News Columns & Blogs

A canoe adventure to remember

Don’t do what I did.

Not unless you actually enjoy a decent amount of danger, stress strangling the muscles in your neck, and an inability to see four feet in front of you.

Once again, the Upper Manatee River provided me with another unforgettable tale of adventure on a moonless night.

I recently set out from Rays Canoe Hideaway and paddled 5 1/2 miles into an outgoing tide that was flying because of the opening of the Lake Manatee dam. Once I reached a point near the dam, I pulled the canoe to the bank, hopped out and began fishing. It was about 6 p.m., and the sun would be setting soon.

The debris and bubbles on the top of the river were cruising around a bend in the river, and I could hear the swashing of the dam crashing to the river a couple hundred yards in the distance. In a canoe, the tide was too strong to target speckled perch at sun-down, so I targeted catfish.

I sat on the edge of a grass clump on a steep bank. The best spot turned out to be at my feet. I dropped a thumbnail-size piece of uncooked, saltwater shrimp straight down a twisting branch that curled to the bottom of the river.

Something blasted the bait and ran. Because the fish ran under the branch, I had to lean over the bank, guide the rod under the branch and pull it out the other side. Whatever it was fought like a frightened badger, and it turned out to be about a 5-pound channel catfish landed on 10-pound monofilament.

The paddle back was not quite as fun. The low tide propelled me forward into logs on a night in which the moon didn’t show.

I took a deep breath and studied my situation so that I wouldn’t be swept backward into some logjam or overhanging tree. Tipping my canoe and falling into the rapid tide with possible hungry gators and bull shark was to be avoided. So I steered my canoe into the tide, turned back west and paddled on.

A few times the tide was so low that I exited the canoe and walked a ways in the sinking river bottom, my flashlight searching the bottom for drop-offs or even gators. Back in the canoe, I had a hard time ruddering as my arms began to cramp with every stroke. Mosquitoes and no-see-ums attacked the two spots on my shoulder-blades that I could not reach with bug repellent.

How lovely.

Some ask why I do such things, and maybe I don’t really have a good answer.

It’s just about the adventure. The catfish fillets. The wild night.

And there’s something else: Once I made it back to the boat ramp, I was actually dying to utilize one aspect of life that I sometimes take for granted, but was all but robbed of on the river.


Nick Walter, Herald outdoors writer, can be reached at 745-7013.