This last week the whole family hopped in the car loaded with a weeks worth of supplies...camping gear , fly rods , water rafts , hiking gear , food , beer and several large totes full of stuff that we didn't need but had to take anyway just in case. The weeks agenda was pretty loose compared to my usual "plan everything ahead of time" routine.
Our first destination was Beaver Lake in Arkansas , Rocky Branch park in particular , a place where I practically grew up when I was a kid. My grandparents owned a lake cabin and I spent every summer and most other school vacations down at the lake with my grandparents for more years than I can remember.
Great times for me and recently I'd had a longing to go back and traipse around some of my old haunts just to see what the years had changed and what had remained the same as I remembered it.
We headed out Monday morning just as the 9 to 5'ers were busy grabbing their frappachino's from the local QT. A couple bags of ice in each cooler and vacation had officialy started for the House family. We took our time in getting to our destination , stopping at several roadside orchards and vegetable stands to stock up on goodies for the week as well as eating lunch at a small ma and pa type drive-in malt shop with homemade curly-q's and fried fruit pies to die for. 250 miles and 4000 calories later we arrived at the Rocky Branch Campground and set up basecamp. For the next couple of days we spent a lot of time just lounging around in the lake during the heat of the day and hiking a few trails over in the Hobbs State Park just several miles away early and late when it had cooled off.
We visited one of the places I remembered going to frequently as a kid , the old War Eagle Grist Mill on the War Eagle River.
I used to fish below the dam for carp and bass and bluegill...whatever would eat the worms I was using. The place hadn't changed much at all to my delight , I fished below the dam..with no success and then we went inside the little store and purchased enough fresh ground bread , biscuit and pancake mixes to last us a year.
A cold glass bottle of pop from a tub of ice by the counter along with a bag of homemade peanut brittle and the memory was complete , I could almost picture myself in the same place doing the same thing 30 years ago. It's nice to be able to do that....comforting in a way.
We also hiked a trail called the Van Winkle Hollow trail which follows a small seep spring through a valley where an old homestead used to reside.
Back in the day we'd go down to the small spring fed creek to hunt crawdads and splash around in the cool clear pools but today it's a fully excavated archeological site with a paved path through the remnants of the old farmstead along the spring , pretty interesting area.
One evening we had a run-in with one of the locals over trash disposal.
He got upset when we caught him trying to raid our camp and decided it best to put the trash in the dumpster ,for the next couple hours he sat on a limb overhanging camp and tossed leaves and sticks at us occasionally to show his frustration.
I tossed a few flies around in the lake for an hour or two as well once or twice but didn't have any real success except for a couple small sunfish and a small bass. I didn't work at it very hard though to be honest , just kind of enjoyed doing nothing for a change. We ate pretty well as we normally do when camping, if you don't gain 10 pounds in 5 days of camping you're not doing something right.
The highlight might have been grilled fresh arkansas peaches with cinnamon and a little sugar sprinkled on top ,man was that tasty.
After two nights and three days we were ready for a change of scenery but hadn't decided on a second stop ahead of time. We tossed around some ideas and decided that a cool stream would be a nice escape from the sweltering heat for both us and Joe. It was Wednesday so I didn't expect crowds which left our choices open , my first thought was the NFOW river and the majority agreed so off we went in a general Easterly direction. We took the scenic route and stopped off at Roaring River State Park to look at the spring branch and hike the trail that winds above it to stretch our legs.
The park wasn't overly crowded but I didn't bother to fish , we simply enjoyed the scenery for a couple hours. It was around 5:00PM when we pulled into SunBurst Ranch on the NFOW , just as I'd hoped the campground was pretty empty and we had our choice of sites.
Camp was set up right along the river under a large shade tree and then we quickly made our way to the stream to cool off in the crystal clear water. There would be a lot of that in the next couple of days along with a few chances to throw some flies at the resident fish in the area.
The first morning I got in a couple hours fishing before breakfast and did pretty well fishing the usual nymph rig , catching maybe a dozen to fifteen fish in a couple hours of time on the water.
Nothing big but as usual beautifully colored wild bows that fight like stocked fish twice their size. Joe got to swap spit with his first NFOW wild bow...he said it was good for him but I'm not so sure about the fish.
After watching Joe make his way across the river several times I think there may be some validity into looking at canine claws on wading boots for traction , myself on the other hand was wishing I'd brought the studded rubbers instead of just the sticky rubber.
I probably looked like Ozzy trying out for Dancing with the Stars while making my way across the swift current , not a pretty sight. That afternoon we did some more sightseeing , Dawt Mill and Althea Springs were two places we checked out before retiring back to camp to soak in the cool water for awhile.
That evening I didn't make it back out on the water until just before dark so I decided to throw streamers in hopes of catching one of the nice browns known to haunt the area.
I started off with a rabbit hair pattern I tie but ended up going with a yellow Zoo Cougar after the first pattern failed to produce anything.
While no browns were raised I did land two decent bows on the Zoo Cougar.
Just as I was about to call it a night , making that internal argument with myself for a few more casts, it happened. An explosion on the water that startled me mid-strip , luckily the fish hooked himself because I think I just stood there for several seconds before reacting. The fish had other plans and was already making his way down to the next pool as I began to give chase. It was dark and I stumbled along in the waist deep water occasionally making a wrong step and going down on one hand or a knee to brace myself. I was soaking wet by this time anyway so it didn't really matter. This went on for maybe 10 minutes before I could work the fish in close enough for my first glimpse , not a brown I thought as it looked too silvery in the moonlight. Man a really nice wild bow ...even better. A couple more short runs and the fish was in the net , not what I was expecting for sure ,a striper of around 20 inches lay in the net at my waist.
I wasn't real sure whether to be excited or dissapointed , I would've much rather it been a twenty inch rainbow but then again that fish just gave me the fight of his life and I had the bruised knees and soaked clothing to prove it. I snapped one picture and was changing camera hands for another pic when the fish flipped out of my grasp and was gone. One lousy pic and on top of that I just let a little rainbow eater loose back into one of my favorite trout streams. Justin and I had discussed that situation earlier in the day and now I had done just what we said you shouldn't do....release the fish back into the system. That night I had nightmares of small wild rainbow fry being devoured by stripers, cold justice no doubt. Friday morning after breakfast I fished for about an hour and managed two fish in that time , much slower than the previous mornings trip.
We had decided to head back home before the weekend crowds arrived so today was packing up day. We spent some more time in the water after getting camp taken down and then hit the road for KC. We had a wonderful trip and as always Justin and Amy were very gracious hosts making our stay at SunBurst fantastic. Another summertime family vacation in the books.....