The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail

Helena to Friars

Note: the bridge pylon is a very dangerous place for any paddler, regardless of river level.  Keep at least twenty-boat lengths away from it (~100 yards), and never try to enter the eddying waters below.  Passing towboats will make any already agitated places like the waters surrounding a bridge pylon to react even more violently.  Do not underestimate the power of water against piers or pylons!  My first journey down the Mississippi River ended in disaster at the foot of some huge concrete pylons similar to those found below the Helena Bridge.  After a 5 month journey from Minnesota’s North Woods in 1982/83 my best friend and I wrecked our 12 x 24 foot raft on a pylon supporting a TVA Power line crossing below Memphis.  The snarling water wrapped our “invincible” raft around the base of the tower and snapped it like a potato chip.  It was February and we weren’t in wetsuits.  I shouldn't even be alive now to tell this story.

 

This is the only bridge in between Memphis and Greenville, over 200 miles of river.  And such is the nature of the Lower Mississippi, and what makes this water trail such an attractive adventure for wilderness paddlers.  The wildness of the Lower Mississippi River is reflected by the fact that there are so few crossings.

 

657 LBD Yazoo Pass

You will travel near the historic opening of Yazoo Pass as you paddle around Montezuma Bend starting near mile 657.  The Yazoo Pass used to connect the Mississippi River via Moon Lake to the Tallahatchie River system, and was one of the many routes that Grant used trying to sneak behind the rebel stronghold of Vicksburg.  2300 men on steamboats churned their way through this pass in 1863, but were repulsed 123 miles downstream at Fort Pemberton by a small Confederate force shielded by a sunken steamboat fortified with cotton bales.

 

How to get into the old entrance of the Yazoo Pass:

As you paddle down into Montezuma Bend Mile 657-Mile 652 (Friars Point) and the water is above twenty on the Helena Gauge (20 HG) you can sneak in behind a series of islands LBD that have grown up along the Montezuma Dikes.  There are a series of three long dikes starting with #1 opposite & a little below Fitzhugh Landing at 657.6, #2 at 657 and #3 at 656.5 all Left Bank Descending.  To get into the Yazoo Pass you will need to dive into the young willow islands formed behind #1 or #2.  By the time you get to #3 it will be too late.  Look for the buoys that indicate the ends of the dikes and pick the best-looking opening and charge in!  (Note: buoys are sometimes knocked out of place by high water or renegade tows running too close to the edge of the channel) You really can’t go wrong, but beware water rushing in through the trees (snags) and accumulations of driftwood piled against stands of willows (strainers).  Pick your best opening and jump in for a backwoods view of this interesting series of young willow-choked islands.  Oftentimes lesser & greater egrets roost on these willows alongside the great blue heron and other waders, in the fall & winter double breasted cormorants enjoy these wetlands and white pelicans sometimes make rest stops as they soaring through on their transcontinental migration.