Wolf River Rapids in March 2017

Spring Break, the week students and teachers alike can’t wait for since coming back to school in the new year.  This year was no different.  Over the past number of years I’ve traveled across the country over Spring Breaks.  Everywhere from Tennessee, Kentucky, Nebraska, and more.  I wanted to mix it up a little this year and stay closer to home.  So I went to northern Wisconsin and stayed a couple days at my in-laws cabin.  Their cabin, really a house more than a cabin, is just a few miles from the Upper Wolf River.  The Wolf is one of the more popular rivers in Wisconsin for whitewater rafting and holds some great fish!  Last summer I floated down the river with my buddy Israel Dunn from Shorebound Hero.  We caught quite a few smallmouth and had some fun in the rapids.  Sadly, the smallmouth season wasn’t open.  However, trout was open for catch and release and this section of the Wolf river holds some great brown and rainbow trout.  So I loaded my NuCanoe Pursuit, Bending Branches Angler Ace paddle, Drysuit, Ctug kayak cart, 4wt fly rod, some nymphs, and hit the road.  

The weather held true to other Marches in years past.  Temps ranged from the 20’s to 50’s all within a couple days.  Thankfully the week before the trip temps were in the mid 40’s and the day I’d be able to float the river it was sunny, no wind, and temps in the upper 50’s.  There was no ice on the river but the water temps were in the upper 30’s.  Snow lined the banks as the river meandered throughout the woods.  Because of the snow and rain we had the weekend before the water was flowing at a pretty good clip.  When I floated the river last year it was flowing around 350 CFS but this trip it was up around 650 CFS.  After doing hours of research on the river and the rapids with the fast current I decided that the float would still be doable.  I just made sure I had all the proper gear.  

My wife was kind enough to drop me off at the put in.  I took minimal gear as I knew that some big rapids were ahead.  After getting my kayak rigged I placed it on my Ctug kayak cart with sand wheels and pulled my kayak through 50 yard trail that snuck through a small woods.  The cart handled it perfectly and made pulling the Pursuit a piece of cake.  The launch was a large snow covered rock that gently sloped into the light brown colored river.  This section of the river is one of the cleanest in the state and is classified as an Outstanding Resource Water by the Wisconsin DNR.  I put on the drysuit, made sure the gaskets were sealed and then slipped my kayak into the water.

The water was definitely moving and it took me and my kayak quickly downstream.  I paddle into little coves and spots in the shoreline where the current slowed down.  I casted small black nymphs, brown nymphs, ones with a pink tail, gold bead, black bead, etc. into the current, riffles, in front of, behind, rocks and branches, and every other place.  Sadly no trout wanted to play.  For that matter, no fish wanted to.  With the water temps being as cold as they were I knew it would be tricky but I was hoping to get a bite.  Although the fish didn’t want to play, birds were chirping and a beaver was swimming near me and gave me a little startle as he slapped his tail on the water.

After floating for about an hour and a half I was nearing the end of my float.  This last section was one that I was looking forward to but also dreaded.  It was one of the roughest rapids in this stretch.  With the water flowing as fast as it was it made these rapids into a Class II+ set.  I’ve ran these rapids before, albeit when the water was slower, and have paddled through a number of rapids on various rivers before with my fishing kayaks.  I felt confident taking on these rapids but definitely respected them.  Things can go south real quick if you’re not careful, especially with the water being in the upper 30’s.  As I said earlier, I did my research and prepared accordingly.  I was ready to take them on.

I was able to get my kayak to the shore before the rapids and scouted them out.  After looking up and down the rapids I decided on my game plan and made sure my drysuit was on tight.  The take out was right after the set of rapids and while I’m sure I could paddle against the current to get back to it I’d rather not miss it.  I took one last look at the rapids and walked back to my yak.  After turning on my GoPro and putting my phone, that was enclosed in a waterproof case, in the RAM xwing mount and tied to the yak.  I hopped in and headed back on the river ready to take on the rapids.

The couple riffles leading in were a piece of cake.  Even the first couple small rapids were easy.  Water splashed over the bow but drained quickly.  The first big rapid was where the fun began.  The water dipped down in the front of it making the rapid essentially a big wall.  I hit the rapid dead center like I planned hoping to cruise right through.  The water crashed overboard filling up my kayak in a hurry.  Thankfully the water drained quickly and I stayed upright.  Although the force of the rapid was so strong that it knocked my GoPro down and I didn’t realize until later that it knocked my phone off the holder.  

After that rapid there were a couple medium sized ones that swamped the kayak.  Again, the Pursuit handled amazingly well and drained the water.  I was able to stay upright without any difficulty.  However, right after this set of medium rapids was a large one, just as big if not bigger than the first big rapid.  The kayak almost drained the water from the last medium sized rapid when the bow hit the wall of the large rapid.  The water came crashing overboard and completely swamped my kayak.  So much so that the entire thing was underwater for a short time.  As the kayak was draining the water and rising back above the water line it started to tip from the current.  I tried leaning and paddling to adjust but it was too late.  I fell off the seat into the freezing water.  Thankfully my kayak stayed upright and I grabbed onto the side.  I quickly hoisted myself back in the kayak and was back in before the last set of small rapids.  After getting situated I grabbed my paddle and made it out through the rest of the rapids with no difficulty.  I paddled to the take out and hauled my kayak up the 2 ½ foot snow bank.  

My wife brought the car to the take out and I grabbed the cart and pulled my kayak up the 100+ yards of uphill trail to the car.  Thank goodness that I workout and am fit because that hike was tough.  It was steep hill and while the cart made it easier it was still quite tough.  Because of my workouts I am able to get my kayak up the hill to the car without needing to catch my breath.  I loaded up my gear and yak, and shared the stories of my adventure as we headed back to the cabin.

Now, this trip could’ve taken a turn for the worse in a blink of an eye.  But I did my research, prepared the proper gear, and had enough practice to make it through alright.  Cold water can kill you in a hurry, especially when dealing with rapids.  This stretch of the Wolf River had some houses so if something did happen, I could get a hold of someone relatively quickly but I didn’t want to have to do that.  I wore my drysuit and knew that it worked well.  Underneath that I wore wool and breathable, wicking clothing.  And of course, I wore my life jacket.  I never hit the water without wearing it.  Plus on top of that I’ve run a number of rapids before and felt relatively confident in reading the water and how to handle my kayak.  On top of all that I knew how to and practiced getting in my kayak from deep and shallow water.  I did this in both warm and cold water with a drysuit on so I was as prepared as possibly for this situation.  What’s the point of this paragraph? Yes I took some risk heading out in water that cold chasing some fish and running rapids but I did my research, packed and wore proper clothing, and practiced in case of an emergency.  Thankfully it did pay off!  I had a fantastic trip, and was able to put my skills to use.  If you decide to head out in cold water or going through rapids.  Do your research, practice getting back in, and dress properly!

Thank you for coming along on my adventure and I hope you enjoy the short video of the trip!

This second video is one I did the night of the trip on my phone.  It shows how quickly things can happen when going through a rapid.


Do you know how to get back in your kayak without any extra gear?  You can watch my how to video here:



Spencer Jones is an avid kayak angler and health and fitness enthusiast from Fox Cities in Wisconsin and is passionate about sparking and cultivating new interest to the sport and helping folks be able to enjoy their hobby to the fullest. In 2013 he created the Badger Yakkers where anglers from across Wisconsin share adventures and plan outings. Spencer is a contributing writer for YakAngling Magazine and is the Tournament Media Sponsorship Director for YakAngler.com where he helps spread the word about kayak fishing CPR(catch, photo, release) tournaments. In 2015 he started a review series called What's What on the Water: Catch or Release review where he takes a close look at gear used by kayak anglers to see if its a catch or a release. When not exploring new areas he actively participates in kayak fishing forums and brings fledgling yakkers into the fold.

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