The St. Marys River, born in the Okefenokee Swamp in Southern Georgia, and running all the way to the Atlantic Ocean bordering the states of Georgia and Florida. History has it that old sailing vessels called �tramps� would come hundreds of miles off their course to get fresh water from the river for drinking. This would be the start of this weeklong canoe camping trip. The past three years my paddling partners, Wayne Charles, Myron Whitley, along with myself, I dubbed the �Three Amigo�, have paddled week long trips on the Black River, Lumber River, and the Neuse River all in North Carolina. The month of February can be brutal at times in this state so we decided to head south.
The start of this weeklong adventure, Feb 26, was on Florida Hwy 120, five miles South of Moniac, GA at a place called Richardson�s Bridge. I just found out after the trip that it is near a clothing optional resort called Hidden River Resort, or Nudie Blues (maybe next year we can stay here to shorten the shuttle). This part of the river is actually called the North Prong, and at 3.3 miles below the put in, the Middle Prong joins from the right and the St. Marys is born. We put in around 1130 after the drive and night stay in Georgia. This section of the river is narrow with some five to ten foot banks, white sandbars and many trees.
One of the prettiest parts of the river in my opinion and omitted off the Florida Paddle Trails Map. After paddling 2.7 miles we stopped for lunch on a nice sandbar on river right. Lunch for us is a �roughing it� meal, consisting of beanie weenies, crackers, and pita with tuna. After 8 miles, of paddling and fishing, we found a nice sandbar on the left side of the river on Georgia territory. Camp was set up, firewood gathered and we all settled down for a round of hors d�ouveres of summer sausage, crackers and Gouda cheese along with some cocktails. Before supper, Myron and Wayne set out some catfish lines, and then the charcoal was started for supper. For the first three nights our supper consisted of grilling over charcoal. My meal consisted of pork loin steak wrapped in bacon with mixed baby vegetables. I believe Wayne had the grilled pork chop, baby vegetables and not sure what Myron had but was equally delicious. Let me stop right here and digress by stating that when we go on these trips, we do not plan to lose weight, even though we are paddling all day. We eat well, drink well, and do not miss a meal. One advantage about a canoe you can carry all this stuff along with a cooler to keep it nice and cool. After supper we sat around the campfire mesmerized by the flame.
The next morning, Monday, we woke, started the coffee and fire. I cooked the breakfast, which was sausage, hash brown, onions, and peppers, mixed with scrambled eggs. It even had a few black beans and corn mixed in. My secret? Jimmy Dean Skillets breakfast, Southwest Style. You just add eggs. After cleanup, packing up and checking the empty catfish lines, we paddled and fished on. We reached the GA Hwy 23 Bridge at mile marker 13.6 on my GPS. After this bridge the rivers widens out and the gauging station was at mile 18.5 (note all miles are from the put in), and it read 6.42 ft. We reached a public boat access at mile 19.7. There is some sporadic development and houses, from before the gauging station to after the boat access. After the boat access the rivers starts to narrow down. We found a nice sandbar at mile 21.3 on the left, GA side again, and made camp, set up tents and went through the daily ritual of gathering firewood. After the usual rounds of hors d�ouveres and cocktails, the charcoal was started and that night was steak Myron shared a boiled potato to go along with the boiled vegetables of cheese and broccoli.
Tuesday morning ritual of coffee and fire and breakfast of ham biscuits, and fruit was the order of the morning. We left camp about 0945 and reached Stokes Bridge at mile 24.2. After Stokes Bridge, we were paddling our solo canoes and spread out, when I saw Myron up ahead getting his camera out and paddling back toward us. Then I saw it, a huge alligator on the bank. In October, when I did a two nighter on this river, I saw an 8 ft alligator and thought it was big. This gator was that one�s big brother. It had to be at least 12-14 ft long. Myron took a picture but the gator was not waiting for one of us to paddle up to it so we would have something to size it with. Believe me it was almost as big as our solo canoes. Later after we put some space between the gator and us at mile 33.5 we found another nice camping sandbar on the left, once again on the Georgia side of the river. We were wondering if we would ever touch Florida other that the put in and take out. The menu was equally good that night and our last night of cooking for ourselves on the grill.
Wednesday morning, after breakfast of side meat and eggs to order we packed up and paddled and fished again. I say fish; we never caught any fish, and only wet a line. If we had natural bait instead of beetle spins, we would have drowned it. The weather had been nice since we left but we had a few sprinkles of rain. We reached the GA 94/FL2 bridge outside of St. George, GA at mile 38.3 and found a nice sandbar for lunch a mile or less below the bridge. Several miles after the bridge, the terrain becomes swampy and not too many campsites. That night at mile 47, we camped again in GA and Wayne cooked his famous red beans, rice, and sausage, with Myron baking his famous cornbread.
It was decided that today, Thursday; we would paddle slow, take it easy, and try to find an early camp. After rounding a bend in the river, at mile 53.5, we saw the biggest sandbar inhabited by wild turkey. There must have been 20-25 turkeys and as we approached they awkwardly flew off. We sent up camp on this sandbar about 2 pm and started relaxing.
We finally found a sandbar and camp on the Florida side of the river. I knew it was warmer. Myron set up his new tarp and we explored this sandbar and the adjoining woods. If the water were higher this sandbar would be an island with trees on it -- a perfect spot for even a large group. I had decided it was bath time that night, so before the sun went down, I went down by the river to take a bath. Remembering the gator we saw earlier in the trip, I stripped down and only went in as deep as mid calf and could not really enjoy the bath as I kept imagining gators eyes staring at me. That night Myron cooked his Beef Stroganoff, and we had dessert of apple crisp.
Friday�s breakfast consisted on sausage cheese grits. However before the meal Myron baked some cinnamon rolls in his Outback Oven. We broke camp and headed for our last full day on the river. We reached another gauging station (not on the internet) prior to arriving at Traders Hill and the gauge read, 5.75 ft. Traders Hill, mile 67 provided us a nice break to stretch our legs and walk around. This is a public boat ramp and was once a thriving trading post on the river. The river gets wide prior to and after Traders Hill and boat traffic would be evident in warmer weather. One mile later, at mile 68 after Traders Hill we found a sandbar with some woods to put the tents. That night our far was chunky salsa chicken over rice with a blueberry cake for dessert.
The final day, Saturday, we awoke to light rain and while we were having morning coffee, we heard the loudest roar of boat motors, which sounded like a squadron of B-17 bombers coming in. Around the river bend, about 20 bass boats headed out from Traders Hill for a tournament came roaring around the bend. These guys were hell bent on leather to get to their favorite fishing hole before anyone else. If we had been on the river in our canoes, there would be three wet swamped canoeists. They were practically running over each other and one smaller boat almost was run over. Some of the boaters had helmets and face shield like the cigarette boat races in Miami.
Wayne cooked breakfast in the light rain of country ham, cheese grits and stewed fruit. The rain started falling harder and we packed hurriedly in the rain. This was evident when I got home Sunday and emptied water out of my bags holding my tent and sleeping bag. We left camp early around 0830 and reached the US 1 Bridge at mile 71.5 paddling all the while in the rain. During our paddle we passed the bass boats at their fishing holes and they were just as crazy as us fishing in the rain while we paddled in the rain.
At mile 72.4 we reached our take out at Scott�s Landing, the St. Marys River Fish Camp: Another adventure, another new river, and another great trip. In addition to the gator and turkeys we saw egret, herons, many pileated woodpeckers. At night we hear a bunch of owls and one time heard a beaver pop his tail telling us we were invading his territory. Next year the Three Amigos will be ready to do it again, who knows where, but we kind of liked a trip with hot weather, no ice and no snow.
I doubt this trip would qualify as a dumb but tough trip and even the rain was not that bad, as Wayne says if you canoe camp for a week you are always going to run into rain. Myron and I got tired of this saying and if he says it next year we will swamp his canoe.
Put in was on the Floriday Hwy 120 Bridge, below Moniac, GA and take out was at Scotts Landing, St Marys River Fish Camp in Florida off US Hwy 1 South of Folkston, GA
DeLorme Georgia Atlas, USGS Topo maps, and A Paddler Guide to Southern Georgia.