Ten Days on the Lynches Scenic River Water Trail
Randy Stone, owner of Swamp Fox Canoe Rentals in Johnsonville, and Terry Cook with the S.C. Forestry Commission joined us on Day 8. We launched our boats at 7:15 a.m. from Half Moon Landing and a few minutes later we passed a silo that has been converted to a house on river right. What a great way to reuse an old structure. This river section contains stretches of narrow, winding channels through the flood plain forest as well as lake-like areas. On one of the narrow spots that required making a choice of channel we encountered another shad fishing hut with a steel cable across the river to which the anglers attach a gill net. The net is placed in the water during certain hours of the day to trap the shad. As it was not shad season, the hut was empty and the line was bare. Shad run upstream to spawn during the spring months of the year. If you have never tasted shad row with eggs, I suggest a visit to Johnsonville in the spring. Find a local diner for breakfast or meet a shad angler on the river and join him/her for breakfast. We reached Odell Venters Landing in Johnsonville at noon, where we relaxed in the shade provided by the shelter located at the landing. We heard more river stories of lost or stranded persons along this river from Joe Cook, Terry’s husband, who joined us for our picnic lunch. Leaving the landing after lunch, we drifted under the railroad bridge and past the only large, visible industrial complex next to the river as we headed towards "Hell's Gate." Randy and others had told us stories about this section and now it was our turn to experience it. The area is so named because the wide, lake-like stretch of water funnels to a very narrow but deep channel between two large cypress and tupelo trees. The narrow gap between the trees, along with the swiftly flowing water, tends to cause large floating downfall to get stuck between the trees.
We approached the gate in single file, got out of our boats, balanced ourselves on the logs and lifted our boats over the drifting logs. Once back in our boats, the water flowed swiftly and the channel was narrow and winding. I found this section to be one of the most beautiful areas of the trip, with clear, dark water, a white sandy bottom and mature swamp forest on either side of the channel. We parked our boats on a sandbar and took a dip in the cool, clear water. I photographed a gar fish swimming next to the sandbar as we proceeded to North Persimmon Bluff Landing. This section took us 8 hours to paddle 15 river miles with a flow of 261 cfs or 2.62 feet on the Effingham gauge.
We started early as we had an hour-long shuttle ride to drop off our car and canoe trailer at Dunham Bluff Landing on the Great Pee Dee Scenic River. As we placed our gear into the boats at North Persimmon Bluff Landing, Randy told us that we had to decide which of three channels to take. Since our shuttle was at Dunham Bluff, we chose the Lynches River out to the Great Pee Dee River and left Clark's Creek and Mill/Muddy creeks for another day. As soon as Terry, Randy, Kimberly and I pushed into the water, we saw the Y in the river; the right fork is Mill Creek, which leads to Muddy Creek and Snows Lake Landing. We took the fork to our river left. This channel took us into the Lynches River floodplain swamp forest. Randy told us that many years ago, people crossed the swamp by boat from Powell’s Corner, Montgomery Plantation and islands in the swamp to use North Persimmon Bluff Landing to get to the town of Johnsonville. In a short while Hanna's Lake channel entered the Lynches on river left, several minutes later Little Hanna's Lake channel also entered on river left. The next Y in the river has a short-cut — a channel to Mill Creek — on river right, and the Lynches on river left. The tides in Georgetown can cause the water to fluctuate around two to four inches in this swamp all the way to Johnsonville, so paddlers can't rely on visual cues alone to determine the direction and flow of the water. We proceeded through the forest as smaller swamp channels entered the Lynches main channel on our left. Mid morning we reached a wide Y in the river, which is the confluence area of the Lynches River and Clark's Creek. Clark's Creek appeared to be the best way to proceed as most of the water was flowing down the creek. However, we had decided to travel Clark's Creek the next day so we proceeded to our left on Lynches River. If the river water level in the Great Pee Dee was at a high flow level, we would be paddling against the current as water pours up Lynches River and then down Clark's Creek.
On this day the water level was low and we traveled with the current into the “Jaws of Hell.” Because of the competing hydraulics between the two rivers, large log jams have a tendency to form in the middle of this reach. We took two major portages around log jams, and a few minor ones. This section was both mentally and physically challenging; it took us two hours to go one mile to reach the Great Pee Dee River from the Lynches River/Clark’s Creek confluence. When we reached the sandbar at the Great Pee Dee, we took a swim break and gave each other high fives! The Great Pee Dee River is a wide, scenic river with high, tree-lined banks on both sides. It only took us one hour to paddle to Dunham Bluff Landing on the Great Pee Dee River. This section took 6 hours to paddle 4 river miles on the Lynches River with a flow of 322 cfs or 3.05 feet on the Effingham gauge, and 2 river miles on the Great Pee Dee River with a flow of 1,971 cfs or 3.26 feet on the Pee Dee gauge.
— Mary Crockett, State Scenic Rivers program coordinator.
© 2011 South Carolina Wildlife Magazine, September - October 2011 - www.scwildlife.com