Survival Story: Brazos River Rising

Last October, Steve Davis, of Richardson, Texas had it all planned out: three days and two nights alone on the upper Brazos River. Steve had visions of beautiful scenery and good fishing during the day, and relaxed evenings camped on the river’s edge each night. He’d paddled this part of the Brazos once before the previous year, but had never overnighted there, and so he was looking forward to the float. With his kayak and provisions packed, and his shuttle service arranged, Steve launched from the Highway 16 Bridge for a solo fishing adventure.  But he may have gotten a little more adventure than he wanted when things went terribly wrong the second night on the river. This is the story of that event, as told by Steve Davis:

I woke up the morning of the second day on the river to cloudy weather but no wind, unlike the first day. So I started out early and fished along the way. I seemed to catch plenty of largemouth bass in the 1-2 pound range but couldn’t find anything bigger. Some light rain started about 11:00 AM, but it was off and on so I didn’t think too much about it. I reached a part of the river with large rocks sticking up from the water and found a 19 foot deep hole, where I caught some 2 pound largemouth and a lot of catfish. After a while, it started to rain pretty heavily, and I fished for another 20 minutes since I was catching fish. But the heavy rains continued so I decided for safety reasons to go find some high ground for a camp spot.

I made my way to the end of the small island near a well-known ranch on the river, and I pitched my tent about 6 feet above the water line. I figured that would be good enough in case I got a lot of rain that night. I pulled my kayak up as close to the tent as I could and then used a tent stake to secure my kayak. At this point the rain was coming down so hard I could not see across the river. There was nothing to do but wait it out. Once the sun went down, it actually got a little spooky, lightning every few minutes, loud thunder and sheets of rain. At one point I considered packing up and paddling the last six miles in the dark but then decided that was a dumb idea.

Surprisingly I slept off and on that night. I woke up at 4:30 AM and water had risen some but not enough to worry about. All was still intact and there was still plenty of land around me. Then I fell asleep again and the next thing I knew, I woke up because it felt like someone was pouring water on my feet. I unzipped my tent and looked out and see the water had risen to the edge of my tent. Of course this set off an alarm in my head so I jumped up, went outside and saw that the large island I’d camped on last night was now barely large enough to hold my tent. I quickly looked around and something that immediately caught my eye…my kayak was gone. It was still dark outside at this point, and it was still raining heavily with plenty of lightning. I quickly packed everything I had into my two dry bags and my backpack and prepared to evacuate. I found my safety whistle and blew out an SOS a few times, in case anyone was nearby. No one was.

By now it was almost sunrise and there was enough light to let me see what options I had. I decided to risk crossing the river to get to some the private property on the other side, about 20 yards. I needed to get to dry land fast, but I couldn’t carry all my provisions, so I grabbed what I could and started wading across the river. The previous day that river channel had been under a foot of water, but I quickly discovered it was now so deep that my feet couldn’t touch the bottom. Suddenly, the current grabbed me, and I was being carried toward the main part of the river. Luckily (I think) I hit a large rock and it stopped me from going out into the river’s main channel. I managed to get to shore and looked down to find a 3-inch gash on my shin, with blood pouring out. But that was the least of my worries. I needed to find my kayak so I pressed on down the river looking for it. I stumbled along the river bank for about 2 hours in pouring rain when I rounded a bend and saw my kayak! My fishing poles, which had been in the kayak’s rod holders when it floated away, got caught up in a tree along the river bank, and they stopped my kayak. Unfortunately it was the other side of the river.

I considered my options including trying to swim across the rain swollen river again. Instead I blew my whistle a few more times hoping for some help, and just then, unbelievably, I saw several canoes coming around the bend. It was a group of basketball players and their coaches who had been out on a camping trip as well. They’d heard the whistle blasts and were looking for the source.  They picked me up and took me over to my kayak. I bandaged my leg with some duct tape and then paddled the remaining few hours to the take out in the rain.

Postscript: One of the things Steve had to abandon on the flooded island that morning was his cooler which contained his portable GPS. A few weeks later another Texas angler found it and contacted Steve to return his GPS (Steve had engraved his name on the GPS). The good Samaritan who returned the GPS wishes to remain anonymous.

Steve Davis

Note: this event was originally posted on the Texas Fishing Forum by Steve Davis. To read that post, click here: Texas Fishing Forum

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  1 comment for “Survival Story: Brazos River Rising

  1. Jimmy
    January 12, 2013 at 10:41 AM

    A friend and I were doing a kayak camping trip that same night. We got off the water early to ensure we had decent shelter for the storm. We were both blown away at the intensity of the lightning and thunder, not to mention the mass volume of rain. We were on the middle brazos and received about 5.5″. We were lucky enough to find a really well sheltered spot on a well elevated area, but the seriousness of the situation was obvious. I read Steve’s original post and felt for him. We got out of there early the next morning. Even though the fishing was a no go it was till enjoyable. We also saw two blad eagles which was amazing

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