By Bill Cooper
Kayaking, along with many other outdoor pursuits, has grown in popularity since the advent of the COVID 19 pandemic. Several of Missouri’s State Parks offer water trails for paddling enthusiasts. Stockton State Park north of Springfield offers visitors a well laid out trail complete with mile markers and interpretive signs.
Missouri Tourism’s Outdoor Ambassador Scott Pauley says that interest in kayaking has exploded across the Show Me State. “It is difficult to find a kayak right now,” he said. “They literally flew off of retail store shelves as more people were being forced to stay home because of the virus. Those people quickly began to look for ways to get outdoors. Fortunately we are blessed with an abundance of outdoor resources in Missouri, including water. Most people in Missouri don’t have to travel far to find a water resource where they can paddle a canoe or kayak.”
Scott Pauley and I both attended a Fish ’n Fun Media Event recently which was organized by the Missouri Outdoor Communicators and sponsored by a variety of organizations with ties to the outdoors, including: Tandem Fly Outfitters, Orleans Trail Resort and Restaurant, The City of Stockton, Hammons Black Walnuts, Missouri State Parks, Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, Conservation Federation of Missouri, and Toyota Motors USA.
Fishing for walleye and white bass were the main focus of the event and drew outdoor writers from across the state including, Kenny Kieser and Tyler Mahoney from the Independence and Kansas City areas, Scott Pauley and Kyle Stewart from Jefferson City, Zach Smith from Columbia, Bill Cooper from St. James and Brad Wiegmann from Arkansas. Other activities were also scheduled including a guided tour of the Stockton State Park Aquatic Trail.
The 6.5 mile Stockton Lake Water Trail offers two entry points. One is located at the Stockton State Park Marina, where paddlers can launch their canoes or kayaks from a provided ramp or a floating dock. The second access point is located just across the peninsula at Hartley Cove. Both trailheads have bathrooms, and the State Park Marina offers a store where paddlers can buy supplies of grab something to eat before or after their paddling trip.
“Paddling on a lake is quite different than paddling on a river where there is a current to help move you along,” said park superintendent Kenny Neal. “However, the lake trip is a good way get people out on the lake paddling, with an easy shuttle that has trail heads only a mile apart.”
Blue skies and a slight chop greeted our paddling party as we began our trip out of Hartley Cove. A majestic Bald Eagle flew high overhead, soaring on the air currents and obviously experiencing a bird’s eye view of the lake and surrounding countryside.
Justin Adams, Deputy Regional Director, Missouri State Parks/Ozarks Region and Park Superintendent Kenny Neal provided high quality kayaks and life jackets for the paddle trip. I chose a sit on top model, a first for me. I quickly discovered that the molded plastic kayak provided a comfortable seat with high back support.
Adams and Neal gave our party a quick overview of the water trail as we boarded our kayaks and all headed across the lake together. It felt good to be on theater again. I hadn’t paddled all summer due to an accident earlier in the year. I felt perhaps the heavy exercise would stretch sore muscles.
The wind picked up a little forcing us to keep paddling. Should we pause, we would lose ground we had gained. As we moved forward our party discussed the pros and cons of each variety of kayak we were paddling. A couple were sitting on top fishing kayaks, which offered a bit more stability, while the longer, more slender boats cut though waves and water a bit better.
The Stockton Lake Water Trail offers a public swimming beach with restrooms about half way through the trip. The 6.5 mile trial loop takes from two to six hours depending on how fast one paddles and current wind conditions.
Paying attention to wind forecasts is important when planning a paddling trip on Stockton Lake. It is a big, deep lake, and its two arms are oriented in a manner that allows the typical south-southwest winds to blow up the lake. The winds are great for sailors, and Stockton Lake is known as one of the best lakes to sail in the Midwest. High winds, however, may be treacherous for canoes and kayaks.
Water trail signs at each entry point caution paddlers to wear PFDs and to stay aware that water and wind conditions can change rapidly. Always check the weather forecast before you get on the water.
Adams pointed out that it is usually at least a little windy on one side of the peninsula, while the other side is a little more protected. “If you stay close to shore, it’s not too bad,” he said. “If the wind picks up, you can always turn around and paddle back to your starting point.”
Fishermen can enjoy the paddle trip, too, as the lake is well stocked with bass, catfish, crappie, and walleye.
As we made the turn around the point, we were met with white caps and fierce waves. I paddled to the tops of waves only to have my sit on top kayak spun sideways and dropped into the hole. Then it was a repeat. Time was running short and it became obvious we could not complete the entire trip. Neal called a park employee and had him pick us up at an accessible cove.
What a fantastic paella trip. To check out paddling the water trail at Stockton, simply Google Stockton Lake Water Trail.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Cooper is an award-winning outdoor writer and member of the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame and lives in rural St. James. He is host of “Outside Again Adventures TV-Online” and “Wild at Heart” on ESPN 107.3FM in Rolla. You can follow Cooper at www.facebook.com/OutsideAlways, www.aoutdoorstv.com and www.espn1073.com.