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CANOE CAMPING

Many rivers in South Georgia offer camping on beautiful white sandbars. These guys spent a good part of the evening solving the world's problems and shining alligators.

    Chances are, if you like to fish, you also like to camp. So why not combine the two? Turning a fishing trip into an overnight bivouac in the wilderness adds a little bit of adventure to the sport of fishing, and allows us to forget, at least for a day or two, the hassles, worries, and deadlines of our everyday lives. While a night spent streamside may not provide the comforts of home, it does tend to comfort the soul. Having a whippoorwill sing you to sleep at night beats the sound of street traffic, and the whistle of wood ducks as they leave the roost is far more pleasant than the harsh buzz of an alarm clock. And the gurgle of the stream provides a soothing background to it all.

    Now I don't need much of an excuse to turn a float trip into a canoe camping expedition, but there are situations where an overnight float is the best option. There are numerous stretches of river in Georgia that have ten or more miles between access points. Most of us cannot fish ten miles of water thoroughly in one day, so the best way to get to the fish in secluded sections of stream is by taking two days to fish it. Think about this for a second: If this section of river is too long for a one-day float, then you will most likely be fishing for the dumbest fish in the stream, because these fish will have never encountered much, if any, fishing pressure. This helps put the odds even more in the angler's favor. Editor's note- If you are trying to cajole a full weekend pass from your spouse, you have permission to use this as a talking point, but GRF refuses any liability for alimony or other marital hardship.

    A canoe camping trip is no different than a regular float trip, only longer. All of the same planning guidelines still apply. You should know roughly how many miles are involved, what type of water to expect, and what the weather is supposed to do (for more specifics, see "Planning a Float Trip"). If possible, it is a great idea to scope out potential camping spots beforehand. If this isn't feasible, ask around (the GRF Message Board is a good place to start) and see what you can find out. Remember, all you really need is enough level ground to pitch a tent and build a campfire (if you so desire). Remember that most surprises that occur on an overnight river trip will be unpleasant ones, so find out as much as possible about the conditions you are likely to face before you leave.

    There are some other variables involved in an overnight float trip. If possible, try and find out if there is any public land along your planned course. For obvious reasons, public land is the best place to camp, because camping on private land without permission is trespassing. If all the streamside land is privately held, try and find out if the river has any islands that might offer good camping. Having said that, a lot of anglers (including myself) have no qualms about camping on an isolated, completely undeveloped and un-posted piece of private land if that is the only available option. In these situations, campfires are no-no's and there should be no evidence of your stay left behind when you leave (always leave no trace behind!). Editor's note: I am not a lawyer, therefore I cannot dispense legal advice. If you feel uncomfortable camping on private land, then don't!

    Another variable that should be considered is the presence of power generation dams upstream. On tailwater rivers, water levels can rise six feet or more in a matter of minutes, so all camping sites should be chosen accordingly. A few years ago, a buddy and I were camping on a public section of the Ocmulgee River north of Macon (and downstream of Georgia Power's Lloyd Shoals Dam). We set up camp on a sandbar, feasted on hamburgers cooked over the campfire, and later paddled over to the opposite bank to try and catch some catfish as we enjoyed some adult beverages. The anchored canoe swayed noticeably in the current.

    "Man, the current seems a lot stronger at night than it does during the day!"

    "Yeah, but why on earth would Georgia Power need to generate power at 10 PM on a Saturday night? Quit being a sissy and fish."

    At this juncture, we heard a hissing sound and then watched as the rising river doused our campfire. We struggled the canoe to shore and in a blind (literally) panic broke camp and struggled all our gear up the riverbank. The whole process took maybe ten minutes, but in our last trip down to the sandbar the water was above our ankles. Luckily, a DNR sod field was at the top of the riverbank, and the only damage was a mild case of poison ivy. My wife says it's the only time in my life that staying up late and drinking beer has done me any good! I didn't mention that that's how we met.

The calm before the flood. Four hours after this picture was taken, this idyllic campsite was underwater. See above for details.

    Food is another important consideration. I know a guy who brings four or five cans of soup and a can opener on camping trips. He simply opens a can at mealtime and drinks it cold straight from the can. I enjoy eating well when I camp, and am not above cooking fish or steaks on the campfire or in a pan over a camp stove. Many prefer to pack light and eat freeze-dried camping meals, some of which are pretty tasty. It is generally a good idea to prepare as much food as possible before you set sail. Other than personal taste and cooking ability, the main factor that will determine what you eat is available space. I normally canoe camp from a canoe and therefore can afford to pack a good-size cooler with plenty of food and drink. Kayakers need to pack lighter, and might even need to invest in a water purifying system of some sort to gather drinking water as they go. Whatever you decide to eat, be sure to take note of how much better everything tastes when you're eating it next to a river.

    Some canoe campers prefer to sleep under the stars or turn their boat upside down and prop it up on some logs and sleep under it. I am wimpier than they are. I prefer a tent, but one that will pack up small enough to fit inside an extra large drybag or Action Packer. Some tents come with a waterproof "footprint" that helps keep the bottom of the tent dry, but a tarp works just as well. A good rain fly is also worth it's weight in gold should an overnight thunderstorm hit.

     A good drybag or two is an essential piece of equipment for the canoe camper. I like to take three- one small one for each camper (for clothes, dry shoes, lighters, cameras, tackle, etc.) and one extra large one to hold the tent and two sleeping bags. If you doubt the importance of a drybag, just take an overnight float without one. Murphy's Law dictates that you will inevitably take a spill. Enjoy your evening...

    In addition to tent, tarp, sleeping bags, food, and water, there are a few other items that should be considered. Toilet paper, trash bags, plates and utensils, first aid kit, toilet paper, bug spray, change of clothes, flashlights, life jackets, toilet paper, charcoal, campfire grill, therma-rests, cameras, a lantern, and sunscreen are all items you might want to think about taking on an overnight float (though life jackets are not optional). Did I mention toilet paper? With all this gear, even the lightest packers will notice a huge change in the handling ability of their river craft. On rivers with rapids, everything should be secured to the boat, and remember that caution is the better part of valor, especially on the first day of your trip. I have chickened out and dragged my loaded-down canoe through many a small rapid for fear of ruining the remainder of the trip.

    With all this camping gear, you still need to make room for the stuff you need to catch fish. If you are the type that needs six rods and three tackle boxes for a fishing trip, overnight float trips may not be suited for you. As painful as it may be for some, the tackle should be pared down to the bare necessities on an overnight float. I prefer to take three rods (one for each angler and an extra in case one malfunctions) and a small tackle box or pouch for each fisherman. This may require some sacrifices, but if you're anything like me, there will be very little room for fishing gear once everything else is packed. One good suggestion is to make your spare rod a bream outfit if you are primarily bass fishing or vice versa. This way you can go to Plan B if Plan A is not working out!

    I prefer to take along a partner on overnight float trips. The main reason is that I am afraid of the Boogey Man, but it's also a good idea in case of an accident. I also don't get to spend nearly enough time with my friends. If you undertake a solo overnighter, then be sure to notify someone of your specific plans and be real careful!

    There are entire books written on the topic of canoe camping, but hopefully this article will help get you started. For more information, search the internet or go to a bookstore or library and get a book on the subject. All I can say is that I've never regretted a single overnight float I've undertaken and each one has supplied me with numerous stories and memories. God willing, I have many more canoe camping adventures ahead of me!

 
 

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