Sunday, February 12, 2023

Quick Paddle Guide to Shell Bank Bayou and Maurepas Swamp

This is sort of foreword to the very first post I made here a few years back: Shell Bank Bayou: Two Routes...

My first version of that post was based on my first handful of trips through Shell Bank Bayou, out to Lake Maurepas, and then in and around the surrounding Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area. A lot has changed since my first paddles in this area in 2012 or 2013. First, I was still very new to kayaking and had much to learn about all things kayak-related and about the nature of Nature. And this bayou is an excellent classroom. Second, this classroom changes cyclically, and it evolves. After some time, I realized I needed to update the post to keep it current. Then, again. And again. And it started to feel sloppy or overly long.

One of the key factors for all these updates: Water Hyacinth. When I first started paddling out here, the hyacinth problem was much, much less severe. Sure, the bayou itself, and the narrow channels through "the prairie" always had water level and vegetation challenges for us. But by 2019 or 2020, whole swaths of the area were getting completely choked off by this plant. And it does just that: It suffocates the waterway beneath it. All paddling in this area is defined by it now.  I discuss this a lot in the specific route info in the original post, so...'nuff said. For now.

So again, this post is more of a foreword to the first; or a general overview of Shell Bank Bayou and the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Areas, and some of the paddling options in the vicinity. The original post is still there, with details on specific places to paddle and explore. And if you see something here that makes you want to go paddle "that route", you can go to the original post: Paddling Shell Bank Bayou: Two Routes and Some Wandering Options and hopefully find the info you need to enjoy yourself.

Here's a snippet from Google Maps of the whole area, from I-10 at the bottom to Pass Manchac at the top:

And here are a couple of snippets that I also have on the original post. These are a little more zoomed in, and I've added labels--some of these labels are official names, like "Ruddock Canal", and some are the local names I've heard others use, like "The Prairie Canal".

kayak shell bank bayou
 And zoomed in more on Shell Bank Bayou itself, and the Maurepas Swamp side of the bayou:

kayak shell bank bayou

In an effort to not just repeat things from the original post (though that will happen), I'm going to keep this pretty brief. No "photographer-wannabe" pictures.

This area is very much Paddling Heaven. On Google Maps, someone actually added "kayak heaven" as a label.  Pretty much anyone, in any boat, can come out here and spend however much time they have doing a looping trip, or a wandering photo adventure, a fishing trip, or whatever they want. Hours can be spent without going out to Lake Maurepas or deep into the swamp.  But, if you do wander into the woods, or Lily Bayou, bring a GPS device, or at the very least, a compass, and a better sense of direction than mine.

General info - Shell Bank Bayou itself snakes out to Lake Maurepas, and at points it's wide open, and at other points, it's very narrow, and those narrow spots often get clogged by vegetation, especially...yep, you guessed it: water hyacinth. As I say in my original post, the roughly 2 mile paddle to the lake can be very tiring, or sometimes impossible, to get through.

Then there's the logging canal at the very beginning of the trip to SBB (see the image above), and this logging canal offers a lot of options. See the maps above and the original post (and a little info below). In extreme cases, this canal has been completely covered by water hyacinth, but it's usually open. Take a GPS, map, compass, etc, and spend time exploring and relaxing.

Also, if you paddle along what I call the I-55 Canal, under the raised interstate, you'll probably find some bayous to explore, especially as you head north toward the Ruddock Canal. You can expect some boat traffic traveling along this stretch, by the way. If you do go wandering into the bayous off of the I-55 canal, some split into forks, or interconnect with others, especially closer to Ruddock Canal, so someone with a sense of direction like mine may need to take extra care to not get lost.

Lots of options to explore.

Safety concerns? Of course - life vest, water, snacks, knowing your limits, etc... Gators? Yep. I seldom see large ones here, but they're out here. If you go to Lake Maurepas, you may have waves or you may have glassy smooth water. If the wind is generally from the west, north, or NW, it will have good fetch coming across the lake, so the water will roll a little, if not a lot. All this is in the original post if you want specific concerns about specific areas.

What about you? New to kayaking and just want to paddle around as far as you can? Starting from the launch:

Hwy 51 Shell Bank Bayou Launch

Paddle into Shell Bank Bayou as far as you can, and when it gets too challenging (it will), turn around and go back to the logging canal and explore the finger lakes, or make your way into the woods, or Lily Bayou.  You'll almost certainly see kayak tour groups out here, and almost certainly, this is the trip they'll be doing. For these wanderings, as I said, pretty much any boat is fine. In fact, if you do go into the woods or down any of the really narrow waterways, a 12'-14' boat is probably better than a long sea kayak.  

Yes, this area does deserve two posts, I think. And I hope this smaller post is useful, and please visit the original:

Paddling Shell Bank Bayou: Two Routes and Some Wandering Options 

Oh, and did I say something about "changes"?

More to come! Advocate Article - Restoration Project















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