Monday, October 17, 2005

Deep Fork River Kayaking at Nuyaka

Paddling the Weirdly Wonderful Deep Fork River

Since this year's strange weather brought us another summer weekend, right here in the midst of autumn, Dianne and I hit the water again. This time we stayed close to home and paddled the Deep Fork River near Nuyaka Creek Winery. We had scouted out the put-in a couple weeks ago, when I busted my foot. After spending the last two weeks on the couch, I was eager to do some paddling. Kayaking in the Deep Fork River proved to be more fun than either Dianne or I was expecting.

When I was growing up in Nuyaka, I spent many hours along the muddy banks of Deep Fork trying to catch a catfish. I can't say it as one of my favorite rivers, but it was close to home. There are loads of huge catfish in that river, but catching them can require a great deal of patience. The most exciting fishing I ever experienced on Deep Fork was running Trot Lines or Noodling. When sitting on the riverbank fishing with a rod, I would get just a couple bites in a day. I think I finally figured out Deep Fork's secret this weekend, if you really want to have fun...leave the fishing rod at home. The best fishing on Deep Fork is with bank poles, limb lines, jugs and trotlines.

Paddling the Deep Fork River in our kayaks was lots of fun. The river is as crooked as an Enron accountant, so you are constantly wondering what is around the next bend. Logjams are piled up all over the place, but our narrow kayaks slipped between them with ease. We saw a couple of folks bank fishing under the bridge at the put-in and no other people for the entire trip!

Since we were paddling alone, and the Deep Fork River offers no canoe liveries, we had to make it a two-way trip. We paddled down the river a few miles and then paddled back upstream to the put-in. Sadly we don't own a good paddler's GPS, so I can't tell you how far we paddled, but by the time we made it back upstream, we were pretty tired. Although we didn't cross any whitewater rapids or paddle down any waterfalls, we still had a great time exploring.

Paddling Deep Fork is sort of like a primitive, less scenic version of the Illinois River. The main event is dodging logs and low water spots. Wildlife, of the non-human variety, is more common on Deep Fork and the water is red and muddy. The banks are red clay, rather than the gravel or sandy banks common on more scenic rivers. If you are walking the banks this red clay mud will build up quickly on the soles of your shoes making them heavier with each step.

There is something kind of weird about the scenery on the Deep Fork River, like it is a remake of the Illinois River directed by Tim Burton. The river floods regularly, so it is full of big, leafless trees stretching their branches out at bizarre angles. No longer rooted to the earth, the trees splay themselves out unnaturally. The barkless branches begin to look like flailing arms, frozen in their fight against the river's current. Everything looks slightly alien here. In the water are slender Aligator Gar with long toothy snouts - most unfishlike. Black Dragonflies cluster together on Deep Fork swirling around paddlers curiously before whisking off to parts unknown. From the giant, yellow Flathead catfish to the massive Leatherback turtles, nothing looks quite like you expect it to.

There is one whitewater rapid at the put-in point on this trip, but we did not paddle it. This used to be the site of a low water bridge. Large sheets of rusty metal poke up ominously in the deepest parts of the rapid. At the current water level in Deep Fork, it just looked too dangerous for a couple newbies like my Wife and I to run.

This time we paddled for a few miles below the rapid. Next time, we will put the kayaks in above the rapid and paddle upstream for as far as we can. Hopefully, we won't forget the camera next time. I'll let you know how it goes!

Know any good paddling spots on the Deep Fork River?

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