The Great Outdoors: Early-Morning Clarion River Float Truly Special

Sunday was one of those days spent outdoors that I will remember for a long time.

It started with a heavy mist that kept it cool and comfortable as I launched my little kayak from Cook Forest State Park.

It was 7:30 a.m., and there were only two others – a couple who were getting ready to begin their trip down the Clarion River.

In my haste, I left my fishing rod lying in the grass, but I remembered it before I got too far to turn around.  In retrospect, I could have left it behind. Whatever I was doing, the bass weren’t buying it.

I only planned to go the four miles to the Gravel Lick access, and I had plenty of time to get there because my brother wasn’t coming until noon.

I should have beached the boat a few times and actually made a better effort at fishing, but once I got going, I just fished from it here and there.

Not far from the Route 36 bridge, I could hear an eagle, and then, one flew from a tall maple tree. It was quickly joined by another from a nearby perch.

As I floated closer, yet another baldie took off from the tree where the first bird has taken off from.  Not a bad way to start the day!

The eagles didn’t stick around for long, and the show was quickly replaced by a return to keeping my eyes peeled for creatures in the water or along the banks.

Shortly after the eagle encounter, I reached Hemlock Island. It’s not bad-sized, and one of the few on the Clarion in the area.

Before I reached the Gravel Lick Road bridge, the river straightened for a bit, and before I knew it, a kingfisher was headed straight for me before easily cruising above me.

I’d love to get a photo or video of one of them, but they are swift fliers and don’t frequently present themselves. But I love hearing their distinctive call and watching them swoop down to the water’s surface to pluck an unsuspecting fish.

It wasn’t long before I reached the takeout. It was tempting to keep going, but my brother and I had plans to meet there at noon, and there is little or no cell phone reception in the valley, so I beached it and decided to fish upriver on foot.

Again, the bass weren’t too interested in my tube, but I did miss a few; but the eagles came to the rescue again. They were on the opposite shore, most of the way up the ridge, soaring and enjoying the day.

After they disappeared, a turkey vulture came along for a bit before continuing downriver.

Then, a red-tailed hawk showed up and landed in a pine tree. As I moved up the bank, I never saw it leave, but I didn’t see it again.

There was a large, diamond-shaped boulder that protruded from the river and rested along the bank.

It was my plan to get there and fish around it, but as I got closer, it appeared to be a spot the river otters were using frequently and quite recently, too.

Their scat was all over the place, but there was still enough room on the car-sized rock for me to take a seat.

When the lack of any action from a fish prompted me to bail, I was greeted with the sight of a channel catfish, about 20 inches long.

It was well past the point of grabbing any lure I could have offered since an otter had already taken care of it.  It had eaten around the head and top of the spine, but there was plenty left for another meal or two.

Just finding that kind of otter sign made the trip for me.

I highly recommend a float down the Clarion. There are many options that can involve an extended trip last several days to one as short as I did which didn’t even last two full hours.

There are plenty of resources to plan a trip, too.

Also, check the water flow numbers. They will give you a good idea of the type of float you will have.

On Sunday, the gauge height was about 3.25 feet, and there was plenty of water. The discharge rate was about 900 cubic feet of water per second.

Here are some sites that I find very helpful:

“The Great Outdoors,” sponsored by the Pennsylvania Great Outdoors, is a weekly blog by’s Scott Shindledecker. Plan your next outdoor adventure at or call (814) 849-5197 for more information.

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