Archive | April, 2014

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

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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

Float #96: Meramec River

2 Apr

Bird’s Nest Park to Onondaga State Park

F96_Meramec

Meramec River
Crawford County, Missouri
Sunday, March 30
18 Miles

At the start of every float season DW and I try to develop some general goals of the rivers we want to float in the coming year. Some of these include floating rivers we’ve never visited before or completing a whole river from mile zero to the end. This year we are contemplating finishing the entire Meramec. We have floated most of the river until it gets to St. Louis County, but I looked back over my blog posts and discovered this 18 mile stretch that was missing! Last Sunday was a warm and sunny day, so what better time than now to close up this gap?

This stretch of river is not far from our house, so we both drove to Onondaga State Park and dropped the truck there, then continued on to Bird’s Nest Park. It was a short drive of 12 miles between the two access points. Bird’s Nest Park is right across the river from the private campground of the same name. This is a public access maintained by the county and has no fees. We unloaded our gear and set off by 10am.

Old bridge at Bird's Nest

Old bridge at Bird’s Nest

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Taking a side channel

Taking a side channel

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The day started out chilly but warmed up fast. The weather was very warm in the sun and cold in the shade with a cool breeze. As soon as we hit the water I was ready to peel off a few layers of clothing! We paddled at a steady pace with few breaks. The sun goes down around 7pm this time of year and you never know how long it will actually take to float a new stretch of river. It turned out we could have gone a little slower because we tore through about 2/3 of the trip before lunch! This was our first long float of the year. My arms were tired the first half of the trip, but I soon warmed up and by the end of the trip I felt great!

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Saranac Spring branch

Saranac Spring branch

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We saw a juvenile Bald Eagle flying downstream ahead of us, but he didn’t stick around for a photo. We also saw a deer on the bank who thought he was hiding, but we could see him watching us float past. The turtles were out in full force, their backs still caked in mud, sunbathing on the logs and boulders.

About half way through the trip Saranac Spring flows into the river on the left side. We stomped around here for a few minutes, but the mouth of the spring appeared to be up far up a creek, so we didn’t stay too long. Lunch was taken on a small gravel bar next to a bluff. We stopped for about an hour and then we were off again to tackle the last part of the paddle.

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Turtle pile

Turtle pile

Bridge at Onondaga

Bridge at Onondaga

There are quite a few long, slow pools on this section and at times there was a headwind that made paddling a little more difficult. There are also many oxbows, so sometimes the wind was at our back, which is always nice! Many of the bluffs we passed appeared to have cave openings, but we didn’t have time to check them and see if they were caves or just holes in the rock.

A couple miles before our take out we passed the Huzzah Creek confluence on our right. There were another couple of kayakers with their kids enjoying the day and doing some fishing, which reminds me I need to renew my fishing license. We arrived at Onondaga around 4:30pm, completing our trip in a little over 5 hours of paddle time, not bad for the second trip of the year! We loaded our gear in the truck and headed back to Bird’s Nest to pick up the car and then home. We were back home with ample time to finish some chores, which is always nice for a Sunday float.

April will be busier as the float/camp season ramps up. Hopefully we will start to see some more rain, or we won’t be doing any creek floating this spring!

Critter Count: 1 Juvenile Bald Eagle, Herons, Ducks, Geese, Turtles, 1 Deer