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Jacks Fork memories...

Al Agnew

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Have you ever seen Jam Up Cave? Let me describe my first time floating the upper Jacks Fork and seeing Jam Up. It was a springtime trip with a group, no fishing done, river up and flowing very well. We put in at the Prongs. This upper Jacks Fork is like a smaller version of the Buffalo in Arkansas with all the big bluffs, and it's almost a wilderness experience, with the river flowing through a narrow canyon with no bottomland at all, just a bluff on one side and a wooded hillside on the other.

When we got to Jam Up Cave, we stopped to go up into the cave. It's a huge, yawning opening in a high bluff, with the base of it littered with huge boulders that you have to climb over to go down and into the cave. And geologically it's very interesting, because Jam Up Creek, a small, sometimes dry stream, comes down off the plateau to the south in a little canyon, and as it approaches the river it has carved out the opposite side of the cave bluff, leaving a rather narrow hogback with the Jacks Fork on one side and the creek on the other. At one time, geologically speaking, the creek then swung away from the Jacks Fork to carve its canyon on for several more miles before finally entering the river. But sometime in the geologic past, the creek took advantage of a fissure in the hogback ridge and took a shortcut through it to the river, forming Jam Up Cave. There is the opening where the creek enters the back of the cave, and there is also another opening in the roof of the cave. The creek pours over a waterfall in the back of the cave, and there are a few hours during a few days a year when the sun comes through the other opening in a shaft of light that strikes that waterfall. This was one of those times! It was possibly the most sublime sight I've ever seen on an Ozark stream.

I've floated all of the Jacks Fork. The stretch between Alley Spring and Eminence is one of the better places in the Ozarks to catch chain pickerel. The lower river below Eminence has produced some good fishing trips for smallies, though you have wonder about all the horse manure running into it. The upper river? Well, I still try to do at least one overnight trip on it each year.

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Yeah, nice review, Al. The Jacks Fork is an amazing river, one of my favorites. Jam-Up cave is pretty spectacular.

One of my earliest float trips, was in early spring, it was warm and the dogwoods and redbuds were just getting going. We went from the Prongs all the way to the confluence with the Current . . . . in 2 days, 40 or so miles. Needless to say, that was when I was young and stupid. Never got so sunburned in all my life. And sunburn on top of sore shoulders is pure misery. We were pretty wiped by the time we finished. Halfway into it, the first day, I recall setting up a makeshift tent on a gravel bar opposite one of those huge bluffs. A big storm was brewing. We had just enough time to secure 4 paddles at the corners of an 8 x 8 tarp and guy it out to stakes in the gravel. Just as we finished, the sky opened up and we squatted under that tarp, and as it rained hammers and nails, we fired up a small backpackers stove and cooked the best jambalya I have ever eaten. When it finally quit storming, low-level clouds hung in the valley, everything was wet and clean, that sweet smell of ozone, and bass busting the surface out in the dead calm river. I was hooked on floating from that moment forward.

The best part of the river is Prongs to Alley Spring. Past Alley it loses a lot of its charm.

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  • 2 months later...

Hey Al, (and anyone else),

What would be a good floating level for the JF? The Mountain View gage is at about 2.9 feet today. We're looking at floating the Prongs down to Bay Creek or Alley.

I've been on the JF only once, in spring '97, and it was the most beautiful float I've ever been on. If we get down there again I'll write a report on it.

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Hank, I usually go by the discharge graph and table. I would think that at the Mountain View gage, a reading of anywhere between about 100 cfs and 300 cfs is floatable. Much above 300 cfs and it's starting to get a little hairy, with water flowing through the willows lining the riffles. A reading of around 150-200 cfs is ideal for just fun, easy floating. Anything under about 75 cfs and you'll be doing a lot of scraping bottom in the riffles and you'll have to walk some of them. Of course, if you're into running what passes for whitewater in much of the Ozarks, you'll probably do okay in levels up to about 400-500 cfs. And if you're into fishing, you'll prefer levels less than 200 cfs.

Edit: I just looked up what the book Ozark Canoeing and Kayaking said were recommended gage levels. They list 1.5 ft. as minimum for floating--that translates to somewhere around 75-100 cfs. 2.0-4.0 optimum level--that's about 150-600 cfs. Over 5.0 is listed as dangerous--which would be about 1200 cfs. However, the book is geared toward whitewater kayaking, so I'd be a little wary of the higher levels they recommend unless you're into that sort of thing.

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Thanks Al. It's a little less than 200 cfs today. This weekend looks nasty so we're postponing until maybe next weekend. We'd like to do a little fishing but mainly we're looking for a good ride. Looks like rain early next week might get the river pumping.

If you don't mind, what's a good floating guide for Big Creek? We're going down there late April. I think the concessionaire down there (forget his name, Mike ___?) said 2.0 feet or better. I checked the streamflow page and there's no cfs data for Big Creek today.

I also wonder about Sinkin Creek. Ever been on it?

We'd love to get on the JF. Run some grubs or jigs deep in the pools, maybe a Wiggle Wart, gurgle a little topwater in the evening. We've never been particularly good at catching early season bass, but the ones we've caught often have been rather big. We only caught a few fish in spring '97, but one in particular was a beautiful 18-incher. Last year we floated the Niangua this exact time of year and I only caught one smallmouth, but it was a fat 15-incher.

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