Kayaking the South Fabius River

After doing Stream Team last Tuesday, it looked like the South Fabius was high enough to provide a nice float, but not too high to be dangerous.  I kept an eye on the river level all week, and it didn’t fall too much.  Sunday my wife had a meeting in Taylor, which was conveniently close.  We left my car at the take-out, Soulard Access, and she dropped me off at the put-in off of Route A.  I noticed that the stream was very small, but I figured it must gain volume quickly to reach the flow at our stream monitoring site.  I dragged the kayak through a lot of shallows and pulled it over some trees.  Occasionally, the sand in the stream bed got very loose, and I postholed up to my crotch.  I kept getting gravel in my sandals too.  Not fun.  The GPS showed that Grassy Creek, a tributary, would be joining the stream shortly.  I was hoping this would increase the volume a lot.  But before I reached it, I ran into a spot with high, steep muddy banks and three trees lying across the path of the stream.  The only course seemed to be to pull the kayak over one of the logs.  I stood on the log and hauled it up.  I got it most of the way over, then it turned parallel to the log.  I puzzled over it a bit, gave a big tug, and fell in.  Of course, a big hole had been scoured under the log, so my feet did not hit bottom.  The kayak had made it over the log, but my crate had tipped over.  Fortunately, everything fell in the tankwell, not into the stream.  I had practiced getting back in while out at Lowell’s.  It’s a good thing.  It was also the first time the paddle leash really came in handy.  I didn’t think I could take 10 miles of this, and was prepared to call the wife for an unscheduled take-out. I was hoping this experience would not end up as an episode of “I Shouldn’t be Alive.”  Well, at least those people DO live.  When I finally joined the tributary, I quickly realized my error.  The large stream joining to my right had to be the South Fabius River.  The stream I had started in, and struggled through, was Grassy Creek.  The crowded display of the GPS had misled me.

The put-in, which maps have confirmed is actually Grassy Creek.

It had taken so long to cover the first mile or two that I was pressed for time to finish the trip before sundown.  I paddled hard for the next four hours.  It’s a lovely stream.   There were freshwater mussel shells on nearly every gravel bar.  I picked up a live one to show my class later in the week.  This stream is actually a state reference stream, renowned for its mussel beds.  I fished a little, but couldn’t really afford to waste the time on it, especially since nothing was biting.  What I should have brought was a shotgun.  Four turkeys flew across the stream in front of me, and a couple dozen wood ducks kept flushing downstream every time I caught up with them.  Other birds I saw included kingfishers, great blue herons, turkey vultures, eastern phoebes, American crows, killdeer, and a pileated woodpecker. 

The stream has a lot of long pools with no current–nothing for it but to paddle.  These pools are interrupted by shallow rapids that scrape the bottom of the kayak, unless you get out and pull it, which you have to sometimes anyway.  There are a few places with nice limestone bluffs, but most are covered with trees.  A few people have constructed their dream homes up on the bluff.

Water like glass.

Bluffs appear here and there.

Once you pass Highway 24/61 the “signs of human use” increase, and the stream is littered with old cars and their parts, especially tires.  In this stretch, there are some interesting places where it’s shallow enough to see the bottom, but deep enough to float.  Where the North Fabius joins the South, the South has a huge shallow sand bar all the way across, which requires dragging the boat along.  It’s not far from there to the Soulard access.  It has a launch ramp that’s hard to see from the upstream side.  As soon as I stopped there, the mosquitoes ate me alive.

Kayak on a sandbar in the sunset.

When you come to a fork in the river, take it.  Left: South Fabius; Right: North Fabius.  Note the setting sun.

Stream flow data are available here:
The discharge rate should probably be over 50 and under 300 to effectively float this stream.  It is 12.5 miles, and takes about 5 hours of steady paddling.  It would be somewhat shorter if a better put-in was used, such as the bridge just downstream of Route A.

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