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December 04, 2016
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Using the river in the fall

In the fall, a sense of tranquility descends on the Delaware River for those who venture out on its waters.
TRR photo by Isabel Braverman

REGION — Recreating on the Delaware River in the fall can be simultaneously a peaceful and an exhilarating experience. Gone are the hazy, humid days of high summer, and as the hot-weather-worshiping crowds head home, a feeling of tranquility descends over the river. The sense of being close to nature seems more immediate. With this serenity also comes the excitement of being on the open river even as brisk temperatures arrive, generating that cloud of breath that hangs in the air in front of your face, and the pulse seems to quicken.

Using the river in colder weather—whether for boating, fishing, or more—brings its own set of challenges and cautions, according to park rangers Susie Kasper and Brandon Diefenbach of the National Park Service’s Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River.

Cold weather adds a new dimension to safety. No matter what time of year, you can’t really avoid getting wet, so be prepared.

“Always be aware of hyperthermia,” Kasper begins. “As the water starts to cool, it becomes even more important to wear a life jacket,” and not only for the ever-present, vitally important safety reasons. “Wearing a life jacket helps insulate your core to keep you warm,” she adds. Besides, beginning on November 1, it’s the law—both Pennsylvania and New York now make wearing a life jacket mandatory from November through May 1, including for fishermen whether in boats, or in waders. (The life jacket must be Coast Guard approved.) Children 12 and under must wear life jackets at all times.

“Keep in mind the ‘rule of 100,’” Diefenbach says. This is a good rule of thumb for deciding when to engage in any water recreation. When the air temperature and the water temperature add up to less than 100 degrees, it becomes increasingly uncomfortable to be in, or even on the water. Many water sports websites recommend donning a wet suit or a dry suit below this reference point, but “even having a big black garbage bag to cover yourself in helps keep you insulated,” Kasper points out.

Dressing appropriately, in the clothing you’d wear in colder months, is important. Both rangers recommend having a change of dry clothing (just in case). Wear wool, which helps wick moisture away from your body. “Do not wear cotton,” Kasper adds; it helps keep you cold.

Finally, at higher river levels, have a baler in the boat to deal with waves that wash inboard.

Other tips from Kasper and Diefenbach

It is never recommended to paddle alone.

Check local weather conditions (which may be different from where you started your trip if you traveled a distance to reach your river destination).

If you are camping out, be aware how temperatures can drop dramatically overnight, and equip yourself appropriately. (Anything less than 40 degrees requires the right sleeping bag and tent, Diefenbach recommends.)

Wear a hat. Wear sun block. Consider if you need sunglasses.

Know the river, know the rules

As for river levels, Kasper and Diefenbach emphasize that it is the recreational sportsman’s personal responsibility to check river conditions. Call the hotline number at 845/252-7100, and be aware that if the river reaches higher than six feet at either Callicoon or Barryville, life jackets become mandatory. Diefenbach further advises that only expert paddlers should consider being on the river when conditions are this high.

Autumn brings an unusual dimension to river rules with the increased presence of eel weirs, which can create a major hazard for the unprepared paddler. Fall is the time of year when eels are harvested, and paddlers are required to leave a navigable channel on either side of an eel weir. “If you get caught in the middle of an eel trap, get off to the side,” Diefenbach urges.

Finally, when Canada goose hunting season opens, don’t be surprised to see hunters on boats in the river. This is perfectly legal so long as the hunter follows the rules: The hunter’s boat must be anchored, not in motion. There is to be no gunfire within 500 feet of other boats or from residences or businesses on shore.

The Canada geese hunting season is as follows:

Pennsylvania: Oct. 26 to Nov. 30; Dec. 18 to Jan. 15; and Feb. 1 to 28, with a five-goose daily bag limit; 15-goose possession limit.

New York State: Oct. 26 to Dec. 18; Dec. 28 to Jan. 12; Mar. 1 to Mar. 10