The Bourbeuse River may have gotten its name from the French word for muddy, but that certainly doesn’t stop floaters and anglers from enjoying this 154-mile river that makes its crooked path through five counties until it meets the Meramec in Franklin County near Moselle, just south of Union.
Leigh Kolb, an instructor at East Central College in Union, has been exploring the Bourbeuse for the past 14 years.
“The water isn’t cold and clear like many of Missouri’s spring-fed floating rivers, but because it isn’t overcrowded by tourists, you feel a sense of being one with untouched nature,” Kolb said.
“The quiet and solitude that you can find on the Bourbeuse makes it my favorite river to float.”
Due to Kolb’s teaching schedule, she explores the Bourbeuse mainly during the summer months.
“My favorite time to float is in mid-summer in the middle of the week, when you can often get the river to yourself. Last summer I discovered the joys of solo kayaking, and having the river to myself for five hours turned out to be one of life’s greatest pleasures,” Kolb added.
Less human activity makes the Bourbeuse a treasure when it comes to enjoying the beautiful wildlife that this region has to offer.
“Because the Bourbeuse isn’t overcrowded, the wildlife spotting is incredible. I can count on seeing deer, blue herons, green herons, groundhogs, beaver, turtles, and multitudes of fish as I quietly float by,” Kolb said.
Even though it could mean a little less solitude, Kolb was willing to share her favorite section of the river with River Hills Traveler readers.
“I’m a big fan of Devil’s Back Floats in Leslie. I can easily park at their campground, and then be shuttled upriver to Peters Ford and then float seven miles back to the campground,” Kolb said.
“This stretch of river is beautiful and secluded, and offers numerous sandbars and is rarely so shallow that you drag. Devil’s Back also rents out aluminum kayaks, which is a unique offering.”
Leigh Kolb isn’t the only individual who shares a love for the Bourbeuse. Jake Johnson just graduated from Washington High School, and spends a lot of time on the Bourbeuse River thanks to the experiences he’s had growing up near his grandpa.
“My grandpa fished the Bourbeuse his whole life. He would always tell the story about when he went to check trotlines in his little johnboat and ended up with a huge catfish on the line,” Johnson said.
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Thanks to Johnson’s grandpa, and the influence of a family friend, he has grown up with the confidence to run the river on his own.
“Within the last several years I have made the Bourbeuse the centerpoint of my fishing. I try to put my boat in at least two weekends a month,” he said.
“My favorite thing to do is set trotlines and fish for smallmouth bass. I also enjoy just floating down the river and taking in the great scenery.”
Johnson, like his grandpa, now has some of his own fishing stories about the Bourbeuse, and highly recommends anglers give the river a try.
“People don’t think that this river has good fishing potential and I have heard many people call it a dirty river. Personally, I think this river is one of the best in our area. The smallmouth bass are plentiful in most areas. I have never had a day where I did not catch a single bass on this river,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, floaters should visit the Bourbeuse in late spring to mid-June for the best floating conditions.
He also has a few ideas for good places to put in and take out.
“A good floating route would be from Meyers Landing to the Union Access by Dickey Bub. Although that would only be a 10-minute car ride, it would be a full day of adventure on the river. The river needs to be up just a little to travel this route, but that’s how the river is.
“If you wanted a multi-day stretch, I would recommend putting in at one of the more southern access points and then float to Rieker Ford.”
If you are interested in experiencing the Bourbeuse, don’t expect an abundance of campgrounds or float companies. There is only one outfitter on the Bourbeuse that Kolb mentioned earlier, Devil’s Back Floats.
They are located south of Beaufort off of Hwy 185. They even have a primitive campground. If you want more information about Devil’s Back Floats, visit their website at www.devilsbackfloats.com.
I hope that your experiences on the Bourbeuse will be peaceful and restorative.
If you run into Jake Johnson or Leigh Kolb on the river, make sure you wave, smile, and thank them for sharing their love of the Bourbeuse with you!
(Michelle Turner lives in Union, Mo.)