Coldwater Creek: A Quick Change Artist
Before the downpour our biggest concern with a Coldwater Creek trip was dragging in the shallows, but now that definitely wouldn't be an issue. Our long drought in my area of the Panhandle came to an end with a deluge of more than six inches of rain over two days. The volume of water flowing down nearby Coldwater Creek promptly went up by 500%. We needed the rain, but this was a bit much to pour on us all at once.
One of the many modern conveniences that we enjoy are river gauges that report information online, so even if we can't walk out back and see the river itself, we can still get a good idea of what's going on. Before the sky let loose in our area, the Coldwater gauge at Munson Hwy, about 19 miles below our planned launch site, was down to about 2.6 feet. The rain moved in on a Sunday, and by that midnight, the creek was up to 3.9 feet and still rising. Monday brought even more rain, tapering off by late afternoon, and by the end of the day, the water level had climbed further to 6.0 feet. The river crested at 6.9 feet late Tuesday, more than 24 hours after the rain let up. The volume of water is more important than the gauge height, and it had increased from about 260 to about 1300 cubic feet per second.
I know the area creeks generally drop fast after the rain stops, but how much would the Coldwater drop by our Sunday morning trip time? I contacted some of the usual suspects, and said that we should check it out first hand. When the water is falling, you can get a fast ride, and that sounded like fun. I decided to hold off inviting more people until the situation was a little more certain.
Eleven paddlers stood near the Hwy 4 bridge gazing down as the water of Coldwater Creek traveled past on its way to join the Blackwater River, where it would then head into Blackwater Bay and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico. The morning air was crisp – it was a jacket and stocking cap kind of day, and I was definitely wearing my Chotas (light weight, knee-high waterproof boots). What was our biggest concern at that moment? That we would drag bottom in the shallows. The water was barely a foot deep and flowing gently by – if you dug your paddle in too deep, you’d smack the sandy bottom that was clearly visible. Right after a big rain, you can expect the water to be a bit muddy, but five days later this was nice, clear, tea colored Coldwater Creek.
My wise paddling partner Jim Parker had definitively stated that the creek’s water level would drop in plenty of time, and he was, of course, correct. The water had fallen enough by Thursday that even I was comfortable sending out a general trip announcement. (Water generally makes me a bit paranoid, even though it is my number one hobby.) Only five days after a pretty big rain, the creek was back to pretty much right where it started. See the rest of the gauge height picture below. Coldwater Creek only drains about 240 square miles, so it empties out pretty quickly. Nearby Juniper Creek, which drains an even smaller area and is between Coldwater Creek and the Blackwater River, generally drops even faster.
I had forgotten to take a picture of the launch site, but I remembered before I’d gone too far downstream, so I paddled back. Brett who was our designated sweep (that means he was bringing up the rear to help anyone with issues and to make sure we didn’t lose anyone – not that that was a concern this day) hadn’t launched yet and said he was touched that I was worried enough about him to paddle back upstream and check on him. Umm, I meant to say I was worried about Brett, and when I got back near the launch, I just happened to remember to take a picture.
Another Nice Trip
The approximately 10-mile trip from Hwy 4 to Springhill Rd is particularly pleasant, especially at this time of year, when we pretty much have the river to ourselves. In fact, I don’t recall seeing anyone out on or along the river at all on this day. We started with an overcast sky, but by later in the day, the blue broke through and contrasted nicely with the bright white sandbars and sparkling water. We had a group lunch on one of the many nice, large sandbars downstream the creek has to offer. One of our gang who I'd never met before, Wallace, stayed with us through lunch, and then he fell back to drift and fish the deeper corners. He told us he’d caught 2 bass and 4 bream on his last short outing on the creek. I never did hear how he did that day.
I’d heard a warning about potential downfalls on the creek, but they really didn’t present much in the way of obstacles this day. There was one tight squeeze along the edge of a sandbar where one of the group took a spill while walking her boat, but she bounced right back. At another fallen tree, it was easy to hop out of boats and pull them along the edge of a sandbar before hopping right back in. Other than that, it was smooth sailing, except when you weren’t paying close enough attention, and you grounded it out in one of the many, many shallow spots. I didn't do any scientific calculations, but I’d guess that the average water depth for our 10-mile trip was eighteen inches or so.
Oh, I didn’t mention the mishap. I didn’t see it when it happened, so I can only tell you what I was able to piece together from others who were closer. This is entirely hearsay: We were in about two feet of water with no obstructions, but one whole bank was lined by shrub trees angling out about six or eight feet over the water. One of the innocent looking shrubs apparently leaped out and knocked a kayaker right out of his boat, tipping the kayak in the process. You should never turn your back on a tree. Sit-on-tops are easy to just flip back over, and then you are good to go, but …. not if your hatch is open. It took a little bit longer to get going. Our swimmer—it wasn’t really deep enough to swim-- said that he’d figured out that we were inviting him for his entertainment value.
The rest of the trip was incident free, but we did have to be extra careful at the takeout, which was definitely extra muddy. Another great day on the river.
Trip Date: December 11, 2016
Gauge Height: 3.15 feet
Thanks to Brett and Austen for help on the shuttle. Thanks to Mike, Uschi, Jim, and Susan for staying with my sister Catherine during the final shuttle. We were happy to have Jim Nuetzel, a long-time friend of the group who now lives in Georgia, join us on the trip.