Friday, July 20, 2012
Saturday, May 26, 2012
|A picture from a two day float this week|
But when you get a couple of miles down the access, your perception will most likely have changed. By this time, you'll be away from most of the trash and the signs of man's abuse that you see at the areas where the road meets the river. You will have also likely caught a few of the river's plentiful smallmouth, largemouth, and spotted bass, or dozens of the small but exquisitely colorful longear sunfish. Because that's what gets me about this river; its appearances are entirely deceiving.
Mud. Lots of it. It seems like if there is even a few drops of rain, the river will get high and blow out. The river doesn't fish well for anything but invasive spotted bass, drum, and catfish. There are plenty of rivers with more smallmouth bass and better scenery, so it's not worth your time.These are all things you will hear about the Bourbeuse.
Fisherman can be a close-minded lot. If a stream doesn't fit into to the preconceived notion of what they are looking for, it's no good. If the water isn't always clear, and if the current isn't always fast, you might as well just drive on past, right?
True, if you want to fish fashionable water, where guide services operate and magazine writers visit. But if you want to fish secluded water, that has all of the hills, bluffs, deep, rocky holes, and bass that you can find on the most popular of Ozark streams, then maybe you should give a little river like this one a try. Maybe you'll hate it, but maybe you'll find it hard afterwards to make yourself visit more traveled waters. Set your preconceived notions aside and let the old, muddy river take you away.
Monday, May 14, 2012
People often wonder why I go about fishing like this. I've long since given up on chasing the next big thing, the new innovation that is sure to land bigger fish and more of them. My preferred methods involve an old five weight and a small box full of traditional dry flies and nymphs, none of which were invented in the last decade. When I spin-fish, it's with an old Shakespeare I picked up a couple of years ago for about $25, and my tackle box holds mostly Rebel Craws, Rooster Tails, Jitterbugs, hair jigs, and a few other odds and ends. Someone once told me that this reminded them of their grandfather's tackle box 30 or 40 years ago. I'm not sure how the guy meant that, but I took it as about the biggest compliment that I could possibly receive.
Because that's what fishing is about, for some of us anyway. It can be a way of rejecting the 21st century, all of the complications and so-called benefits that our modern society represents. Likewise, it can be a way of reconnecting with the unspoiled nature that our forefather's enjoyed, "a world with dew still on it" as it was so poetically called in A River Runs Through It. Sometimes we get so focused on careening forward towards the future that we forget that fishing (and particularly fly fishing) is something with a rich tradition that is worth embracing.
So forgive the fact that I'm not interested in trying Alabama Rigs, the newest line of salt-impregnated soft plastics, or synthetic fly tying material. You can say I'm just hopelessly stuck in the past, but fishing has always been one of the few areas of my life where I've been able to avoid having to make too many concessions to our hectic, fast-paced society. That's why it can provide so much peace of mind, and why catching a few green sunfish on an old, obsolete fly pattern can be so worthwhile.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
I love days like today. By late afternoon, there wasn't a cloud to be seen, the sky an ethereal blue. The temperature was a crisp 65 degrees. It took me awhile to really start enjoying myself though. It almost always does. The world I live in on a day to day basis is about as fast paced and hectic as it gets, always moving from one responsibility to another. It isn't easy to turn that off, to really get into something as aimless and lighthearted as fishing. But eventually, it always draws me in. After a bit, I always start listening to the birds, feeling the gentle breeze, and seeing the golden sunlight of the early evening.
And today was no different. It didn't take all that long to become absorbed in my fishing, to focus on working the deep, rocky hole in front of me. And it really was an exceptionally pretty pool, the stream almost turning at a right angle against a steep bluff face. This pool looked so good that I half expected to start catching fish right away, but it took a full thirty minutes and quite a bit of experimenting to finally be rewarded. But as always, it couldn't have been more worth it.
There aren't a lot of smallmouth in this stream, but when this fish took my crankbait there was never even a shadow of a doubt. I've always thought that no fish fights so hard or makes such a good account of themselves' as a smallmouth, and this one made sure he didn't prove me wrong. After a very healthy tussle, a ten inch native comes to hand. There's no moment in a fisherman's life more sweet than this one. As I held this fish, the very image of perfection in my hand, I felt a thrill. Fish like this one have been here for unknown thousands of years. Even though this stream, and the land around it doesn't look anything like it did then, this fish, this relic, still somehow survives. It is God's work of art.
And then it is all anti-climax. I released the fish, and it swam away to its lair, hopefully to produce many more just like him in the future. I decided that this pool had given me all that I wanted to take from it, and moved upstream. I caught a few more fish, just bluegill and green sunfish, but I had already gotten what I had come there for, the little dose of perspective that fishing is so capable of giving me.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
The fact is, we didn't really have anything resembling a normal winter this year. Last year we had record breaking snow and cold. This year things went in the exact opposite direction, with only a couple of significant snowfalls, and a few short, pitiful excuses for the cold snaps we usually see. I've spent days fishing on Ozark trout streams this winter when the temperature was pushing 70 degrees, so warm that I almost felt tempted to wet-wade. Of course we've had a few cold days, and plenty of chilly nights, but for someone who loves lots of snow and cold weather, I was pretty disappointed. So I guess I'm ready to put this "winter" in the books and move on to spring.
And as much as I love snow and cold weather, spring is always lovely in the Ozarks. There is just nothing quite like wading the Current or Big Piney River when the trees are just leafing out and the dogwoods and redbuds are painting the hillsides. I love those April evenings when I the bluegill and bass are boiling on the surface, hungry, smacking every little bug that comes in range. And it seems like the smallmouth and largemouth bass fight just a little harder in the chilly water of spring, always giving a good jump or two before coming to net. It just seems like everything is more alive and awake in those early weeks of spring. So as much as I'm disappointed with our lack of winter this year, I'm looking forward to a much better spring.
Thursday, February 2, 2012
I feel like I've actually become a better fly fisher by writing, and vice versa. I know this sounds like an odd thing to say, but I think it actually makes a good deal of sense. Have you ever had one of those days on a trout stream when you're constantly trying to make the long, difficult cast, trying every fly in your box, generally giving it everything you've got, but still coming up empty? On the other hand, have you ever noticed that sometimes when you're not trying so hard, when you're just keeping the fly in the water and leaving the rest to the fish, you actually tend to do pretty well? I know I have noticed these things in my fly fishing. The less fancy I get, the better I usually do. That's because when I keep it simple, I'm just focusing on the basics, the short cast, the easy mend, setting the hook whenever the indicator twitches. Or maybe I'm not focusing on anything at all, but I'm able to "plug in" in a way that's impossible when I'm always trying to make long casts and difficult drifts.
And it's the same with writing. I've noticed when I sit down, bound and determined that I'm going to come up with something really profound, the result usually isn't anything like that at all. The writing sounds forced at those times, with no personality, just some formula that I think is good, but actually takes all of the voice out of my writing. If I'm trying to to write a really good piece, I tend to stifle whatever I'm trying to say with flowery language and unnecessarily long words that break whatever flow the story might have had to start with.
The times that I do manage write pretty well are when I have no particular intentions going in. Often I have no idea what I'm going to write about when I start, other than it's going to have something to do with the outdoors and probably fishing. Before long, some trip, some special place, or some story will come to my mind, and from that point on it's a matter of the words coming to mind and then putting them on the page. I know some people don't look at it this way, but I find that if I think too much about what I'm going to be writing before-hand, it tends to short-circuit this process. It's best to just to go one sentence at a time, and the writing will take care of itself.
Finally, there is the feeling that I get from both writing and fly fishing, which is ultimately the reason why I love both so much. Since doing either one well requires a slow, unhurried pace, and a willingness to let the process work itself out, they tend to be very relaxing. To me, it's this procedure that matters above all else, not whatever results come of either. With fly fishing, the greatest "result" possible is a few fish that will be soon released back into the water. Writing of course can be a way of earning money, but for me right now it isn't in any significant sense. So in the end what matters isn't so much whether you catch a few fish or write an excellent piece, but whether there was anything valuable in the experience.
And there almost always is, if you just slow down and let the process take care of itself.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
The Baptist Camp stretch of the Current River is like an old friend that I haven't visited in a long time. This part of the Current River is the place where I first learned to fool wily, stream-wise, trout on a fly rod, and I think I'll always have a special attachment to it for that reason. There is no feeling quite so enjoyable as fishing a stretch of river with which you are intimately familiar, the kind of place where you know which rocks the trout like to hide behind, which deep cuts hold the big browns, the locations of unlikely looking runs that hold more fish than one would expect. This was the direction of my thoughts as I started to casually work my way downstream from Baptist Camp.
It’s a Saturday afternoon, about 3 o’clock, and the temperature is in the mid-40s, typical of our mild winter this year. I know it’s going to be a cold camp tonight, but for now I’m very comfortable. I’m tossing a little tri-color egg pattern, the fly I usually go with on the Current when I don’t have a better idea, and it’s working pretty well. The fish are in all of the places I expect them to be, and I’m able to fool my share of them. My rusty fly fishing skills are showing though; I’m missing many more strikes than I’m able to connect on. But that doesn’t seem to matter now, on the first afternoon of a three day trip. There will be plenty of time to get serious later, but at the moment it seems that missing a few fish is pretty inconsequential.
It’s 8 in the morning, and it’s 17 degrees. It may be a mild winter, but it’s still capable of getting cold. Right now I’m finding that out the hard way. My father and I are sitting around the fire in our campsite in Montauk Park; neither of us is in any particular hurry to get on the river until it warms up a bit. After a breakfast of oatmeal and granola bars, we finally head in the direction of Baptist Camp. We've decided to work our way up to Tan Vat, and fish our way back down again. We have not spent much time fishing the water between these two accesses, so we’re looking forward to trying something new.
The Current River above Baptist Camp has a good deal of slow, shallow water. At first glance much of it looks unpromising, and our results early on add to that perception. But when we wade out in to the river to retrieve a snagged fly or to ford the stream, we find ourselves scaring up ridiculous numbers of trout from places that look like they should hold nothing more than chubs or suckers. After that, we start to fish all the water carefully, and sure enough we began to get into to fish. What doesn’t surprise us is that the fishing is far better well away from the two accesses. By the time we make our way back to Baptist Camp, we’ve hooked numerous trout, seen two miles of a strikingly beautiful Ozark trout stream, and we couldn’t possibly be any happier. Now on to camp for chili, a good night’s rest, and the certainty of more good fishing tomorrow.