Taking another look at the Yellow River
OK, I’ll admit it: I’ve never been a big fan of the Yellow River. It’s wide; it’s muddy, and it has really long straightaways – kind of like a small version of the Mississippi River. Lately, however, I’ve been giving the Yellow River a second chance and have visited a couple of spots I’ve never been to before. I’ve actually enjoyed both the scenery and the paddling, and I wish I’d scouted there sooner. So am I finally gaining an appreciation for bigger rivers? No, that’s not it; there’s more to the story.
I guess it may not be entirely the Yellow River’s fault that it hasn’t made my favorites list. The stretch I’ve paddled most is from the mouth of Boiling Creek to Hwy 87. This 125-foot wide, 3-mile section of river with barely any turns is the final leg of a trip that includes the totally awesome Little Boiling and Boiling Creeks. It’s hard for any waterway to live up to the standards set by that pair of creeks. But I’ve also been on other Yellow River sections: from Hwy 87 to down to near the mouth at Blackwater Bay and much further upstream above Hwy 4. Naming my favorite part of the Yellow would be easy – the shortcut downstream from Boiling that is both fun to paddle and cuts off 6/10 of a mile from a big ox bow bend.
Nothing I’d seen of the Yellow River before had really called me back. I prefer small creeks where you can see what’s going on on both banks and where you never know what’s around that next corner – and that next corner is almost always just ahead. It’s great to have a nice canopy of trees in the summer, and it is fun to dodge obstructions in the water as you make your way downstream. None of these descriptions would really fit with my experiences of the Yellow River.
A Short Loop Trip
What I’ve actually been having fun paddling are some of the small side channels of the Yellow River and not the main river itself. I’ve also spent some water time really off the beaten track on some routes I’d be hard pressed to repeat, but more on that a different time. I’ve also already seen things at different water levels, which totally changes the experience. I’d noticed some of these narrow side channels on Google Earth before, but I had never made time to do some exploration there. That is changing now. On the Google Earth shot below, the wide river channel that you see is the Yellow River, which is 100 or so feet wide in this section. You can just make out the path of a channel heading northeast from the marked Fisher Landing -- a good bit narrower than 100 feet wide.
Four of us (my wife Susan, my sister Catherine, my regular paddling partner Jim, and I) launched from Fisher Old Mill Landing in the Yellow River Wildlife Management Area (WMA) near Holt, FL. Jim, who is our always trusty navigator, had mapped our route complete with details and names of local landmarks – some of the landmark names may not be found in any other source. This first trip for us to this area was right at what would prove to be about the end of a fairly long drought in our area.
Jim’s map is shown below, but I need to explain one thing before you look at it. I actually had an ulterior motive for this trip. I wanted to scout these small Yellow River islands for signs of wild hogs. The destructive habits of wild hogs along the banks of our local rivers is why Brett and I have recently taken up hog hunting. Yes, I am a hog hunter. By that I mean that I’d be lucky to actually see a hog, and I’m really not sure if I would even be able to pick one out of a lineup. I’m working on it, though, and Brett might actually let me carry a bullet one day soon. I’m the Barney Fife of hog hunters, but that’s another story.
Oh, we did see some rooting that was obviously the work of hogs. Imagine miles of this (I'm not exaggerating) along the shores of Turkey Creek and the resulting erosion, and you get an idea of why hogs are so unpopular.
Our route would take us on a five-mile loop. We first paddled upstream from Fisher’s Landing on the narrow side channel, padding along what we called Unicorn Hog Island. (Why is this called Unicorn Hog Island, you ask? Some time back my wife had suggested that I hunt for unicorns at the same time I was hunting for feral hogs. Remember, don’t look these island names up anywhere else. We didn't find names for the islands, so we are taking a few liberties.) This small island is about ½ mile wide and ¾ miles long. Our small creek split and gave us two choices for our upstream paddle. The first had a small logjam that looked like it might be a pain trying to cross, so we backtracked and went up the second smaller branch instead. There were several spots that needed clearing or lopping to work our way upstream, but it was shallow that day, so we made it through with minimal trouble.
The second island just upstream from Unicorn Hog Island, which we call Parker’s Treasure Island, is a bit bigger. I stopped and walked on several spots on both islands. There aren’t a lot of good spots to take out at, but we managed a few safe landings. There are some really big trees in this area – see the picture of the cypress tree that posed with Susan below. Most of the land on the islands looks like flood plain, which is what it is, but it was pretty easy walking when I was there. With the drought, the islands were mostly dry. I don’t know that I’d wander around on these islands too much in the summer. It’s not snakes or gators I’d worry about, but mosquitos – not an issue in December.
Even with the water on the Yellow River and its side channels at pretty low levels, the upstream current was still pretty stout. My sister commented that she didn’t think most of our gang would really like paddling up this creek. It was definitely a reminder of why we almost always “go with the flow.” It was a relief when the creek made it back out to the main channel of the Yellow River, and we started heading downstream.
Downstream on river right was the Yellow WMA and on river left was Eglin AFB. There was a small hunting camp type community on the mainland side of the small creek that runs along Parker’s Treasure Island, but other than that there is no development in the area. We didn’t see any hogs or bears, or unicorns for that matter, but we did startle a large animal that I’d guess was a deer as we slipped quietly downstream.
I need to check out a couple more nice, small, heavily canopied side channels, and, if we can get through them without too much trouble, we’ll piece together a longer downstream trip that, well, avoids the main body of the Yellow River. Oh, and I really think I should take another look at the sections of the Yellow way upstream, too.
Trip Date: December 3, 2016
Gauge Height: 36.31 at downstream gauge on Hwy 87