Hackensack River Canoe & Kayak Club

paddling for over a third of a century

Spring Streams
by Bob Rancan

Shepaug, North Branch Raritan, and Paulinskill

Sometimes it is cold and the weather changes from good to bad to worse in what seems like an instant but April in NJ and Connecticut is the month to get out on the small streams. The water is cold but it is usually flowing in quantity sufficient to allow for navigation. Snowmelt, thawing groundwater and April showers make trips possible that if tried in most Junes and Julys would result in some walking down the riverbed.

I was able to get out three weeks in a row on three favorite streams. Conditions varied: On April 9 our club trip to the Shepaug in Connecticut coincided with Opening Day of the trout season in NJ. It was a sunny but cool day and the river was carrying lots of runoff from the previous week’s heavy rains. Fred Cohane, Jeff Hackett, Michele Paradiso, Denise Marcel and I swept down the usually shallow stream and left almost no plastic hull marks on the river’s boulders.

A pair of sharp-shinned hawks spotted at the Roxbury take-out in the morning were the highlight of the day as were the many pairs of common mergansers and phoebes. We checked the vernal ponds at our lunch stop and saw many spotted salamander egg cases. In the afternoon the call of spring peepers drowned out the sounds of the rushing water. Thanks to Michelle for tending the fire at the take-out while we picked up cars and bought the marshmallows.

On April 16, Tom and Matt DeAngelis and I tried our luck on the North Branch of the Raritan (Bedminister to North Branch, NJ.) We were concerned that since the water had been so high and cold for Opening Day the place might be overrun with early season fishermen. This was not the case and with the flow still strong (3.23 at North Branch at Raritan gauge) our only problem was adjusting to a hot sun. On these spring trips the question is always "what do I wear?" The great blue heron rookery near the town of North Branch had expanded and I counted at least three dozen nests.

For the club trip on the Paulinskill April 23, 9 paddlers in 7 boats turned out despite the dire forecast. Warm temperatures made the threat of rain more bearable. Overnight the river rose (1.93 to 1.99 at Blairstown gauge) and the feeder streams were bringing down lots more water as we set out. Remarkably, it rained a bit as we readied the boats and a whole lot as we finished but the precipitation held off while were on the river. There were many wood ducks and common mergansers and we had a good look at a green heron. Scott Hagaman and I saw a wood turtle on the bank and Matt Hagaman found a small snapping turtle no more than two inches in length at our lunch stop. Thanks to Scott and Matt, Alex Toia, Fred Cohane, Robyn Lowenthal, Carole Baligh, Phil Brown and Bob May for a great trip.

Hopefully, it will keep raining and the streams will run all summer!