Kaukauna Joy Ride

Downriver from the power utility dam in Kaukauna, WI, the Fox River passes through a wall-lined channel before exiting downtown. The river then fans out around an assortment of islands, creating creeks and channels before recombobulating to continue its northbound journey to empty into Green Bay.

My original plan for this past Saturday was to join more than 100 kayakers on the sixth annual Appleton Locks Paddle, an event that passes through one of two remaining manually operated river locks in the U.S. However, because of recent heavy rains the Fox River swelled to a dangerously high level for the NEWP-sponsored flatwater event. That event was cancelled, or at least postponed until Oct. 1.

With my Saturday suddenly free, I considered joining a group of paddlers who were meeting in Kaukauna to tackle a different section of the Fox… the whitewater part. Flow through this section is controlled by Kaukauna Utility. To ease potential upstream flooding , the utility released a lot of water Saturday. A LOT of water. Reports put the flow at 6,120 cubic ft./sec. (CFS). For comparison, the average discharge of the Fox is 4,132 CFS.

I kayaked this run once before when the level was considerably lower but I would not have paddled Kaukauna this past Saturday without someone leading the way through the many islands and braided channels. A Facebook group post said Dave Farin would be there. Good. I knew Dave. As it turned out, another paddler I know with extensive knowledge of the Kaukauna runs, Rob Smage (aka Root River Rob), was also there. With Aaron and Brett rounding out our group of five, I was hopeful we would enjoy a great day on the water.

After arriving at the river, Dave and I scouted the scene. As the river rushed by, it formed rollers and tall wave trains. Even though he had paddled here many times, Dave told me he had never run it with the water level this high. Okay… that gave me pause. However, Dave seemed confident enough. High water can wash out otherwise surfable waves, and eddies — those calm spots in the river where you can relax and catch your breath — are likely few and far between. But this past Saturday there were surfable waves aplenty, adequate eddies and crazy creeking. A pure joy ride.

Instead of trying to describe all the features, I recommend this excellent in-depth description provided by American Whitewater, much of it written by Rob Smage.

Rob approached the precipice of Infant Falls.

Rob approaches the precipice of Infant Falls on the Fox River.

You can also check out my Xensr 3D motion tracks:

First half of our 9/24/16 run

Second half of our 9/24/16 run 

Put-in is under the Hwy 55 bridge. This GPS track was roughly the first half of our run.

Put-in is under the Hwy 55 bridge. This GPS track shows roughly the first half of our run.

This GPS track shows the rest of our run to the take-out along Cty ZZ.

This GPS motion track shows the rest of our run to the take-out along Cty ZZ. Total distance was about 3-1/2 miles. We took our time, 2-1/2 hours to run it. As David said, we paddled pretty much everything that was playable.


  • Rob Smage

    To give credit where credit is due . . . MOST of the description on AW for this run is actually courtesy of Brian Tungate. I mostly did minor edits and formatting to his excellent write-up from years back.

    • admin

      Thanks for the clarification, Rob. But also, thanks for all the other river reports you have originated or contributed to. Do you have an approximate count of how many different river sections for which you have written reports?

      • Rob Smage

        Ohh, geeez, don’t even ask . . . too hard to count. I’ve laid hands (in one way or another) on *almost* every AW description in the Upper Midwest (MI/MN/WI), plus many in the rest of the Midwest. I do take (and encourage) help wherever and whenever I can get it. But . . . being (Volunteer) Regional StreamTeam Editor is an honor I take quite seriously, so I tend to obsess about having as much info as possible on AW.

        Also, I’m enough of a dataholic that I’ve kept a ‘boater log book’ (from when I started kayaking 30 years ago), and I’ve tallied rivers I’ve run versus river/section counts to run analysis: I’ve run roughly 40% of the sections listed on AW for WI/MI/MN. On one hand, that’s a pretty good tally . . . on the other hand, it means there’s a lot I haven’t seen! (And it’s not just from skipping the class I-II stuff far afield, or the class V-VI stuff . . . there’s just a decent number of solid runs I never got to! However, these days, a fair amount can be gleaned online (from aerial views, topo maps, YouTube & Vimeo, message boards and FB groups, etc), so in the absence of someone else volunteering a write-up (as Brian did for this run) I use as much of that as I can to (in some small way) flesh out the runs I’ve not seen firsthand.

  • I was happy to sit back and let Rob take charge. He lead us through all of the fun spots I am aware of. And we all had lots to choose from. Hopefully, we’ll see similar levels on Sunday during the final release of the season on the Fox River through Kaukauna.

What do you think? Please comment!