(This post is an additional bit of information and some nice pictures of the South Skagit River in Sept. 2012. See first blog article here.)
The weather, river and tide conditions were ideal for the loop that I described in the first article on Tom Moore Slough on Sept 3, 2012, Labor Day, so what the heck, I went! But this time I took my camera and kept track of the exact time, tide and river levels so both you and I could use them for reference in future years. The log jams and sand bars on the Skagit change with the seasons and the river levels. You cannot depend on getting through places that you did last time. In 2008 the upper part of Tom Moore Slough was completely block with a massive log jam. The water was flowing through and under the logs, but you could not get past in a boat. In 2011 this was completely open, either by the river clearing it out, or maybe Wash. Dept of Fish and Wildlife breaking it up. They have been doing quite a bit of work in this area to get the water to flow down more of the old channels and old man-made drainage ditches to provide more habitat for fish and birds. These channels slowly silt up and get blocked by snags and logs over time. Here is more information about the work being done near here. Click on the Skagit River Delta label. The information specific to Milltown Island, Tom Moore and Steamboat Sloughs starts on page 5. A lot of their work will be to undo 120 years of man trying to get the water OFF the land so he could farm it and getting the river and salt water ON the land for wildlife habitat.
Here are the environmental specifics: Skagit River height at Mt. Vernon, 12.25 ft, Tide at mouth of the Stillaguamish River, Low at 3:31 of .08 ft, High at 7:44 of 6.9 ft. Left the boat launch at Milltown at 2:45, low end of trip where Tom Moore Slough feeds into Steamboat Slough, 4:55, back at Milltown, 5:20. The reason that these are so valuable is that this trip was spot on for timing, tides and river height. In Mt. Vernon there are three sand bars. The big one, Young’s Bar, just up river from the Westside Bridge, is the first to appear in the summer. It is ‘The Beach,’ to the locals. There is another smaller bar further upstream, on the opposite side and a third smaller one down stream on the same side as Young’s. When both the little sand bars are visible, you know the river height is going to be good for this trip, and the river current will be languid for any kayaking anywhere on the lower Skagit.
To start this little trip drive to Milltown, there is a crossroads about 2 miles south of Conway on the old Pioneer Highway. Turn right, cross the RR tracks and you will see the boat launch and the places where people park. This is a free site. If the water is low, the boat launch is the best place to put in.
Paddle up Tom Moore Slough about 1.5 miles to where you start to see the main stem of Steamboat Slough. This opening does get blocked by logs and snags, you will have to decide your own skill levels to get through. I have taken a picture looking down stream into Tom Moore showing the conditions the day I went, at left. There are logs and swirling currents, but getting through was not a problem, for me.
After this little adventure, you are in Steamboat Slough. Notice the pilings along the right shore, these are what is left of the English Logging Co log dump used from 1890 to about 1930. Much of the country to the east of here toward Lake Cavanaugh was logged by English. If you look close, you can even see some rails left. Head downstream in Steamboat. This is a very peaceful place, there is a great sand beach on the left that is used by the locals for some privacy in sunbathing and fishing. Access only by boat.
As you meander further you will have Milltown Island on your left. There is one ‘fish camp’ on this island, that is occupied most of the time, I believe.. Accessed only by boat, off the grid, etc. Does this look appealing to you? As I drifted by a man came down the dock and we chatted a greeting, and talked about the tides. He said “You came down this river last year, didn’t you?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I remember you.” he got into his boat and headed upstream to “see if I can catch a fish.” Gives you an idea of this kind of place.
When you see the line of cottages and cabins along the left, mainland, shore, you are almost ready to turn back up Tom Moore Slough. I like to take a side channel to get there. Keep an eye out on the left for this channel that is about 15 feet wide and is a sharp left to get into. With the tide in your favor, you may see foamy salt water moving upstream, this is your ride back! It was in this little channel that I spied my first Lesser Yellowlegs, Tringa flavipes, in 2008. I have included a picture, but I did not take this one. Can you guess how they got their name??
As my planning and good luck were working together that day, the tide was just turning in my favor as I turned north. Head north, upstream, back to the Milltown boat launch. I had very good luck with the tide current and it took only about 25 minutes. There was a little wind from the north that day, but the tide current in my favor more than make up for the slight headwind.
’til next time,
Highland Garden House B & B
501 E. Highland Ave.
Mount Vernon, WA 98273