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HomeNL-2011-03_Champions_Lake
Champion's Lake
Feb. 20, 2011
by
Dave Kitson

 

By the time I reached the Hartman Bridge on this morning the fog was so dense it was impossible to see most of the bridge so I was hoping for a paddle thru a cypress swamp in the fog.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to Champion’s Lake the fog was gone but we would be left with a nice day, partly cloudy and perfect temperature.  The crew for this trip included Paul Woodcock, Lydia Cruzen, Colleen Connelly, John and Cindy Bartos, and Honey Leveen.


The Lake is located about 35 miles east of downtown and about 7 miles north of I-10.  It is just this side of the Old River/Lost Lake bridge.  Champion’s Lake is really not a lake at all but more of a cypress swamp, similar in size to Lake Charlotte.  It is half moon shaped with the southern half a fairly open area with many cypress trees which are covered in Spanish moss.  It is like paddling thru the trees at the edge of Charlotte during high water.  The northern half of the lake is a more proper forest so the paddle is down a stream here.  The trees on the northern half are more hardwood species with fewer cypress.  I believe it is Caney Creek that feeds this lake so the stream is probably Caney Creek. Except for the far western end of the lake where it is close to FM 1409 there are no well traveled roads nearby so it is incredibly quiet and peaceful.

     

There are limited opportunities to paddle this Lake because most of it is closed from Mar. 1 to June 30 for bird nesting and it develops so much water weed by the end of June that it is impossible to paddle.  There are signs posted on the trees indicating how far you can go during this time period.  The end of December thru the end of February is the best time to paddle this place.  There is boat ramp access here to both the eastern end of Champion’s Lake and the northern end of Pickett’s Bayou which leads to the Cut-Off so if there is too much water weed on the Lake a replacement trip is readily available.  Both put-ins are very easy.  The area is actually a state park so it is well maintained with plenty of parking, a small fishing pier and a large port-a-can.  The lake is marked with numbered signs attached to the trees and there is a map available online to help navigation. 

As we set out from the put-in the water level gauge was showing about 4.6 ft. which is a fairly low level.  The lake is very shallow, in general only 2 to 3 ft. deep in most places so on this day we would be running out of water now and then.  The water is slow moving so most of the time you can see the bottom and your paddle which is kind of cool for this area.  We started by following the south shore more or less toward the west.  This is an easy paddle thru the trees with lots of open water.   The birds were out in force; herons, egrets, a woodpecker, kingfishers, lots of black buzzards and a few turkey buzzards, one broad wing hawk (We heard them now and then but I only saw the one), wood ducks, etc.  The fishermen claim to have seen a pair of bald eagles and when I was here two weeks ago I saw one but on this day there were no sightings.



 
 

After reaching the far western end of the lake we turned back to the east but this time paddled more to the north up against the forest.  We were able to stick our bows back into open areas of the forest here and there but the water was so shallow that we would run aground regularly.  We could see the changes in foliage as we approached the dry land of the forest area.   When I paddled the lake two weeks before the trip to check things out I noticed small clumps of water weed here and there.  Two weeks later there was a lot more so I am guessing that by the end of March the lake will not be navigable.  A couple of hundred yards from the put in it is possible to take a hard left and paddle north thru the forest to the creek.  We stopped here on some dry land and had lunch and stretched our legs.

After lunch we headed west up the creek.  On this day the water was low enough that there was dry land on both sides of the creek but I have been there when the water was so high that there was no dry land at all.  The creek gets smaller and smaller as you travel west so it makes for a completely different experience from the more open water of the southern part of the lake.   We were rewarded with the sight of hundreds of bird nests left over from last year lining our passage.  Most were in the shrubs and only 5 to 10 feet above the water.  It must be incredible when the birds are there.  We paddled up two of the little streams until we ran out of water and had to turn back.   Under normal water conditions the trip up the streams affords several side trips to small lakes in the forest but they were all closed off due to the low water and will have to wait for next year.  By now we were out of time so we headed back down the creek to the put in.  The trip ended up being about 8.5 miles and 5 hours.