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Sea Kayaking Tampa, Florida

Sea Kayaking Tampa If you are going to go sea kayaking in Tampa, Florida you better bring lots of gas, a big outboard engine, and your racing stripes. We take sea kayaking here seriously people! Personally, my paddle converts into numb chucks just in case I get pissed off, which is a lot. To get ready I generally shove cigs, cold corn beef hash, and Folgers Crystals into my craw. I then chase it all down with a Big Gulp from the 7-11. This magic combo gets me fired up to convene with nature even though I would really just prefer to shoot everything that comes near me. Also, don’t get too close. My kayak has an exploding tip, and I won’t hesitate to paddle into your’s if it suits me. You should see me coming though. I generally have my tunes playing pretty loud.

Just teasing!Sticker

Actually, it is quite the opposite. I really like the health and stealth a sea kayak brings me. A motorboat can be a good option, but if you are looking to get into places where they can’t go, achieve a nice upper body workout, and maybe even sneak up on some fish in the flats, a sea kayak is a great way to get out and explore.

In the time I have been in the Tampa, Florida area I have managed to discover quite a few nice places to explore in a sea kayak. Many of them are within an hours drive of downtown Tampa and can easily be accomplished in a day or less. Choose from brackish rivers, saltwater estuaries and white-sand beaches; it is all up to you as to what you want to experience.

What is amazing about the state of Florida is that it pumps out an estimated 8 billion gallons of spring water on a daily basis. Percolating up through, around, and down the limestone layers that make up the state, a significant portion of this water either finds its way  into Tampa Bay, or in close proximity to it. What’s more, Tampa Bay constitutes 300 square miles of open water filled with opportunities to dip a blade. There is a reason why it was such a favorite hiding place for pirates back in the day.

Here are a few sea kayaking trips around Tampa to get you started.

Weedon Island Preserve

Weedon_Island The Weedon Island Preserve offers a 4-mile long canoe and kayak trail that winds through mangroves, lagoons, and across open water. It takes about 3-4 hours to complete and is marked with numbered signs to help keep you from getting lost along the way. There is a Cultural and Natural History Center close to the put-in that details the life of the former inhabitants, and right across from the entrance are sea kayaks for rent in case you need one.

The paddling through the narrow alleyways is a great experience. Look for the countless little fiddler crabs that cling to the mangrove roots, and keep a sharp eye out for mammals crossing the passages. You will most certainly see a myriad of bird life including, herons, egrets, ospreys skimmers, spoonbills, white pelicans, and wood storks. If you are lucky you might see a bald eagle or even a manatee. There are also some hiking trails and an observation deck if you want to do some more exploring on foot.

Be sure to make your plans around the high tide; otherwise, it gets too shallow in the places you really want to see. There are some great fishing spots in the area, so you might also want to bring a rod.  Finally, bring bug spray for that afternoon take out. Every time I’ve been to Weedon Island the gnats have been ferocious in the afternoon, and there is nothing more agonizing than trying to tie your kayak on the car while being molested by these little creatures.

Hillsborough River

Hillsborough River The Hillsborough River is just northeast of downtown Tampa and offers several sections to explore by kayak. You can choose to set a shuttle to avoid retracing your steps, or paddle in and out. There is easy access at the Hillsborough River State Park, and you can ply upstream or downstream and still return with relative ease. The mix of hardwoods, palm, and cypress knees make for a beautiful combination, and it really lends itself to that feeling of “Old Florida” you so often hear about. Alligators, turtles, and birds abound, so you must be comfortable with the rustling and bustling of wildlife around each turn.

If you are fortunate enough to witness dozens of white ibis take wing over the course of the river that alone is well worth the trip. I for one was completely enamored with the beautiful reflections off of the brackish waters, the calm stillness, and the fact that hardly anyone was around even on a weekend.

If you want to mix it up you can also bring a bike with you. There is a maze of trails in the park to explore and a nice loop that equates to about 25 miles.

Myakka River

Myakka_River The Myakka River State Park is about an hour south of Tampa on the outskirts of Sarasota, and it is an absolutely wonderful place to visit. It is one of Florida’s first state parks and Wild & Scenic Rivers. Even if you just want to walk or drive around it is well worth the trip, but the people that really get it bring a bike or a kayak. You have to obtain a permit if you want to paddle into the Preserve. The ranger station only gives out 30 per day, and there is no advance reservations allowed. I saw nary a soul when I went and had no trouble getting one. Even if for some reason a group grabbed all the permits you would still have plenty of worthwhile places to paddle, including the Upper Myakka Lake and the parts of the river that are not in the Preserve.

If you are looking to see alligators, this is the place. In fact, I would strongly advise never putting yourself in the position of tipping and having to swim. What is it about a thin colored piece of plastic that convinces a 2 million year old mind that you are not easily edible? At one point I was paddling around a very narrow and overgrown sluiceway when I rounded the corner and locked eyes with an alligator that was easily 12 feet in length and just a few feet away. There was a pause, and then there was an explosion as both parties hastily went their separate ways. I marveled at the raw power of the alligator and the rapidity of my heart before deciding I had experienced enough.

After successfully exiting the river, one should take time to explore the Canopy Trail and the bird walks, for there is plenty to see and experience here as well. It is these well-organized and cared-after parks that makes me take pause to appreciate what tax dollars and motivated individuals can do to protect a very valuable place. Stop by the coral monument and give thanks, and then give a high-five and a big smile to the rangers when you leave.

Anclote Key

Anclote_Key Anclote Key Preserve State Park is located two miles off of the coast of Tarpon Springs and approximately 45 minutes north of downtown Tampa, Florida. It is a beautiful island that features both back and open-water kayaking with abundant bird life and great fishing opportunities. The best way to sea kayak it is to launch from Fred Howard State Park and paddle straight across. It is best advised to have a spray skirt and pump in case it gets choppy, for you will cross some exposed open water and a waterway for motorboats.

There is an old abandoned lighthouse on the island that was built in the 19th century, as well as a campground if you want to stay overnight. According to the website, “these northernmost barrier islands are considered by experts to be among the top five sites in the state for diversity and numbers of beach-nesting birds.” I can tell you this, I saw a multitude of birds and more. It is absolutely beautiful out there, and you will feel like Robinson Crusoe walking down that white-sand beach. Paddling back to Fred Howard State Park I watched a a very large Tarpon launch some 4-5 ft out of the water and caught several blue fish on an artificial lure.

My suggestion: plan to have time to check out Tarpon Springs after your paddle. It is an old Greek community that has made history from the practice of diving for sponges. The town is rich with colors, sounds, and smells of the Meditteranean, and a photographers dream with the old boats, nets, and people laying about. You will certainly get an appreciation for time and place despite the town’s attention to tourism.

Fort de Soto State Park

Fort_de_SotoEmerge from the ubiquitous development and the pervasive amounts of people, cross the bridge, and boom, paradise. It would serve you well to go on a weekday, but if not, it is still worth the venture. Fort de Soto has consistently been voted as one of “America’s Best Beaches” because, well, it is.

Palms, white-sand, and blue water stretch for miles in either direction. Choose to put in a rigorous 10-mile loop, or just cruise around and catch trout and bass on the fly. Put your kayak in on the front or back side of the island, and no matter what you will have plenty of paddling options. You can even make the 2-mile trip out to Edgemont Key if you don’t mind open water. Just remember it is 2-miles back.

If and when you are done sea kayaking, you can proceed on foot and explore the old forts that are located on both Fort de Soto and Egmont Key. At one point these were major staging grounds for soldiers, but now they stand vacant in the tropical sun.

There are kayak rentals and tours out at Fort de Soto if you need them.

Honeymoon Island State Park

Honeymoon_Island This island can get quite crowded on the ocean side, but behind the island you will often see nary a soul. I like this paddle because it is a good distance for me from the causeway, just before the entrance to the park, to the far point of the island and back again. If you are feeling especially expeditious then you can paddle across the Saint Joseph Sound to the far island between Anclote and Honeymoon.

There are several stops along the way, including Pelican Cove. Bald eagles nest here along with many other shore birds. Paddling close to the mangroves you will see snook, bass, and several other tropical fish. If you paddle around the horn to the ocean side you will generally see several dolphin schooling about, for this seems to be a popular spot for them. 

Also see:

Additional Resources

I highly recommend picking up a copy of John Molloy and crew’s book, “Canoeing & Kayaking Florida.” The descriptions are excellent, and there are helpful guides for running the shuttles and navigating the various nuances of Florida’s waterways.

Also, the folks at Osprey Bay Outdoors are extremely knowledgable and friendly, and they organize regularly scheduled trips all over the Tampa Bay area.

Here is a map of the locations discussed in this post:


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Cherry Creek Class V Downriver Race

5 swims and fun had by all. At least no one vomited from exhaustion like the guy who just beat me by a few seconds the last time I raced. While I didn’t get a chance to shoot video this time around, you can check out some Cherry Creek action from this video I put together a few weeks ago.

Thanks to Keith for all the logistics, effort, and money he applied to make it a great party, complete with live music by Kipchoge right on the banks of the Tuolumne River. Here is a little taste of the tunes that I shot from my beach chair as I relaxed under the stars. Not very professional, but basically I just wasn’t into filming and simply wanted to listen. Either way, it gives you a taste. Notice you hear the river directly behind them. We are an hour away from pavement down a steep and treacherous road.

Here are a few mug shots of some of the racers and general attendees.

Video of Wild Plum, North Fork of the Yuba

Situated at the base of the Sierra Buttes and in close proximity to Sierra City, California, the Wild Plum section of the North Fork of the Yuba is a wonderfully consistent class IV run.

Roughly eleven miles in length, this section can actually be combined with Moss and Rosasco Canyons to make it even longer. However, I suspect that you will have your fill by the end of the day.

There are a plethora of fun rapids, all of which are very runnable, and if you are a solid boater your only primary concern should be several downed trees in the river. There are some significant holes, including the one at the bottom of the blown out dam, and obviously the run gets harder the higher the water level gets.

The way the North Fork of the Yuba drainage works, flows are actually highest in the afternoon. The Dreamflows’ gauge for Sierra City is off by 12 hours, and regardless, it is just an estimate. The day I ran it the flows were at the high end of their projection at around 650 cfs.

Hopefully this video provides a good depiction of the run. This time I went with a classic and often used song that I like nonetheless because it always reminds me to appreciate each day, especially on the river, that I have. One of these days I’ll get a camera with better stabilization. Until then, I’ll keep trying. Thanks to Kevin Drake for the photos. Where are we going next?

Giant Gap, North Fork of the American Part 2

This past Sunday I made it down Giant Gap on the North Fork of the American for my second time this season. The flow was somewhat lower at around 850 cfs, but it is still a quality run even at that flow. The scenery alone is spectacular.

The video does includes a couple of scenes from my first trip, but I felt important to include them in order to give a more comprehensive picture of the entire run.

It is difficult to capture many sections of the roughly 14.5 miles simply because the canyon walls are quite steep, friends are often impatient about waiting while I set up, and I have a hard time stopping to film when I really just want to run the rapids. Despite a certain amount of diligence, there are still many other fun class IV rapids that are not featured in this video.

On another note, I still struggle with the public release of information regarding special places like Giant Gap. But my firm belief is that knowledge is power, and the more people that appreciate the beauty and remoteness of places like Giant Gap, the more chances we have to continue to protect and preserve places like them.

Giant Gap, North Fork of the American

Countless travelers zooming up and down Highway I-80 between Colfax and Truckee, California would never know of the beauty that lies just beyond their vision. Just over the eastern crest resides Giant Gap, a canyon of immense depth and beauty.

Because of the continuous nature of the river, and the fact that it is quite difficult to get out of your kayak, I was able to capture limited footage of the run. Nevertheless, I hope you at least get a taste of this California classic.

Giant Gap is an upper stretch of the North Fork of the American, which is formulated by the snow melt of the High Sierras surrounding the Lake Tahoe Basin. Primarily fueled by the Granite Chief Wilderness area, Giant Gap offers crystal clear water, an abundance of rapids, and spectacular scenery.

The Gap itself is framed by vertical cliffs that would be almost impossible to climb out of if attempted; therefore, it is wise to be prepared. You should expect to run several class IV-V rapids over the course of 14.5 miles. 

To access the river you must carry or drag your boat 1.5 miles down the Euchre Bar Trail. Once headed downstream, it is not long before you are encountering rapids that continue for several miles before relenting.

The ones of most note are Nutcracker, Locomotive, and Dominator.

Nutcracker is to be approached in the center of the river right channel with a slight left-hand angle. Drive hard through the first hole and expect to immediately punch another head on. 

Locomotive is to be run on far river right, but should not be attempted at all at flows higher than 1200cfs. There is a difficult portage on the right that requires some 5.5 climbing and boat beleeing. At higher water you can get out of the river on a small rocky nook on the right, and then belee someone downstream as they walk through the water to the easiest point of ascent.

Dominatrix into Dominator can be run river left or right, but should be scouted no matter what. You will know you are approaching the rapid when the geology of the river begins to change to a lighter colored rock.

In between each of these Class V rapids are numerous class III-IV rapids that are also worthy of respect and careful negotiation.

For more information check out California Creeks, and for river levels visit Dreamflows.

Chamberlains, North Fork of the American

After winter, it is always a bit awkward dusting off the paddling gear and heading for the river. Arms feel like small rubberbands, and reflexes are still in hibernation. But after instinct and experience begin to recall their responsibilities, your body slowly remembers what it loves about paddling on a river.

It was quite nice to descend down from the snow covered Sierras to the beginnings of spring in Colfax. Chamberlains is a perfect class III-IV warm up to kick start the paddling season and remember what it is all about.

Here is a little off-the-couch production that depicts the first days of river recollection, hanging out with some Cali folks.

Bald Rock, Middle Fork of the Feather

There are rivers, and then there is Bald Rock Canyon on the Middle Fork of the Feather. Just north of Oroville, California, this granitic masterpiece is a close equivalent to Yosemite Valley, except for the fact that there is an extremely exciting and challenging class V river run coursing through the middle of it.

I have paddled Bald Rock at many varying levels and at different times of the year. The major obstacle to contend with is Atom Bomb Falls, and the higher the water level the harder it is to navigate the must-make ferry above it. It is the only mandatory portage, and the rest of the rapids are boatable in some form or another. Optimal flow is 1,000 cfs, but the run certainly goes quite well anywhere between 800-1500cfs.

What is unique about Bald Rock is the geologic composition. White gleaming granite walls quickly envelope you as you meander downstream into the maw. Flakes of rock and giant boulders have sloughed off the sides of the canyon and fallen into the riverbed to form rapids. If you imagine the canyon as a giant V-shape with debris falling into its middle, you can also imagine the undercuts that ensue because of this action.

Nevertheless, the majority of the rapids are good-to-go, and a solid team with good scouting and reasonable judgement can make it down unscathed.

Many paddlers opt to camp overnight at Atom Bomb Falls. It is a beautiful array of rock and sleeping spots are numerous. If you elect to do the run in one day, keep in mind that the Middle Fork of the Feather flows into Oroville Reservoir, and unless you are lucky enough to get a tow across the lake from a motorboat, you will have a 3-mile paddle out across flat water. Following that is and a steep climb up to the dirt road that serves as the take-out. It’s a long day no matter what.

 My most memorable moment on Bald Rock was a trip I did in mid-February. I was fortunate enough to have a friend, Kevin Greggerson along with his motorboat, and his girlfriend was kind enough to run shuttle for us. We were bombing down the run with me in the lead, and just as we were coming to the lip of Curtain Falls a Bald Eagle flew directly over our heads. Instead of stopping to scout, I stroked off the lip and landed comfortably at the bottom. Kevin and Andrew followed directly afterwards, and each of them had perfect lines. We were all smiles when we reached the boat and the warm clothes, beers, and smiling female faces inside.

My second most memorable trip was with Grant Korgan, and I will never forget watching him get absolutely trundled in a rapid to the point where I thought he might drown. I hate those situations in kayaking when you are in a position where you simply cannot access the person in need. Fortunately, he escaped the jaws of death, and he is still plunging into giant rapids today. The infamous rapid is halfway down the run, right above Curtain Falls, and it is marked by a giant pyramid rock at the bottom. Another friend of mine, Kells burst his ear drum in the same rapid.

As far as the combination of scenery, quality whitewater, and lack of crowds is concerned, Bald Rock is a true gem. It is logistically difficult to access, but it is definitely worth the effort. 

Fordyce Creek

Fordyce Creek is located in the Sierras just west of Truckee, California. It is an absolute gem for its spectacular scenery and miles of uninterrupted rapids. I often feel as if I am traveling on a high alpine trail when I am kayaking Fordyce.

However, Fordyce is not to be taken lightly. It is fairly remote and full of surprises. I have seen a significant amount of carnage over the years, including one death as a result of a vertical pin, a deep face laceration, a fractured jaw, and several swims. Additionally, every year there are new placements of fallen trees to contend with, and these obstacles always seem to be around blind corners or hidden in tight chutes.

Despite these inherent dangers, Fordyce is an unforgettable experience that will leave you both satisfied and sufficiently exercised. Optimal flow is between 3-600 cfs, but it can be run as flows as low as 200cfs.

Boatable flows on Fordyce are few and far between. In my experience, the past 8 years have consisted of calling the dam keeper and asking what the flow is. Usually, there is a period of one to two weeks in the Spring when it is running, and then sometimes is the Fall it will also run as they prepare to drop the reservoir down for the winter.

Part of the problem is the area around Fordyce is a popular recreational area for OHV-4 Wheelers, and many of them like to cross the creek. Even though many of them equip their vehicles with snorkels, the creek has to be at fairly low level for them to make it across; in fact, I have seen several of them stuck in the river, attempting to wench their way out.

So come summer, the snow completely melts away, Fordyce release levels go down, and the 4-Wheelers come out. Naturally, I would like to see a compromise where whitewater enthusiasts can be guaranteed boatable flows for part of the summer, and the 4-Wheelers can have their own scheduled dates. For as it stands now, kayakers and rafters are not receiving equal consideration.

Put-in

Once you make the challenging 4-wheel drive down to the put-in, look for the water shooting out of the pipe at the bottom of the dam. If it’s not, you have just gotten screwed by the irregular releases that have historically presided over the run.

If there is water you scramble down the trail adjacent to the dam and the outflow pipe for Fordyce Lake. Look for the painted arrows at the far side of the parking area.

Eraserhead

As soon as you apply your first stroke forward, the day is on and you are quickly approaching the first rapid, Eraserhead. A fun 50 foot slide, Eraserhead is usually run far left or center until the bottom,where it is best to make an immediate right at the point of connecting with the bottom hole.

Portage

There are many class IV rapids between here and the portage. Although, it should be noted the portage has been run by at least two people I know of, one of which had a dicey run at best. You will know when you are getting close because you will emerge into an open hanging valley suspended above a spectacular view of Old Man Mountain. Portage right or left.

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The Rogue River

This past weekend I journeyed northward for a long overdue trip down the Rogue River. A Tahoe contingency combined with an Oregonian posse to fly fish and float the Wild & Scenic section that starts just down the road from Galice at Grave Creek. We were fortunate to have 3 days of sunny weather complemented by beautiful fall foliage and a flow of 1250 cfs. Much bourbon was consumed, an excessive amount of shit was talked, and few fish were caught.

The Rogue is one of those classic rivers in Oregon that I have frankly always put off because there is so much to paddle in California. It is not a challenging run in terms of difficult whitewater, but it is a wonderful experience for any river enthusiast because it is filled with impressive scenery, abundant wildlife, and rich history.

If I recollect correctly, there are basically three distinct canyons with the first and third containing the only noteworthy rapids of any distinction. The first one is Rainey Falls. It contains a rather stompy hole on river left, which can easily be avoided. The second is Blossom Bar, which is generally run on the left.

I was paddling a Dagger Kingpin, which allowed me the freedom to explore interesting lines in both of these rapids. The rest of the time I sought out any play I could find.

We saw several bald eagles and deer over the course of the trip, and I had a river otter paddle by me just a few feet away. On the first day, there was an abundant amount of salmon spawning up the river, and it was fantastic to watch them leap clear out of the water around almost every bend.

The second night we camped just down from the Rogue River Ranch. It is a neat place with an old museum and several other interesting structures that were sold to the Bureau of Land Management under the Wild and Scenic Act. You can read more about it here. Suffice to say, it contains over 8,000 years of history involving both Indians and white pioneers. You may feel like a discoverer making your way down the Rogue River corridor, but the fact is many people have come before you. The Rogue has been used as source of sustenance, travel, protection, mining, and recreation for a long time.

As one who appreciates the incredible force of rivers, I will not forget the black and white photograph inside the museum that showed the Rogue at a tremendous level back in 1964. We were a great distance above the natural banks of the river, say, 100ft or more; yet, a grainy photograph showed the river coursing over the very ground we were standing on. When nature decides to kick ass, get out of the way. 

The Rogue is another example of what proper resource management can accomplish. It could be buried under a dam project or polluted to the point of no return. Instead, it is a source of revenue for local outfitters and businesses, and it allows for visitors and locals alike to experience wilderness and history unabated in a unique and preserved wilderness setting.

We must continue to preserve our rich natural heritage.