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, July 14, 2013

Vermillion River – Catch It While You Can: Guest blog by Jarett C. Bies

The following guest blog was submitted by Jarett Bies.  Jarett has offered two previous guest narratives on this blog, and I always enjoy both the substance of his adventures and his writing style. He is a very experienced paddler and is the past president of the South Dakota Canoe/Kayak Association.  The Vermillion River is one of the streams within our general area that I have not paddled, and reading Jarett's account whets my appetite for making this trip soon.
I live about a mile from the Vermillion River and invited a couple of friends out for a Sunday run between 309nd Street and the bridge just east of University Avenue (at 312th Street) about one week ago.
The river is declining in depth due to a lack of recent rains, but it still offers a nice trip and plenty of sights for canoe and kayak enthusiasts in the southeast part of South Dakota. This stretch is about two miles northeast of history-rich Spirit Mound, so if you've ever wanted to visit one of the few sites where Lewis and Clark actually stood, and fold a short paddle into the trip, this entry will help you.
The river flooded in June due to heavy rains this year, especially near Centerville. It runs from Lake Vermillion to the Missouri River, and parts of it, including the stretch we ran, are man-made. I am hoping to get the chance to run the curvy stretches closer to Centerville before the summer is over. Jim, Brian and I were just out to have a jaunt on the water. We all live pretty close to the Missouri River but alas, sometimes the logistics of a Big Water op are not as appealing as a run down a smaller stream.
Muddy would be an operative word for the Vermillion. I planned ahead and packed a pair of “mud shoes” for the put-in and such, then switched smoothly into my regular paddling boots so that I wouldn't have that muck in my fiberglass kayak. It worked well. We'd planned on starting in a back water channel just north of 309th Street, but upon arrival scouted the area and found a tiny patch of gravel near the water to use for a launch. This would require descending a short vertical face but it was less muddy.
There were still spots where my weight led to ankle-deep SPLOTS into the mud, so don't go into a Vermillion River outing without the knowledge that you'll end up dirty. You will.
This video shows the unique nature of the weather that day. I joked that it was obvious there would be no kayak racing in South Dakota that day because there was no wind (our annual Memorial Day weekend race on the Missouri is notorious for being a wind magnet) and the 90s temperatures with no breeze led to sweaty faces and plenty of gnats. But regardless it was still a great little operation. After battling with the heat and mud, we got everyone into the water and began our journey.

Wildlife came into play almost immediately, and not in a good way. We all saw silver carp, the new invasive species that is here to stay, unfortunately, jumping and splashing in the shallow water where we started. Reading Jay Heath's account of these Asian explosions on the Jim River, we all knew they could be dangerous or annoying, but thankfully the four or five we saw at the start were all we saw. Only five minutes into the trip we began to hit bottom with paddles, but we never bottomed out in our craft and the flow seemed strong enough. A bit of rain would truly benefit both the river and the farmers who raise grains in the area.
We saw a great blue heron in the first 10 minutes of the paddle and she remained with us, perching above us until we approached, our voices leading her to take wing and pop down the river a few hundred meters until we did it all over again. I wasn't able to get any great photos but she was a welcome addition to the trip. A bird of prey also did this leapfrogging motion down the river with us, and of course each time this owl or hawk left its perch and moved so too did a gang of smaller birds reminding it that it wasn't welcomed in their nesting area.

The fact I had vanilla back at the house made us all regret not using it on our skin before we left as it's rumored to be a deterrent to gnats, and they were thick in many of the spots along the river. Wet muddy tracks of raccoon and deer were plentiful along our paddle as well, and the bug spray-sunscreen product I got from my mom (it's an Avon product) worked well in keeping the gnats and mosquitoes away from my face.

We paddled past the remains of the Carp Street bridge on our journey. Word is Carp Street used to be the one of the main east-west connections for Wakonda and Vermillion folks before the rerouting of the Vermillion River back in the 1960s. Unless you have a stout off-road vehicle, do not approach Carp Street as a place to paddle. There's at least three-quarters of a mile of rutted “used to be road” between the pavement and the water. Putting in at 309th is much easier.

With our heron escort on one bank and the hawk or owl on the other, time passed quickly as we descended the river, and the trees eventually thickened and gave us some shade as we traveled. We surprised a large snapping turtle sunning on a bank and he scrambled towards the shelter of the stream with a large splash. So while the river is brown and muddy, it still appears filled with life. Regional fishing enthusiasts say catfish are abundant on the Vermillion, and the flooding earlier this season may have led some lunkers up from the Missouri, so if you have a license and the inclination, you might add angling to your jaunt on the Vermillion.
Shortly after the remains of the Carp Street bridge we came across a pair of rocky shelves that created minor ripples/rapids on the stream. With a clunk-clunk-bonk, both Jim and Brian bopped over them, but I was tender on my glass boat and found a skinny channel where I could avoid the bumps. It did add a little bit of energy to the lazy Sunday cruise. Our finish line came up quite quick, we probably paddled a total of 90 minutes, and we were able to get out on some rocks and avoid the shoe-swallowing muck of the bank. We made quick work of the shuttle and reload, swiping at gnats all the while, then relaxed with a cold beverage before the work week swept us into its maw.
The average depth was low, but the scenery and the approachable nature of this waterway would lead me to recommend it to anyone who is in the Vermillion-Centerville area who isn't afraid of a little mud. Hit it at the right time of day and you'll find much more wildlife. I want to thank Jay Heath for the chance to share our journey on his blog. Thanks for reading my account of the Vermillion River between 309th and 312th Streets, just north of Vermillion, S.D.

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