and do it again, but take our time and do some fishing. This year’s Easter float trip seemed like the perfect opportunity. The water levels were very good and the weather was really beautiful! It has been many years since we have had an Easter float with such sunny, warm weather. Usually it is rainy, cold, or both.

We left our house in the afternoon and drove the two and a half hours to The Prongs access, arriving in the early evening, about an hour and a half before sunset. We planned to float a couple of miles and find a good camping spot. That way we could wake up on the river and not have to pay for a campground site!

Setting off Friday evening

Setting off on Friday evening

Floating under the bridge

Floating under the bridge

A look back at the bridge

A look back at the bridge

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Our first campsite

Our first campsite

The first turn after the access is an old bridge with large culverts to float through. It is easy to float under and provides a nice framing of the river ahead. After the bridge is a fallen tree that spans most of the river. The same tree was there last summer. I thought for sure a flood or a human would have cleared it by now! Since there was more water now than in the summer it was a little easier to float through, but if your skills aren’t up to par I would portage around it. I wiggled my kayak through a narrow space in the middle, while DW scraped past on the far left. After the tree there aren’t any big obstacles, but there are many quick runs with multiple boulders and splashy waves. That’s why this upper section is so much fun!

We saw a lot of wildlife during our short float Friday evening, including a juvenile Bald Eagle and a beaver! As the sun began to set we looked for a good gravel bar to camp. The first one we looked at had too many large rocks to sleep comfortably, but the next gravel bar was perfect. I unpacked and set up the tent while DW collected firewood. We then built a fire and enjoyed a delicious dinner of burritos warmed over the open fire.

The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of ham and egg sandwiches before setting off for the day. We were on the river a little after 10am. A couple of bends around the river we stopped for a little bit to fish. DW caught a 12″ smallmouth and I caught a stupid sunfish. That set up the theme for our fishing the rest of the trip. DW reeled in the smallmouth while I was plagued with sunfish. We didn’t catch anything much bigger than that first fish the rest of the weekend.

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Fast ripples

Fast ripples

Looking out from a cave

Looking out from a cave

We spent Saturday’s float concentrating on taking it slow and fishing every good spot we came across. Good fishing holes abound on the upper Jacks, there seems to be one around every bend. We also noticed a lot of caves in the surrounding bluffs. This time of year, before the trees leaf out, it is much easier to see all the holes in the hillsides. We came across one cave at river level that was gated, but we could float into the mouth.

Six miles from The Prongs is Hwy. 17 bridge and Buck Hollow access. This access is where most people put on the river. There were several people hanging out at the access and a couple of kayakers just getting on the river. Three miles down from Buck Hollow is Blue Spring. There is a small campground on the right side of the river and the spring is across from it. We saw many springs on this float, most of them just small faucets gushing from the banks.

We also saw a lot of wildlife on the second day, including more Bald Eagles, many deer and a couple of large softshell turtles. Apparently we weren’t the only people who decided Easter weekend was a great time for floating. We came across quite a few canoes on Saturday, many of them doing overnight trips as well.

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Hwy 17 bridge

Hwy 17 bridge

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Blue Spring

Blue Spring

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We ended our day at Jam Up Cave, a large cave on the right side of the river that is obscured by large boulders. There is an excellent gravel bar across from the cave that is almost always occupied on weekends in the summer. Luckily for us, we were the first to arrive, so we claimed our spot and set up camp. There was already some firewood piled by the fire pit and DW found some more cut logs laying in the woods. With firewood easily secured we spent the rest of the daylight fishing the hole just above the cave. Somehow DW managed to hook a small mussel, something that has never happened to either of us before. As darkness fell we cooked up some chicken and potatoes over the fire while listening to the whip-poor-wills and spring peepers sing.

Preparing camp at Jam Up Cave

Preparing camp at Jam Up Cave

Our campsite at Jam Up Cave

Our campsite at Jam Up Cave

DW caught a mussel

DW caught a mussel

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The next morning we awoke early, ate a quick breakfast of leftovers from dinner the night before, packed camp and were on the river around 9:30. We fished for a bit in the morning, but the wind picked up and made casting difficult so we gradually stopped fishing as we approached the afternoon. DW spent most of the day perfecting his stand-up canoe paddling. He concluded that it is easier to navigate standing, but only if you are sober. A few beers in, you might fall out of that canoe!

Four miles from Jam Up Cave is Rhymers access. The river splits just before the access and if you take the fork on the left you will come across Ebb & Flow Spring. It is a pretty little spring that bubbles from some rocks in the bank. After Rhymers is the Missouri State Teacher’s Assoc. campground, a beautifully maintained campground that is for the use of teachers and their families. It looks like a great place to stay!

The weather was so warm on Sunday that DW and I both took a quick swim on our lunch break. The water was really cold, as can be expected in April. I don’t know that I have ever swam this early in the year, but it sure did feel good!

Ebb & Flow Spring

Ebb & Flow Spring

Missouri State Teachers Camp

Missouri State Teachers Camp

DW SUPs his canoe

DW SUPs his canoe

Another spring

Another spring

Baby turtles

Baby turtles

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As we neared our takeout we fished another couple of bends before taking off the river around 3:30. Bay Creek was a little busy with many canoes taking out. We ended up talking with some of the same people we saw on the Jacks last year! Loading our gear in the truck didn’t take long and we were on the road a little after 4pm.

We had a great time and the Jacks Fork was beautiful, as always. The crystal clear water, spring flowers, abundant wildlife and perfect weather made for one of the best Easter float trips we have had in a while. We don’t have any specific float trips planned in the near future, so we’ll see what the summer brings!

Critter Count: Turtles, Ducks, Geese, Herons, 1 juvenile Bald Eagle, 4 adult Bald Eagles, 7 Deer, 2 Northern Red Snakes, 3 Softshell Turtles, 1 Beaver

Bonus Prizes: 1 nearly new beer koozie, 1 nearly new boat sponge

Float #97: Meramec River

17 Apr

Blue Springs Creek to Meramec State Park

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Meramec River
Crawford & Franklin Counties, Missouri
Saturday, April 12
12 Miles

This trip was part of SLAG’s (St. Louis Adventure Group) annual Spring Blossom campout. Every April the group camps at Meramec State Park and does a float trip nearby. Meramec Park is pretty close to our house and a float trip on the Meramec this time of year is always enjoyable. We camped out Friday and Saturday nights in the group camp at the park. The group camps are very nice and a little bit excluded from the main campground. We didn’t take much gear since we were close to home, but we did bring an extra canoe and a kayak for some other group members to use. After an enjoyable Friday night of fun around the campfire we woke up on Saturday morning, grabbed our float gear and headed to Blue Springs access. After a short 20 minute drive we arrived at the put-in, unloaded our gear and everyone drove their vehicles back to the park. They then carpooled back to the access. I waited with the boats along with a few other members of the group. After about an hour everyone else arrived and we set off.

Launching from Blue Springs

Launching from Blue Springs

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A week earlier we had some flash flooding, so the Meramec was still on its way down and a little muddy. The water was much more clear at the put-in than it was down by the park. I thought about bringing my fishing pole, but didn’t and ended up regretting it as it was a beautiful day for fishing. The river was running a little faster than normal and there was a brisk wind at our backs the whole time, so we didn’t have to paddle at all to easily cover the miles. The early signs of spring were evident in the emerald-green grass in the fields and the buds on the trees.

The group stops at Green's Cave

The group stops at Green’s Cave

Green's Cave

Green’s Cave

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe all stopped for a leisurely lunch on a gravel bar in the early afternoon. Our next stop was at Green’s Cave just above the park. Last August we did this same float and camped at the cave overnight. It is always a good place to visit. Green’s Cave is only accessible by river or by hiking the Hamilton Hollow trail. As you approach the cave you will see Hamilton Creek enter the river on your right. The river then splits around a large island and the cave is just behind the island where the river rejoins into one stream. DW and I paddled the channel on the right hand side of the island as there was just enough water to get through. Usually that channel is too shallow to paddle. We parked our boats on the gravel bar and hiked back the trail a little bit. This area is so pretty in the spring when the meadows are green and the brambles have not grown over the trail yet.

Floating past Meramec State Park

Floating past Meramec State Park

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The campground access

The campground access

After we left the cave the sky started to cloud over a bit and water became murkier. The river was much more brown at the park than it had been up at Blue Springs. Most of the group took out at the main boat ramp which is just above the Hwy. 185 bridge. Those of us in the know took out two miles further downriver at the campground boat access, right near our camp. But maybe the joke was on us, because the campground boat ramp was covered in thick, smelly flood mud. There was no way to avoid it and my shoes were covered up to the ankles! Luckily there was a spigot nearby to wash the worst of it off.

We loaded up our boats and drove across the road to our camp. DW and I made beef stew in our dutch oven over the fire, which is always fun when you have a few hours to kill. We crashed out early that night and awoke to the sound of thunder early the next morning. We jumped out of our sleeping bags and hurried to break camp before the rain. We made it with minutes to spare before the rain and lightning came. Fortunately it was a short drive home!

This coming weekend is our annual Easter float trip. We plan to do a couple of days on the Jack’s Fork fishing and taking it slow.

Critter Count: Geese, Ducks, Herons, Turtles

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