A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip never entered my mind until a few friends proposed the idea a few months ago. The date was set and everyone settled back into work and life, not really thinking about it too much.  Eventually when the date arrived, all of us – 6 in total made the final preparations for a journey down the Lower Sabine River.

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Packed and Loaded

The Sabine forms a goodly portion of the border between Texas and Louisiana, and the section we planned to run was  below Toledo Bend Reservoir and would consist of ~25 miles of twisting channel.

The Lower Sabine River plays a key part in the development of east Texas.  The area was important to a Clovis people and the Caddo culture. The Caddos lived along the river until about 1300 A.D. Eventually with the arrival of the Spanish, the Lower Sabine River became the eastern extent of provincial Spain in Texas. During the later development and arrival of more European settlers to the region, the Lower Sabine River was vital in the transportation of lumber and other goods from the deep Piney woods to the ports of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange.

In 1949 and 1950 the states of Texas and Louisiana both formed River Authorities to manage the resource. As a result, the construction of Toledo Bend Reservoir began. The multi-purpose dam served to provide for flood control, water conservation and hydroelectric power and was completed in 1969.

 I digress, so back to the journey which began on October 3rd.

The section of the Lower Sabine River that was of interest to us was about 10 miles below the dam in a sparsely populated region of pine lowlands that straddled both sides of the river. We began our trip from a point on the River where Texas Hwy 63 crosses the river and turns into LA Hwy 8. With all the required equipment and necessities, we dragged the kayaks down to the river and shuttled all the vehicles to our take out point on the Louisiana side of the river, about 27 river miles downstream. Once we returned, with a final check of the kayaks and fishing gear, we slid off and entered the current.

The river was higher than anticipated as a result of large discharges from power generation at the dam, and finding a high and dry beach to camp on was a nagging concern to some in the group.

We had spent the previous night in a lake house on Toledo Bend, kindly provided by one of our party. After an explosive night of thunder, lightning and heavy rain from the passage of a cold front, we were blessed with spectacular weather. Crystal blue skies, light wind and low humidity were the order of the day. After a cool morning, the sun warmed our faces and the sand. The water in the river was still warm from summer. The forecast promised clear warm days in the mid 80’s and cool nights in the low 50’s. There was no rain in the forecast.

Fishing was a major activity and we floated with the current along steep-cut sand banks that alternated from the Texas side to the Louisiana side as we drifted. Soon, we all had caught a least a few fish and we relaxed to enjoy the scenery and the sport. Because we started late in the day, the plan was to make as many miles as possible before dark, and still find a beach to camp. After passing many beaches that were inundated we finally found a high and dry bench of white sand to stop for the night. It was approaching 19:00 and we quickly pitched camp and started a fire before nightfall came. Grilled fish tacos made from freshly caught bass were a highlight of the menu, and as the temperature quickly dropped, we retreated to our tents and sleeping bags.

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Stream Flow data during our trip
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
The put in point
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
At the Lake House

 

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
A deserted desert beach
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Clear water and blue skies
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
A Great day
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Dinner
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Cowboy TV
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Filleting the Catch

We had pushed hard that day and logged 9.77 river miles.

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Day 1 Map

 

Day 2 of A lower Sabine River Kayak Trip started after a cool and clear might with a bright waxing moon. We awoke to a beautiful morning. The river had dropped many feet during the night and the mist was rising off the water. With a pot of percolater coffee bubbling on the stove, I walked the beach and enjoyed the still air, the calls of birds in the distance, the hammering of pileated woodpeckers and the rush of a flock of Blue –winged teal rocketing up the river.

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Early Day 2
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Pre Dawn
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Sunrise on the river
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Camp Awakening
The Golden Hour
The Golden Hour
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Rising Morning Mist
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Swirling in the rising sun
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Luminous Forest
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Good Morning

We fished most of the day with frequent stops on convenient beaches to rest and stretch a bit. The fishing was  good and we caught enough for another dinner. I don’t think this stretch of the river sees much pressure. The bass were not too particular on what they liked and hit on many different artificial baits.  A couple of the guys tried with little success to check up on college football scores, but cell service is spotty at best. You might get a text message out occasionally, but more than that is definitely hit and mostly miss.

 

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Resting on a sandbar
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Another rest stop
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
This beach was like a football field
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
A photo and stretch break
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Checking out a side creek
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Checking football scores?
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
A lot of solitude

We made camp about 18:00 and gathered wood for a fire and dinner. Decent wood for a fire was surprisingly hard to find. Most of the deadfall was either wet, or rotten. We ended up chopping down some river birch to feed the fire. Fresh fish tacos were again on the menu and we sat around the fire swapping stories and sipping fine whiskey before bed.

 

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Day 2 Map
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Camping on the 2nd night

 

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
The afternoon golden hour
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Setting up

The temperature again dropped under clear skies and a bright moon and I curled up and slept deeply after a long day.

We made a bit over 9 miles on day 2, giving us time to relax and enjoy the trip and still make camp before dark. What struck me about the day was the clarity of the water and the lack of anyone else on the river. The beautiful white sand bars were also something that I did not expect. The clarity of the water is due to the surrounding subsurface being almost 100% sand.  We did encounter 2 canoe travelers on day 1, but we did not see another soul on this day.

 

Day 3

The final day started with a thick mist rising off the river, creating a surreal scene in the quiet morning. It was cool and damp and the river had risen and receded again overnight as the River Authority adjusted the power generation schedule. We coaxed our campfire to life again and had a breakfast of grilled sausages and tortillas. Once packed up, we dragged the kayaks about 40 yards to the water and slid in for our final day on the river. We estimated we had an additional 6 or so miles to go,  but I suspected with the twists and turns it would be somewhat more.

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
A serene morning

 

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Mist and smoke

 

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Always coffee!
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
The river was still warm in the 50 degree air
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Sunrise through the mist and trees
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
My favorite sunrise shot

We fished both banks of the river and stopped frequently for stretching, nature calls, and photos. There were a few side channels to be explored and even a larger bayou entered the main river channel.

At mile 23.2 we stopped on a really sweet sandbar. We snacked and rested before make the final push to the terminus of the journey. This was the first day that we really had any wind and it had switched around from the south. There were occasional wind channels flowing up river that made progress slower and required some strategic positioning and some shoulder work to reach our take out.

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Side channel
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Exploring the channels
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
More fish
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Mile 23
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Resting at mile 23
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Another of the many nice beaches
A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Narrow part of the river

We finally reached the point at which my GPS said should be our takeout and we found the small gully leading up and out of the river. The tally for the day ended up at ~ 9 miles with some paddling required against the south wind.  After unloading most of the heavier gear, we dragged the kayaks the 100 yards to our vehicles and with that the journey was completed. Loading up,  we said our goodbyes and gave out a prize to one of the guys who fished with less than adequate gear for the whole trip, but held his own admirably.

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
The “Little Mermaid” fishing pole prize

The drive  home took just over 3 hours and I arrived with a sense of satisfaction….. That was a really good trip….why haven’t I been there before? I hope you enjoy the post and if you have any questions, hit the comments tag at the beginning and blast away.

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Day 3 Map

 

Trip Summary:

Total elapsed time – 2 days 1 hour and 48 minutes

Total distance 27 miles

I have a link here to a Google Earth .kml file for those who would like to see more detail and below is simple topo

A Lower Sabine River Kayak Trip
Full Trip Map

10 Comments

  • Kevin Livingstone

    July 10, 2017 at 10:39 Reply

    HI there — I was excited to find your post and description. I’m planning on leading a group of 12 on the same stretch in a week and had a few questions that I hope you could answer. I am used to trips on more western rivers through BLM/NFS lands, so I was wondering about regulations/etiquette on this stretch — it looks like you just pulled up on any beach you liked and stayed the night — is that the case? Are there some beaches where private landowners need to be consulted? Are there any other regulations I should be aware of (again, I’m used to checking in with a ranger and having to show this, that, and the other thing before getting on the river, so this feels a little strange…) Thanks for any info you can offer!

    • Richard

      July 10, 2017 at 13:08 Reply

      I sent you an email…Enjoy the river, it is a great trip. Check the Lower Sabine River Authority web page for water release schedules. ALWAYS pull your watercraft way up on the beach at night, just in case they release water….Don’t want your canoe or kayak to be gone in the morning!

  • Jen Norris

    May 15, 2017 at 21:10 Reply

    New to kayaking but very determined. I want to do this trip. It looks beautiful and so peaceful! I have been looking for a place to go. I don’t have my own kayak yet. Can I rent from someone?

    • Richard

      May 16, 2017 at 07:15 Reply

      Yes it is a great trip. Surprisingly beautiful… I know there are places in Houston that rent kayaks (Fishing Tackle Unlimited?).

  • Allan

    August 15, 2016 at 13:05 Reply

    Great blog! A few of us are thinking of running a similar trip when the it cools off this year. Can I inquire into the logistics? Were you able to park your trucks safely at the top and bottom? Did you use a shuttle/outfitter?

    Thanks!

    • Richard

      August 15, 2016 at 13:55 Reply

      We parked at the take out point. A local “outfitter” has some property on the La. side of the river and he shuttled us back to the put in point. Let me know if you need a contact number.

      • Jared Jorgensen

        August 22, 2016 at 08:48 Reply

        That looks like an awesome trip. I’m gonna try and do it in a few weeks. Could I get a contact number for the outfitter you used?

        • Richard

          August 22, 2016 at 10:55 Reply

          The outfitter is

          Ricky Wyatt
          Adventure Canoe
          (337) 375-2395

  • Philip Brawley

    October 17, 2015 at 18:14 Reply

    Man this sounds like an awesome trip! A couple of friends of mine have been into kayaking for several years now and in 2015 this was to be one of our trips…the Sabine River! It was flooding in May and early June so we didn’t get to go but this next year, 2016, here we come. I loved the commentary and the photos were awesome. If you want a really good trip, try the Ouachita River in Mena, Arkansas…anytime in May and early June are awesome! if you want the best trip call Frank at Two Spirits Canoe Rental for shuttle service…but you get to bring your own gear and its great fishing.

    • Richard

      October 19, 2015 at 20:36 Reply

      Yes it is a great trip on the Sabine. Thanks for the tip on the Ouchita!

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