The Lower Mississippi River Water Trail
855 – 852 RBD Robinson Bayou Bar
Robinson Bayou Bar is a triumvirate of islands offering great back channel paddling and great camping. If the river is above 10 CuG You can paddle behind the topmost island and follow the back channel in and out of the other two islands, to pop out back in the main channel in good position for entering the Caruthersville Harbor (three miles downstream). Best camping in low or medium water levels. Limited sand 15-20, all sand disappears in highwater (around 25CuG).
855 – 850 LBD Island No 14
After coming through the bend around Kennedy Point/Lee Towhead, paddlers can stay left bank for the long run behind Island 14 with great opportunities for bird watching and other wildlife. There are some open bars around 855 against the forested banks at low and medium water levels, but you will have to sneak through a break in the dike near 854.5 LBD. The main channel is lined by a high rock wall that extends several miles and cuts off any access to island until the water rises and tops the dike around 25 CuG. When the water rises into highwater 25-32 CuG you can paddle just about anywhere through the archipelago of a dozen or more island with good camping found up to flood stage 32 CuG. The back channel opens at medium water with good flow in high water. Back channel sandbars, inlets and side channels throughout. Watch for fleeted tows after exiting and starting around Island 15.
855 – 850 LBD Island No 15/Little Prairie Bend
Not much remains of Island 15, just a few isolated sandbars at low water which diminish rapidly in rising waters, and are completely gone by 20 CuG. As you come around Island No 15, and into Little Prairie Bend, watch carefully for upstream and downstream tows, and tune into VHF Channel 13 to monitor towboat activity out of your vision. The Little Prairie Bend coming into Caruthersville is a tight squeeze with fast waters. Tow pilots tend to be nervous here, and will be doubly quick to anger if you get in their way. The river enters Little Prairie Bend going west/northwest, and in two or three short miles has to turn 180-degrees around on itself to exit the bend headed southeast. In other words towboats pushing millions of pounds of goods have to turn completely around in the space of two or three miles. As always, yield right of way to tows, and stay behind their line of progress.
In the winter of 1820-1821, John James Audubon was at Little Prairie, and shot a bald eagle. He took the bird back to his flatboat and began working on a drawing that would later become one of the famous plates in his Birds of America. Eagles were common in the Lower Mississippi Valley in Audubon’s time, when large numbers of them nested in the forests that lined the river banks. A recent survey revealed that the eagle population in the lower part of the United States has dwindled to about 800 breeding pairs, most of which are confined to the coastal areas. Pesticides, herbicides, and the loss of nesting sites have taken a heavy toll, and wildlife experts fear that the bald eagle may eventually become extinct. This trend might be reversing in the new millennium, thanks to the wild places on the Lower Mississippi River that are being protected, and nearby refugees like Reelfoot Lake, but it is a fragile situation.
Options For Paddlers in the Caruthersville Stretch
Caruthersville is located midway down a series of tight looping river bends followed by long straightways with islands that offer a plentitude of paddling routes, including a number of day trip options above and below the city. It is the ideal launch site for for canoeists, kayakers and stand up paddleboarders in the Lower Missouri Bootheel/Dyersburg, Tennessee area. For the long distance expedition, Caruthersville is the best re-supply/R&R stop between Cape Girardeau and Memphis,with a friendly riverbank downtown and all of the amenities a paddler could want.
1) Main Channel:
The fast water goes left bank after swirling around Kennedy Point/Lee Towhead, and then converges into a wide tongue of water in between Robinson Bayou dikes and Island 14, and then erupts downstream middle river into Little Prairie Bend. Watch out for tow traffic entering and exiting the Caruthersville Harbor.
2) Robinson Bayou Back Channel:
After coming through the bend around Kennedy Point/Lee Towhead, paddlers can stay right bank for a quick run through the Robinson Bayou Back Channel. Good flow in medium and high water levels, no flow at 15 Caruthersville Gage, closes off around 10 CuG.
3) Is 14 Back Channel:
After coming through the bend around Kennedy Point/Lee Towhead, paddlers can stay left bank for the long run behind Island 14 with great opportunities for bird watching and other wildlife. Opens at medium water with good flow in high water. Back channel sandbars, inlets and side channels throughout. Watch for fleeted tows after exiting and starting around Island 15.
1) Main Channel:
The fast water goes right bank past the Caruthersville Harbor and then edges mid-river for a fairly straight seven mile southeasterly run and then slides left bank around Linwood Bend for easy access to Booth’s Point Boat Launch or continuing on downstream under bridge.
2) Caruthersville-Linwood Bend:
Around 15 CuG (on the Caruthersville Gage) the water begins to pour over the dikes behind Caruthersville-Linwood Bend and by 30 feet there is a strong flow. Hug the bank RBD for beaver and river otter sightings and possible views of the American bald eagle. There are several bald eagle nests built in the high forks of some of the big trees along this bend. If you stay right bank all of the way around the bend you will float over a series of 10 dikes, each with its own turbulence and eddies and boiling waters. Keep as close or as far out as your time allows. As you come around the bend you will be facing the hulking monolith of the Caruthersville Bridge. If you are pulling out at Booth’s Point/Linwood Bend Boat Ramp make your crossing whenever possible as soon as you see bridge. If you are keeping downstream follow any river line under bridge.
3) Blaker Towhead Back Channel
The back channel of Blaker Towhead opens up in medium water (approximately 15 CuG) around a beautiful big-grain sandbar with slow current. As the river rises the entrance steadily enlarges to become a yawning mile-wide opening with generous flow pouring behind island in high water (above 25 CuG). This 3-mile long island is edged by possible medium water campsites both top end and bottom end, but all sand disappears at flood stage. Back channel re-enters main channel and then tumbles over a couple of short dikes LBD 842 that sometimes create a lively whitewater feature with a foaming 3-4 foot drop and standing waves. The biggest drop is found at the first dike below island. You can avoid these turbulent cascades by cutting quickly back into the main channel as soon as you see it. On the other hand if you want the wild ride, stay LBD and look for the commotion with lifejacket on and all gear firmly strapped down!