Lost On The Loxahatchee

Enjoy a Leisurely Paddle Back in Time

Boone Oughterson April 10, 2012

Got a lot on your mind? Need to get away for the day and leave the hustle and bustle of everyday life behind? If paddling through a canopy of century old cypress trees and being one with nature is your thing, then I have the perfect escape for you. Located in northern Palm Beach County, the Loxahatchee River is Florida’s first federally designated Wild and Scenic River. Spanning approximately 9 miles, the source of this critical watershed starts at River Bend State Park, which is just west of the Turnpike amongst overgrown freshwater creeks and cypress swamps. The freshwater river slowly meanders its way through a variety of interesting landscapes that support a wide range of flora and fauna.

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The Loxahatchee is certainly one of South Florida’s finest paddling trails. Photo: Boone Oughterson

While paddling the Loxahatchee is an enjoyable and relaxing experience, those who can’t go anywhere without a rod in hand can expect to encounter a variety of game fish inhabiting the fresh and brackish environments. Although the Loxahatchee is routinely visited by a large number of paddlers, the river is amazingly pristine and remains largely unaffected by tourism. However, to get the most of out the Loxahatchee I highly suggest you plan your visit during a weekday.

When paddling through this area be sure to keep your rod tips low, as I learned the hard way that low lying trees will do their best to ruin your angling experience.

After a long week at work I needed to get away from it all and upon agreeing to a weekend of chores I convinced my wife to drop me off at River Bend Park early in the morning. I asked her politely if she would pick me up in the afternoon at Jonathan Dickinson State Park at the other end of the river. With this plan I would be able to experience the entire waterway and everything it had to offer. I really had no idea what to expect, but with a little research I found out the best offerings and outfits to bring along. Because this watershed serves as a nursery for a host of fresh and saltwater game fish it’s best to bring your smallest ultra-light combos. Six and 8 lb. test line will keep the fights sporty with notoriously scrappy opponents. As for worthy offerings, you’ll catch a mixed bag of panfish, largemouth bass, juvenile snook and tarpon with small crankbaits and stickbaits. Gold and silver are hot colors.

I launched my kayak at Canoe Outfitters in River Bend State Park and started my trip down the Loxahatchee. From the moment I sat down in my ‘yak I was amazed by the tranquility and peacefulness of the river. Within the first hundred yards of my paddle I saw a gang of turkeys meandering near the water’s edge with not a care in the world. The headwaters push you along at a gentle pace into the canopy covered cypress swamp where the fishing opportunities really take off. Here you’ll want to cast a line at the many fallen trees, nooks and crannies on the river. One cast you might catch a bass and the next a swordspine snook. Because the river is so overgrown it can be a real challenge to fish. You can expect to encounter fallen trees and hanging limbs around every bend. If you don’t like close quarters fishing this is a good area to simply sit back and enjoy the scenery. When paddling through this area be sure to keep your rod tips low, as I learned the hard way that low lying trees will do their best to ruin your angling experience.

The slow moving river winds through the cypress lined waterway to the first of two dams on the Loxahatchee. The Lainhart Dam is about 25 minutes from the canoe launch and depending on the water level you may need to take your kayak out of the water and put it back in on the other side. Don’t fret, as there’s a convenient wooden boardwalk for such purposes. Many times it’s possible to paddle over the dam, but this isn’t always the case.

The second Dam, Masten Dam, is just a bit downstream from Lainhart. From Masten Dam the river flows to Trapper Nelson’s Cabin, which is an area where you can get out for a break, eat lunch or just stretch your legs. From here you can either continue downstream another half mile to enter Jonathan Dickinson State Park, or turn around and begin the paddle upstream to the canoe launch.

The river really changes once you enter Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The narrow river opens up into a vast mangrove estuary and tidal flow starts to influence the brackish environment. Bass are still on the menu here, but the chance of catching snook really heats up. Luckily the tide was in my favor, outgoing, which I overlooked when planning my paddle. It would have been a real challenge to paddle the remainder of the river against the tide, so be sure to take this into consideration when planning a trip. This is also where the no motor zone ends, so you will likely encounter powerboats in the area. This area of the river is chock full of wildlife, with massive alligators sunning themselves on the banks, osprey causing havoc in the skies, mullet jumping and egrets stalking the shorelines.

After a five-hour paddle I was making my way to the end of my journey at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. It was a very peaceful paddle along the river and it was hard not to get lost in my own imagination. I can’t wait to get lost again.

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