MD - Patuxent River - Jug Bay - 2006/06/15



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The Patuxent River is the only major river with its entire watershed within the state of Maryland. It begins west of Baltimore and flows mostly south to empty into the Chesapeake Bay just north of the Potomac. Along its length strung like pearls on a necklace are a series of state and county parks.




The Patuxent river flows from west of Baltimore, past Ellicott City and forms the border between Prince Georges and Anne Arundel County. It empties into the Chesapeake Bay at Solomon's Island, once a sleepy little waterman's town that has now been discovered as a trendy tourist destination for Washingtonians.

Along the river a series of state and county parks provide launch ramps and facilities for kayaking the largely undeveloped banks of the river. The Patuxent River is more like an eastern shore river than the typical western shore river of the middle and upper Bay. The banks are lower and the river is longer. It is filled with marsh areas of grass, lilies and arrow arum like the Chester River. It even has a stand of cypress tress like the Pocomoke. It is a great paddle experience without the need to travel across the Bay, especially for those who live south of Baltimore and east of Washington.

And yet I had not paddled it until this year, an oversight that I was determined to correct. I picked Jug Bay for my maiden voyage on the river. This wider than typical section of the Patuxent is protected on both sides by park, contains significant marshes and is the main facility for park administration. I would be able to get my yearly park permit here ($10.00) that would allow me to use all the facilities of the Prince Georges County Patuxent River Park.

I arrived at the park just as the office was opening and got my permit, good for the calendar year. The $10.00 yearly permit is only slightly more than the $7.00 day permit. Unless you are sure that you will not be back during the year, just get the yearly permit.




After checking out the literature rack and the nature displays at the visitor's center, I drove down to the nice little ramp and floating dock to launch the kayak. ( see ramp info.) I had checked the tide chart and high tide had already passed at 6:20 AM. There was a modest current headed down stream. Low tide was indicated at 2:10 PM, an EIGHT hour difference instead of the usual 6. The next high tide was only four and a half hours after the low. This asymmetric tidal cycle is typical of areas where a running stream with significant downstream water flow is starting to become tidal. It takes longer to reach low tide and the tide level comes up faster during the flood stage. The current is also usually asymmetric, running much harder on the ebb than the flood. In fact the current doesn't necessarily reverse at all if the volume of water flowing down the river is strong enough. It may only slow down during the flood and speed back up during the ebb, a situation that may be a little confusing.

Several people were fishing at the separate fishing pier from the single ramp and floating dock. Signs indicated that weekends might be more hectic, but there was no launching activity and just a couple of trailers at the medium sized parking lot. I dropped my boat onto the grass near the launch and parked. I was soon loaded up and eased into the cockpit of the kayak from the comfortably low floating dock provided for canoe and kayak launching.




I headed down stream and down current into the wildlife preserve just south of the launch. The surroundings that look so much like the Choptank River that if you closed your eyes and reopened them you might think you had been transported there. Wood duck boxes planted next to clumps of arrow arrum and stands for ospreys were dotted along the shore and the marsh. Several pairs had taken up residence on the wildly constructed stick nest and were busy fishing to feed their fussy headed chicks.




I paddled through the meandering leads of the marsh and rejoined the river as it looped back to the west. I paddled down to a small stream opening and poked up into the shallow waters. I turned a sharp bend in the narrow river to surprise to yellow lab mutts obviously out hunting in the wildlife preserve. Their bright pick tongues hung well out f their mouths as they bounded away through the shallow water in pursuit of the next wild creature to harass or kill. I thought it irresponsible of their owner to leave these two out to do harm just for the fun of it.




Returning to the river, I paddled south to the next landing, Selby Landing, just a little more than a mile south Jackson's Landing. With the dropping tide there was a nice little beach and I pulled up there to check out the facilities here. (see ramp info.) There was some current running under the dock next to the beach so a little care was required went launching from the beach. (movie of the current.) At half tide, it was likely that this was the strongest current I would see for the day.



I ferried across the current and poked into a small series of leads in the marsh across from the ramp. The map showed that this lead went through, but at half tide it was not possible to press all the way back to the river. i back paddled until I found a spot to turn around. The heavy arrum and thin leaved cat tails made several back and forth tries necessary before I could get the 16 foot kayak turned in the 17 foot wide spot in the marsh.

I rejoined the river and paddled south for another several miles until low tide. Many parts of the side creeks were unnavigable due to low water. When the current did reverse i headed back up towards Jackson Landing. the speed with which the water level rose was noticeably greater than the rate at which it had dropped, as is consistent with the shorter four hour time to high tide.

I reached Jackson's Landing at 4:00 PM and loaded up. The group fishing on the pier had changed - another set of fishermen were trying their luck. I saw one pull up a fair sized cat fish while I was loading. There was only one trailer that loaded in the thirty minutes it took me to get everything into and onto the van.

My first day on the Patuxent had been very enjoyable. I knew I would be back.


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