“All rivers lead to the sea” and Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey all have rivers fed by networks of tributaries and streams leading to bays, harbors, and the ocean. Having explored many, I keep finding new opportunities to be surrounded by nature from the vantage point of a power boat, kayak or canoe.
Flora, fauna, and history abound on these rivers. Many had grain and saw mills during our years as a colony and infant country. They are birthing grounds for fish such as Atlantic salmon, alweis, perch, and sea run trout. Most are navigable by vessels from shallow draft catboats to deep draft ocean crafts. Once these waterways brought farm products, timber, fin and shellfish to population centers such as New York City, Jersey City, Bridgeport, New London, etc. Major shipping centers depended on river-borne products to provision whaling and shipping vessels. Today these rivers are meccas for kayaking, paddle boarding, and exploring with larger boats.
On Long Island, the Peconic River originates in the Brookhaven bogs meandering through the Pine Barrens. It's the only river running west to east flowing into Peconic Bay at Riverhead. There are launch points for kayaks and canoes along this pristine river. The lower part is navigable by pleasure boats. There are marinas and town docks to tie up. You will sight egrets, hawks, osprey, wild turkey, deer, turtles and non-poisonous snakes along the banks. Large and small mouth bass, pickerel, perch and other fish species inhabit the upper river. As the Peconic meets Riverhead, saltwater species become prominent. Riverhead is the home of Atlantis Aquarium, which educates and entertains youngsters, protects wetlands and rescues sea mammals. Well worth a visit and a donation.
Moving west on the South Shore is Forge River. It runs 3.2 miles originating at East and West mill ponds near Mastic. It abuts the William Floyd Estate once owned by William Floyd, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and operated by the National Seashore. This river is easy to kayak and is rebounding from pollution caused by duck farms once lining its shores. Bald eagles, herons, egrets and osprey inhabit these wetlands. Water depth up the river is questionable for boats other than kayaks and canoes. It is not recommended to enter this river beyond its mouth in a power boat. You can launch kayaks from your boat by anchoring securely near the mouth or launch from shore sites up the river.
Carman's River begins in Brookhaven's Cathedral Pines Park flowing10 miles to the Great South Bay near quaint Bellport. It is fed by ground water and “dammed” in four places preventing several species of native fish moving from the tidal salt water area up to fresh water to spawn. This is being rectified by installing fish ladders. Nature abounds here! From the Barrens, it flows through the wetlands of Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge then past the Manor of St. George, site of a victorious attack by Revolutionary soldiers against British forces who used it as a fort. The saltwater portion is navigable and a small private marina is on the west side. My friends Kent and MJ keep a catboat there and know the waters well enough not to run aground. There are kayak and canoe launch points starting in South Haven Park. You can easily ''portage” over the small dams.
East Patchogue has a small gem - the Swan River. Starting in Medford, it is four miles in length, crystal clear and bountiful in wildlife. It supports native born brook trout and large sea run trout visit the tidal portion. It is secluded and natural but there is some shoreline development. Kayak launch sites are at Swan River Park Preserve on Montauk Highway. The Swan is one of a few spring fed rivers on Long Island making it worth exploring and fishing. Larger pleasure boats utilize the tidal portion where there are some marinas.
The Patchogue River, just west of the Swan, is fairly deep and a mile long. Once boat builders abounded on the banks. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Gil Smith built his famous catboats here. Part of his facility is now home to the National Park Service, caretakers of Fire Island and the William Floyd Estate. Across the river is Weeks Boat Yard - still operating in its original boat barns and sheds. Park Service boats and ferries ply the waters. Kayakers - stay alert! There are restaurants to tie up and dine while watching this busy little river do its thing. Shoot across the Great South Bay from here and visit Watch Hill when its renovation is complete or visit the “New Inlet” across from Bellport.
The South Shore of the Island has one more river I will discuss - the Connetquot in Oakdale. Its shores show evidence of mansions that adorned it. It is wide and navigable by pleasure craft in the lower portion passing the beautiful fields and woods of Bayard Arboretum to the west. On the north end are remains of the Vanderbilt Mansion called ''Idle Hour''. The river accommodates kayaks, canoes, and boats. For power boats, the east side is the safest bet. It is fed by a spring six miles north in the 3,500 acres of Connetquot State Park hosting the best trout fishing in our area. Register at the park office off Sunrise Highway to reserve a time and spot. The river above "Idle Hour" is inaccessible to all vessels. There are restaurants and marinas near where it flows into the Great South Bay.
On the North Shore of Long Island is the 8 ½ mile Nissequogue River that begins in quiet, woodsy, Caleb Smith State Park. It has great launching sites and is very popular with the kayak and canoe posse. You glide through incredible wetlands with osprey circling above and seabirds on the shores. The upland wooded section is fresh water with trout, sunnies, and turtles prevalent. Midway to the Sound, the water turns brackish which is favorable to stripers, bluefish, and crabs. This river's mouth gets snotty depending on the tide and the wind. Power boats venture forth from river marinas and the wide western part allows mooring. Prudent boaters should familiarize themselves with the dynamics of this river before venturing to forth.
Now we cross the Sound to Connecticut. The Mystic, Thames and Connecticut are important rivers out letting to the Long Island Sound.
Mystic River is 3.4 miles long, perfect for boaters and kayakers, and home to Mystic Seaport Museum, an institution dedicated to preserving nautical heritage. Here vessels are functionally restored. The whaling ship Charles A. Morgan along with period buildings and other antique boats connect us to voyages of more than a century ago. Entering from the Sound, the Mystic takes you back in time. Kayak launch sites are along the Mystic which can be located on “VisitNewEngland.com”. Deep keel vessels have little trouble here. But check your GPS and charts when entering any unfamiliar water.
The Thames is a 15-mile tidal river fed by upland streams and passes through New London. The entrance is marked by the 19th-century forts “Griswold” to the east and 'Trumbull” on the west. It is home to the Coast Guard Academy, Groton U.S.Submarine base, and the General Dynamics Submarine building facility. It is navigable to Nuclear Submarines so average boaters should have few problems. Kayakers find up river more comfortable, less crowded and more scenic. Close to New London and the Sound, ferries, subs, tankers and fishing boats can seem threatening to unseasoned boaters. A large marina is on the west side of the lower river and a few smaller ones up the river. It is worth visiting the Sub base and Submariners Museum. Canoe and kayak launch sites are found at beautiful Poquetanuck Cove. Locate additional sites on the internet.
The Connecticut River begins near the Canadian border and straddles the Vermont and New Hampshire borders. It flows through Massachusetts and Connecticut to Long Island Sound at Old Saybrook. It is the largest in New England (406 miles) and fed by numerous streams and tributaries. Farmland thrives along the river valleys and on its banks stood Armament Industries that helped the Union win the Civil War and the Allies, WWII. Those factories are now being re-purposed. Canoeing and kayaking are popular on the 300 mile “Paddlers Run” which provides primitive riverside campsites for enthusiasts. Once polluted, environmental groups fought back. Nesting bald eagles and other species are now frequently sighted. The lower portions widen and falls can be portaged. If you are power boating make yourself knowledgeable of the river entrance from the Sound because the river silt builds up sand bars. If you have kayaks on your boat, once you are settled in a safe anchorage, launch them and enjoy.
Now we skip over the East River (not a river but a tidal flow) and the mighty Hudson and we move to the New Jersey Meadowlands. “Bruce” territory where the Hackensack River winds from Harriman towards New York Harbor. Considered one of our most polluted rivers due to industrial waste, it has become the “Jersey Strong“. Under stewardship of the Hackensack Riverkeeper Inc., the river is alive with fin, shellfish, and birdlife sharing wetlands with industry. Captain Bill Sheehan states “ For far too long the lower Hackensack was abused by polluters, treated like a sewer, and ultimately left for dead. But today, thanks to the thousands of people who...continue to stand with us for clean water, this resource is being discovered....by a new generation of anglers, boaters, paddlers and ...folks who love to spend some time at the riverside.” There are many places to launch and visit by boat right in the shadow of the impressive Manhattan skyline. Check their website”hackensackriverkeeper.org” where you will find an impressive lineup of programs, launch sites and keeper boat tours run by amiable Hugh Carola, the program director.
The last river you may want to explore is the Matawan. Some argue it is a creek. History pedigrees it as a river. At Keyport on Raritan Bay marinas dot the scenic shore. It is located in Monmouth County, N.J. close to NYC's Staten Island. It flows from Marlboro Township north and northeast to Keyport. The lower portion is navigable though masted vessels remain below the bridges at Route 35 and 6 due to low clearance. Fishing is plentiful in both salt and freshwater areas. Kayakers frequent this river year long. You can contact ''nynjbaykeeper.org'' for launch sites. But you may want to reconsider. The Matawan was the site of two shark attacks in 1916 during New Jersey’s “Maneater” summer when attacks at Long Beach and Spring Lake beaches killed two. In the Matawan on July12th, one boy swimming and his attempting rescuer were attacked 11 miles upriver. Both died. Heading downstream an hour later a shark attacked another boy who lost his leg. The Matawan entered sensationalist history. Some claim it was a Great White. Most likely it was a Bull Shark since they visit freshwater portions of rivers. But this is a century-old anomaly. Get out there and start paddling.
There are many more rivers in our area. I've accounted for twelve from Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Many more are ready to explore, enjoy and enrich us with the natural world. Whether you own a large boat, a canoe, or a kayak, these rivers belong to you and your children. Keep them clean and support the river keepers.
The websites listed below are just a few sources for information and programs. Oh! And one more thing! ALWAYS wear your LIFE VEST!