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