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Monday, August 18, 2008

Living on a Coastal River

Most people from the interior of the continent have a very clear picture in their mind of what a river looks like. With many of our visitors coming from Virginia and North Carolina, it is not surprising that the wonders of our coastal rivers are mysteries to many of those visitors. Yet it is often those same bodies of water and their shores which provide some of the nicest places to live. Understanding what the rivers have to offer is an important part of learning about the Crystal Coast.
In the Swansboro-Emerald Isle area, the river which dominates most of our lives is the White Oak. While the White Oak is only thirty some miles long, in its lower reaches it is often over a mile wide.

The White Oak is also tidal which means water flows in and out of the river on a regular basis. In area where the temperatures are often in the nineties for a few weeks in the summer and the water is very shallow, that natural exchange of water is very important. It actually keeps the fish alive.

Some rivers on the Carolina coast, like the Neuse, are not as fortunate as the White Oak. We often read about fish kills in the Neuse. While there is considerable discussion over the exact reasons why, we can say that having a tidal water exchange like the White Oak is a great protection again fish kills.

Though the White Oak is over a mile wide in places, it can be very shallow, sometimes only one or two feet deep. There is a well marked channel which we all follow to get to the Intracoastal Waterway which is our gateway to the ocean. There is plenty of water in the channel so navigating the White Oak even at low tide is not a problem as long as you pay attention.

The White Oak also has a number of large Oyster rocks which are sometimes just under the surface of the water. With these around it makes a lot of sense to travel very carefully outside of the marked channels on the lower White Oak.

It is not a bad idea to pick up one of the maps of the White Oak which are available at local boating stores. If you get a map, you will see that beyond Hancock point the marked channel disappears and generally there is enough water to keep you out of trouble.

Once you reach Stella and go under the railroad bridge, the river narrows and gets much deeper and becomes a winding river. It is fun to run the upper parts of the White Oak but some degree of caution is necessary because of the curves in the river. The vegetation along the river changes drastically as you proceed upriver. Eventually you see Cedar trees growing in the river. A few miles up river, the White Oak actually becomes a fresh water river.

Haywood Landing, a boat ramp and water access point in Croatan National Forest, is near that point.

Living on the river lets you see an ever changing natural world. We see White, Blue, and Green Herons around the river. In the winter we have Pelican for a while. The river is a huge nursery for small fish and shrimp.

It often seems that the river boils with life. Of course we catch a variety of fish in the river from Trout to Red Drum and Flounder. Last year I even anchored my boat just off the channel and caught a nice mess of Spots.

At other times the river is a place of great solitude. I often slip my kayak in the water and spend an hour or two alone on the river. The White Oak has very little traffic even on weekends so it is rare when you see more than a boat or two.

The river in the morning is often glassy smooth and sometimes we get a slight bit of fog on the water which makes everything look surreal The evening usually bring us a nice breeze from the water.

The White Oak keeps our temperatures cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. It makes living where we live in Bluewater Cove more pleasant.

And when I need inspiration, I often find a spot where I can watch the sun set over the White Oak. There are no more beautiful sunset that the ones we have here.

It is a great experience to live on a river like the White Oak where the river is such a big part of our lives. That reminds me, its time to go check my crabpot. The White Oak just might provide me with dinner tonight.

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