Plymouth to County Road M: A truly engaging little stream surrounded by a lot of natural beauty, but the two main problems a paddler will face on the Mullet are low-water conditions and a considerable amount of deadfall – often in pushy current, leading to potentially dangerous circumstances.
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆
Trip Report Date: October 20, 2016
Otter Creek: ht/ft: 4.35 | cfs: 3.2
Gauge note: This is a correlation gauge, one to be taken with a few grains of salt (so to speak), as it does not directly indicate conditions on the Mullet. If nothing else, this gauge at least provides data for recent rain, but correlating the height or streamflow is ambiguous at best, inaccurately misleading at worst. The most reliable (though least satisfying) thing to do is simply visually gauge the Mullet River below the dam at Veterans Park. If it looks too shallow there, don’t waste your time – or your boat – trying to paddle this, as it will be punishing.
This was too shallow a level to paddle.
Veterans Park, Plymouth, Wisconsin
Park along County Road PP immediately east of County Road M bridge
Time: Put in at 12:00p. Out at 4:20p.
Total Time: 4h 20m
Miles Paddled: 9.75
Great blue herons, ducks, geese, muskrats and turtles.
6.4 miles, mostly along County Road PP. Totally adequate for bicycling.
Unlike the hairstyle, the Mullet is a river you want to love, even though it looks awful and ugly at times (in some conditions it’s gorgeous – like at a Skynyrd show or monster truck rally). It has such rich potential, tumbling down the hills of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, a classic glacial stream with cold, clear water in a rocky bottom through leaf-carpeted woods and raised plains. This trip in particular begins with a bang and does not whimper whatsoever (party in the front and back, if you will).
But the Mullet is a very rain-dependent river, and catching it with enough water to paddle without scraping and bumping two hundred times will be tricky at best. On the other hand, it will be downright dangerous when it’s too high, as A) the pushy current will careen you into immovable obstacles and B) some of the low-clearance bridges may be impassable as well. That’s the rub of this Goldilocks river. Yup, Goldilocks and mullets, together at last.
The Mullet River has been on our radar for years, but it’s just far away enough and there’s next to no intel on it that we haven’t given it a maiden gamble until now. We were up in the area anyway, and the time was nigh to give it a shot, even though we knew it was low – heartbreakingly low. Or, in the case of Timothy, boat-breakingly low (of course! again!). It’s a good thing we scored that corporate sponsorship from Piranha!
We’re kidding, alas. Though if anyone from Piranha is out there – or, really, any kayak manufacturer – we’d gladly and gratefully accept a dummy demo boat instead of kicking the crap out of our own over and over.
After scouting several bridges from Greenbush to Glenbeulah to Plymouth, we determined that the best place to attempt such a paddle was below the dam in Plymouth. From Greenbush to Camp Evelyn and beyond the river is so narrow you could play jump the brook and so shallow that if you landed in the water only your ankle would be submerged. That said, it’s really pretty and wild-feeling in these areas. But we didn’t want to hassle with the huge lake caused by the Plymouth dam. Hence beginning below it and hoping for the best.
What we liked:
The first mile of this trip is picturesque and quaint as can be. Immediately below the dumb dam at Veterans Park the unassuming Mullet flows in the shadows behind the main street business district in downtown Plymouth, a remarkably charming little town. On your left is a steep hillside, at the bottom of which is a streetlamp-lined pedestrian path, while on the right is the back-facing facades of the business district buildings, almost all of which are contiguous. Riffles and tiny ledges begin right away and for the most part don’t diminish for the rest of this trip.
Unfortunately, obstructions also begin right away and don’t really diminish either for the rest of this trip. Not even 10 minutes into the trip we realized that we’d forgotten our trusty handsaw and clippers in the car. Being the good stewards (re: suckers) we are, we got out, walked back to the car, retrieved the tools and returned to resume the trip. It’s a good thing we did, too – well, at least for future paddlers – as there was a whole lot of crap to cut and saw off.
The landscape will open up as you come into a spacious public park by County Road C and Highway 67 – just after passing a massive fiberglass cow statue with a historical marker calling to mind Plymouth’s rich cheese past (and present – Sargento and Great Lakes both are in the vicinity). The current will slow down briefly as you enter a pretty marsh section. On the downstream side of the second Highway 67 bridge lies a small ledge. Then there’s a large lake-like pond section you’ll have to slog through. What’s curious about this is what causes the impoundment. On the far eastern edge of the pond are the remnants of a dam, or at least what appear to be as such. But they’re very small, like 8’ wide at best and only 3-18” above the water. That can’t very well create a fake lake, can it? Nonetheless, just to the right of the remnants is a rocky Class I-II drop. You’ll see some office building on the right bank as you come within earshot of the rapid. It’s a straightforward run – just line yourself with the “tongue” of water – but you will want to pay attention.
After this drop and all the way to the next bridge at Shortcut Road things get pretty dodgy, unfortunately.
For the next few miles the Mullet meanders about sections of woods and meadows, the current alternating between rocky riffles (shallow) and sandy slow spots (deep). Here and there will be a logjam requiring you to portage. Again, we did clear out plenty of nasty strainers; but the Mullet is so narrow that odds are good that conditions will change soon, if they haven’t already – and usually not for the better.
You’ll pass under several road bridges – County Road PP, Blueberry Lane, and Pleasant View Road, not to mention a railroad bridge and a low-clearance farm bridge. At least during our paddle, on the downstream side of Blueberry Lane was what looked like a small kitchen table in the water, one of those found objects that has either been there forever or temporarily deposited after the last high-water event – and likely to be swept away again during the next one.
Eventually you’ll come into a stretch of tall, stately weeping willows. You’ll also have been hearing a whole lot of road noise. Both of these indicate the bridge at Highway 57. Here again, things get a little dicey. When we paddled this trip, the middle section of the bridge tunnel was totally open (the left and right tunnels were obstructed). It is to be hoped that this often is the case, because if not, this would be one hell of a horrible portage! (The banks are really steep here, and Highway 57 itself is a major road with four total lanes and very fast moving traffic. Imagine the video game Frogger – but with a kayak on your shoulder.) Anyway, there are random standing waves in the middle of the tunnel. This was both cool and kind of unnerving, since it’s all but pitch black. Since when are there rapids in tunnels? Apparently all bets are off on the Mullet.
Below Highway 57 one enters a pretty and engaging boulder garden. Needless to say, this would have been more fun in less shallow water… You’re essentially at the halfway point here. After this the river runs through woods and pastures alike, each often featuring steep banks and gentle hillsides. By and by, development is sparse. It’s all very pretty and quite intimate (even for Timothy, despite being distracted by sponging out gallons of water in his leaky-ass kayak). And as before, the gradient will alternate between steep and riffly and calm and smooth.
The take-out for this trip is an impromptu park we happened upon along County Road PP and assume that it’s public since there are two picnic tables there and no signs stating it’s private property or admonishing no trespassing. There are no facilities or designated launch, and there’s only roadside parking, but otherwise it seems totally legit and is convenient.
We would be remiss not to give a proper and much deserved shout out to the town of Plymouth (and not just because we’re writing this report the day before Thanksgiving or that Timothy used to live in Massachusetts). One of the things we truly love about paddling in general is the places we discover along the way. The small town of Plymouth is a prime example of this. For a population of only 8,400, consider the following: it’s got an awesome coffee shop (that once was the town bank; and the vault, safe and other such fiduciary features have been preserved and are part of the café’s reconstruction); an independent musical instruments store as well as independent book store; not just one, but two awesome pizza shops, not to mention several other restaurants – none of them chain franchises; and even a so-called nano brewery (smaller than a micro brewery) with a great tap selection and free wi-fi and popcorn. How such a place thrives seems almost too good to be true. But we’re sure glad it does and we look forward to returning in future many more times.
What we didn’t like:
Have we mentioned how low the river was? Or that for the fourth time in 14 months Timothy’s kayak started taking in water?
We knew it would be a bumpy ride and it got pretty frustrating at times. But that’s just bad timing. But what good timing is, or when, is a mystery. As a rule, we hate saying there’s no correlative gauge for river levels and that you have to visually gauge it. That’s fine and dandy if y’all are already in the area but it’s somewhat useless if coming from afar. There are consolation trip alternatives – the Onion and Sheboygan rivers both are quite close and comparable to the Mullet, if the latter is too shallow to paddle. But still.
The main thing we didn’t like about the Mullet is just how congested it is with jams and dangerous strainers. It’s soberingly obvious that not many paddlers are tackling this section, which is unfortunate because it would be a real gem if cleaned up.
The worst segment of tree debris is just after the Class I-II ledge on the eastern edge of the pond, near downtown. Here, the river is narrow, the current strong and there’s an ugly cluster of strainers in every direction. The worst of which – and we tried to get some pictures of this, but the conditions were seriously unsafe for this – was a sheer 2’ drop (not a diagonal ledge) through a slot only as wide and tall. We had to nudge our way towards this by holding onto a log already in the water, ducking and then hoping for the best.
After that you can’t do anything but plow your way through strainers like a bull in a china shop, closing your eyes and putting your hands in front of you to block from being scraped or whacked. You’re pretty much a kayak juggernaut with no brakes… The whole ride lasted probably two minutes long and it definitely was an adrenaline rush, but it was a little harried too, not gonna lie. Unfortunately, there just was too much of the stuff and the current was too pushy to do any maintenance. This section could be tidied up in winter when the river freezes or during a summer drought, but who is realistically going to do that ?
On such a stream it’s totally reasonable to anticipate some portaging, and that’s fine, part of paddling in general. But portaging around or over a down tree is different than having to plow through overhanging branches and snags. One is a nuisance, the other unsafe.
If we did this trip again:
In higher water we’d definitely do this again, although probably not until we either knew of it being better maintained or returned ourselves to do so (again, either in winter or summer, as conditions allowed). The Mullet River is rich in potential (unlike the hairstyle) and deserves a good grooming.