Exploring Natchez Trace State Park on Foot
I like exploring new places. It usually doesn’t matter where it is, either, as long as it is outside! So when I got the chance to visit Natchez Trace State Park in west-central Tennessee last spring, I jumped at it. The annual conference of the Tennessee Outdoor Writers Association was being held at the park, and since I am a TOWA member my wife Lori and I hit the road and headed for the park.
The Pin Oak Lodge inside Natchez Trace State Park is situated right on the shores of beautiful Pin Oak Lake. This impoundment provides the perfect backdrop for fishing, boating, hiking, birding, camping, nature photography – you name it. We opted for staying at the lodge rather than camping, and it made for a very pleasant stay.
TENNESSEE OUTDOOR WRITERS ASSOCIATION
The TOWA conference was interesting and informative. This was the first
time we had attended this conference, so everything was new. We met a lot of great people and made a bunch of new friends. I’m sure many of them will be life-long friends.
After the TOWA conference ended, Lori and I decided to stay for a couple extra days. We wanted to concentrate on hiking and birding, and I snuck in a little fishing, too. After all, Pin Oak Lake is a well-known bass lake, and I was interested in seeing if I could find any largemouth bass that would come out and play.
FISHING NATCHEZ TRACE STATE PARK
Before our first morning hike, I grabbed my fishing rod and told Lori I just needed to “take a few casts.” She has heard that before, but she didn’t mind. She had the camera in case any interesting birds appeared. There were benches located in several places along the shoreline, too, and she sat there watching birds flitting back and forth in the treetops and listening to their cheerful songs. The cool breeze coming off the water felt good, too.
I walked silently to the water’s edge and flipped a small Rapala floating minnow out beyond the branches of a fallen tree that was resting half in the water and half out. I saw the flash of a fish as I retrieved the lure past the submerged branches, but he missed the bait. On my second cast, he nailed it!
I set the hook and saw a chunky largemouth bass rocket out of the water. It was probably only 14 inches long, but it put up a good fight. I lip-landed it and then released it, and got myself ready for the next cast. For the next several casts, I either caught a bass or had a strike on every cast. It was great fun! I think I caught six bass from that one spot, although none of them were giants. The average size was probably 12 inches, but that didn’t matter to me.
When the action in that spot slowed, I moved down the shoreline closer to where Lori was sitting on one of the benches. It took a few additional moves down the shoreline to find another spot with cooperative fish, and this spot was almost directly in front of where she was sitting. I quickly caught a small bass, and she snapped a couple photos of me hauling it in.
Then I saw some fish splashing at the surface and chasing minnows, so I moved over a bit more and made a few casts in that area. It didn’t take long for me to find out what was causing all of the splashing. A feisty fish slammed my lure and took off, but it was too small to make a sustained run. It was a hand-sized yellow bass! I snapped a photo of it and kept fishing. There must have been a small school of those yellow bass nearby, because I caught and released three or four of them before Lori told me it was time for a hike.
NATCHEZ HIKING TRAILS
We walked back to the car and I put away my fishing rod and Lori grabbed her favorite walking stick. We headed for the Oak Ridge Trail and started our first hike. The weather was perfect for a leisurely hike. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze and the birds were active.
Just as we started up the trail, a bright red summer tanager flew by in front of us and landed on a tree branch. It was a bit far away, but I was able to focus the camera lens on it and snap a few photos before it flew off. Before it disappeared, however, it sang several beautiful notes for us.
Farther down the trail, a smaller and better camouflaged bird landed in the branches of a tall bush. I pointed the camera again and snapped several photos as it flitted in and out of view. I was not sure what it was until I got back to the room later and looked at the photos. It was a white-eyed vireo, and that was the first time either of us had ever seen one.
PIN OAK HIKING TRAIL
We finished hiking the Oak Ridge Trail and went on to hike the Pin Oak Trail, too. This trail stays within sight of the shores of Pin Oak Lake, and we saw different species of birds there. Bluebirds, eastern kingbirds, thrushes and a tufted titmouse all made an appearance. At one point there was a sudden outbreak of loud chattering in the nearby treetops, and we spotted three pairs of orchard orioles moving in and out of the thick branches. We had never seen orchard orioles before, either, so it was a real treat.
These two short trails were just enough to whet our hiking appetite. Tomorrow we had plans to hike the longer Cub Lake Trail and then check out at least some of the 40-mile long Red Leaves Trail. That should keep us busy. Natchez Trace State Park has plenty of room for exploring!