Thursday, July 18, 2013

Whitewater Summer

By  Spider Rybaak

Photos by Susan Rybaak

A family of tubers floating through the Trestle Pool.

A web of exciting whitewater slices through Central New York. Unfortunately, much of it is too dangerous (Black River), shallow (Scriba Creek) or short (the rapids at Caughdenoy) for most of us to play in. The Salmon River, on the other hand, is just right.

Running for roughly 13 miles, from the spillway at Lighthouse Hill Reservoir to its mouth, this world-famous trout and salmon stream’s base flow is kept at 185 cubic feet per second year-round. That’s the minimum required to keep its rapids at the right speed and level to maintain the sensitive habitats that mature salmon and trout need to spawn; and their offspring require to carry them through their first few months of life and their trek to Lake Ontario.

Serious whitewater enthusiasts rank the Salmon River as a pitiful Class II, about as exciting as spit in the bucket.  But for average folks, its pleasant, safe pace allows for leisurely floats in tubes, kayaks and canoes, down playful rapids lined in riverbanks teeming with colorful plants and wildlife, all under the graceful flight of bald eagles to ospreys.

Still, even the meekest among us harbor fantasies of risky adventures some of the time. Several years ago the authorities, after gentle coaxing by whitewater interests, decided it wouldn’t hurt to shift the  Salmon River ‘s thrill level higher periodically and decreed that the power company release additional water five weekends each summer for recreational purposes.

The second of this season’s flow increases took place 4th of July weekend and legions of folks took to the rapids in everything from tubes to over-sized rubber duckies to indulge in some bubbly. About the only complaint competing with the laughter wafting over the whitewater was that the water didn’t stay up a little longer.

Good news. This year ain’t typical, and when the screws were tightened on the water gates, the rapids didn’t slow down a bit. The above average rainfall pouring over the region since the beginning of summer hasn’t drained off the countryside yet; and at this writing the level is at 650 cfs, well above the normal for this time of the year. Considering the size of the river’s drainage, it’ll take all of a week, maybe longer, for the flow to resume its typical summer level.

While the thought of a stream flowing so high above average is enough to send the fear of rapids coursing through your veins, it’s really not that bad in a shallow stream like the Salmon River.

That doesn’t mean you can throw caution to the wind and jump in carelessly.

 What it does mean is you can enjoy a long, comfortable, relatively safe float down whitewater averaging 70 degrees. But you gotta play smart. Here’s some tips to keep you safe:

- Always wear a life jacket.
- If you go by tube or air mattress, make sure it’s big enough to float your body weight.
- If you get thrown into the fast water out in the middle, don’t try to stand; you might get your feet wedged between rocks and the force of the rapids can submerge you. Float on your back, feet first, until you come to a slow moving shallow area before trying to walk out.

If you go by canoe or kayak, bring along a fishing outfit. Atlantic salmon and Skamania—summer-running steelhead--are drawn into the stream by high water. They’re in top shape this time of year, guaranteeing you a run for the money.

If the water goes down before you can make it, no sweat: additional whitewater releases are scheduled for the weekends of July 20-21, August 4-5 and August 31-September 1.

Launches and take-outs with parking areas line the river. Some of the most popular include:

- CR 52 Bridge in Altmar
- Sheepskin Road, about 100 yards east of its intersection with CR 48, Pineville.
- Northeastern corner of the CR 2A Bridge, about a mile east of Pulaski.

Enjoy…and stay safe.

Spider casting  a streamer for Atlantic salmon as kayakers watch.

The river's at the perfect height, the weather's just right,
for a float trip.

Fishy encounter: Kayak angler and Spey-caster at the Trestle pool.

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