Exploring Assateague with Bob Collins

Miles and miles of marshes to explore!

Miles and miles of marshes to explore!

Assateague Island National Seashore offers many great watersport opportunities, but the paddling on the bayside, heading south from the Old Ferry Landing, on the Maryland end, is truly unique. On a pleasant August morning, it offered a great opportunity to leave the hustle and bustle of the ocean resorts behind.

I started heading WSW, toward the southern tip Great Egging Island. Breeze was light as I stretched my arms and got into a routine, I then turned south, paddling toward the “spoils area” (as it is referred to on the USGS Topo). From there, I turned slightly SSE, to the marshy island known as Outward Trump. From there, a little further south and I was just west of Tingles Narrows.

There are two aspects of the paddle that always amaze me about paddling in this portion of Chincoteague Bay. Barring gusty winds, the water is clear, almost gin-clear if winds are light (as they were that day). Eelgrass, an important vascular aquatic plant, is present, and, with a decent pair of polarized glasses, you can make out blue crabs, horseshoe crabs, pufferfish and other animals while you cruise over the smooth water. The cow-nose rays (a type of sting-ray) will startle you at first when they break the surface next to your boat. But gliding next to one as it gracefully flies through the water- that’s the joy of paddling.

Equally as unique on coastal Delmarva is that, once just a little south of the Ferry Landing, you are paddling virtually alone. On that calm August day, I encountered one canoe as I headed a little further south, not far from Pine Tree Campsite. That was the last person I saw for the rest of my paddle. I never even saw a power boat out in the bay. Pine Tree, lodged under the cool loblollies, among my favorite back-country camping sites, is woefully underused. I guess the tales of vicious mosquitos and greenhead flies keep the less hardy paddlers away.

Minus the flies, a great place to take a break

Minus the flies, a great place to take a break

Just west of Pine Tree, on a little sandy beach, I stopped for a stretch and the greenheads did find me. Paddling at Assateague, it is prudent to bring repellent, long sleeves, and even a head net. Your spray skirt is a good defense against the buggers getting to your ankles. But, once back on the water, a slight breeze picked up and the flies laid down. I paddled past the old duck camps and up into the channels, where I tried my hand with my mini-rod-and-reel and synthetic bloodworms. Fish, likely spot, bunker, bluefish and piperfish, were leaping all around me. I caught several spot while drifting with the tide, and watched the terrapins watch me.

The Assateague wild horses aren't easily impressed

The Assateague wild horses aren’t easily impressed!

After several more nibbles, I stepped ashore on a sandy hummock and awoke the mosquitoes. Deciding not to stay long, I got back on water as the high clouds started to thicken. Being about 7 miles south of the Ferry Landing, I decided to start my journey home. I returned back to the creek at Pine Tree and paddled the inshore route. This channel paddles through saltmarsh and maritime forest. The ponies were unconcerned as I paddled by them; not so the whitetail deer I spooked. Continuing to chase the fish, I darted through a cut and back out to the open bay near Tingles Narrows.

From this point, heading north, there are two basic routes back to port. The more interesting is close to shore, where there are many channels to explore, views of old duck camps, even an occasional eagle’s nest. With some uncertain weather, and with a gathering south wind behind me, I went west, around Tingle Island marsh, and took the “sea-route” back. This requires a substantial open-water segment, but the water, like virtually all of this paddle, rarely exceeds hip-deep. Within an hour, I was back in civilization; and the scurry of the clamming clinic at the Naturalist Shack.

This paddle is approximately 15 miles- a hardy day of paddling. Aside from the bug-aversion equipment, bring a lunch and plenty of water. Ironically, there are restroom facilities at both Pine Tree and Tingle Island campsites. You’ll see gulls, all the herons and egrets, and terns. I saw several skimmers- an increasingly rare event. Lots to see in the water, on the land, and in the sky, but a refreshing lack of civilization!

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