Laura was in Florida for the Easter Weekend visiting her mother and sister, and I was spending time with my brother Houston at his home in Georgia. Every time we get together Houston tells me about all the paddling opportunities near his house, but I’d never had a chance to try them out…until now. On this Saturday before Easter we decided to launch from the Dyar Pasture Recreation Area and explore Lake Oconee and the Oconee River.
I brought paddling gear, but I didn’t bring a boat with me on this trip. Like me, Houston has multiple boats, so I had just planned to use one of his. Houston would be in his 16 ft Tsunami and I would be in the 12 ft Dagger Axis. This is a hybrid boat, with enough rocker for light whitewater, but with a drop skeg for tracking on flat water. Paddling it would be a different experience for me.
The Dyar Pasture Recreation Area is a former pasture restored as wetlands, fed by the Oconee River. More importantly for our purposes, there is a boat ramp on the river at the upper end of Lake Oconee. It is only about 10 miles from Houston’s farm, making it convenient for paddling.
When we arrived the place was hopping with holiday weekend traffic. Small john boats were launching at a constant pace, and it seemed every little nook in the river already had a boat with a couple of fishermen. We got our boats ready and miraculously found a parking place.
Just as a note – I swiped Houston’s photos from this trek as well. Photos with me in them were obviously taken by him, but there were others. I haven’t credited him in all of them, but give a blanket acknowledgement here. Since he uses the exact same cameras I do, you can’t figure it out from EXIF data.
That being said, we launched and headed upriver. Houston had spotted a hidden lake that he wanted to try to reach. There were also little coves along this section that looked like they would be interesting to explore.
The weather was ideal. Boat traffic, however, was not. Neither was the water quality. It seemed as if we were paddling through brown muck some of the time. In some of the back channels if even looked as if there was some oil on the surface. This was definitely NOT a place to swim.
Water quality aside, the scenery was nice. We did find a small cove not far from the ramp where we could escape from the fishing boats.
As we tried to explore the cove as far back as we could, we found ourselves in clumps of vegetation that got tighter and tighter until we could go no further…or so we thought. More on that in the next post. But, suffice it to say, we turned around and came back out of this cove.
So far I was liking this hybrid boat. It handled well. Out on the flat water it would do a “Crazy Ivan” when I stopped paddling if I didn’t have the skeg dropped. However, having that maneuverability really helped in these tight areas. When I had the skeg down the boat tracked straight, but was not quite as quick as the Tsunami, which is to be expected. My one complaint was that when it was down the skeg would flop from side to side, causing a loud bumping that was out of sync with my paddling strokes. For a compulsive person such as myself it was a bit unnerving.
We continued upriver, exploring little coves and staying out of the river as much as possible.
We turned down one channel that seemed to be a bit more open than the others. We came to a group of three kayaks that had pulled over to do some fishing along the bank.
Ahead we could see that the channel opened onto a beautiful lake. However, there was a problem. I fallen tree blocked the entire passageway. There was no way around it without portaging.
We could do it, but the thought of having to repeat the process to return deterred us. We decided to see if there might be another way in. Reluctantly, we retraced our steps back out of the channel.
Back on the main river we continued upstream. On the west bank was an actual pasture with actual cows. Ahead I could just make out a small gap between the trees on the bank.
The sawed log was my first clue. There would be no reason to cut it if this weren’t a path to somewhere. I continued through a covered tunnel and popped out onto our hidden lake. Houston was close behind
The lake was wide open and we had it to ourselves.
Turns out that we had come out right next to the channel that had been blocked by the tree. We had essentially gone around an island.
At the north end of the lake was a wetlands area. We advanced as far as we could. A heron stood a ways off.
We found a nice level spot that would make an excellent campground. We decided to land and explore on foot a bit.
We circled the small lake, looking at tributaries and other small coves. Finally we found our way back to the entrance. We noticed that the space next to the blocked channel would also make an excellent camp spot.
We left by way of the hidden tunnel.
Back out on the main channel we headed back to the boat ramp. More cows had gathered by the river, but the boat traffic had eased up a bit.
We had been out on the lake a long time. We paddled nearly nine miles.
For the rest of the day we enjoyed huge burgers, then wandered downtown Athen to watch the weirdos and have a drink. From there we returned to the house and played the instruments we had on hand – drums, banjo, mandolin, and guitar. It was a great day all around.