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Lower Mississippi

River Dispatch

Vol 10 No 2g, Monday, February 17, 2014

Kayaking down the Big Sunflower River from Anguilla Bridge

Great Wintertime Paddling:

Got the wintertime paddler's blues? How about a long canoe or kayak trip down the Big Sunflower River through Delta National Forest? See below for a self-guided tour, now available thanks to the efforts of the Lower Delta Partnership. - Version 2.jpg

Canoeing the Big Sunflower River through Delta Nat'l Forest

Upcoming on our Calendar:

Feb 22 -- Sunflower River Cleanup 1pm meet behind Quapaw Canoe Company in downtown Clarksdale

March 18-28 -- Big Island Circumnavigation: 10-day expedition around the biggest river island in North America. Formed by the White River, the Arkansas and the Mississippi. See below for more information.

April 12-31 -- Rivergator Vicksburg to Baton Rouge: Now taking reservations for any or all. Starting from Bluz Cruz April 12th and coordinating with the opening of Quapaw Natchez. - Version 3.jpg

Sunflower River Cleanup Crew Saturday Feb 15, 2014

Looking for a Home:

(In the Mississippi Tax Code)

Thanks to everyone who signed the Quapaw Canoe Company petition asking the Mississippi Legislature to adopt the Federal Maritime Act into state tax code. We’ve had an outpouring of moral support and great comments. As of this morning we've had 376 signers. Several good questions have been asked:

What is the ultimate goal?
To inspire the development of clean healthy nature tourism in the State of Mississippi.

I am from out of state. Should I Sign?
Please do. This is not a vote. This is a call for attention. Out of state participants will help demonstrate the need for healthy nature tourism along the Lower Mississippi River.

Will the state lose tax monies from other river-based industry as result?
No, other transport industries on the Lower Mississippi are already considered tax exempt. The steamboat companies and towboat companies do not pay taxes as such for their transport services. Why should a river guiding company have to pay for their services?

What other river guiding companies will be effected?

There are currently no other guiding companies on the Lower Mississippi River. But if we create a friendly pro-business environment we'll hopefully see an increase in such.

What about other rivers?

Anyone offering guiding services along the Pascagoula or any other navigable waterways in Mississippi should receive similar benefits to help inspire more nature tourism endeavors in the Deep South.

Where do I sign up?

Please go to:

Mississippi Water Trails

-- Big Sunflower River --

Courtesy of the Lower Delta Partnership:

Mississippi Water Trails Project

Anguilla Bridge to Sunflower River Boat Ramp (15.6 miles)


Long daytrip into the Delta National Forest from the Anguilla Bridge for seasoned paddlers only. Experience the best and the worst of the Sunflower River, from trashy riverside camps to secluded and serene sections of the only remaining undredged piece of the entire length of the Big Sunflower! Plentiful wildlife and impressive forests. The Big Sunflower boasts some of the richest and densest mussellshell beds in the world.


This route could be done as an overnight. Camping is allowed within Delta National Forest. Not recommended during hunting season (unless of course you are paddling & hunting). Consult Delta National Forest headquarters in Rolling Fork for regulations and seasons.

Alternative Short Route:

Roundtrip from Boat Ramp. Park at Sunflower River Boat Ramp and paddle upstream as far as you feel like going. A good turnaround to aim for is the mouth of Rolling Fork Creek/mouth of the Little Sunflower River (approximately seven miles round-trip). If the current is too swift or you get too tired, simply turnaround and enjoy the float back to the landing!


Remote river. For long distance paddlers only -- those comfortable with an all-day flatwater trip with at least five hours of strong paddling. Could easily require 9 hours of hard paddling during low water -- or even longer. Carry all provisions, extra water and cold weather clothing (in season). No services of any sort. Carry emergency gear. Some maneuvering necessary around downed trees, snags and piles of driftwood. Cypress stumps and trees growing out of water channel. Trash blockages. Portages might be necessary. Muddy landings, especially during low water (below 70 Holly Bluff gage). Don’t go below 67 on the Holly Bluff Gage when a lot dragging and muddy portages might be necessary.

Google Map of Trail:

short link:

long link:

Note on Google Maps:

Blue Anchor Icon = Landing/Boat Launch

Light Blue Flag = Point of Interest

Green Tree Icon = Notable Trees

Orange Camera Icon = Scenic View or Location

Green Picnic Table = Picnic Site

Yellow House = Hunting Camp

Red Triangle = River Hazard

Blue Question Mark = Visitor’s Center

LBD = Left Bank Descending

RBD = Right Bank Descending

Water Trail Description:

Anguilla Bridge to Sunflower River Boat Ramp:

Put-in: Anguilla Bridge Boat Launch (RBD downstream side of Hwy 14 Bridge)



Park and put from a ramp located at the west end of the Anguilla Bridge. Short concrete ramp functional at medium water levels. In high water simply put in wherever the water reaches the road. At low water you will have carry or drag your vessel down a series of muddy layers down the river bank to the water’s edge. Paddler friendly residents live in area. Should be safe parking for daytrip. Arrange shuttle if going overnight.

Several hundred yards south of bridge you will pass the mouth of Big Widow Bayou which enters LBD from the east (left bank descending). Like many drainages in the area, Big Widow Bayou follows old channels of the Mighty Mississippi before breaking through the trough and confluencing with the Sunflower.

Mouth of Big Widow Bayou (LBD 1/4 mile)



The Big Sunflower lives up to its name in this first five-mile section with long open stretches of river, steep muddy banks and gentle curves. The river flows through a canyon of mud and collapsing sediment. At low water this can be a bit of a slog, especially in a head wind. But bankside animals (beaver and deer) and plentiful waterfowl will keep the observant paddler entertained. Cotton, corn and soybean fields run to the riverbank edge, forested sections are sprinkled with a few hunting camps. Steamboat landings and indian mounds are reminders of the not too distant past.

As you paddle past Holland Landing, Chapel Landing, Hickman Landing, Big Eddy Landing, Whitehouse Landing, Ratliff Landing, and Tisdell Landing and you can imagine the passengers and freight being transported by steamboats on their way to and from the heart of the Delta. The Sunflower connected the growing cotton kingdom of the fecund Mississippi Delta to Vicksburg and thence downstream to New Orleans. And from there to American and English textile factories.

Chapel Landing RBD (mile 2.6)



Above Chapel Landing a pile of giant masonry blocks are found, perhaps an old docking facility, or maybe a bridge abutment. Visible at low water.

Hickman Landing RBD (mile 2.7)



The mouth of Plaquemines Bayou is found at Hickman Landing and here the Big Sunflower River turns abruptly eastward into a series of gentle curves.

Frequent birds and animals are found in Big Eddy, where the river curves back northward momentarily and opens up into a large stillwater bay with low lying floodplain LBD and a high steep bank RBD. Big Eddy is a reminder of the powerful water flow once common on the Big Sun, now only occurring after days of torrential rainfall.

Big Eddy (mile 3.6)



Below Big Eddy you will paddle past a few hunting camps propped along the top of steep muddy bank. The fields give way increasingly to thick woods and taller trees until the channel is completely surrounded by forest and you enter Delta National Forest. During low water look for layers of mussellshell beds imbedded into layers of mud. The Big Sunflower River is home to tone of the densest musselshell populations in the world. Some of these are endangered such as the sheepnose and spectaclecase mussels.

At mile 5.75 Dowling Bayou enters from the left and is worthy of exploration for an intimate glimpse of the delta jungle and closer views of animals and tracks. Paddlers will find passage at all water levels.

Dowling Bayou (LBD mile 5.7)



Below Dowling Bayou the river splits into two channels. The left fork is long straight canal called the Holly Bluff Cutoff which was carved in the 1940s by the US Army Corps for flood protection. Paddlers: Take the more interesting right fork which winds lazily into the woods beyond. You are now entering the single most wild and beautiful stretch of the entire 225-mile long Big Sunflower River! During high water if there is any flow the water will flow equally both directions. But at low water all water flows right into the undredged section -- much to the delight of paddlers!

Holly Bluff Cutoff (mile 6.0)



Luxuriant oak forests crowd the banks and several thick stands of large sycamores are seen in the first mile of this undredged section. Monitor the trees for black bears and the river for gators. You probably won’t actually see bears, but the careful observer will notice scratch marks where the bears are climbing their favorite trees and leaving distinct red scratches on the otherwise grey bark of the cypress. Black bear tracks can be possibly seen alongside deer, raccoon and wild hog in the riverbank mud. Blue herons, and lesser egrets are common, and songbirds such as the prothonotary warbler and indigo bunting in their northward migration (March-April).

McCann Bayou quietly enters the river from the east LBD near mile 7.5. You can make a landing here and walk into the woods for a glimpse of the nearby Green Ash Greentree Reservoir, which is one of the many wetlands created intentionally by the Delta National Forest to mimic the conditions historically found in the great bottomland hardwood forests of the Mississippi Delta. Seasonally operated pumps fill the forest bottoms with water and provide winter habitat for ducks and other waders. Short small levees border the designated forests and contain the water. When the pumps are running the water returns to the river here at McCann Bayou clear and clean, which is also historically accurate. The Big Sunflower River was reported to have been a clear flowing river by the legendary hunting guide Holt Collier. Theodore Roosevelt, who employed Mr. Collier’s services during one of his famous bear hunts, made morning swims in the river in November of 1902.

Good Picnic Spot: The gentle slope at McCann Bayou makes an ideal place to stop for a picnic and to stretch your legs. You are now almost halfway along the length of this route. Deep forest is found on both sides of Big Sun and several other bayous enter the river nearby. Practice Leave No Trace principals and remove all waste and leave no sign of your visit except your footprints in the mud.

McCann Bayou (LBD mile 7.5)



Distributary American Chute runs parallel to the Big Sun several miles from upstream and re-enters the river in a deep slot canyon of mud; the adventuresome paddler can explore its steep slippery banks and be rewarded with a phantasmagoria of cypress roots, fallen trees and dark woods beyond.

American Chute (RBD mile 7.7)



Mud Lake Bayou exits perpendicularly from the west and at medium to high water levels can be entered and explored from your vessel. Overhanging trees on both banks, fields to the south. Mud Lake Bayou is another small distributary, it re-enters the Big Sun 1.2 miles further downstream spreading out over a shoals created from previous flood events.

Mud Lake Bayou Entrance (RBD mile 7.9)



Mud Lake Bayou Exit (RBD mile 9.1)



A small bayou enters the river LBD near mile 8.5 through two large cypress trees, one leaning at a slight angle has been seen with distinct markings either from lightning strike or perhaps black bear marks clawing the bark up its height.

Green Ash Bayou (LBD mile 8.5)



Several miles further downstream a large opening in the muddy bank appears RBD (west bank). During rising waters you might notice a strong inflow. This is one place that the fork in the river will make a big difference in your journey! If you follow the flow through this opening you will end up on the Little Sunflower, which meanders along the western border of Delta National Forest and will eventually spit you out back into the Big Sunflower dozens of miles downstream! If you have enough daylight left over and extra energy to burn enter the Little Sunflower for a view of a muddy wetlands, with the convergence of Choctaw Bayou from the northwest. Several miles downstream the Little Sun Rolling Fork Creek connects you to the town of Rolling Fork. In high water you can paddle through, but be ready for some bushwhacking!

Mouth of the Little Sunflower River (RBD mile 11.2)



Below the mouth of the Little Sunflower River the Big Sun speeds up noticeably and spreads out over a series of shallow shoals strewn thickly with musselshells. Enjoy the ride over the shoals with some maneuvering necessary along fallen trees and possible blockages. During low water you might have to do some dragging here. Be vigilant for strainers during fast rising waters. Be prepared to portage if necessary. A half mile downstream you will float past a private concrete ramp, and then after another bend of the river past a single isolated island overgrown with swamp privet and water elm. The back channel of this island is well worth exploring for all of the tracks left in the mud and interesting piles of driftwood.

Cypress Bend Island (RBD Mile 12.0)



Leaving Privet Island you immediately wander into Cypress Bend which turns the river 180 degrees out of its westerly direction to exit flowing east into the Delta National Forest. Highway 16 follows the river along this section so you might be startled to hear the sound of traffic. The Big Sunflower meanders gently in an easterly course becoming south-easterly. At mile 13.4 a pair of narrow bayous enter LBD which are well worth exploring, especially the one further downstream known as Secret Bayou because it surreptitiously enters through a thicket of swamp privet . Right bank descending at mile 13.5 there is a National Forest campsite (DNF #74) on the banks above (possible primitive take-out).

Cypress Bend (Mile 12.1)



Secret Bayou (LBD mile 13.4)



Delta National Forest Campsite #74 (RBD mile 13.5)



Trash sometimes accumulates around fallen trees at Dogleg Bend mile 14.2. In 2008 the river was completely choked here by a field of large tractor tires and a disgusting array of farm and household trash.

Dogleg Bend (mile 14.2)



When the river channel starts curving increasingly southward you can start anticipating the Sunflower River Boat Ramp which appears at RBD at Mile 15.6. This is a steep boat ramp with "ribbed" concrete for traction, and is usable at all water levels although sometimes it is covered with gooey slippery mud. Gravel parking area above not advised for overnight parking, but day parking should be okay.

Sunflower River Boat Ramp (RBD Mile 15.6)



Warnings: Delta National Forest is very busy and possibly hazardous for the paddler during Hunting Season. Consult river gages before embarking. This section of the Sunflower never gets too low to paddle, only slow.

River Gage:

Big Sunflower River @ Holly Bluff, MS

For this section of the Big Sunflower, you can get an approximate idea of the water level using the USACE River Gage at Holly Bluff:

Below 67: Too Shallow. Frequent dragging and many portages.

70-85: Ideal. Possible portages

85-95: Fast Water Possible. Some Caution Required

Above 95: Dangerous. Advanced paddlers only. Beware snags and strainers.

Reading River levels at Holly Bluff: Low water (Too Shallow) Don’t go below 67 feet on the Holly Bluff Gage (when a lot of dragging through shallows & mud flats will be necessary). Ideal level: 70-85 on the Holly Bluff Gage. Above 90 on the Holly Bluff Gage the current will be swift and extra caution is needed to maneuver through snags, sawyers and possible strainers as river rushes through the thick terrain. Above 95 all of the bankside forest will be underwater, and above 100 (flood stage) there won’t be any dry land to be found, boat ramps & parking lots will be completely submerged.

Historic Levels: Looking at historical data for the Holly Bluff from over the past ten years, the river typically bottoms out around 70 feet on the Holly Bluff Gage with spikes due to rainfall & runoff, sometimes spiking up to 25 feet or higher in several days. A paddler caught in one of these spikes will experience fast water and possible dangerous turbulent conditions. The record low is 64. Bank full and flood stage is at 95 with a record high of 102.3 feet during the great flood of 1937.

Steele Bayou Control Structure: When the Mississippi River is high it forces its watery influence up the Yazoo River and floods all unprotected low-lying areas of the south delta including the bottomlands of the Sunflower River. The Steel Bayou Control Structure was built to shut off the south delta from the effects of the flooding Mississippi. It is located near the mouth of the Sunflower River at the Yazoo just downstream of the Steele Bayou Confluence. When the gates are closed the water might be backing up all of the way into the top end of Delta National Forest, and this section of river below the Anguilla Bridge.

For a complete picture of water conditions, paddlers might want to consult the USACE gage at the upstream side of the Steele Bayou control structure:

And compare it to the downstream side of the Steele Bayou control structure:

When the levels are the same that means the gates are open and there is no piling of water behind the gates. If the downstream (riverside) reading is higher than the upstream (landside) reading, that means the gates are closed and water will be pooling behind. Compare the elevation with the reading at Holly Bluff. If they are the same you can predict that the water is pooled all the way up to Holly Bluff, and possibly beyond. What this means for the paddler in times of pooling is that you might experience no water flow, flooded banks, and possibly flooded forest. This might extend the length of your trip because you will have no assistance from river speed to help you along. On the other hand there will be no danger from fast water conditions and you can lazily explore flooded places normally not accessible.

Delta National Forest

68 Frontage Road

Rolling Fork MS 39159

Phone: (662) 873-6256

Office Hours:

8:00 am to 4:00 pm (M-F)

For more information:

These trails were coordinated by Meg Cooper and the Lower Delta Partnership. Photos and text by John Ruskey. Go to for all water trails (including the Yalobusha and the Pearl) with photos and maps!

Mississippi’s Lower Delta Partnership

713 Walnut Street, Rolling Fork, MS 39159

Phone: (662) 873-6261

Lower Mississippi River Dispatch

brought to you courtesy of the:

Lower Mississippi River Foundation

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