Johnny Molloy Outdoor Writer
Johnny Molloy

Past Paddling Adventures

Jacks Fork and Current Wild and Scenic Rivers

Along with longtime friend Bryan Delay, I set out Jacks Fork River, deep in the Ozark Mountains. This river, along with the Current River, together form the Ozark Scenic Riverways, a national park in southern Missouri, near the Arkansas line. The park is centered by the rivers, but also has hiking, car camping and historic preservation. The locals are as proud of their mountains as we are of ours.

Bryan and I were embarking on a seven-day, 115 mile trip from the upper Jacks River into the Current River and down the Current River to the town of Doniphan, Missouri. The water was a little high for summer, which pushed us downriver faster than we hoped.

Bluffs on the Jacks Fork River

See, we had fishing on our mind and didn’t want miss a promising hole. Smallmouth bass were our primary quarry, along with redeye – or rock bass -- as they are also known. Bream provided a third option. Other fish would find their way onto our lures – shad, pike and even a few bottom dwelling suckers.

We started at a place known as the Baptism Pool. Church congregations would come from nearby Mountain View to dunk the faithful. A waterfall poured into the river from a side stream. The sun was blaring overhead but it felt good to be alive and in the Ozarks.

            

          Beautiful water on Jacks Fork                  Jam Up Cave on Jacks Fork

 

At this point, the Jacks Fork River was small, but the bluffs were impressive and the fishing was good – the bream were knocking heads trying to get to our gold spinners. The scenery was worthy of national park status. We stopped at Jam Up Cave above Jacks Fork. Here, a spring spewed icy water from a boulder strewn cavern high on a bluff.

We found a good campsite on the sand and gravel bar overlooking bluffs. Most camping on

the Jacks Fork and the Current Rivers is done on these gravel bars. The heat of the day

dissipated and we cooked steaks over the fire, being too lazy to clean and cook bass.

 

                                     

Jacks Fork River shallows

The flow increased once they passed Alley Spring. It was time to get a campsite.

 

We couldn’t wait to get started the next morning. Downstream, the Jacks ran shallow sometimes and deep sometimes. Bluffs continued. The river flow increased once we passed Alley Spring. The fishing dropped off too.  It was time to get a campsite.

Bryan wondered if the good fishing was a one day fluke. The next day we passed through the town of Eminence, Missouri, making an ice run at a riverside store, then reentered the scenic river boundary. The fast water from Alley Spring pushed us all the way into the Current River. Bryan went on a fish catching frenzy before arriving at the next night campsite. I had experimented with different lures but shamelessly changed back to a gold spinner, which Bryan was using.

Johnny and Bryan at the confluence of Jacks Fork and Current Rivers.

 

                 Bryan fly fishing from camp                       A typical gravel bar campsite

 

We continued down the much larger Current. The Ozark sun was strong and the temperatures were rising. I wore a long sleeve shirt on to counter the sun. Despite all the clothes I repeatedly jumped in to keep cool, then dried off in the 90 plus degree warmth -- between casts for smallmouth bass, bream and redeye.

Johnny guiding down the Current River

                      

           Smallmouth bass on the Current River               Blue Spring, Current River

 

We also stopped at Blue Spring, taking the side trail up to the scenic spot. Cool water! We

 spent more days on the river floating and fishing, enjoying the gravel bar camps and Ozark

 scenery, as well as passing through the town of Van Buren. A special side trip was to Big

 Spring, literally one of the biggest in the world. It was a short walk from the river, but well

 worth it.

Big Spring emerges from a bluff near the Current River

 

The days flew by on the river, floating and fishing, camping and fishing, paddling and fishing,

 enjoying the gravel bar camps under Ozark bluffs and hills.

 Bryan had had good luck spin fishing, so one evening on a gravel bar camp he broke out his

 fly rod. Seemingly to show off, he slung his line into the still aqua and came up with a bream.

 I then began shamelessly casting with my spinning rod, trying to outfish him, especially since

 fishing is part of my job description.

The lower Current River can be quiet

 

           We passed through another town, Van Buren, and were soon back in the scenic river corridor, where we spotted herons, deer, beavers and even a bald eagle. We took a special side trip to Big Spring, literally one of the biggest in the world. It was a short walk from the river, but well worth it.

The river continued pushing us down toward Doniphan. You know how these things go. After 6

nights on the river -- seeming in the blink of an eye -- we arrived in Doniphan, completing our

Ozark paddling adventure.

 


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 Johnny and his seven compadres left Lees Ferry for their 300 mile rafting trip through the length of the Grand Canyon. Johnny was joined by his friend Bryan Delay and six Californians led by Tim Schiller. The eight of them were divided into three oar-frame rafts loaded with enough food in gear for 19 days.

 

 Only one of them had been down the canyon before, so it was with surprise and wonderment that they traveled the cold green waters through the rock wonderland that is the Grand Canyon. Despite high expectations the river was bigger, the canyon higher  and deeper and the scenery more spectacular than Johnny envisioned. Johnny was manning one of the rafts. He was shocked at the size of the rapids. His on-the-job training was a work in progress and he gradually learned how to steer the raft. Throughout the trip there were no flips and no one fell out of the boat neither. Just a reminder: more than 80% of the river it is flatwater and easy floating but when the rapids occur they can be huge. The biggest ones were scouted and ultra experienced boatman Jerry Kaufman showed the routes.

          

           Lees Ferry                                                  At camp                                     Hiking up a side canyon

The campsites 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. It 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. Johnny was lucky to sleep on his raft which was cooler than sleeping on the land. The trippers who slept on the land used cots.          

                       Redwall Cavern                                                                        Near the Granaries

           

                             A citadel                                                                                      Cobble Bar

Bryan at sunset near Kwagunt Campsite

Even though it was monsoon season, the Colorado stayed green as did the Little Colorado river, which was a highlight with its aquamarine blue water. The group did a side hike up the LCR, then floated down it.

                                           

                   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 Johnny became more adept at paddling the oar frame rafts. Their trip fell into somewhat of a routine as much as adventures of this sort could. One exception to their routine was the stop at Phantom Ranch. Here they glimpsed a little civilization before tackling more rapids and seeing what lay around the next bend. The Deer Creek area was good for hiking -- they spent two nights there.

              

                Rafts and camp below                           Thunder River                            Tim fords Tapeats Creek

 

Desert Bighorns about to ram each other

Pat and Mary left the party at Havasu Creek, hiking out to the Indian village above and making their way to civilization. The six of them intrepidly carried on. The Colorado turned muddy, undoubtedly from flash floods upstream. The group was lucky enough to have 11 days of clear green water and were happy. One of the favorite campsites was known as Ledges.. It was deep in the canyon and offered a stone floor which contrasted with the sand of the usual camps.

 

            

                                    Bryan at Ledges camp                          Filling the water jugs at Three Springs

Hanging out at Havasu Creek

They made it down the last of the big tough rabbits, including Lava, and began to speed up, Passing Diamond Creek in the avoided two-week limit. From here down we were covering a lot of miles but still had some good rapids, including Killer Fang Falls, where Bryan and Johnny came the closest to flipping over.

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

Bryan naps while I paddle

They still had some more miles to cover before we got to 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 can't one last night on Lake Mead, where it got to 111°!

                              

           Lake Mead!                                                                    Johnny and Tim at Lake Mead

Camp on night 18 -- it got to 111 degrees

The next day they paddled the final few miles to the take out and the outfitter met them. the trip was over and everybody headed to their respective homes with a trip of a lifetime under their 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

 

 

 
 
Copyright Johnny Molloy 2009
 
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