The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
RBD 634 Modoc Old River Lake
At the outside edge of the very NW crook of the elbow bend Fair Landing is found a narrow mud-bound slot entrance into an old channel of the river now isolated as a parallel lake, Modoc Old River. Birds frequent Modoc Pass, especially waders and songbirds (in season) as well as other wildlife, notably turtles and beaver. Watch for deer trails which sometimes look as well travelled as cow trails leading to the barn. Previous to the 2011 Flood Modoc opening was a favorite gathering spot for the unpredictable Asian Carp, which is prone to jumping high in the air at your passage, often landing in your lap or in your vessel with a mess of blood & slime. But since the flood less have been seen in this area. (Note: You will find the name Old River scattered throughout the basin — this refers simply to an old channel of the Mississippi). [CLICK HERE: Old River].
Finding Modoc: If you’re not looking for it you can easily paddle by without noticing. After making your crossing approach the Hughey Upper Light 643.3 and follow the boil line scouting the bank closely for an opening at the furthest NW corner of the bend. At medium water you can easily paddle in without break from the main channel. At high water the woods become flooded and you can choose from any number of openings and paddle through the willow woods found at the mouth into the open lake behind, sometimes there is a gentle flow in and out with the fluctuations of current and water level. The lake is found one to two hundred yards north through this willow forest.
At low water a short stub dike emerges running parallel to the current; you will have to round the end of this dike and then follow the eddy back into the sheltered waters behind to access. Around 10 HG this pass becomes cut off completely from the river, but you can still make a muddy landing and walk back into the slot opening. Watch out for deep holes of soft mud which can easily eat you up waist deep and remove your shoes as you exit, shoes never to be seen again! Safest walk is higher up towards the trees. In general the lower the mud bar the more likely it is to be soft, the higher the firmer and hence better walking.
At medium waters this opening acts like any classic Lower Mississippi River pass, flowing inwards with muddy silt-laden water when the river is rising, flowing outwards with clearer green waters when it is falling. [CLICK HERE: River Pass]. Why is the water green? Blame it on the plankton. Big River biologist Dr. Clifford Ochs (U. Miss) and his graduate student Nok Pongruktham used Modoc as one of their outdoor laboratories for their 2008-2011 study of the generation and propagation of freshwater phytoplankton in the Lower Mississippi River system. Other locations in their study are Island 63 Chute and Mellwood Lake. Here’s how it happens: The muddy water flows into Modoc, which then later gets cut off as the river drops. When the muddy waters sit still sediments drop out and the water clears and conditions become ideal for the plankton: excess nutrients and abundant light. The plankton population explodes and fairly rapidly the lakes turn green with the bodies of lots and lots of microscopic algae – in fact, 20 to 30 times more algal biomass per volume than in the river! So, in late spring and in summer, the lakes become green hot spots for biological production.
Similar to their oceanic counterparts the plankton provide the most basic fuel and nutrient source for the food web, from insects to fresh water shrimp to fishes to mammals (including humans). According to Dr. Ochs backwater lakes like Modoc become supermarkets supermarkets for biological production of all kinds of organisms from the algae (at the base of the food web) to big slimy or hairy animals of various kinds.
These backwater lakes, because they remove nutrients in the form of new algal bodies, may have some importance in removing nutrients that would otherwise flow into the Gulf – but how important the lakes are in sequestering nutrients (temporarily removing them from circulation) is a still unanswered question. As with all things in the Mississippi little is known about plankton life cycles. Clifford Ochs and Nok Pongruktham are working to increase our understanding of the overall cycle of life along the Mississippi River. And of course, knowledge leads to better use.
LBD 632 Robson Towhead
Gravel Bar top end at lowest water levels, possible fossil finding. 2011 flood exposed several trunks of ancient trees that once predominated in the floodplain. Possible picnic place low to medium water levels, as you make landing and later leave out watch for approaching tows. At medium to high water levels a stormy weather shelter can be found opposite Fair Landing in the willow forest at mile 632.5.