Ocklawaha River – February 8, 2017

With our monthly paddles for the Florida Trail Association we usually schedule a paddle on Wednesday for those available during the week and the same paddle on the following Saturday for those who can only get away on the weekends.  This month we chose a section of the Lower Ocklawaha River, from below Rodman Dam to Johnson Field Landing on SR 19.  A paddle of only about 7.8 miles, but a beautiful stretch of the untamed Ocklawaha River.  Another plus is it that it is generally frequented only by a few bass fishermen in smaller boats.

Just as we passed these young men pulled in a small bass.

Just as we passed these young men pulled in a small bass. They released her back to the river.

Tuesday night we had a big storm – lots of rain, some hail, and high winds, so Wednesday morning was still overcast and kind of gloomy.  Rain was predicted for the day but the chance of thunderstorms was very low, so we decided not to cancel.  As it turned out, since everyone brought their rain gear, we only had a brief sprinkle as we were loading the last two kayaks before heading home.

We met up at the Rodman kayak launch on the west side of and below the dam and after unloading and setting up our own shuttle, the 9 of us started out about 9:30 am.  The weather although overcast, was warm as we glided down the river with a gentle current.  The first stretch is part of the original route of the river, but because of the dam channeling most of the water into a spillway canal, it has only a mild current.

"The Gang" on the lower Ocklawaha

“The Gang” on the lower Ocklawaha

After about 2 miles the spillway canal joins the river and the river widens with more water and a stronger flow.  If you look back upstream on the canal you have a good view of the downstream side of the dam.  I hope I live to see the destruction of the dam and a return of the river to its original state.

A view of Rodman Dam from downstream

A view of Rodman Dam from downstream

Another couple of miles down the river brought us to Davenport Landing.  This was once a steamboat stop along the river where the boats would stop for fuel and is now a US Forest Service campsite.  Unless the river is very high there is a nice sandy landing area here for kayaks.  Since no one was camping there the day after the big storm we had lunch and a leg-stretch break up in the middle of the lovely camping area.  Billed as a camping spot for river paddlers, it is usually filled with long-term car campers since there is a forest road leading in to it and it’s free.

Davenport Landing

Davenport Landing

Davenport Landing campsite

Davenport Landing campsite

After lunch the group was eager to get back on the river.  Perhaps a little too eager, since the guys up front took a wrong turn to the north into one of the river braids and by the time we caught up with them it was a long way back to the junction.  But after a look at the GPS we determined that taking the next little creek to the right would get us onto a more southerly braid that would eventually take us back to the main channel near our takeout.  The only question was, would the braid be open all the way?   But we decided to play explorer and ventured on.  As it turned out, we made it through with only one tight spot and it was a delightful trip – much narrower, more twisting and shallower than the main river.  Along the way we saw several little gators (under 3 feet), a few Great Blue Herons, and a lot of Great Egrets gathering in colonies for the breeding and nesting season.

Just a little guy sunning - under 3 feet.

Just a little guy sunning – under 3 feet.  You can still see his yellow baby stripes on his belly and tail.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

Great Egret in breeding plumage

Great Egret in breeding plumage

At the end of our adventure in the backwoods braid we emerged out into the main channel of the Ocklawaha exactly where we were supposed to – just west of the SR 19 bridge and our take-out of the day at Johnson Field Landing.

The boat ramp at Johnson Field Landing

The boat ramp at Johnson Field Landing