Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Caddo Lake Winter Kayaking

We had record snowfall leading up to our 17th anniversary celebration trip to Caddo Lake. Thankfully, we were blessed with shockingly great weather right afterwards. The great weather was throughout the region too, not just at our cabin in Uncertain, Texas. The northeastern part of the massive Caddo Lake is about five hours from our home in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. We picked up a fishing license for Dianne at the Wal-Mart in Marshall, Texas but you can save some money by just doing your fishing at the nearby Caddo State Park. It has a two dollar entrance fee, but no license is required for fishing there.

This time of year, Caddo Lake is popular among Bass and Crappie fishing enthusiasts. However, we arrived a bit early for the kickoff of the spawning season. This lake is so full of fish that Dianne actually caught a Bass on her limb lines last summer. Bass normally require a bit more finesse than the oiled twine and massive hook of a catfish set, but I suppose they are just a bit more eager in these parts. If you can't catch your own, try the River Bend Restaurant for waterfront views plus catfish & gator with all the trimmings. We were surprised at the quality of food and wine at this hidden jewel in Uncertain, Texas.

Dianne did catch catfish on this trip, but we spent most of the time exploring Caddo Lake in our kayaks and driving around the 'Ark-La-Tex' as they call it around here. If you visit Caddo Lake, I highly recommend you make a quick side trip to Jefferson, Texas. Grab a breakfast that just can't be beat at The Bakery restaurant in downtown Jefferson. There is also history to learn and shopping to do in Jefferson, but we were there for the grub. While we were walking around, we noticed a big old free boat ramp right there in town. When we return next time, we will definitely be using that boat ramp for a quick paddling trip on Big Cypress Bayou! Like most of Caddo, it appears to be narrow, shady and curvy...just the way I like 'em! Perfect for paddling or kayak fishing in any season.

Speaking of kayak fishing, we had breakfast at Crip's Camp (another Caddo Lake lodging operator) one morning and got a tip from the owner. He said the locals all use hot dogs for catfish bait. Dianne had never tried fishing with weenies, so she set four hooks out with some leftover Mt. Pleasant Meat Market jalapeƱo cheddar sausage. Sure enough, she caught a small flathead the next morning. That tip turned out to be as sweet as the homemade Mayhaw Jelly Crip's Camp serves with breakfast. (Yes, we ate breakfast everywhere...that's what makes it a holiday!)

A couple of the mornings started out quite cold this vacation weekend. My first day of paddling, I launched before dawn to catch that great early morning light. The season had stripped the bald cypress trees of their color, but the Spanish Moss that drapes their limbs was unchanged by winter's icy embrace. Caddo Lake has a gloomy beauty that is still present in February, but it is much diminished. More Caddo Lake pictures to come, watch our Flickr photostream.

Spatterdock, the cabin we rented, offers a lovely view of the bayou from a large screened porch. Canoes and bicycles are provided with the cabin rental, plus there is a boat ramp just a few steps away. The cabin can sleep as many as nine and is just one of four cabins that Billy and Dottie Carter operate on Caddo Lake. You can also hire Billy for a guided boat tour of Caddo Lake: http://www.spatterdock.com/. A guided boat tour is great idea, if you want to see the biggest, oldest, most impressive Cypress trees on the lake. They also teach you quite a bit about the local history. During the warmer months your tour includes boating through a sea of lily pads and lotus blooms. It is breathtaking.

Winter kayaking on Caddo Lake is not as colorful, but it is more solitary. Since it is the off-season you enjoy lower rates and no waiting in town. On the water, the maze-like corridors of tall Cypress trees provide countless miles of great exploring and paddling. Moving quietly through the shadows allows you to slip-up on wildlife for close observation. If kayak photography is your thing, Caddo Lake is unbeatable. Even on a windy day, you will find the sheltered lanes offer calm water and amazing light filtered through the treetops and moss. Caddo Lake even sounds strange. The tops of the Cypress trees rub together when the wind blows, creating random squeaks and moans that echo across the water.

Caddo Lake is a kayaking experience too uniquely wonderful to be missed.