Over 4th of July weekend this year my boyfriend Jerry, myself, and two of our friends Chelsea and Mitch all headed up to the Flambeau River near Ladysmith Wisconsin. We head up for camping, “Muskie Hunting” as Jerry puts it and canoeing. Yes, we catch Muskie’s out of canoes! These weekends are completely off the grid without cell service or wifi making it relaxing yet taxing at times when you get yourself into a sticky situation.
Jerry provides the whole setup for me as he has a fleet of canoes in his backyard. Two of us ride in Oldtown Next Solo Canoes while he takes the “longboat” (his Oldtown Penobscot) with a passenger. I absolutely love these Next Solo Canoes as they come in sweet bright colors but are also super maneuverable with just one person. I also just found out they come in purple while looking at the site eeep! I want it!
I have been leisurely canoeing majority of my life living in the land of 10,000 lakes (a.k.a. Minnesota) so I’ve felt comfortable in these canoe’s when Jerry first introduced it to me last summer but I have never done anything besides trolling around a lake until then. Canoeing down a river is a whole different ballgame, especially with what are normally class 2 rapids but at high water this particular weekend which is where this trip took quite the turn with a crazy first day.
The Wild Ride
Paddle paddle paddle! Turn quick, paddle and power through! Stay centered, keep your core tight!
These were the thoughts racing through my head as we entered a series of five rapids, each with a small break in between. As I enter the first set I grit my teeth, I can tell the waves are a bit bigger than anything I’ve experienced thus far but I am following Jerry who used to be a kayak guide for a living. I have complete faith in following him and I love a new challenge for myself. The adrenaline rush is high!
We make our way through the first set, I slow down take a little breather after then right into the second set. Again making it through fairly clean. A bit shaken, there were some nice waves but I got this! Now we approach the third set of rapids that look bigger than the first two. There is a large wave in the middle in which I powered through feelin’ like a boss! But I’m in a canoe, I have now taken on some water. That’s okay, I still feel solid, keeping my core engaged to keep my balance centered (thank you snowboarding) I prepare to enter the fourth set of rapids.
Whew that was close! I kept my core tight and was able to stay upright through the last turn though it looked like I was going to tip. My boat is completely full of water. Oh crap… there’s one more large wave before the break.
My canoe disappeared, the water is freezing (okay, it’s not really “freezing” but it’s pretty darn cold making it difficult to catch my breath). My paddle is in hand, the canoe surfaces but upside-down. I am trying to catch Jerry’s attention for help. I cannot touch the bottom.
Jerry’s boat has also taken on water, he could not guide it to aid me. Instead he pulled to shore and told me I’m going to have to do the next set of rapids out of my boat. What became his famous line of the trip, “Keep your feet up!”.
Admittedly, I completely freaked out, tears and all. I had about a 30 second panic attack. Those rapids were longer than the previous and with lots of waves, meaning lots of rocks. Then it was as if time slowed down. My brain starts scanning the scenario and weighing my options. Okay, if I go down the rapids I can point the boat down stream and kind of ride on top. Then I look left, there’s a rock sticking out of the water and a small grassy patch where I could get on land.
I consider myself a strong swimmer having grown up in water my entire life. So I opt for the latter. I grab the canoe and start swimming to shore still with paddle in hand. I make it to the rock and have the canoe perfectly pinned so it’s not moving. It’s crazy how when needed, the mind works so quickly giving the illusion that time slows down. Mitch catches up as he was behind me in the second solo canoe. He almost sank as well! I get out of the water, and realized my GoPro was rolling the entire time! BOOYA!
By sinking the canoe I lost two fishing polls and my waterbottle. Thankfully I wasn’t carrying any camping gear at this time. The video ended up being very beneficial too. As we watched what had happened Jerry was able to give me tips of how I can improve my stability and skill when paddling the rapids as well.
Needless to say, we should’ve scouted these rapids before entering them. That was a crazy, wild and yet super fun experience looking back. Admittedly I was shaken for quite some time after that. I ended up walking the next set of rapids and the next day I rode as the passenger in the longboat.
I am excited to get back on the river and back into my own solo canoe again to catch my own Muskie. Which I almost forgot, Chelsea caught her very first Muskie later that same day! Be watching for a few follow up posts from this same trip about camping and muskie fishing the Flambeau river along with how to prepare yourself in case you sink or flip a canoe.