MD - Mattawoman Creek - 2009/10/01 - 14.6 miles



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Mattawoman Creek off the Potomac River is a seven mile long creek full of aquatic vegetation, fish, birds and few people. With much of the shoreline owned by federal military research sites and state parks, the shores are remarkably light on development.




I was eager to come back to Mattawoman Creek and Smallwood State Park. I had been here a couple of weeks period to paddle on the Nanjemoy Creek with Julio and Lisa. The small park here is coupled with a marina. six launch ramps and the museum featuring the house of General Smallwood, who served in the continental army and was Governor of Maryland. I didn't bother with a reservation as there is little problem getting a camp site on weekdays after labor day. When I got there the problem was not in getting a place, but in finding anyone to give the fee to and provide a tag for hanging on my mirror at the launch ramp. because the launch fees ($10.00 are included in the camping fees $30.00), I didn't want to pay twice. I also did not want to get a ticket because I did not have a payment tag. Finally I was able to find a maintenance man who got the park office person to take the money. By the time I got all this done it was 11:15 A.M.




Loading the kayak and using the far left single ramp away from the active ramps used by bass fishermen, I got onto the water by 11:45. I was immediately greeted by a thick mat of Submerged Aquatic Vegetation (SAV) just feet off the end of the ramp. The river was lined by a wide swath of the very dense SAV, a really unusual sight to see because in most of the Bay, pollution and sediment have killed much of the aquatic grasses that used to be in every river up and down the bay. It was good to see the kind of life in this creek that there used to be everywhere when I was a kid.


Catfish in the grass


The beneficial effect of the thick grass mat lining the shore was demonstrated by the unusually clear water past the edge of the thickest grass. I could look down and still see the bottom in six to eight feet of water. In most of the bay in summer, the maximum sight distance in the creeks is about three inches. The grass also acts as a nursery for small and juvenile fish. There were a lot of bass around but they wouldn't sit still for a picture, only this catfish.

The floating grass mats are difficult to paddle through however. I tried to pick the thinnest spots to dip the paddle blade, and even on my smooth Greenland blade clumps of leaves and stalk would come up with the end of the paddle. On a European style paddle it would be a nightmare trying to extract the blade from the entwined stems. The dense grasses greatly increase the drag on the hull and even a strong pull on the paddle only nets the length of the stroke. There is no glide at all. I found that a strong waggle side to side and a rocking of the boat to dip the chines deeper into the grass helped propel the boat best through the thick stuff.




I paddled across to the other side of Mattawoman Creek. The creek runs mostly northeast. The launch ramp is about a half mile north of the mouth of Mattawoman Creek from the Potomac. You can not see the far shore of the Potomac from the ramps but only a small portion of it.




Continuing up the center of the river, I soon found myself in a thicket of spatterdock or pond lilies. As it was half tide there was enough water covering the mud bank they were rooted in to continue through them to a small but very shallow bay on the other side. There I had to turn back and locate the deeper channel that hugs the west side of the river to pass through this section.




After the river turned away from the west bank, I came across a large bank of American lotus. I had run across this species on the Bohemia earlier in the summer. I had not really noticed them before in any of the rivers. I wonder if it is making a recent comeback. With the large leaves that repel water, a stalk that attaches to the center of the leave, a bright yellow flower in the classic lotus shape, this plant is easy to identify. Now the large dried seed heads were poking above the leaves, looking like extra terrestrials. These strange looking things are quite popular with the dry flower arrangement set. Now about half of the leaves are shriveled and brown. Soon they will detach from the large tuberous roots in the mud and float away, leaving the roots to sprout again next spring. In the mean time, passage through the dense jungle of stems was impractical.



Around the bend from the American lotus was a large stand of Tuckahoe, the first I had seen. Most of the green arrow shape leaved plants were pickerel, which is easy enough to confuse with the rounded fatter leaves of Tuckahoe a.k.a. arrow arum.
I paddled on up the river past a wading heron and found a small creek flowing in from the northwest. Just past the mouth of the little tributary was a large beaver lodge. Next to that was a nice array of yellow daisies. Now the bank was lined with small oak trees. A flight of Canadian geese in V formation came honking down the river while a red tail hawk wheeled overhead. The river split into three small leads. I took the one on the left and soon came to an end. I could hear the highway running along the side of the creek on the other side of a patch of purple daises and cardinal flower..




Going back to the confluence I took the middle fork which didn't go very far before it too ran out of water and I turned back. Only one of three sunning terrapins had enough courage to stay on their log until I got a picture.



With time running out for the seven mile return paddle, I headed back down stream keeping a running count of the white and blue herons I had seen that day (white 42 blue 28). I had just enough time to load everything back in the car, get the boat tied down on top and get back to the campground for a shower, start dinner and a picture of from the bridge before dark descended. There was only one other site occupied. It was good to have at least a little company.

Video of Mattawoman creek.


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