The purity of wading

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PONCA – I have fished from the most elegant saltwater navigation charts and the fastest low boats, from elite kayaks and canoes, but most of all I love the purity of wading fishing.

I haven't had a good wading fishing trip in years. I go out and wading when I fish from canoes, but I'm talking about fishing without a boat. If you get into the water above your head, you must swim or surround it. It is better to swim than to wander through nettle and dense weeds on the shore.

The main advantage of wading is that you must fish slowly and throw at all times from multiple angles. You will be surprised how many fish inhabit the water without distinctive features and also how many large fish you catch.

Five of my favorite trips in the last 15 years were wading fishing trips, including a barn burner in 2017 on the South Fork of the Ouachita River with Ray Tucker and Shane Goodner. We captured 86 casualties that day, setting Goodner's record as a guide. Federal judge Joe Volpe and his son John caught 87 last week. The judge refused to let Goodner stop until they broke our record.

The other shootings were in the Strawberry River, Crooked Creek and South Fork of Sylamore Creek in 2006, and at the top of the Buffalo River six or seven years ago.

Recently an opportunity arose to revisit the upper Buffalo when Rodney Staggs of Little Rock said his son John Thomas – J.T. – He wanted to go on a small mouth fishing trip for his 15th birthday. It would be his first outing in a small mouth.

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I recommended the upper Buffalo in Steel Creek, and after a long exchange of ideas on tactics and equipment, I offered to help them personally.

Rusty Pruitt of Bryant joined us and we went together to the Steel Creek Recreation Area on a cold and rainy Saturday that promised excellent fishing as long as it didn't rain. Steel Creek is near the head of the Buffalo River, and it can increase dramatically if it rains a lot in the mountainous area known among whitewater rowers such as the Hailstone River.

Our emotion was palpable when we disembarked from my truck and assembled our equipment. The agreement was that Pruitt and Rodney Staggs work downstream. J.T. Staggs and I would work upriver to Ponca.

That part of the river is narrow and mostly shallow, but it has deep, compact holes that contain many rocks and rocks. If your lure gets caught, and it will, and if you can't free it by popping your line, you will have to swim towards it and hope you can release it with the tip of the rod or get a sway that swings over it. This is difficult because you will also row against the current.

Upstream of the camp, the treetops enclose and shade the river. If it's sunny and hot, this is a cool place to spend a day in the water.

Pruitt enjoyed this opportunity to fly fish. Rodney Staggs used rotating rigs with soft plastic lizards and Zoom Baby Brush Hawgs.

J.T. The deer had two turntables. One had a soft plastic, and the other had a surface lure. He kept the reserve platform embedded in the water bottle holder of his backpack.

I used a turntable consisting of a Wavespin 1500 ZTR reel and a medium-acting Berkley Cherrywood rod. I used a Ned platform most of the day. Later I switched to Zoom Mini Lizards in pumpkin / red and watermelon / candy and an old resort, the Yum Craw Papi.

J.T. and I entered the first hole in the parking lot near the beginning of the Buffalo River trail. We started fishing immediately, mainly the low Ozark. Some were very small, but many were large enough to eat if we had been inclined and equipped to support them.

The small mouths were approximately 8-10 inches, but even fish of that size perform admirably against a slight resistance.

J.T., a quiet and serious guy, plunged into the middle. He fished a few meters in front of me and studied each piece of cover. If there was better water on my side, we changed sides. However, it didn't seem to matter because our catch rates were almost the same.

Naturally, we had to swim sometimes to release lures. It was extremely difficult to obtain a purchase because slippery seaweed and diatomaceous silt covered the creek and every large rock. Walking on large rocks was like doing a routine of soft footwear with caffeine-powered vaudeville that would have been recorded a lot, to borrow a word, in a Fitbit. The caloric expenditure was prodigious, and also tedious.

Once upon a time, one could stand on a large rock and release a lure embedded in the deep race below. Unless you've felt soles or wading chains, you can forget it. You will kick and dance to get out of that rock and any other rock you contact until you can plant your feet in a bed of gravel. The C&H pig farm cannot be blamed for that because Steel Creek is miles above.

Several kayakers who launched themselves to Ponca floated by. One said he caught a small 18-inch large mouth upriver. I know the hole he described, and I believed him.

J.T. and I reached the best hole in the camp area. Water was poured through a small rifle into a deep hole at an angle of approximately 70 degrees. This small pocket is a textbook mouth hole, with multiple swirls, deep paths behind the boulders, a small side pocket that flows against a bed of willow and a submerged trunk. We caught a couple of small fish there, but we were disappointed not to hook a low jackpot.

On top of that was a long hole with a deep and narrow canal that runs against a steep bank with hanging trees. With the sky darkening for minutes, T.J. He hooked his bass jackpot, a small 16-inch mouth that fought like a demon.

A few minutes later, I caught his twin in a Craw Papi.

It started to rain shortly after I released it, and we didn't get another bite.

"We caught them so much, and our biggest fish was our last fish," I said. "This is how you want to end."

T.J. Okay, and we walked back to the truck in a downpour that raised the river about four inches.

Photo of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / BRYAN HENDRICKS
Although J.T. The deer aimed at the small mouths, caught a greater number of low Ozark fighters.
Photo of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / BRYAN HENDRICKS
Large amounts of centipedes crawled on shallow rocks in the Buffalo River. A centipede pattern in a fly rod would have been deadly for the largemouth bass and the low Ozark.

Sports on 08/18/2019


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