Have you ever been somewhere that is practically in your own backyard and not fully explored or experienced what it had to offer after years of being there? It is often said that New Yorkers rarely visit places such as the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty because they tend to take for granted that those landmarks are there, always have been, and eventually they will go visit.
There is a creek that I frequent often near where I grew up. It has at times been very difficult to fully explore and float due to the short expanse across the water and the obstacles such as fallen trees that block the passage.
A couple of decades ago there was an effort to clean up the Contentnea. Trash was pulled and trees were cleared. The Contentnea, which comes from an old native American word for ‘fish passing by’, was passable again.
A series of hurricanes including both Fran and Floyd in the late 90’s and once again the creek was in a position to hide the treasures it possessed.
While floating a few stretches of the creek in the past, I had never floated the most difficult yet closest part. Beginning at the Wiggins Mill dam at Highway 301 and advancing towards Stantonsburg and Snow Hill, the creek was alien to me other than a few spots where I could reach the bank or see from various overpasses.
I was assigned a feature story on catfishing the Contentnea and this seemed the perfect expanse to attempt to get the photos and information to go along with the story. Needless to say, I had a bit of excitement brewing in the possibility of exploring and experiencing a body of water I knew my whole life yet hadn’t seen.
The timing couldn’t have been better either. Even though the story I was assigned was targeting catfish, the water temperatures had risen enough to start the spawns of several species. The shad worked their way up the creek about a week prior although they were not at their peak quite yet. Another species, one of my favorites, was starting their trek as well.
The redhorse sucker, specifically the silver redhorse sucker, were plentiful. So much so that in certain rifts and rapids you could spot dozens all over top of each other. I fully believe pound for pound and ounce for ounce, the redhorse is one of the best fighting fish on the end of a line as any freshwater species there is.
After sliding the kayak down the steep bank not far from the dam, I began my journey. It only took ten minutes of fishing to hook into a sucker fish. The fight was strong but short, as the hook was set just a few feet from the kayak that morning. The result was a catch and release of a five pound beauty and the guarantee of not getting skunked.
Over the next ten miles of floating and paddling the creek, I took all I could in. The scenery, the wildlife, all of it was an adventure. It took longer to paddle this section than what I had aniticipated, as fallen trees blocked the passages consistently even in the deeper waters. Portaging the kayak and re-entering became the norm rather than finding other ways around. Once I had to drag the kayak for more than 50 yards in order to get from one section of water to the next due to obstacles.
After fishing, floating, paddling, and portaging I ran up on two more trees blocking the flow about 20 yards from each other. The day was getting late and I realized I could either portage around them and build camp in the dark, or go ahead and set up camp and fix a good meal and tackle the obstacles in the morning.
I decided to get a good night’s rest.