Places to Paddle

Here in the mid-Atlantic region, we are blessed with a wide diversity of places we can paddle, from whitewater rivers which will challenge experts to seemingly endless tidal creeks snaking around saltwater marshes and everything in-between.  In addition, we are fortunate to have a growing number of water trails being established and mapped, again across free flowing creeks and rivers to tidal rivers and embayments, with a number of these well-connected with the rich history of our region.

In this and future columns, I plan to share both my and other fellow Potomac Chapter members’ favorite places to paddle.  Be you a seasoned paddler or someone recently interested in getting out on the water, we will share places of interest to a wide array of members.  We will also share where you can turn to for more information about these and other places to paddle.  

And these days when we mention paddlers, we are referring to those plying the waters via canoes, kayaks and paddle boards.  The good news for the increasing population of paddlers is the growing number of ‘soft launches’ located in places and along waterways where you just can’t maneuver a boat on a trailer.  The next time you are searching Google Maps for access to water, look for the term ‘soft launch’ or ‘canoe/kayak’ launch as you zoom in or a ‘soft launch’ symbol on maps of specific parks and natural recreation and wildlife management areas.  When you look closely, you will be amazed how many you will find compared to just 5 years ago.

For this place to paddle, we are heading over to the Eastern Shore to the blackwaters of the Pocomoke River.  Here you can directly and fully experience a cypress forest up close and personal and discover that trees have knees too!  This paddle starts with Pocomoke Canoe Company in Snow Hill, Maryland.  For a small fee they will portage you and your canoe/kayak up-river to Porters Crossing, enabling you to float and paddle down river for about 5.5 miles, pulling out right in Snow Hill where you left your car or truck hours ago.  You can rent canoes or kayaks for this trip or others on the river.

For the first 1.5-2 miles, you will be literally surrounded by ancient cypress trees… to the point you will swear you saw a dinosaur passing by through adjacent the swamp.  The current in this upper reach helps you with the paddling, providing more opportunities to enjoy the colorful and plentiful dragon flies and damsel flies using your watercraft as a downstream ferryboat.

As you proceed downstream, the river channel slowly but surely widens, with water lilies and other emergent aquatic plants filling in the shallow areas.  No worries as the river has deep main channel during its entire length.  And as the canopy overhead opens up, so does the possibility for sighting bald eagles (and their nests), ospreys, herons and a variety of ducks including wood ducks.

Spring and summer bring an assortment of wildflowers which find interesting places to bloom in this water rich environment and dramatic colors in the fall.  If you enjoy fishing, the upper Pocomoke hosts an array of species, including largemouth bass, pickerel, yellow perch, white perch, bluegill and other sunfish as well as gar and snakeheads.  Fishing can be a challenge mainly due to the huge amount of structure throughout the river and along the shorelines as well as the dark nature of the water due to natural tannins from the extensive surrounding wetlands.  At the same time, fish here can grow BIG given plentiful sources of food.  Hold on tight once you hook into one as regardless of their size, they are going to head for the nearest cypress tree knee, underwater root, or lily pads to wrap you line around.

Bring a lunch, cameras, fishing tackle and even a good book to read during lunch tied up a willing tree and plan to spend the morning and a good part of the afternoon just losing yourself in everything this primitive river has to offer.  And when you see Snow Hill’s water tower just over the tree line, you know you are close to your take out location and already planning for your next trip through the cypress forest by water.  This is a great paddle for both beginners as well as kids—the water is flat, there is lots to look at and you can make the entire trip in 2.5-3 hours of steady paddling if desired.  But you will find that time goes by real quickly if you and your fellow paddlers take your time and enjoy your surroundings.

~ Rich Batiuk, Potomac Chapter Treasurer, avid kayaker and fly fisherman always looking for somewhere else new to paddle

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