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The Great Smallmouth Road Trip

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It was the expedition that almost was, almost wasn't, and finally was. I'd suggested a smallmouth road trip several months ago. My idea was, instead of something like last year's "float and boat" that Mitch started, or the rodeos that the Smallmouth Alliance puts on every year, both of which emphasized group cameraderie, this was to be a serious fishing trip, with just a few guys, going during the week to avoid the crowds, and basing in an area and fishing different sections of different rivers within driving range. Mitch was in early and set a general time period of the first couple weeks in June, and others showed interest, but then I found out I had a chance to do the Smith River in Montana during that time, and it looked like I was going to bow out. But the Smith River trip didn't happen, and suddenly I was back in. By that time, just a few weeks ago, it seemed that Gavin, Smalliebigs, Mitch, and maybe Siusaluki were interested and perhaps able to take the time off. To make this work, all it would take was two people going in one vehicle with solo fishing craft, so we could do piggy back floats where one person put in on an upper float, then the second person took the vehicle to where the first person was taking out and put in there. When the first person finished his float, the car would be waiting, and he'd go on to the second person's take-out to pick them up. But four or five people were doable with two vehicles.

Siusaluki ended up being in, but Gavin and Smalliebigs had to decline because of last minute work obligations. So it was to be me, Mitch, and Siusaluki.

After discussing different areas of the Ozarks, we decided upon the Hardy, Arkansas, area, where the Spring River, lower Eleven Point, South Fork, and Strawberry were close by, with Crooked Creek not too far away. None of us had ever floated any of these rivers, which was one of the criteria for why we chose the area. I'd floated the trout water of the Spring once, long ago, and had waded short sections of Crooked Creek, but that's all.

I made arrangements to stay in a cabin in Hardy. That was another of the ideas of this trip. Instead of camping, we would stay in a cabin or cheap motel and eat mostly in restaurants in the evening, so that we could stay out later and fish without having to come in and cook our own meals, and so we'd be more assured of good nights' sleep each night.

So on Monday morning at 6:30 AM, we met up at my house in Ste. Genevieve County MO. Mary fixed a great breakfast for us with bacon, eggs, and homemade cinnamon rolls, and we made our final decision on canoes and vehicles. Siusaluki had a solo canoe and I had two of them, so if we took two vehicles we could all fish out of solos, with our other choice just taking one vehicle with one tandem and one solo. We decided to take two vehicles and three solos.

The drive down Hwy. 67 to Pocahontas and then across to Hardy took a little over three hours, and we arrived about 11 AM, checked into our cabin, and got ready to go on a float on the Spring River below Hardy. With two vehicles we could all float together if we wished and still do our own shuttle, and that's what we decided to do the first day. However, as we were getting ready to do the shuttle, a big thunderstorm moved in, and we decided instead to drive around and check out accesses on the other rivers until the storm moved through. It didn't let up for a couple of hours, and we didn't actually get on the river until about 4 PM for a six mile float.

The Spring above Hardy is known for its rock ledges and small waterfalls, but everything I'd ever read about the river said that it was pretty easy below Hardy. This was one of the many somewhat questionable bits of information to be gleaned about Arkansas rivers over the internet. There are also ledges below Hardy, and they are not exactly easy to float over. We dragged over the first ledge, right below the put-in, but soon came to another ledge. This one looked easier, but the wind was blowing pretty hard, and Mitch was not used to solo canoeing. Just as he neared the ledge, the wind caught the canoe and blew it around to where it was sideways to the ledge. The results were predictable. Mitch took a swim and his four rods disappeared into the river. Siusaluki and I rescued the canoe, finding his tackle box still in it, which was extremely fortunate. Then we all went back up to the ledge to grope around trying to find his rods. The Spring was murky and we had to feel with our feet in fast water. I found his one spinning rod, and Siusaluki came up with one casting rod, but the other two casting rods were a sacrifice to the river gods.

By that time, we'd spent well over an hour looking, and there was no way we could fish our way down five more miles with less than three hours til full darkness, so we decided just to paddle, drag, and fish our way back up to the put-in. We all caught a few small bass of all three species, but they weren't hitting well at all. We fished our way up the pool above the put-in, and I was using a spinnerbait when I got a smashing strike which was really big excitement until it turned out to be a five pound drum. Then I did catch a nice 18 inch largemouth in a backwater. We quit about 7:30 PM, did the rather long drive to pick up the other car, and headed back to the cabin. With a grocery store right around the corner, we bought steaks and Mitch grilled them for supper, which was the real highlight of the first day.

The second morning we arose early, talked about our options, and decided that we'd stick to the smaller streams rather than doing the Spring and Eleven Point, which had seemed to be pretty well-used. When I'd made the cabin reservations, the woman had told me the South Fork was "dry". I knew that couldn't be the case, but we knew the smaller streams would be very low. The rain on Monday didn't do much to add water to them. We'd noted in our explorations the day before that they weren't "dry", and it looked like they were runnable if we were willing to drag a lot of riffles, and that would make it much more likely that we'd have them to ourselves. So on Tuesday we opted to float two back to back sections of the South Fork.

We figured out how to load all three canoes onto my Highlander, and Mitch and I put in on the upper section, with Siu taking the vehicle down to put in where we would be taking out. I had printed off good topo maps and noted mileages on them for everybody, so we planned on finishing up our floats sometime around 6 PM.

I love it when a plan comes together. We all had great days of fishing, and although Mitch and I ended up taking a bit longer than we'd planned, we were able to finish and get to where Siu had been waiting for less than an hour. Mitch and I had agreed to each fish just one side of the river. He had everything on the left side, and I had first shot at everything on the right, so in essence each of us fished half the float (more or less--Mitch is convinced I had more good water on my side, and I think he might have been right). I ended up with 81 bass caught, and Mitch probably had a few less than that. But over 130 bass caught in one section of river in one day is pretty darned good. A lot of them were little ones, but I did catch this beast on a topwater:post-218-0-68501000-1339862653_thumb.jpgHere's another photo of me with the smallie, which measured 20.5 inches:post-218-0-17259700-1339862930_thumb.jpg Siu did similarly well on the lower float, including a 19 incher.

This section of the South Fork, while not particularly scenic, was a pleasant float. We walked some rocky riffles, scraped bottom in most of them, but overall it wasn't bad. Here are a couple of scenes from our float:post-218-0-72048500-1339863103_thumb.jpgpost-218-0-82211500-1339863045_thumb.jpg

On Wednesday, we thought about doing the Strawberry, but instead all agreed that we'd like to try Crooked Creek. But that pointed out another of the problems with the lack of up to date info on Arkansas rivers. I could not find good information on the public accesses on Crooked Creek anywhere--specifically, where exactly the Snow Access was located on the river. It made it difficult to plan floats of similar lengths. We finally guessed that a float from Pyatt to Snow would be somewhere close to the same length as a float from Snow to Kelly's Slab, and that's what we decided to do, again taking only one vehicle and doing the piggy back deal. Mitch and Siu would float the upper section and I'd take the lower one.

Well, not only were we wrong about the location of the Snow Access, but we had a couple other things go wrong. I didn't realize until I'd dropped them off at Pyatt, driven to Snow, and unloaded the canoe, that I'd neglected to leave them with the spare key. That, however, turned out to be fortunate, and so was the fact that there is decent cell phone reception along Crooked Creek. I couldn't get reception at the access, but I drove up the hill and called Mitch to tell him I'd hide a spare key, and he was VERY glad to hear from me, because we had only unloaded one paddle for the two of them. If I hadn't forgotten the key thing, Mitch would have literally been up the creek without a paddle. Leaving the canoe on the ramp, I drove well over the speed limit back to Pyatt to give them both the paddle and the key.

But finally I was on the river. There had been another car at the access, and I was afraid I was behind other anglers, but in the first pool I caught two 17 inch smallies on topwater, so it looked like it was going to be another great day. But it soon settled into rather mediocre fishing, with nothing working really well. As it turned out, I was behind two canoes with four guys from St. Charles, MO, down to George's Creek where they were taking out. And it seemed to take a lot longer than it should to get to George's Creek. I'd left my topo map of the section down to George's Creek with Siu, so I didn't have a real good feel for where I was until I reached the creek, but I knew I'd gone a lot farther than I'd figured on. The Snow access is really more than two miles farther upstream than we'd figured it being, which meant that Mitch and Siu would be making a float of about 6-7 miles while I'd be doing one of more than 12 miles.

By the time I caught up with the St. Charles guys a mile or so above George's, I'd caught a 19 incher as well as the two 17 inchers at the beginning. Here's the 19 incher--you can certainly tell a big difference in the body shape of this long, lean, big-tailed fish compared to the 20.5 I'd caught on the South Fork:post-218-0-63438600-1339862787_thumb.jpg

The St. Charles guys said they'd had great fishing the day before on the Buffalo, but had found the fishing on Crooked Creek to be very slow, which I found interesting given what I'd caught to that point. But when they told me they were taking out at George's, I looked forward to better fishing below.

It didn't get much better, however, and near the end of the float, I may have found out why. I overtook a guy in a kayak, minnow fishing, and there were also four other people ahead of me below George's that day. The minnow fishing guy said he'd caught "two four pounders" and 61 fish to that point. I'd have to see those four pounders weighed, but I had no doubt that he'd done well. However, at the point I passed him a couple miles above Kelly's, I'd caught about the same number, although only one more 17 incher, and it was a rather sorry looking smallie:post-218-0-28797600-1339862752_thumb.jpg

I ended up with 73 bass that day, including a nice 18 inch largemouth:post-218-0-73267800-1339862837_thumb.jpg They were taking a lot of different lures, although after the first two nice ones the topwater bite was inconsistent. I caught more fish on my homemade twin spin than anything else.

Crooked Creek reminded me of the lower Buffalo without the bluffs. There was a lot of bedrock bottomed pools studded with big rocks just like the Buffalo. This was one of the prettiest spots I came to:post-218-0-98423300-1339862708_thumb.jpg And it was not only pretty, but I saw the biggest smallmouth of the day and maybe the whole week, a huge fish that blew up on my walk the dog topwater twice, the second time coming completely out of the water on the strike without getting even a touch of the hooks. It was definitely over 20 inches.

As I approached Kelly's I saw Siu paddling up the river toward me. They'd finished their float very early, given that it was so much shorter than what we'd thought. They thought about putting in at Kelly's and leaving a note on the vehicle for me to pick them up at Yellville when I finished my float, but were afraid that since the parking area at Kelly's was a long way away from the slab, I might sit at the slab and wait for them rather than walking up to the car, so they just fished upstream from Kelly's for a while. They'd had good luck as well on the upper float, with several 17 inchers caught and Mitch had taken a 19 incher as well. I ended up with 73 fish for the day.

We stopped at a Mexican restaurant in Mountain Home on the way back to Hardy because we'd discovered that nothing much is open in Hardy after about 8 PM. The night before we'd been relegated to eating at a combination Taco Bell and KFC a few miles away from Hardy.

Thursday we decided upon the Strawberry. There was a Fish and Game access on the lower river that none of my info had shown, and we drove there first to see if it was a viable take-out for the lower of the two floats we wanted to do. It would mean that Siu would have to float about 11 or 12 miles, while Mitch and I would do about 8.5 miles on the upper float, but we decided it was a better option that doing a float above there, where there seemed to be very little water.

It may have been a bad decision, or maybe the Strawberry just isn't all that great of a river. Mitch and I started out in ledges and fast water, but it soon slowed considerably, and by mid-float we were in hole after long, dead hole, some of them over a mile long, and very poor fishing. I was afraid that Siu was encountering nothing but those long dead pools. We caught a few fish, and Mitch did get this nice 17.5 incher:post-218-0-91897400-1339862981_thumb.jpg, while the highlight of my day was this monster 17.5 inch spotted bass that took the topwater:post-218-0-96489800-1339863210_thumb.jpg And the scenery, while far from spectacular, was pleasant:post-218-0-26371300-1339863266_thumb.jpgpost-218-0-74442500-1339863320_thumb.jpg And we all got to cross the Strawberry off our lists, but after the two days before, the fishing was disappointing. And Siu did indeed encounter those long, long, dead, dead pools, catching mostly small largemouths all day long. Mitch and I finished our float a little earlier than the 6 PM time we'd proposed, and just had time to drive to Siu's take-out and take a little dip in the river to cool off before we saw him coming down the river. We were off the water and headed for home by 6:30 PM.

All in all, it was a great trip with great guys. We were all like-minded anglers who didn't mind doing long day's floats and working to fish smaller, less floated streams. The cabin was nice, the fishing was good overall, and most of our plans worked to perfection. Here's hoping that this is the first of many "smallmouth road trips"!post-218-0-17259700-1339862930_thumb.jpg


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Thanks for the report. Sounds like a grand adventure with the typical mishaps and shining moments all big trips have.

His father touches the Claw in spite of Kevin's warnings and breaks two legs just as a thunderstorm tears the house apart. Kevin runs away with the Claw. He becomes captain of the Greasy Bastard, a small ship carrying rubber goods between England and Burma. Michael Palin, Terry Jones, 1974

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To start off with, I had an absolute wonderful time with Andy and Al! this fishing was wonderful and the total experience was as good as it gets.

After not being in a canoe in almost 10 years and a tandem one at that, I immediately found out how darn hard a solo canoe is to fish out of. I looked like a kid trying to ride a bike for the first time. At first, my only goal was simply to not tip over and embarass myself, after I felt a little more comfortable I actually tried to cast a little. This process gave me a great appreciation for Al and Andy's ability.

Tuesday started with Al and I fishing the South Fork of the Spring river. I fished with Al several times out of my jet boat but have never seen him operate a canoe and fish. If Nirvana in stream fishing is possible, Al has it. He is so efficient with a solo canoe that he out casted me at least 3 to 1. Everytime I looked upstream he was about 25 to 30 feet off the right bank, going perfectly straight and all I saw all day long was his lure flying thru the air toward the bank and the splashing of a fish that took his lure offering. He was generous saying I caught slightly less fish than him...I probably only caught 35% of the number of fish he caught. He controlled the entire canoe with one hand and casted with the other. When he was done with the stroke, the paddle came to rest perfectly diagonally across his right thigh and the paddle end rested on the left gunnel.

I heard some commotion about 75 yards ahead and saw the 20.5 incher really giving Al a working over and quickly paddled up to help and take photos, what a pig!

The next day I floated with Andy on Crooked Creek, Andy is also an excellent fisherman and canoeist. We caught on average size bigger fish than on the South Fork. I suppose it was due to the 14" length limit. (who says limits aren't impotant). Andy caught a bunch more fish than I did as well. My canoeing ability got a little better every day. but found myself more often than not only being able to cast 1 or 2 times at a spot before I rammed my canoe into it ( it's hard to pull another fish out of a rootwad when you ram you canoe into it!!!). Andy caught a 19" in a spot with flat shelf rock in 2 feet of water. We didnt have the traffic to contend with that Al had that day, we only saw one couple with fly rods I think.

Last day Al and I fished together again at the Strawberry river and wasn't overly impressed with the river. I did manage to catch a couple of 17's smallies and Al caught a huge spot, but the river was full of long slow deepish pools with not much current. We caught the majority of fish with the shorter holes maybe 150 yards or so long with the swifter current ( go figure!). Not as many smallies in this river either.

All the rivers were good with top water all day long, with a few exceptions the first day on the South fork, where the topwater bite came at different times. It could have been because anytime we were within a half mile of an access, the number of fish weren't there because of the fishing pressure and the catch and keep crowd.

All in all, had a blast and sometimes longed for my foot controlled trolling motor and a casting deck!

"Honor is a man's gift to himself" Rob Roy McGregor

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Too bad, looks like you guys would have had a first place fish. D'OH! free stuff sucks huh?

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'The Dude' of Kayak fishing



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Thanks for the great report. I was one of the "Missouri" guys you passed on Crooked Creek. Glad to hear you had a great day. My brother did catch a 17 1/2 inch smallie right after you passed us. I posted a report on our trip as well.

That's hilarious! when we pulled up and saw the Missouri plates, I told them that I recognized the dealership where your vehicle was purchsed and I knew you were from STL and must be serious smallie fishermen!

"Honor is a man's gift to himself" Rob Roy McGregor

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