Gliding through the water, there was a rustle on shore. I turned to my left in just enough time to see a great blue heron shoot out of the high grass, spreading its more than 3-foot wing span to flap off into the distance.
As my friends and I rounded the bend, Bailey, a black Labrador, swam alongside in her life vest. We laughed at her nose poking out of the water. We happened to look to the left and spot a family of turtles, piled on top of each other and perfectly balanced on a log, sunbathing.
Wandering the Mokelumne River in a boat is the perfect way to spend a morning or afternoon in Lodi, even for beginners. With Headwaters Kayak taking over the Lodi Lake Boathouse this year, visitors and residents can rent kayaks, get a few tips and be out paddling across Lodi Lake and then onto the river in no time. Another option is to go on a tour on Wednesday night or Saturday morning with an experienced guide, or reserve a private tour for groups of six or more.
Dan Arbuckle, owner of Headwaters Kayak, loves seeing people enjoy the river for the first time.
“It’s like taking a little nature hike on the water,” he said. “It lets you go places you wouldn’t see otherwise, that you would pass by on a motor boat.”
The Mokelumne is one of the safest places to paddle, Arbuckle said, because there is very little current, there is protection from the wind and the water is warm.
“It’s one of the most ideal paddling locations in Northern California and it’s right in our backyard, five minutes from home,” he said. “We think you’re crazy not to go out there.”
Arbuckle especially loves seeing families get out on the water. Kids under 10 can go on Headwaters’ guided tours for free, and Arbuckle always brings his 4-year-old son, Ethan, on the Wednesday night sunset paddle.
“We love dogs, too. We had a total of 10 rentals with dogs last Wednesday. It was dog day at Lodi Lake,” he said.
Kayaking as a sport has been growing both in Lodi and nationally. Last year, Headwaters saw about 50 or 60 rentals over a weekend. This year, it’s up to 120 — and that’s before Memorial Day.
Arbuckle said business has increased about 50 percent compared to last year, and that includes selling kayaks. He sells a wide variety of standard and specialty kayaks, stand-up paddleboards and general water sport gear at his store off Turner Road in Lodi.
“It just seems like we’ve reached a critical mass where people are getting out there, enjoying the river,” he said. “We have many people who bought their basic kayak from us last year, and (this year) they are upgrading and getting their family and friends involved.”
The shop also has seen an increase in interest for its tours. The Wednesday night sunset paddle starts at 5 p.m. at the beginning of the season, but it will start later as sunset does. It is a 2-hour trip to Mason Beach and back. Those with their own boats can join the sunset tour, but need to reserve a spot.
The other main tour is guided by Bill Beckett, who has a master’s degree in wildlife biology. It’s a two-hour, leisurely paddle geared more toward spotting wildlife and birds. The tour meets at 8:30 a.m. and is on the water by 9.
All tours require a reservation and cost $25 and include the boat, a paddle and a personal floatation device.
Headwaters also offers private tours for groups of six or more, which can include a lunch or a winery tour after the paddle.
“We want people to get out on the water and enjoy the river,” Arbuckle said.