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Trip/Fishing Report (6/29 - 7/1/2022)


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Andy Hart Memorial VII


"The water you touch in a river is the last of that which has passed, and the first of that which is coming; thus it is with time."

-Leonardo DaVinci

The 7th annual Andy Hart Memorial float ‘n fish took place on June 29 – July 1, 2022.  In search of new waters to traverse, I spent a great deal of time doing my research, trying to understand rivers I have never seen.  I had to prioritize what was most important and there are things sacred to maintain a true AHM Float. First, a true AHM Float is a point-to-point trip with no concern for anything other than primitive camping along the river. There had been times when Andy and I tried to accommodate the needs of our “softer” friends by renting cabins or car-camping, but Andy became adamant that we “stop that sh*t”. The other things we look to prioritize on the trip are, good fishing, solitude, and scenery. Spending an embarrassing amount of time on the OAF, I was able to narrow the choices of rivers to a few options for our 3-day trip.  I came up with a list of 3 that we would shoot for, but the choice is always subject to change based on water level and/or rainfall. I ended up placing the Big Piney in the top spot with a return to Gasconade (new section however) at the 2-spot and the Jacks Fork / Current as the low-water backup. 

With water levels appearing to be sufficient, the Big Piney was a go. Fearing slow conditions, I threw a question out to the group, 17-mile or 23-mile float?  The resounding answer was 23.  I did caution that this was only 6 fewer miles than we did the previous year with an extra whole day. Nevertheless, we had our plan, now we just needed to execute.

A group of 6 (3 dads and our sons) that comprised last year’s AHM contingent loaded up in the big Chevy Explorer van for the 4-hour drive to Wilderness Ridge resort.  As last year’s rookies were now sophomores and on time, we were only a little behind our targeted departure time of 6:30am but were on the road sometime before 7:00am.  Our other father/son pair was leaving out of Kansas City and beat us to our destination, obviously excited for their return to AHM action after a 2-year hiatus.  After shuffling around some gear and coordinating with the outfitter, we were off to Mason Bridge, 23 miles upstream. 

The day was hot, clear and calm as we loaded up our giant Osagian cargo canoes with a plentiful payload of gear.  When the last canoe shoved off and we all were geared up, the games officially began with a big shout of “ANDAAAY!!!”.  On the line was our usual wagers: first fish, largest fish, and most fish per canoe – only bass count.  Our departure point was at the end of a slow pool where the water was moving gradually towards a riffle.  The temperature was climbing and would soon reach the 90-degree mark.

Fishing was slow on day one and certainly not aided by the time of day we began fishing nor the hot, sunny, calm conditions we were experiencing.  Additionally, the pools were long and slow, and the rare riffles were so shallow that we had to repeatedly get out and drag our canoes through the riffle.  Each pool seemed to be longer and slower than the next, the fishing remained slow, and the scenery was not very impressive.  Additionally, there were very few decent gravel bars for camping with a group of 8. We began to have doubts about our river choice.

Knowing that we had a lengthy float, and that our big, heavy canoes were not making very good time, we spent as much time paddling and dragging as we did fishing, hoping to get down river to one of the few adequate gravel bars on this stretch of river.  I had spent time studying the river map as well as following our stretch of river on google earth and I had marked some spots where I was confident, we would find gravel bars.  I knew in the back of my mind that any big storm between the time the image was taken and now could have erased the worthiness of my confidence.  However, it turned out that my educated guesses were on point.  We paddled hard through some extremely long, stagnant stretches that felt like they were moving backwards to get to one of these gravel bars.  Unfortunately, when we arrived, there were a pair of other river travelers that had already made this gravel bar their home for the evening.  After a serious discussion about what to do among our group, we decided that this gravel bar was plenty big enough for all of us and we could set up camp well away from the other pair.

No sooner than we had begun to unload and before we could make friends with our new neighbors, the pair picked up and moved on down the river, each in their own kayak.  I couldn’t believe it. While I had a twinge of guilt, I felt like we were making the decision that we had to make for our group. 

Night one was a fairly brief and subdued one as we were all exhausted from an early morning and a hard day of paddling.  We had a nice dinner of pulled pork and pasta salad, sat around the campfire, told stories and launched some sky lanterns as a ritual to remember our departed friend. It was really nice to have our Kansas City pair back in the mix this year for several reasons but perhaps most importantly, Mac, the father of the two, knew our late friend Andy very well which inevitably led to more discussion of our eponymous trip leader. There is always plenty of stories and laughter around the campfire but stories of Andy always illicit the most heartfelt laughter, especially from those who knew him well.  Andy was an entertaining, curious and quirky fellow who loved this trip!

“It was through the dark waters of grief that I came to touch my unlived life…there is some strange intimacy between grief and aliveness, some sacred exchange between what seems unbearable and what is most exquisitely alive.”

-              Francis Weller

They say when you lose someone you are close to, you lose a part of yourself.  I haven’t ever been able to fully make sense of that statement and I’m not sure it is always true.  There is no denying that losing my mom at a young age changed me in incalculable ways and resulted in a lifetime of grieving in various ways as I aged.  But losing a close friend really does feel like losing a part of yourself.  I think it is because when you have so many shared experiences with someone, you have someone with whom you can reminisce.  You have certain rituals (like an elaborate handshake created in grade school), you have someone who understands you and together you have some shared understanding of how the world works.  When you lose a close friend, all of that is lost.  I will not be able to talk about certain experiences that only Andy and I had, I will never go through the old handshake routine or say a couple of words that will say so much more.  Not with him anyway.  And that IS a big part of who I am.  And it is gone. I am fortunate to be able to have those memories and I enjoy thinking about them as I write about him, but I do so with sadness. 

A few years ago, I was discussing this annual trip (and the deep thinking that time on a river evokes) over dinner with the minister of my church, Marlin Lavanhar.  Through this discussion, Marlin wove together a sermon that did an excellent job of describing the feelings and connections that we make as the complex beings we are. As I write about this trip once again, I feel compelled to share that sermon for anyone who finds this line of thinking/questioning/wondering an interesting topic worthy of exploration.


Sitting around the campfire that first night, we were treated to a couple of different light shows: one terrestrial in the form of fireflies in abundance and the other celestial as the moonless night revealed a sky full of stars, planets, satellites and meteors. The weather was surprisingly cold for late June with temperatures dipping into the upper 50’s on night one.  Our early bedtime and the shivering temperatures resulted in an early morning and a re-start of the campfire to warm up.  Unlike typical summer mornings, the camp breakdown process was comfortable with no sweating involved and we were back on the river quite early.  We discussed as a group where we were on the river and how many miles we would like to cover on day 2.  We were a little disappointed with the lack of progress we had made on day one and how much distance we felt like we needed to cover on day 2 to put us in the right position for a reasonable departure time on Friday. 

“Most of the world is covered by water. A fisherman's job is simple: Pick out the best parts.”

-          Charles Waterman

As the river remained slow with long pools and very shallow riffles, it seemed like more of the same for day two.  On the upside, the bite seemed to pick up, especially for me and my son, Cullin.  Cullin decided that he was going to be the “engine” on our canoe and paddle hard to keep the pace of the group up while keeping an eye out for the right holes in which to fish.  I liked his plan, so we did exactly that.  Many of the past years, Cullin had been the smallest kid and was not very interested in contributing a whole lot of energy to paddling us through long, slow pools.  It is amazing how much a young teenager can change in one year. Things were certainly different this year as he repeatedly dug in and powered us along at a steady pace.  When we saw spots that looked good to us, we would fish them and pull at least a couple fish out of each stop.  This method quickly put us well on top of the fishing leaderboard, a position that we would not relinquish. In addition to his strength and attitude towards physical activity, Cullin’s fishing skills and attention to detail were decidedly improved.  He rarely got hung up and when he did it was not because he threw a lure 20 feet up into a tree. He was determined to fish hard when appropriate and keep his line wet.  As a result, he caught plenty of fish and was able to land and release them with very little assistance from me.  I can’t help but think about future trips when I will be the one needing his assistance.  Hopefully that is a long time off!

A few miles into day two we came to Slabtown access.  At that time, we were under the impression that we had only travelled 5 miles as our outfitter referred to Mason Bridge as the 23-mile float access and Slabtown as the 17-mile float access.  We were certainly scratching our heads and wondering how we could have worked so hard for the few miles we had attained.  We began to wonder how long we would be on the river and if there was an alternative exit point that we should consider.  With no way to contact the outfitter to retrieve us, we realized that another exit point would not be useful even if there was one.  As I pinpointed our location on the map, I realized that Slabtown represented 8 miles of progress and not 5.  I decided to use this information along with my understanding of exactly where we were to mess with the heads of my companions.  This was almost as entertaining as the fishing which continued to heat up as we travelled down river.

The water from Slabtown on increased its pace.  The pools began to show signs of movement throughout and the riffles were deep enough to result in little more than a bump here and there, certainly no more dragging of the canoe was necessary if you picked the right line.  The scenery also improved dramatically with enormous bluffs rising above the river.

A couple of the dads experimented with their seating in the cargo canoe, utilizing camp chairs to aid in their comfort. I was skeptical that sitting up so high in the back of the canoe was a wise decision, especially through some of the bending riffles that were not infrequent and often had some perilously placed strainers. As we approached one of these riffles, we were right behind one of the other vessels chatting with them when I noticed they were headed right towards a large tree branch hanging right in the middle of the stream.  We watched as a fishing pole was grabbed by the tree branch and when Travis tried to save the pole from his perch on the back seat of the canoe, he was pulled backwards and into the shallow stream, landing flat on his back. Fortunately, he was okay and without a scratch.  The pole however was never found. A few miles later, we were once again floating next to another father son pair when Mac got hung up on the bottom behind him, was pulled backwards out of his camp chair and landed flat on his back in shallow water.  Mac too was okay but did suffer a noticeable scratch on his upper back. Surprisingly, this was not enough to end the experiment as the desire for canoe comfort was strong.

My son and I sustained our strategy of setting the pace, paddling through pools, and fishing spots that looked like they would hold fish. We typically didn’t hang around long once the others caught up, but I did enjoy telling them that we needed to keep the pace up because we hadn’t made much progress. Not only did we catch more fish as we moved down stream, the size of the fish we caught seemed to fare better than earlier in the trip. Our pace was steady all day both in terms of milage and catching fish.  Unbeknownst to the others, we travelled at least 12 miles on day 2, putting us right where we wanted to be for the home stretch.

The early evening was setting in and we knew it was time to begin looking for our home for the evening, we tightened up the formation of our fleet to discuss and analyze our options as they presented themselves to us.  We saw what looked like a good option in front of us, but the presence of a side-by-side ATV gave us pause as we really wanted seclusion if possible.  Around the next bend we passed over another good-looking gravel bar due to the presence of a truck.  We were beginning to feel a little desperate and everyone was ready to stop and begin to set camp. We continued on and could soon see another good option.  We agreed that this would be our spot for the night.  However, we couldn't yet see the entirety of this bar yet and as we approached, my son said, “look, there is a fire on that gravel bar”.  Since we were in front, I spoke up to the groups behind us, “you’re not gonna like this but it looks like someone is here too”.  As we came around the bend, we recognized the gentlemen that were already established on this gravel bar; it was the same pair that we came upon on night one!  I paddled fairly close and said, “hey guys, I’m sorry about last night, I hope you didn’t leave because of us”.  They were cordial and said, “No problem. We just wanted seclusion and weren’t up for the extra noise.” We pressed on.

"Some go to church and think about fishing, others go fishing and think about God."

- Tony Blake

It turns out that we were fortunate that the same two were at that spot because no more than a quarter mile later, we came to a bend that had a magnificent bluff opposite a beautiful point bar.  We could not have asked for a better spot to camp.  Although it was later than we hoped to be off the river, we had plenty of time to set camp and prepare dinner. Once again, we relaxed around a campfire, ate a dinner of ribs and a southwestern bean salad, talked about our day, and told some more stories about Andy.

In one such story, I recalled a time that Andy had a nighttime run-in with a scavenging animal that came into camp. Andy (as he typically would) was sleeping on the riverbank on an air mattress with nothing other than a blue tarp pulled over him, when something came into camp and started to get into a bag of chips or some sort of food.  The commotion was close to Andy and woke him up. Immediately a battle ensued for possession of the food which resulted in much more significant commotion, waking everyone else.  When I shouted to Andy to ask him what was going on, he yelled back, “there is a badger out here trying to steal our sh*t!”  I couldn’t contain my laughter which only got Andy more fired up. Eventually Andy won the battle and secured our provisions but in the morning it was obvious there had been a struggle and the camp needed a thorough cleaning.  When discussing it the next morning I told him that I suspected that his badger was really a racoon, he insisted that it was much too big and too mean to be a racoon.  He maintained forever that it was most certainly a badger!

At one point late in evening number two on the Big Piney, Travis thought it was a good time to have a little fun with everyone.  He had a recording of a black bear on his phone and with the aid of a Bluetooth speaker strategically placed, he scared the hell out of my son who had a run-in with a bear on the lower Buffalo the year before. His reaction was similar to the reaction last year when he came upon an actual black bear as he was heading to the tent late at night – he ran! After everyone’s pulse calmed again, we were once again ready for an early bed as the day required far more paddling than we had hoped for.

Night 2 was comfortable and relatively cool but not nearly as cold as the first night. I was awake early and when I wake up, I typically cannot go back to sleep so 5:50 was the best I could do.  I used the ample time before anyone else began to stir to get in some fishing throwing everything I had at them from the shore, and I only caught one small one!  I decided to start breakfast and watch the active birds on the bluff across the river.  It was a beautiful and peaceful morning, but I was anxious to get back on the river. When the rest of the group finally began to stir, I offered breakfast and encouraged some expediency for our departure because (as far as they knew) we still had a long way to go (row). I let most of our group know the reality of the situation, but I let the two dads who had the most concern sweat it out for a while to help keep them moving. Plus, it was just so entertaining hearing them fret about another long day of paddling I could hardly contain a big grin. The reality was that we had less than 5 miles left, and I let them know once we were packed and ready for day 3.  I did occasionally tell them that we really had 8 miles or more left just to see what they thought and keep them wondering if I knew what I was talking about at all.

The river was moving at a steady pace for most of the last several miles of the trip, providing more opportunity to fish but the bite was not very good for our canoe on day three.  We caught fish but not with any significant size or quantity. Much like the other days of the trip, I would catch one occasionally on a top water, but most were caught on soft plastics once again. Every day on the river I am hopeful for one of those days when the fish are so active that every cast with a top water seems to get a strike!

As we were nearing the final stretch of river we were greeted by an enormous bald eagle.  We saw him from a distance at first but at one point he made a dive and came very close to us as if to check us out or just say hello.  We thought it was very appropriate for the trip as last year we had a similar sized bald eagle follow us for four full days down the lower Buffalo.

As we pulled our canoes onto the bank at our destination, my son refused to stop fishing until we matched the same number of fish that we caught on the Gasconade 2 years earlier, 63. After retrieving our van and returning to the river to begin loading out, he caught the last fish to get us to the number he was satisfied with.

Even though this year’s trip was a full day shorter than last year, everyone was ready for some air conditioning, a shower, and a bed. It was a successful trip for sure, everyone was in one piece.  No injuries or illness.  We had solid fishing on a new river with beautiful scenery and great camaraderie. We also learned a few things (at least one that I thought I already knew). When considering distances to cover on a trip like this, choose the shorter distance; you can always go slower. I also now know that the section of the Big Piney from Mason Bridge to Slabtown does not have much going for it.  I hope the rest of the Big Piney is more like the stretch downstream from Slabtown.

I can’t wait for next year’s trip!  ANDAAAAY!









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Looks like ya'll had a great time, however I would suggest not using those paper lanterns as they are known firestarters, and we are extremely dry at least in our area.

everything in this post is purely opinion and is said to annoy you.

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