Upper Suwannee River at Low Water



Suwannee River Trip Report
September 26-28, 2006
The plan was paddle the upper Suwannee River, from Fargo, Georgia to the Route 6 bridge in Florida, possibly the wildest stretch of the river. But when I got up there, everyone said there was not enough water. "Lowest I've ever seen it." "You'll be doing a lot of dragging." I called Brad, who knows the river well and was scheduled to drop me off at the put-in in the morning.
Erica: Everyone says there's not enough water to paddle the river.
Brad: The river is at 50 feet. I've run it at 51 feet without any trouble.
Erica: I took a look at the river upstream of the Route 6 bridge and there's a least a 50 foot drag.
Brad: You saw the ground at the Route 6 bridge?!
Brad's idea, and it was a good one, was to put in at the Roline boat ramp, which is the farther point north one can access the river before Fargo, and paddle upstream and see how far I get. Usually the current is too strong to paddle upstream, but at low water this should not be a problem.
I was on the river by 7:30 am and paddling in the cool, with the rising mists was beautiful. The banks are lined with cypress and tupelo; the high ground draped with live oak. The low water exposed sandbars, especially in the "lee" of the wide turns. These made excellent places to practice tracking. A light rain the night before made it crystal clear which tracks were fresh today and many of the tracks in wet sand were textbook perfect: raccoon, deer, otter, squirrel, mink, wild turkey, great blue heron.
At Tom's Creek, the Suwanee is completely blocked by a major log jam, requiring a portage over the island. Upstream from here and on into Georgia, the trip became a good deal less paddling and a lot more poling and dragging. I don't think I got more than 5 – 10 paddle strokes in before having to get out and drag again. And when I was paddling/pushing off the bottom, it was in very shallow water, zigzagging from side-to-side (following the "deep" water.) Invariably, the "deep" areas were full of log jams that had to be negotiated. I had recently invested in a good pair of water shoes and they really came in handy this trip. After two hours of decreasing water, I finally turned around and camped under the oaks above a sandbar.
The weather was spectacular. Clear, sunny, low humidity, 80s during the day and crisp 60s at night. Squirrels raced through the trees along side me, pileated woodpeckers flew across the river, kingfishers flew up and down the river, ibises fished the shoals, hawks screamed, at night the tree frogs chirped and the owls hooted and whooed. A raccoon was climbing a dead tree, headed for a hole near the top. He stopped to look at me; as cute as a child's toy. I saw a flock of wild turkeys and found the fruit of a wild persimmon which was red, ripe and sticky sweet. Delicious. Spent another night under the oak trees.
Armed with a Florida freshwater fishing license, saltwater tackle and worms from my back yard, I managed to catch a large bowfin, several hand-sized panfish (which seemed to be Blue Tilapia?) and a three-foot gator. The gator showed up at my first cast in a stretch of deep(ish) water and he was zeroed in on my bait. I reeled in the bait and he went into attack mode. I managed to get the bait in before he got it, but he chased the bait right up to shore and jumped up and snapped at my canoe. I was a little annoyed and tried casting into other areas, but he kept following the bait. I finally decided to let him come right up to the bobber, figuring I would jerk away the bait before he could grab the hook. I wanted to find out if he would really try for the bait or if he was just looking. The little twerp opened his mouth and took the bobber! I jerked several times and he finally released the bobber unharmed. I gave up on fishing that spot. At three feet long, this is a nuisance gator; in a couple of years, he is going to be real trouble.
People regularly swim in the Suwannee River and this has always puzzled me. I have never heard of anyone being killed, or even bitten in the Suwannee and the locals say the northern gators are shy and mostly very small.
Well, in one six-mile stretch of river, I saw three gators over 8 feet long, one 6-footer, several 3-footers and a passel of newly hatched ones. One of the large gators was aggressive and came right up to my boat and looked right at me. I have never seen a gator in the wild, so close. (Usually gators sink into the water and swim away.) Perhaps the low water is making them crabby. I didn't go swimming.
Paddling downstream was much easier than upstream and the further I went downstream, the more water there was. The last three hours of paddling were delightful. Enough water to get up a paddling rhythm, no worries about which side of the river has water, and actually glide downstream. (That is, except for a stretch of about 300 yards of dragging over jagged limestone rock.)
At 1 pm on the 28th, I pulled ashore just upstream of the Route 6 bridge and looked back upstream; a perfect picture with blue sky, white clouds, brown water, framed by a live oak limb and backed by a sugar sandbar. It was with great reluctance that I placed the call to American Canoe Adventures to come pick me up. I ran out of film before I could take that picture, but I will forward some others after I get them developed and printed and scanned. (Yes, I still use real film.)
Many thanks to Mike McCrea for introducing me to the Silent Otter Paddling Club, whose members provided me with much information and to Brad who drove me and my gear to the put-in, as a kind gesture to a fellow paddler, even though he didn't know me from Adam's cat.


Re: Upper Suwannee River at Low Water

Sounds like a great trip. I typically have beaver dams rather than log jams to drag over.

Thanks for signing up and posting.