Get Wet On The Okatoma | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Get Wet On The Okatoma

photo

As the sorority sisters from the University of Southern Mississippi began crashing through the rapid known as "the chute" on the Okatoma Creek, the guys in our Scout troop took notice.

Soon enough, canoes were flipping, flip-flops were floating away, and a couple of co-eds were wide-eyed in swift-moving water, looking for salvation. The Scouts were happy to oblige.

I am not picking on the sisters. Indeed, I have flipped my canoe in this very rapid. So have literally hundreds of others.

The Okatoma, about 70 miles south of Jackson, is Mississippi's most-canoed river. There are certainly prettier rivers, more peaceful settings and more abundant wildlife in the streams flowing through Mississippi. But none of the others offers much of anything resembling a rapid. That makes the Okatoma's three or four little rapids stand out in the adrenaline column by comparison. Outfitters with canoes and school buses have sprung up to serve the weekend crowds.

For perspective, nothing on the Okatoma rates much above a class II rapid (on a scale of I to VI). And certainly most of it is quiet calm. Anyone who is willing to get wet can handle this river. The "wildlife" here is likely to be in cutoffs and swinging from a rope.

Nevertheless, it is fun. If you can catch the Okatoma on a weekday—or any day but Saturday—you're more likely to have a peaceful experience.

The first "falls" is a bubbly shoal about five minutes downstream of the popular put-in at the bridge in Seminary. It's a pretty straightforward paddle, and in drier weeks of late summer, you are likely to hang up in the shallows, though wading into the cool waters to walk your canoe a few feet can be fun, too.

About a third of the way through what is typically a three-hour paddle, you arrive at the "chute"—the most technically difficult, though not biggest, rapid on the river. The river has carved a left-to-right (downstream) channel that flows through clay shoals.

You start at far river left. If you're not making a screaming right hand turn as you enter—typically by plowing your paddle in reverse on your right side to rudder your boat to the right—you're destined for at least a little trouble. You're likely to end up on the clay bank or worse, sideways in a channel and seconds away from a pin or flip.

Often, friendly paddlers are standing on the opposite shoal and will actually guide your boat around. But be careful: It's also the place you're most likely to get hurt—be it from the canoe behind you slamming into you or the redneck on the rope swing just up ahead landing in your boat.

The last rapid, another 90 minutes downriver, is the "Okatoma Falls,"—a two-foot drop with the channel flowing swiftly in the center of the river. Paddle straight, squeal with delight, and you've got it made. The take-outs are five to 20 minutes after that, depending upon your outfitter.

There are two popular outfitters to supply boats, paddles, life jackets and shuttles: Seminary Canoe Rental and the Okatoma Outdoor Post.

My quick recommendations: Wear shoes or sandals that can get wet and that have closed backs so they'll stay on. Bring your own life jacket and wear it. Nobody likes wearing those orange, horse-collar deals, but the only people I've ever seen spooked by flipping their canoe were the ones who weren't wearing life jackets. The best swimmers and paddlers I know wear them. Defy the throngs who let them sit on the bottom of their boats.

Be ready for the sun—hats, sunglasses, glasses straps. And finally, strap or tie in everything. If you flip, you will not have time to grab that ice chest or lunch floating away. (You might try a sit-on-top kayak. They are fun and forgiving.)

On our recent trip, we found a few of the sorority sisters actually traumatized by their wipe-outs (again, no life jackets), but most seemed to be having a great time, and the Scouts got a round of applause for their help from 40 or so college women for all their help. Now, they say they want to canoe this river twice next year. Go figure.

Previous Comments

ID
84915
Comment

Thanks for the canoeing tips! My husband and tackled the Okatoma for the first time last Sunday. Sure enough we tipped over at the "Okatoma Falls"...certainly gave us lots to laugh about and made for a memorable wedding anniversary celebration! Appreciated the website links...pointed us in the right direction for canoeing in Mississippi!

Author
BKS
Date
2007-05-21T13:39:16-06:00
ID
84916
Comment

been there once. Won't go back. Dumbass redneck cops hang out in the bushes trying to catch people drinking beer while canoeing. Dry county. No telling how much business they lose because of that crap.

Author
Kingfish
Date
2007-05-21T13:41:00-06:00
ID
84917
Comment

Hmmm....well where can you canoe in Mississippi in a wet county?

Author
lucdix
Date
2007-05-21T14:17:27-06:00
ID
84918
Comment

The Pearl between the Rez and Maye's Lake. ;-)

Author
kaust
Date
2007-05-21T14:24:54-06:00
ID
84919
Comment

Oh, I should have added 'where there's a 'canoe livery'' I'd love to go canoeing again but can't imagine a long day in a canoe without a cold beer.

Author
lucdix
Date
2007-05-21T14:32:47-06:00
ID
84920
Comment

oh....didn't know that....we had a few beers....oh well...ignorance can be bliss!

Author
BKS
Date
2007-05-21T20:08:16-06:00

COVID-19 has closed down the main sources of the JFP's revenue -- concerts, festivals, fundraisers, restaurants and bars. If everyone reading this article gives $5 or more, we should be able to continue publishing through the crisis. Please pay what you can to keep us reporting and publishing.

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

comments powered by Disqus