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Project Clearwater — Expedition 24

2014-05-24

Project Clearwater — Expedition 24

Low water.

In keeping with the theme of the wild swings of Bayou Fountain water levels, we were back at 6 feet below the bridge.  Also, there were a few mosquitoes.

The gauge on Bayou Fountain at Bluebonnet had been quite a useful source of information.  It was showing a steady retreat in water levels after our recent heavy rains, so we were expecting low water levels on the weekend.  Then on the morning of May 20th, it apparently broke.  Suddenly, the reading went to zero (which is not a legitimate number for the gauge), and then the data stopped coming altogether.  Well, at least the chain gauge is working, although it’s not as easy to check from your desk.

We arrived at the park to find the chain gauge showing a full six feet of bridge clearance.  At that level, the launch is a bit more interesting, but if you’ve got the boots for it, the soft mud with embedded logs and such does provide some convenience.  Right there at the launch, there is quite a lot of wood embedded in the bottom of the bayou, and with such low water, much of it was showing.  We jumped right in (or slogged right across, as the case may be) and tackled a good chunk of the middle section, clearing the embedded logs and branches to make for an easier passage through.  The photo above is the “after” shot.

Down the bayou.

After the bit of clearing right at the launch, we headed off down the bayou.  We noted the current status of the Rainbow, but as the root ball end of it seems to be quite embedded, we decided to leave it for more observation.  (That trunk is *not* easy to move.)  We sawed up some logs and cleared some debris and just kept going down the bayou to see what we would find.

We found mosquitoes.

The mosquitoes on the bayou hadn’t been that bad this year, except for one or two weekends when they were a bit too plentiful for comfort.  This time around, however, they were phenomenal.  If you kept paddling faster than a certain speed, you were *mostly* fine (except for a few overachieving bloodsuckers), but the moment you slowed down, they were on you.  You don’t want to think about what happened when you stopped.  It wasn’t pleasant.  What *was* somewhat entertaining (in an annoying sort of way) was that when you glanced behind you as you paddled along, you *literally* saw a mosquito-wake.  Even more amazing to see was when someone paddled by you.  They *literally* looked like Pigpen from Peanuts with a perfectly visible cloud of mosquitoes around their head.  I’d rarely seen anything quite like it.

More kayakers, a.k.a. mosquito bait.

At one point near the Bayou Manchac end of Bayou Fountain, we were sawing the top off a downed tree to widen the paddle route around it, when a pair of kayakers came upon us.  They were also down from Highland Road Park, and they had also been experiencing the day of the mosquitoes.  Apparently they did not have mosquito repellant with them, and I had earlier looked for mine and not found it anywhere in my canoe.  After a bit of conversation, they proceeded onward while we wrapped up with the tree, all of us wishing we’d had some oh-so-wonderful DEET.

Manchac and Fountain, again.

After wrapping up the downed tree, we continued on toward Bayou Manchac.  At the last group of long-downed trees, we found the extremely long trunk/log that has been floating up and down the last bit of Bayou Fountain for a while now.  It has more than once caused temporary jams, so being ahead of “schedule”, we decided to take care of it.  Paddling such a long log around was quite… interesting… but in the end we got it clear of the end of Bayou Fountain and moored it elsewhere where it will not cause a problem for anyone (who knows, it might even help).

Another speed bump.

All in all, it was a good day on the bayou.  The low water presented a few metaphorical speed bumps in the form of shallows that we raked out, and I got another literal speed bump as a souvenir.  (Now I have one for my carport *and* one for my driveway, woo-hoo!)  Paddling back up the bayou, we hit a few more shallows.  We would’ve stopped to rake those out, but by that point the mosquito situation had gone *far* beyond merely annoying.  It was like the bayou version of “Speed” — no Sandra Bullock in a bus, just us in canoes, but you had to keep up a certain speed or *BOOM*… er… well, whatever sound mosquitoes make as they drain you dry in one terrible moment.

Cute little snakey.

The mosquitoes were so bad, we stopped even trying to get “cute” snake pictures by the last few miles.  If only we had insect repellant (and perhaps mosquito head nets), it wouldn’t have been bad at all.  It really was a pleasant day except for the torture part, go figure.  Finally, about 6-1/4 hours after we’d set off, we arrived back at the launch and made our emphatic and expeditious exit from the land of a million bites, vowing to stop right there on the way home to stock up on much needed repellant.  With a little spraying, next time out should be *MUCH* more pleasant.

I like to say that even unpleasant situations can be worthwhile for the stories they give you, and we were going to have a pretty good story about how we survived our day as veritable mosquito-comets flying along the bayou.  Every so often, however, something happens that makes the stories just that much better for the telling.  As I was unloading the canoes and packing everything up, I looked down into one of the gear buckets that I had just carried to the car.  Immediately, I called Mike over and told him to look in the bucket.  After a moment, he noticed what I had just seen, and the story… well…

Go figure...

10 Comments leave one →
  1. David permalink
    2014-05-29 8:27am

    We saw our first gator on the bayou last Friday. It was a 5 footer lying on a mud bank about a half mile before Manchac. We came upon him so fast, he nearly jumped in the canoe with us. It was a startlingly experience for the gator and us!

  2. James permalink
    2014-06-02 1:50pm

    I saw a sign posted today in a neighborhood near highland park that said an Alligator was spotted in Bayou Fountain and instructing parents to talk to their small children about safety around the water. Does this happen often? Was it the rain that pushes the alligators up the bayou?

    • David permalink
      2014-06-02 3:17pm

      It’s not the rainwater. Alligators are normal residents of the bayou and the hundreds of acres of adjacent swamp.

    • 2014-06-02 3:21pm

      I do not know enough about the behavioral characteristics of large reptiles to know whether the rain, currents, or water levels can induce alligators to go further up the bayou. I suppose, however, I can say at least a little about whether it happens often.

      Personally, I’ve only had three alligator sightings on Bayou Fountain, and I’ve been out there every weekend for months. The first was at what I’d call “normal” water levels and was about a mile from Bayou Manchac. The second was also rather nominal water levels but the week after high water. It was sunning itself on a partial obstruction just downstream of the mile two marker (along the Not-So-Great Wall of Fountain). Finally, the third sighting was at very low water levels and in the area between the first two.

      In all three cases, the alligators did what I’ve come to expect: as soon as they saw a paddler coming along, they slipped back into the water and headed out of sight. If there had been a history of people feeding them, this innate behavior could certainly be altered, but that certainly isn’t the case on Bayou Fountain. The water was *exceptionally* clear the day of my third sighting, but I never managed to catch another glimpse of the alligator. It makes me wonder how many more I may paddling by without ever seeing them in the first place, and it makes the sightings that much more special.

      While as a canoe and kayak paddler I’ve never had anything but a fleeting encounter with a rapidly disappearing alligator, if I were a small household pet or young child, to an alligator I would likely look a lot less intimidating and a lot more delectable. It seems logical, then, to use an alligator sighting as a reminder to consider water safety, both from our local reptiles and more generally.

  3. James permalink
    2014-06-02 5:10pm

    Thanks Paddlebr, thats good information. I read on the WLF website, that alligators less than 4 feet in length are naturally fearful of humans and generally not a threat. However, if its over 4 feet in length and it acts in a certain way such as not being afraid of humans, it should be reported as a “nuisance alligator.” More info at http://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/wildlife/nuisance-alligators

    Is there someone on here that I can email to ask questions about kayak vs canoe? I’m looking to start paddling in bayou fountain this month, but need something that floats. :)

    • 2014-06-02 5:32pm

      I have three canoes, an inexpensive sit-in kayak, a sit-on-top kayak, and a Hobie Mirage Outback sit-on-top pedal kayak. Each has its place, and I use various of them rather often, so I suppose that means I likely have a decent background to answer questions (as long as they’re not on the relative merits of kevlar vs. hand-laid birch or something — those questions tend to go over my budget). I’ll email you from my PaddleBR.com address.
      –Nathaniel

  4. James permalink
    2014-06-02 6:18pm

    That sounds great Nathaniel! My questions are basic, but numerous. Look forward to your email.

  5. James permalink
    2014-06-12 2:43pm

    Hey Nathaniel, I never received your email from your PaddleBR.com address.

    • 2014-06-12 4:48pm

      Strange. I see that it sent, but hmm… in that case, try this. My email address is at PaddleBR.com, and the part before the at sign is my first name, or click the link near the top of the Upcoming Events page (in the menu line above) and it’ll do a captcha and then give it to you.

  6. James permalink
    2014-06-13 10:09am

    Thanks, I just emailed you.

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