Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lake Conroe: Cagle to Stubblefield

The key attraction of the northern section of Lake Conroe is the scenery of the Sam Houston National Forest which surrounds it. The plan for today was to launch at the Cagle Recreation Area, paddle up to the lake's northern edge, and then continue up the river channel to the launch near Stubblefield Lake. We shoved off from Cagle under an overcast sky a little after eight in the morning. A light breeze was in our faces as we turned north, passed under the FM1375 bridge, and crossed over to the west side of the lake. 

As we followed the shoreline northward, the sights and sounds of civilization began to fade away. The sounds of cars crossing the bridge were replaced by the calls of birds: the irritated croak of a blue heron as we disturbed his fishing, the cheerful song of a male cardinal perched near the edge of the lake, the trill of a pileated woodpecker deep in the woods. The morning clouds began burning away, leaving behind a clear blue sky and bright sunshine.

Once we reached the northernmost section of the lake, the shore became lined with a band of rattlebushes, a legacy of last year's drought. With its low point last year being almost 6 feet below today's level, much of the lake bed in this area was exposed and hospitable for growth. As we continued forward, the rattlebushes closed in and the open water disappeared completely.

We knew that the deeper and presumably unobstructed channel of the West Fork was nearby, but how could we get to it? One option was to backtrack and see if we could find the channel entrance on the east side of the lake, in the direction of Wildwood Shores. But retreat is always bitter. Instead we looked around until we found a spot where the rattlebush thicket was less dense and there was a hint of open water in the distance. From there we set off "cross country" through the bushes using a combination of push-polling and dragging ourselves from bush to bush -- all while being showered with bits of leaves, seed pods, and the occasional spider.

Then suddenly we were through into the open waters of the West Fork. After that it was an easy paddle up to Stubblefield Lake. We picked a shady spot on the shore to relax for a bit and eat a picnic lunch. Thus fortified, we returned to the water. We dodged the ever present fishing lines and crossed under the bridge at Stubblefield Lake Road to continue upstream. We'd only gone about a half mile more when the warmth of the afternoon overwhelmed our collective sense of adventure. We turned back to the launch where we found a group of butterflies were waiting to welcome us.

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