Napa Valley Hydro: Things To Do on the Water

Autumn’s coming – the temps are easing back into the double-digits and there’s a hint of crispness in the air. It’s a perfect time to find a kayak or a fishing pole or even your bathing suit and take one last plunge before summer officially ends (the fall equinox is September 22 this year). Lucky for you, Napa Valley has a huge variety of things to do in or on the water.

Lake Hennessy is a beautiful, 860-acre man-made lake located just up the hill east of St. Helena. Because it’s the primary water source for the city, there are some strict regulations for its use. Fishing and boating are allowed, for example, but no bodily contact with the water is permitted – so no swimming or paddleboards. It’s a gorgeous spot for canoeing or kayaking, birding, or even just hiking around the perimeter. The lake is lovely and quiet, with a 10 mph speed limit for boats. Fisherpersons (age 16 or older) must get an annual or daily fishing and boating permit from the lake’s caretaker – drop your daily fee in the drop box at the boat launch – but it’s well worth the effort. Hennessy’s fish include rainbow trout, largemouth and smallmouth bass, channel and white catfish, bluegill, red-ear sunfish, black crappie, and brown and yellow bullhead. (If you come here during winter or spring, the Department of Fish and Game stocks the lake with approximately 6,000 pounds of rainbows from November through April.)

The Napa River flows 55 miles from north of Calistoga to Napa, where it forms a tidal estuary into Mare Island Strait and San Pablo Bay through the Napa Sonoma Marsh. During the summer months, it’s all but dried up north of Yountville, but the Napa section is always deep enough for water sports. It also supports a community of fish species even more diverse than the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems, including steelhead, Chinook salmon, lamprey, hardhead, hitch, perch and white sturgeon – however, because the river has been prioritized for special protection, fishing is restricted. Even the California Golden Beaver has returned to colonize in certain spots.

Because of its good weather and calm conditions, the Napa River is a perfect spot for canoeing and kayaking at all skill levels. To rent equipment or schedule a tour, try Napa Valley Adventure Tours, Kayak Napa Valley, or Getaway Adventures. The Land Trust of Napa County offers several guided kayak paddles each year that are free to members. (Learn about upcoming trips on their website under Activities/Field Trips;membership fees start at $30.) Or learn to stand-up paddle with High Water Stand Up Paddle, which offers rentals, classes, and private lessons. Some of the above outfits also host regular “river clean-up days,” which are a great way to meet some locals and teach the kids about environmental protection.

Smith’s Trout Farm is another great way to spend a September afternoon, especially with kids. You don’t need your own equipment or fishing license, just bring a picnic (they have gas barbecues for grilling). Since the lake is well stocked, even the novice fisherperson is guaranteed to catch something. It’s like a day straight out of Mayberry, RFD.

So grab your hat and your sunscreen and get out there while the getting’s good!

Kirsten Mickelwait is a St. Helena-based writer who has lived and raised her family in the Napa Valley for nearly 20 years.

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