Warnings: Delta National Forest is very busy and possibly hazardous for the paddler during Hunting Season. Consult river gages before embarking. This section of the Sunflower never gets too low to paddle, only slow.
Big Sunflower River @ Holly Bluff, MS
For this section of the Big Sunflower, you can get an approximate idea of the water level using the USACE River Gage at Holly Bluff:
Below 67: Too Shallow. Frequent dragging and many portages.
70-85: Ideal. Possible portages
85-95: Fast Water Possible. Some Caution Required
Above 95: Dangerous. Advanced paddlers only. Beware snags and strainers.
Reading River levels at Holly Bluff: Low water (Too Shallow) Don’t go below 67 feet on the Holly Bluff Gage (when a lot of dragging through shallows & mud flats will be necessary). Ideal level: 70-85 on the Holly Bluff Gage. Above 90 on the Holly Bluff Gage the current will be swift and extra caution is needed to maneuver through snags, sawyers and possible strainers as river rushes through the thick terrain. Above 95 all of the bankside forest will be underwater, and above 100 (flood stage) there won’t be any dry land to be found, boat ramps & parking lots will be completely submerged.
Historic Levels: Looking at historical data for the Holly Bluff from over the past ten years, the river typically bottoms out around 70 feet on the Holly Bluff Gage with spikes due to rainfall & runoff, sometimes spiking up to 25 feet or higher in several days. A paddler caught in one of these spikes will experience fast water and possible dangerous turbulent conditions. The record low is 64. Bank full and flood stage is at 95 with a record high of 102.3 feet during the great flood of 1937.
Steele Bayou Control Structure: When the Mississippi River is high it forces its watery influence up the Yazoo River and floods all unprotected low-lying areas of the south delta including the bottomlands of the Sunflower River. The Steel Bayou Control Structure was built to shut off the south delta from the effects of the flooding Mississippi. It is located near the mouth of the Sunflower River at the Yazoo just downstream of the Steele Bayou Confluence. When the gates are closed the water might be backing up all of the way into the top end of Delta National Forest, and this section of river below the Anguilla Bridge.
For a complete picture of water conditions, paddlers might want to consult the USACE gage at the upstream side of the Steele Bayou control structure:
And compare it to the downstream side of the Steele Bayou control structure:
When the levels are the same that means the gates are open and there is no piling of water behind the gates. If the downstream (riverside) reading is higher than the upstream (landside) reading, that means the gates are closed and water will be pooling behind. Compare the elevation with the reading at Holly Bluff. If they are the same you can predict that the water is pooled all the way up to Holly Bluff, and possibly beyond. What this means for the paddler in times of pooling is that you might experience no water flow, flooded banks, and possibly flooded forest. This might extend the length of your trip because you will have no assistance from river speed to help you along. On the other hand there will be no danger from fast water conditions and you can lazily explore flooded places normally not accessible.