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wooden_nickel

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Reply with quote  #1 
I am getting ready to take a overnight from Big Bend down to Petersburg and I'm trying to decide canoe or 12' raft with oar frame. Anyone have any experience with water levels and rafts? All I have to go from is American Whitewater recommendations from the Franklin Gauge, minimum of 2.5 feet.  Just curious if any of you all have taken rafts down and what the levels were.

thanks in advance,

Chris 

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Reply with quote  #2 
Have taken a raft down before. I was thinking it was 300 CFs at Franklin. Maybe McFishin will chime in.

Some shoals are thin. The rapid below blue rock was kind of scrappy.

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2kanzam

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Reply with quote  #3 
I've done it, I'd have to look at my notes at home... left big bend with 3.85ft/900cfs-ish .... stayed one night (I think? maybe 2) and made it out with *just* enough water
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Reply with quote  #4 
I’ve done it in kayak, pontoon, and raft. Never done overnight, only ever done it in one day. 250cfs is my lowest starting point. You’ll be fine the first 2/3’s of the canyon at that level but that level means the last few riffles you’ll have to get out and walk your craft. Obviously anything higher than 250 you’d be fine longer. I couldn’t tell ya on a 2 day as I’ve only ever done it in one. If you put on at 7-8am and don’t paddle but don’t stop (just go with the water), you’ll pop out at Petersburg around 5-7pm depending on how many Eddy’s you stopped in (I can’t not stop on at least a few good looking holes lol). I usually float with the water until I get to the confluence of the North Fork then gauge whether I need to paddle some or slow down and fish more based on what time I get to that point.

If fishing, you’ll catch tons of sunfish, rockbass and Small smallies with the occasional trout and decent smallie mixed in (biggest I’ve seen in the canyon is 17-18”ish). Don’t expect very many even good sized fish. It’s a pure fun and numbers type float. Example, my last day through was a 100 fish day. I got an 18”er but it was closer to Pburg. So, tons of fish in the canyon, mostly fun fish 12/-13” and under.

Of note/caution....there’s a rapid about half way down the canyon. I’d personally portage around it if in a canoe/kayak. There’s a field next to it so it’s easy to get around. Raft or pontoon I just hit it. It’s a stair step rapid with an unfortunately placed boulder right in the middle of the line you have to run. In a longer yak/canoe there’s just too much length to dodge it. It’s doable/I’ve done it, but it’s easier and drier to just portage the yak. Secondly, you 100% will have to cross the old Dam. It’s just below the confluence with the north fork. It’s got jagged rebar in various places sticking out of it. The concrete is covered in the slickest algae you’ll ever walk on. Either portage around it on the far far right (rock hop) or run the belly of it on far left. I’ve done both. Same as other rapid, raft I run, yak I portage.

Take some safety gear and a good pair of walking shoes should something go wrong. The canyon is steep sided and 11-12 miles long. If things go south, hike up any drain on the left side of canyon (looking downstream) and you’ll eventually (couple miles uphill) hit SmokeHole Road and can flag someone down.

Good luck!

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Longspurwv

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Reply with quote  #5 
If walking up an drains on the left to smoke hole road be careful of rattlers.
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wooden_nickel

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Reply with quote  #6 
thanks for all the feedback guys!!

I will probably keep the raft off unless the water is above 300 cfs. and just take the canoe if lower than that.

as for the rapid at the old dam, is the exposed rebar easy to see (and stay away from) or is it the sub-surface that you would worry about with a raft. Hard Boat and Canoes don't worry me as much but I would hate to spill man tears along the river if I jammed rebar into my 12 foot raft.

we will be going over in a couple weeks so I will be sure to post a update on here about how the water levels were / what craft we used / and how the trip was.

thanks again
Chris,

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Chris Daugherty
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Reply with quote  #7 
I’ve never had an issue with the rebar BUT it could also change with any high water event. All the water goes left, which is where you run it, and the rebar is usually a couple of feet deep there so usually don’t have to worry. I always stand up and back paddle as I’m getting close to it just to double check.

That whole location still puzzles me. They came in and demo’d the Dam then just left it all in the river in a tangled pile lol

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2kanzam

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Reply with quote  #8 
Just thought I'd follow up after looking at my notes and realizing I had mis-stated some things

Last time I ran it, it was early may with one good flush of water that brought it up to level and no more rain came as we were down in the canyon for the next few days ....I put a 14 foot raft and a 16 foot cat both loaded down with people and gear in at Big bend with 3.26/450cfs @ Franklin. We stayed for 2 nights at blue rock right after landslide rapid that McFishin noted. Sunday the water had dropped to 2.86/ 290ish cfs and I wouldn't have wanted to run it much lower than 250 with the people and gear we had on the boats.

The dam at that level had a nice smooth tongue far river left but you could definitely see the rebar sticking out far left of that tongue.  To the right of the tongue is a pretty nasty drop terminating into a wall of concrete and rebar...would really mess your day up to find yourself in that. We took out at Welton park and had Eagle's nest do the shuttle.

I have a really crazy story about wind down there that I can share at another time... but I'll just say it is the only time I have taken my raft airborne! (with me, girlfriend and camp gear in it!)

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wooden_nickel

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Reply with quote  #9 
what is the best place to park at the take out, for overnight? 
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Reply with quote  #10 
Take a camera. Take time to enjoy it. Stop at blue rock as it might be the best camping spot in wv.

Enjoy, it's a day living the good life.

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2kanzam

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Reply with quote  #11 
I *think* you can park at welton park overnight... there's a fair amount of parking... someone more local might know better
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adkins220

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Reply with quote  #12 
I looked at my notes and we did a three day float back in 2015.  I took my 14ft NRS with rowing framed packed with gear and the levels ranged from 3.0 to 3.25 on that trip. We didn't have to get out any but did scrape on one little riffle not too far after Bluerock where we camped.  We parked at Eagles Nest Outfitters and arranged a shuttle with them.  The driver of the shuttle was actually a member of this forum (Stickbow maybe??).  I recall him being big into recurves. Anyway, one of the most beautiful floats I have ever floated in WV.  Definitely on my list to do again.

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GOMTEERS

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Reply with quote  #13 
Did it last year in a 4-man shredder and camped near Blue Rock.  Two paddlers and heavy on the camping gear. Flow on the Franklin gauge was 250 cfs and dropping rapidly.  Had not many problems with shoals but there is a LOT of flatwater on the stretch between Blue Rock and Petersburg that made us wish we had a canoe to paddle instead.  However, the landslide rapid and the old dam rapid made me gladder I was in a raft.  Both of those places have good portage access if you want to avoid trouble.  Even if the level is getting low, things improve greatly at the confluence with North Fork.  Did not see a trout after the put in at Big Bend.  Was generally not impressed with the fishing but the scenery is stunning.  In my view, it's the most beautiful place in all of West Virginia, and that is really saying something. 
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wooden_nickel

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Reply with quote  #14 
GOMTEERS,

at 250 cfs, and dropping, could you still pick a line through the shoals that did not drag your boat to bad? seems like 250 cfs is kind of a boarder line so I am curious how much I can press my luck. I would way rather take my 12' otter w/oar frame as opposed to a canoe.

really appreciate everyone's feedback on this topic!!!!!!!!

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Chris Daugherty
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Reply with quote  #15 
Here's the deal, 250 CFs is at Franklin, which is a solid ten plus miles upstream. That affects everything.

I can't remember if I did it at 250 or 300 but I think much less would be pretty scrappy in a raft, even a 12 foot otter.

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GOMTEERS

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Reply with quote  #16 
Hey wooden nickel.  I made the whole trip without getting out to drag even once.  I have heard it from a lot of guys that 250 cfs on the Franklin gauge is the lowest level you want to put on at Big Bend.  Again, the worst issue I had with the raft was pushing through all the flat water on the lower end of the run.  Keep in mind that the popular camping spots around Blue Rock are only 1/4-1/3 of the way through.  Makes for a very long second day of paddling, especially if you are going all the way down to Eagles Nest to take out.  There are long sections between Blue Rock and the North Fork confluence that have the lower Potomac character i.e. long, wide, still, flat pools well over a mile long that take some effort to move through.  My trip was the last weekend of April in 2017 and we had 90 degree weather so it was dropping fast.  Was with a large group and some of the canoes portaged or had trouble on both Landslide and Royal Glen dam rapids.  Canoes in our group flipped both places.  I would not have enjoyed running those areas in anything other than a raft.

I highly recommend the shuttle service at Eagles Nest.  Even at $80 a person, it can save you 5-6 hours of time setting and retrieving on the shuttle.  Totally worth it if you are trying to cram this trip into a two-day weekend. 

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GW

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Reply with quote  #17 
Adkins 220, Grant 4 would have been who your shuttle driver was.  He helps Eagles nest out in the summer on occasion.  Don't forget there is a take out right in Petersburg soon as you cross under the bridge on the left, which is 3 miles up river of Eagles nest and Welton Park.  Water should be fine until after Memorial Day.  Definitely be careful at both areas mentioned, as dangerous at it gets for the South Branch floating.      
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wooden_nickel

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Reply with quote  #18 

I wanted to toss out some post trip feedback and thank the group again for everyone who commented. First of all, WOW that has to be the most amazing float trip that you can take in WV. You could have blindfolded me and I would have swore we were out west. It was truly a remarkable section that should most definitely be treated with respect. We ended up taking 3 canoes with Wingman Cooler stabilizers. We are now big fans of the wingman cooler stabilizers and I was glad we had them or I almost 100% guarantee we would have had a lot more carnage. we fully swamped 2 canoes, that still refrained from fully sinking.  Don't forget your Bilge pump on this trip, we only had one in the group and spent time passing it around after most of the significant rapids. We were loaded down with gear and really spread out the trip so we were also heavier than needed. 

Water Levels..........
Friday put on @ 12:30 was 389 cfs @ Franklin (Plenty of Water)
Saturday @ 12:30 was 307 cfs @ Franklin (still plenty of water)
Sunday @ 12:30 was 249 cfs @ Franklin (scrappy on the shoals and some rock scraping on some of the shallow spots.)

Rapids...........
Landslide was a fun rapid, even had some brand-new boaters that made it through just fine. Looked like the was a rock at the entrance that could wrap a canoe if you got sideways on it. We did fully swamp one canoe but was still fine.
Royal Glen Rapid..........
This one definitely has some nasty rebar scattered across the river but has a nice line on the river left.  Most in our group choose to portage. Before running the rapid I took a look from the river left and noticed a NASTY STRAINER that was just below water surface extending right out in the tongue that you need to run. After seeing the tree I decided to portage with the rest of my group.  Hopefully someone local decides to cut it out when the water levels drop this summer. it would really be nice to run that rapid versus portaging gear.

there were a couple other rapids that had some nice wave trains that were fun in the canoes but took on a lot of water.  I am researching electric bilge pumps on the smaller 12V sealed batteries for the next spring time float.

Fishing............
caught a few trout in the first section and didn't get to fish much of the small mouth looking waters on the last day.  I would imagine that once it warms up we would have done pretty good in there.

Take Out,
We took out just past the big bridge in Petersburg, on the river left,

So back to the title of this post, getting a raft down the smoke hole canyon. Even though I felt like I was going to squeeze by with water I choose to take the canoe to be on the same playing field as the group. it was a lot of fun but next time I would really like to take the raft for ease of packing along gear and getting to fish more efficiently. I feel like 250 CFS would definitely be a minimal for raft, especially for a multi day trip when you are definitely going to drop water overnight. 

One thing I plan on doing different next time in a canoe, if low water is present, will be to use (X-Large) portage style dry bags. When you get to the shallows you can then quickly unload the majority of you gear, put it on your back/ reduce canoe weight, and slide the canoes through the shoals without causing to much damage. I was shedding man tear as I could feel some of the rocks on the bottom of my old town camper.

thanks!!







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Chris Daugherty
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Reply with quote  #19 
Great report! Sounds like a great time!
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Catchandrealease

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Reply with quote  #20 
where did you put in and about how long was the float?
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Tprince

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Reply with quote  #21 
Anyone ever floated the upper portion of the canyon down to Eagle Rock? 
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garymc

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Reply with quote  #22 
I did the upper portion of the canyon to eagle rocks in a traditional kayak in the early/mid 90’s in early June. There was one tight place between a couple tall rocks that would have been tight for a raft but I bet it has changed a lot since then.
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cling

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Reply with quote  #23 
https://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/state-summary/state/WV/

This is a good site with info on probably just about any portions of rivers that have "whitewater" (Class II and higher). It is for the whitewater paddlers, and less frequently paddled sections have less information, but this site has helped me understand what to expect on a certain section, but I always seek out info from others who have direct experience too.

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