Kayaking another place & time in the tupelo and cypress of the Cache River in far southern Illinois

Kayaking the Cache River under a silver maple with a buttonbush to the left and a bald cypress ahead.

Dale Bowman

ULLIN, Ill.—Cicadas whined in morning heat as I turned down Dean Lane, then drove to the last stilt house by the Cache River. Racks of canoes and kayaks indicated I had reached Cache Bayou Outfitters.

Tupelo, a mixed red and blue heeler, ambled to greet me ahead of Kamea Rhine saying, “You must be the kayaker.”

A plank boat, made by Mark Denzer, operations manager, and Neth Hass (Rhine’s father), decorated the front of the stilt office.

“We built the pirogue around 12 years ago, made from local cypress with mostly hand tools,” Denzer emailed later.

I was in the right spot.

It had been about 20 years since I paddled the Cache in far southern Illinois. That anomaly of our topography feels like Mississippi or Louisiana more than Illinois with bald cypress, tupelo, slow waters and swamps.

Rhine brought out a map and suggested a four-hour paddle.

“If you get branches in your face, you’re going the wrong way.” she said.

I only went the wrong way once. Branches left me know real quick.

She directed me, when past Perks Bridge, to follow the wooden sign left into the bottomland swamp and to Eagle Pond, where there was a 900-year-old cypress.

“Before that, there’s a tupelo grove that is my favorite spot,” she said.

Her directions were good, I found her grove.

She also showed where there would be an observation deck with a 1,500-year-old cypress across from it, then the Lower Cache River Access, a good lunch and turnaround spot.

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Before I left, she said, “We have lots of Asian carp now. But no one has caught one in a boat recently. What do they call them now?”

“Copi, as in copious,” I said.

She rhapsodized about eating copi so glowingly that I wondered if she worked for Kevin Irons, Illinois’ assistant fisheries chief and long-time invasive guru.

“Put them in the coals and let them cook,” she said. “The meat falls right off the bones.”

That sounded good.

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Source:: Chicago Sun Times

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