One of the star attractions at Caddo Lake is a sunrise or sunset tour on the Lake. The serene waters of the cypress swamp allow fiery orange sunsets to be captured amidst cypress silhouettes. I’m sure you’ve seen many such iconic photos of Caddo Lake. So we set out to do a tour during our long weekend at Caddo Lake.
Dottie’s Spatterdock website had a few recommendations for such tours. We chose Pat Collins from Mossy Brake Camp Swamp Tours. I wanted to do the sunrise tour, but he wasn’t offering one that weekend. He ran a general tour at 8 am and a sunset tour at 630 pm. So we booked the latter instead.
On the evening of the tour, we drove to Pat’s address which also happens to be his home. The backwaters from his home lead to the Caddo Lake swamp. Pat owns a comfortable pontoon boat with a flat bottom that moves silkily along the waters. Large enough to house at least 8 to 10 people and smooth enough to allow great photography, the boat gave all eight passengers adequate space to stand and admire the Lake, take photos, and not be in each other’s way.
After a quick trip to the outhouse, we walked to the slip, where we piled into the boat individually. Our family sat in the back, although I might choose the front seats the next time. One of the gentlemen stood the entire trip, shooting photos, which sometimes meant we couldn’t enjoy the scenery at the front of the boat.
As we settled down, Pat gave us all the safety instructions and we made our way to the main Lake. Caddo Lake swamp covers 26,000 acres of bayous, wetlands, and backwaters. Pat pointed out a beaver dam, home to one of the resident beaver families. There are about six hundred varieties of dragonflies in the area!
Pat pointed out the bald cypress with its knobby knees and Spanish moss overhangs. He also talked about the other trees that grow in the area, including pawpaws, maples, loblolly pines, giant cane, and sweet gum. The last is used for lumber, and its sap has medicinal uses. He also pointed out the American beautyberry shrubs, which help to repel mosquitos.
Although not apparent at first blush, Pat pointed out several lily and lotus pads. We couldn’t identify them since the flowers close shut after about 2 pm and bloom again in the morning sunlight. One way to tell them apart is that the fragrant white lilies grow at the water level, while lotuses tend to rise above the waterline.
We learned that Caddo Lake is the tenth most gator-infested Lake in the US, although we didn’t encounter one. Oil was discovered in the area in the early twentieth century, but drilling wasn’t initially possible due to the wetlands. So the waters of the Lake were dammed, and the world’s first offshore oil well drilling began. To this day, several rigs can be seen, typically on the Louisiana side of the Lake.
One of the biggest problems facing Caddo Lake is the invasive species of Giant Salvinia, an aquatic fern native to South America. Having first arrived at Caddo Lake in 2006, the invasive species has taken over vast swaths of the Lake. The fern doubles in size over 4 to 10 days and is spread by boats exposed to infested waterways and by birds. The Caddo Lake Giant Salvinia Eradication Project is ongoing and uses a multipronged approach: weevils, carp, pesticides, etc. Pesticides are sprayed six times weekly to stop the spread, although eradication so far hasn’t been a viable option.
One of the interesting features that Pat led us through was the Government ditch, an artificial canal dredged by the Corps of Engineers in the 1870s. This canal provided a shortcut for steamboat traffic to Jefferson and allowed a shorter journey for cotton shipping between Texas and Louisiana. The ride through the ditch felt like navigating a majestic tree-lined avenue.
One of the tour’s many highlights was seeing an osprey and its nest, we also saw a couple of cranes. But the piece de resistance was the breathtaking sunset turning the still waters orange. The cypress trees stood outlined, eerily dark sentinels, against the vibrant setting sun. One doesn’t have to be an expert photographer to capture some terrific images here. After taking several shots, as the sunset deepened, it was time to put away the phones and cameras. It was time to luxuriate in the sheer joy of witnessing such a glorious sunset. This sunset tour was such a soul-satisfying experience!
After nearly half an hour of enjoying the setting sun, we turned back, passing Johnson’s Marina, the oldest inland marina in the state. Lots of people crowded the shores, enjoying a relaxing evening. Back at Pat’s home, he expertly guided the boat back into its slip. We paid him in cash for his tour and left.
It was dark by the time we left, there was no cell service on the way back, and street lamps did not illuminate the roads for several miles. Luckily, Sonny JJ remembered our route, and soon we were turning onto the road to Taylor Island. I recommend downloading the directions if you plan to do this tour.
Sunset at Caddo Lake is a memorable and cherishable experience. If you still need to do so, visit Caddo Lake and enjoy a unique sunset!