The view over Morris Creek from the DWR boat access site.
Written by John Paige Williams
john paige williams pictures
No matter the season, nor which boat you choose, there is something worth seeing and doing at Morris Creek in Charles City County and the Chickahominy River that flows into it. Fortunately, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) provides us with excellent two-lane concrete. boat rampand the adjacent berth for launching kayaks, kayaks and outboards up to 20 degrees or so.
The landing of Morris Creek is part of DWR’s Chickahominy Wildlife Management Area, 5,217 acres of hardwood and mixed pine; Planted and mowed slots and “old fields”; and fresh tidal wetlands. Morris Creek forms its southern boundary, and the Chickahominy River is its eastern fringe. The highlands create an excellent habitat for deer, turkeys, squirrels, rabbits, pigeons, and songbirds. Bald cypress trees on the waterside and tall, dead snags serve bald eagles and eagles (in season) for nest sites, observation, and fish exploration. The creek’s swamps and many indoor beaver ponds attract waterfowl. WMA is on DWR Bird and Wildlife Trail. We see over here For a list of seasonal scenes from Virginia Eberd.
For explorers, bird hunters, and paddle-boat fishermen, there’s enough to see and do in the creek to keep you occupied throughout the day. The drop is roughly in the middle of the creek, two miles of meandering waterway up and downstream. Although the land opposite the WMA is privately owned, it is commercial woodland, so the area seems quite secluded. A canoe or kayak is a great way for birding and fishing, with the usual warnings about wearing appropriate weather clothing (including a suitable life jacket!) and letting someone know where you are going and when to expect to return.
Three more caveats: first, a narrow stream with wooded banks that naturally passes winds; Pay attention to expectations and match the rowing challenge to your skill level. Secondly, Morris Creek undergoes tide change of approximately two feet twice daily (you can check this out Expect NOAA to the main river just outside the mouth of the creek). Third, the current in a deep tide table like this can be strong, even a few decades. It is helpful to determine your itinerary around the wind and current for any day you are there.
Navigating Morris Creek in an outboard sailboat may be physically easier, with the engine doing most of the work, but the winding canal presents its own challenges. The rule of thumb is that the channel will follow the outer sides of the curves, so the deep water tends to be on the wooded sides, with shallow mud on the swampy sides. And this deeper aspect can be very deep.
It’s fascinating to watch how currents in a stream like Morris – and in a river as big as Chickahominy – form their channels. As it accelerates around the outside, it scours deep holes like this one, while the water inside the curve slows down, allowing sediment to settle and form swamps. These are classic zigzag patterns. On our last visit, we saw several turns in the creek at depths 25, and one in the main river above the mouth of the creek 70.
However, the inland turns and bays where streams carry rainwater from the WMA forests, pick up the rich sediment carried by the creek’s water and make excellent use of it. Here, on the mudflats of Morris Creek, plant some of the richest tidal bogs in the Chesapeake. In late summer and fall, the dominant plant is wild rice, growing five to eight feet tall and producing tons of nutritious grain for birds like migratory sora bars and waterfowl that will winter here. Other grain-bearing plants and seeds that contribute to those birds’ diet include rice cane, clever weeds, teardrops, seeds (whose golden flowers complement the rice in fall), and Walter’s millet.
Cypress trees are unusual among conifers in that they are deciduous: their needles turn the rich colors of russet heather in fall, adding to the colors of the creek’s hardwoods. Like hardwoods, it will be bare all winter, but it will bring the promise of a beautiful tender green as spring brings life to the highlands and swamps of Morris Creek.
The meandering pattern of the creek creates a habitat for fish on both sides, which helps produce the fisheries for which the chickens are famous. The deep holes form warm, stable refuges for fish such as blue catfish and white perch in cool weather and, ironically, cool water in the summer heat. Banks trees that fall into the creek form current dividers, where predators like largemouth bass can ambush prey that has swept past. The deep sections of the trees attract the black crappie, which feeds on shiny minnows trying to hide in the limbs. Especially look for and ride cypress trees, which can hold fish of many species.
Look for yellow perch (“ring perch”) in the headwaters of the creek in early spring. Shallow flats on the interior of the bends attract forage bass as the water temperature rises. Morris Creek swamps are large enough that streams formed in several groups to drain rainwater from them. These can be hot spots for both white and yellow perch, and bass will look for the current eddies in their mouths to ambush baitfish as the falling tide pushes them out.
In any tidal stream or river, tides are a major factor in the ways fish use their available habitat. That’s perfect DWR article About how to fish for tides on Chickahominy. (a look over here For more DWR fishing reports, forecasts, and observations from the field articles.)
All of this information, of course, applies to the Chickahumi River itself. It is a much larger and more powerful version of Morris Creek. By all means, if you can, take a chance on it. Be careful as you navigate the S-turn at the mouth of the creek, and keep your grip on the outer sides of the curves, as the water is very shallow on the inside and in the middle.
Outside, you’ll find yourself looking down over the Route 5 bridge to Chickahominy’s mouth, where it meets James. The Gordon Estuary, which is half a mile long, is another beautiful new tributary of the tides, with dozens of other streams to explore in the 20 miles of river to Walker Dam. If Morris Creek was big and rich enough to keep the rower occupied for an entire day, doing justice to the Chickahominy in a skiff would take a lifetime.
John Paige Williams is a famous writer, hunter, educator, naturalist, and conservationist. Over his more than 40 years at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, John Page of Virginia has advocated for Bay’s causes and has educated countless people about its history and biology.
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