When the temperatures in eastern North Carolina start edging toward triple digits, an outdoorsman’s options become somewhat limited.
He can still go fishing but, unless he’s a real masochist, that’s limited to a few hours in the early morning or late afternoon, or maybe offshore where there’s a constant ocean breeze.
A better idea may be to spend some leisurely hours exploring out-of-the-way areas that may warrant a second look when the climate weather becomes more benign. If those spots include water bodies in which an explorer can immerse his hot, sweaty body that’s a plus. At the very least they should have some accessible shade and topography that can be negotiated without excessive exertion. One such place is the upper Tar River.
The Tar River begins in Person, Granville and Vance counties and flows southeasterly from its rolling Piedmont origins into the Coastal Plain. At the town of Washington in Beaufort County a sign declares that the river’s name changes.
From that point to where it empties into Pamlico Sound the slow-moving stream is known as the Pamlico River.
The Upper Tar is a good place to be on a hot day, however. As it courses across Nash into Edgecombe County, it crosses the geological fall line and, while it doesn’t feature anything close to whitewater at normal water levels, it does have a good, relatively constant flow. That keeps it a little cooler than it will be farther downstream and also makes paddling easy.
From its headwaters to where it changes names, the Tar is about 200 miles long and has a drainage basin that encompasses over 6,000 square miles. Its name comes from the commerce that dominated the land along its banks in the 18th and 19th centuries. In those days, the production of naval stores – pitch, tar and turpentine – used in building boats was a significant part of the economy in the state and the Tar River was a major route for barges hauling those commodities to coastal ports.
Below the town of Tarboro, the Lower Tar widens and slows down. Above there, the Upper Tar is relatively shallow with a sandy bottom featuring a good bit of rocks and gravel. Water quality is good overall and supports a variety of fish and other creatures including some uncommon ones. It is home to ten rare species of mussels, three rare fish and one rare amphibian (the Neuse River Waterdog). In addition, two species of birds found along the forested banks – the Loggerhead Shrike and Black Vulture – are listed as Species of Special Concern.
One of those, a vulture, perched atop a tall, dead tree recently as a group of humans glided past on the stream near the community of Leggett, east of Rocky Mount. The large, dark bird sat motionless, with its wings outstretched as if posing for an artist. At least a few comments were passed regarding the bird’s possible intent, particularly in respect to some of the older members of the group below.
The paddlers, nine in number, were members and guests of the Carteret County Wildlife Club. They had driven about an hour and half to put in at a landing near the intersection of Leggett Road and Hwy. 97. The launch spot was at a grassy expanse where someone had constructed wooden steps down the steep bank and an ingenious slide that allowed paddlers to ease their craft down the slope. The trip to the take-out point, the Dunbar Road Boating Access Area, took about 4.5 hours of easy paddling including a lunch break on the bank. Time was also taken to check out several hawks and at least one bald eagle that made cameo appearances along the route, as well as a few gar in the clear, shallow water and towering banks that seemed out of place to folks from the lower coastal plain.
Canoeing and kayaking on the Upper Tar is a safe and fun endeavor for most of its length at normal water levels. It can be a challenge for inexperienced paddlers when the water’s up, however, and it’s a good idea to check before you go. Water
level and other conditions for places where there are stream gauges can be checked online at www.waterdata.usgs.gov/nc.
Land along the Upper Tar is privately owned for the most part so overnight camping is limited. Medoc Mountain State Park, located just 23 miles from Rocky Mount, has plenty of campsites, as well as hiking trails, fishing and paddling on Little Fishing Creek, a Tar River tributary. Park staff at 252-586-6588 or 586-6475 can provide information including some about water levels.
Sound Rivers, a non-profit organization whose goal is the protection and recreational use of the Tar/Pamlico River, also has information about camping along the Upper and Lower Tar. They even have some camping platforms at various locations along the river but some may not be available because of hurricane damage. To find out about those and other aspects of recreation on the Tar, go online to www.tarpamlicowatertrail.org.
There are a few private camp grounds with launch sites on the Upper Tar. One is Tar River Life, located near the small town of Bunn a short distance north of Rocky Mount. In addition to camping, they offer kayak and tube rentals for short trips and are an excellent source of information. They can be contacted online at www.tarriverlife.com or by phone at 919-496-9237.
Regardless of where you go and what you do there, the Upper Tar River is a great place to spend time. If angling is your thing, wade fishing in the shallow, sandy-bottom stretches of the stream can be like a salve on a hot day. The only gear you need is lightweight tackle with appropriate lures such as BeetleSpins or small crank baits, and maybe a small pack with a cool drink and some snacks.
Those, and a desire to enjoy all the Upper Tar has to offer on a hot summer day can make for a memorable outing.
Ed Wall can be reached at email@example.com or 252-671-3207. His web site is www.edwalloutdoors.com