View Full Version : And then the shooting started

10-28-2013, 12:23 PM
Taking advantage of some sunny and relatively warm weather, my wife Anna and I did some paddling this weekend. We live in NE Virginia these days, on the Northern Neck . . . the old stomping grounds of Mike O'Brien (of Boat Design Quarterly), whom I have been corresponding with lately. He recommended nearby "Dragon Run" for some cypress swamp scenery, and on Saturday we headed that way.
At the put in. Anna is paddling my SOF baidarka:

Dog is my co-pilot:

And away we go:

Unfortunately, for us at least, Dragon Run is very "wild," which - practically speaking - means it is nowadays impossible to paddle. A couple hundred yards both upstream and down the river is obstructed by strainers or beaver dams, depending on which way you go. We had zero desire to portage through cold water and muck, so we loaded back up and drove to another put-in. This one was a bit better, but you could still only go a half mile or so in either direction.

Upstream of the second put-in, it really did turn into a cypress swamp, complete with lily pads. Definitely not something I expected to see this far north, despite Mike's assertion. Last time I was in waters like this, there were alligators and cottonmouths, which I'm glad we didn't have to contend with here. We were still in quite a remote area, though, if you discount the road where we launched.

The lily pads started to become overwhelming soon after this, though I forced my way through looking for a channel. About the time I thought I saw one not very far ahead, I also saw an anomalous object - a red ball or something, hanging from a tree over the water. Anna and I had a loud conversation about it - loud because she had stayed back in clear water - and then the shooting started. It was obviously a .22, and there were at least a dozen shots in about a minute or so, all coming from near the red ball. So, not a very long target shooting session, nor a duck hunter since it was a .22, and I can't imagine any self respecting squirrel hunter winging shots like that. To be clear, I did not hear any bullets whizzing by me, but I decided vacating was prudent.

Here's Anna, unfazed, on our way out. That's a Greenland style paddle, btw, not just a stick.

10-28-2013, 12:27 PM
We bailed on the Dragon Run swamp after that, likely never to return unless someone goes in there with a chainsaw and/or swat team, depending on where you wanted to paddle.
But, the next day - Anna's birthday - we noticed the boats were still loaded on the car, so we took the hint and headed off for some saltwater action. We put in at a public kayak launching area near Windmill point on the northern neck (right at the mouth of the Rappahannock River on Chesapeake Bay).


No gunfire this time, and Anna is able to charm even the crustiest of professional watermen, so no dramas to report - just nice scenery. Very shallow water - often just inches deep, and some interesting tidal creeks and inlets to explore. The dog may or may not have overcome his abiding fear of crab-pot buoys, but he did finally decide that all oyster shells are not monsters in disguise. He still is a little leery of them.
Anna loves the baidarka but it's not ideal for navigating twisting tiny creeks. So we'll make her something more useful. As for me, I find myself suddenly needing a traditional poling skiff. We'll see what comes of that.

My ride is my Dad's old Chingadera solo canoe, designed by the late Thomas Firth Jones, and pretty crudely built by me, many years ago, on the porch of an apartment. It works great, but the dog does have a tendency to fall out when perched at the bow.

The Bigfella
10-28-2013, 01:19 PM
Great stuff, thanks 

10-28-2013, 01:35 PM

Thanks for sharing! It's been a few years ago, but I ran into the same issue on Dragon Run with the snags and lilly pads. Thankfully, I didn't come under enemy fire though! I will add...yes, there are cottonmouths... no alligators!

A bit of a drive for you but if you'd like to paddle in a more open cypress swamp, I'd highly recommend the Chickohomany River between Williamsburg and Richmond. The lower river is a better bet, the closer you get to Richmond the more snags and obstructions. Anywhere up river from Providence Fordge would be a pain in the neck. Put in on Chickohomany Lake above Walker's Dam or down river near the mouth, at Chickohomany Wildlife Management Area on Morris Creek (Note: the river is tidal here so plan accordingly).

By the way... I enjoyed your display at MASCF.


Ian McColgin
10-28-2013, 02:57 PM
Well told. Thank you.

J. Dillon
10-28-2013, 03:50 PM
Thanks for posting. I always like to see postings about back water creeks etc. Too bad about the bogs, water restrictions and 22's sounding off. More folks should take advantage of similar waters in their locale. Each turn can be an adventure .. not knowing what lies beyond the bend be a snake or other wild critter. Up here in CT we are currently having an invasion of ..


Which by some river rats around here say is very harmful to muskrat habitat as well as fish spawning, which means less fish for the Osprey to fish for. Time will tell.


BTW that kayak sure looks slick.

10-28-2013, 04:02 PM
Did you sound your whistle? Could be the plinker didn't know you were there.
Mebby you don't have whistles, I dunno. Around here every paddler-rower carries one as they are required by law.
+1 on the Greenland paddle. I like mine as much as my ultra light carbon paddle.

10-28-2013, 05:36 PM
I see something great and dismal in your future.

10-28-2013, 05:58 PM
I keep plotting a small SOF canoe for just such adventures , thanks !

Hunky Dory
10-28-2013, 07:39 PM
Love the big smile on Anna's face. I got together with a couple friends for a row on the Herring River here Sunday. When my wife asked where we were going I offered to load up the dink for her to row. She asked how far, and I told her I didn't know she bowed out. We ended up doing about 8 1/2 miles. Good times.

10-28-2013, 08:27 PM
Thanks for that, but it's hardly sporting to play the attractive wife card AND the cute puppy card in the same thread.



Binnacle Bat
10-28-2013, 10:17 PM
Oh come on. This is the internet. Excessive cuteness is fair play, as long as everyone is in a wooden boat.

David G
10-28-2013, 11:39 PM
Dave - enjoyed the travelogue! And, I'm happy to report that I've never had a boating adventure that included the phrase, "... and then the shooting started". Other adventures, sure... but not boating <G>

10-29-2013, 03:48 PM
Oh come on. This is the internet. Excessive cuteness is fair play, as long as everyone is in a wooden boat.

I was kind of hoping he'd 'retaliate' with a few more pics...
My next dog will be boat-friendly.

10-29-2013, 05:57 PM
I was kind of hoping he'd 'retaliate' with a few more pics...
My next dog will be boat-friendly.
Our last dog loved to be in the canoe but it was hard to get him to sit still especially when he spotted a loon. He was 100 pounds without an ounce of fat. Probably looked just like that puppy when he was young....

10-29-2013, 06:11 PM
Our pup was happiest in the canoe. I still miss her.


10-29-2013, 08:08 PM
If still looking for a great place to get out. Go 40 more minutes to MATHEWS and put in at Winter Harbor. A great secluded place with plenty of open area. If you come out into the bay the next inlet south is Horn Harbor where our property is. Great place to be.

10-29-2013, 08:42 PM
The dog is named Smokey - he's about 7 yrs old, so full grown . . . but stumpy. He keeps the yard free of deer and chickens.


Thanks for the kudos and paddling suggestions. We hope to explore as many backwaters as we can - they're often the most interesting to ply, and gunfire just adds to the experience. I guess I should have thought twice when I heard the banjo . . . .


Anna is getting a SOF solo canoe next week, which will make maneuvering in tight quarters a lot easier for her - the baidarka is about 17' long, and made to go fast in one direction (and to roll well). My Rail Bird poling skiff will have to wait a bit.

wizbang 13
10-29-2013, 08:53 PM
Thanks for the ride!

James McMullen
10-30-2013, 03:01 PM
Oh Dave. . . . :(

Seriously? An Aleut kayak and a Greenland-style paddle?!? Did you really think such blasphemous heresy would go un-noticed, you felonious cad?

Good thing I wasn't there with my gun, I reckon. This is most unseemly!!!

Get thee to the woodshop, sir! And carve a proper aleut drip-stick forthwith!