This blog is designed to highlight the paddling opportunities within South Dakota, mainly within a 50-mile radius of Sioux Falls. While Sioux Falls is far from the adventure of coastal regions, there is a certain satisfaction in utilizing the available waterways to observe weather, water conditions, and the landscape along the shoreline. In addition, there is a wealth of animal life on the waters of small South Dakota lakes, rivers, and creeks, including geese, ducks, pelicans, great blue heron, egrets, hawks, owls, perching birds, deer, raccoons, and beaver. Eagles, fox, and coyote are also sometimes spotted.

The sites described are places where I have kayaked over the past few years, mostly in South Dakota but sometimes including locations in Iowa and Minnesota. One of the best sources of information on the accessibility of small lakes is the South Dakota Atlas and Gazetteer, the large map book of South Dakota. Lakes with a public access are generally identified by a boat symbol marking the location of a launching site on public land.

You will notice the menu of paddling locations on the right side of the blog. Each of the postings is linked to one of the areas, and my intention is to provide a continuing review of the places where I paddle. Perhaps these narratives will help readers select waterways of interest to them. Please feel free to offer a comment regarding any of my postings; I would welcome the dialog.

I also maintain a companion blog that describes hiking opportunities within the Sioux Falls area. You can access that blog at:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The James River and Assault by Asian Carp

Four years ago, the SDCKA organized a 12-mile cruise on the James River that began near Mitchell, SD, and that made the announcement of a cruise that took place yesterday especially attractive to me. Under the leadership of Dave Finck and Larry Braaten, this cruise was organized to put in at the Highway 44 bridge over the James River and continue 9.5 miles downstream to the Wolf Creek Hutterite Colony.

Six paddlers gathered at the truckstop near the Canton exit ramp from Interstate 29.  Five kayaks were loaded on the Finck trailer, and with Larry Braaten leading the way in his pickup, we headed west to the “put-in.”  Leaving Larry’s pick-up at the “take-out,” we all clamored into the Finck van and drove to the Highway 44 bridge over the James River, a few miles west of Freeman. 

There is no public access area defined for launching into the river at that point, but we just carried our kayaks and gear down the embankment and over a dried flood plain to an easy “put-in.”  Leaving the van parked off the road, we launched and set out downstream.

The James River, sometimes called the Longest Un-Navigable River, originates in North Dakota and flows 710 miles south to its confluence with the Missouri River near Yankton, SD. The river as it flows on the course of the cruise yesterday is about 100 feet wide, surprisingly deep, with a current that is virtually unnoticed.  As I checked the depth with my long double-blade paddle, I found that sometimes I could not reach the bottom.  I would guess that the depth within the channel ranged from four to seven feet. The landscape along our route included some low hills along one side or the other, but most of the area was pretty flat.  There were lots of dead trees along the banks, a result, I would guess, of flooding last year along the river. In addition, there were occasional submerged branches or tree trunks that were invisible because of the lack of current; I bumped over a couple of these and became centered on one in deep water for a couple of anxious moments. The course of the river on much of our route was serpentine.  While there was a stiff headwind at times, the constant twisting and turning of the river meant that the wind strength varied markedly along the route.

We passed by a couple of Hitterite colonies, and heavy earth moving equipment in operation left us in the dust for a while.  The operators of this equipment were the only people we saw along the route. We also passed a homemade boat that had been hauled up on the bank.

Shortly after we set out from under the Highway 44 bridge, we came under assault by dozens of Asian Silver Carp.  These fish were a constant concern as we made our way downstream.  These silvery fish with white bellies would leap out of the water several feet, often higher that a seated kayaker.  It seems that we must have spooked them with the passage of our kayaks.  They would appear by the dozens and bracket kayaks with their splash.  The scene of kayaks ahead reminded me of ships being bracketed by naval gunfire. One of our group twice had a carp land in his lap, and another member was struck in the shoulder.  All of us had plenty of near misses with the carp striking near our kayaks and showering us with water.  Some of these fish were 15-18 inches long and must have weighed two or more pounds.  It is hard to get an accurate measure of them since we didn’t catch any and our glimpse of them was fleeting.  We saw hundreds of them during our three and a-half hours on the river.  Anticipating the next eruption of jumping carp took the tranquility out of the cruise; we were all somewhat on edge with apprehension about being surprised and tipping over in the deep water and muddy banks.

I found a vivid you-tube video done by KELO about the Silver Carp lower on the James River that gives a good overview of the growing infestation and impact.  None of us on this trip had ever seen anything like this on any waterway.  The further spread of these Asian Carp is very troubling to anyone who uses the area streams and lakes.

We stopped about halfway through the cruise for a fifteen-minute break along the bank.  There were lots of mussels and many bones along the river.  One of the group saw a beaver, and we all saw large cave-like holes in the banks that seemed like dens of some sort. There were several great blue herons that flew along with us for a while, always flying ahead as we approached. 

With the imperceptible flow of the river, we were all continuously paddling.  The anxiety of anticipating the carp and long paddle left us all quite tired by the end.

We left the river just above a rocky ford at a public access area. After retrieving the van from the Highway 44 bridge, we loaded up the kayaks and headed for a late dinner together at the Pizza Ranch in Lennox. 

Even with the drought, the James River is in good shape for padding on the course we took yesterday.  The arrival of Asian Carp, however, takes the bloom off river paddling for now.  Perhaps some way will be found to deal with them, but there is also the potential of these fish growing in both size and numbers over the near term.  We all need to keep alert to developments in their spread and in possible ways to control them over time. 

For those interested in the full set of photographs of this cruise, please go to my Flickr account at the following URL:


smrtblue said...

Looks like you guys had a great paddle!

Brett Langley said...

Looking to plan a similar trip on the big Sioux in Iowa. It was really nice to read a more local blog, even if a few years old. Thanks