Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Brown Water, Brown Liquor and Brown Bass
Well, Mother Nature did it again. The best laid plans aren't worth a thing when the weather is a prominent variable. I had an entire weekend with plans to spend a couple nights camping on gravel bars on a well known Ozark river and try my hand at catching a few smallmouth bass on a new body of water as well. These kinds of trips are always tentative, regardless of the planning and preparation that go into them ahead of time. A few inches of rain in the right valley and your peaceful river float just turned into a crash course in Whitewater Rowing 101. As a case in point, the river we were supposed to do our float/camp on was reading around 300 cfs on the USGS gauges Friday morning as I was packing the last of my gear in the truck. By that evening, after an afternoon of rain and storms, the same gauge was creeping up close to 3000 cfs.
Luckily we had a Plan B (and C)ready to go for just such an occurrence. With rivers rising and leaving their banks all over the Ozark region we decided to hedge our bets and go with a body of water we were all familiar with and, most importantly, one where we had the option of sleeping with a solid roof over our heads. It wasn't the pristine riverside camping and wilderness adventure we had been looking forward to, but it did have one thing going for it...the smallmouth bass.
I left the house Friday about mid-morning and pulled into the access we were launching from shortly after noon. Several others in our group were arriving that night but my buddy and I were going to try and get a head start on the fishing action. Skies were grey and threatening and we figured we'd be lucky if we got in a short float before the heavens opened up on us. Our one consolation was the thought that the predicted rains that evening might make todays fishing the only chance we would get...no time like the present.
With a cooler full of fried chicken and Mexican beer we pushed off and started searching for active fish.
We hadn't made it too far around the first river bend when the search ended and the fun began. With the recent uptick in levels and slightly off-colored water it appeared as though the big streamer bite was back in business.
We worked our way downstream all afternoon , hitting each likely hole with our arsenal of flies (Sean fished a brown/yellow deceiver and I fished an olive/yellow deceiver...quite a variety , huh?). Lucky for us the fish weren't in a picky mood and the DD was all we needed for a memorable afternoon on the river. Lots of "fun size" fish came to hand as well as a few bruisers which made the day.
The rain held off until 10 minutes after we pulled the boat off the water. The threatening skies kept everyone else at home watching the radar and the smallmouth kept their end of the bargain as well, you just have to love it when a plan B comes together like that.
That evening we went back to the cabin and sat under the porch awning, listening to the rumbles of thunder and the pattering of rain on the metal roof. A good dinner, a cold beer (or two) and a shot of some brown water for a nightcap finished off what was damn near a perfect day.
The next morning we woke to still cloudy skies but sometime during the night the storms had moved on out. Unfortunately they left a trail of brown, muddy, rising water in their wake. After finishing up the most important meal of the day the group, now numbering five, split up to check out both sections of river that we were planning to fish that day. As we met back up at the cabin to discuss our options the news wasn't great. The lower river was total chocolate milk below the main tributary coming in, unfishable. The upper fared a little better and while it no longer resembled a clear Ozark stream, the fishing still held some promise.
With that decision made for us we headed up to the upper river access, meeting three other friends who had come down for the day to fish as well. After shuttling the three vehicles and trailers we loaded up our gear and began making our way downstream, once again in search of a few of those Ozark brown beauties.
The water began gradually clearing as the day went on and the fish didn't seem to mind the extra water or off-color even a bit. Fish were caught by everyone with a few solid ones thrown in the mix to make the smiles even bigger.
The two miles of brown water at the end of the float led to a few members of our party hitting the brown liquor a little harder than normal. At the takeout that evening the smiles and laughs were big all around, partially due to the fishing and partly because of the alcohol consumption that took place the last few miles of the float.
After the boats were back on the trailers we headed back to the cabin for the evening. Steaks were thrown on the grill, white bass fillets were fried in a cast iron skillet and adult beverages were happily consumed. After dinner we finished off the night sitting around the firepit re-hashing tales of the ones that got away and even a few who didn't.
Sunday morning we got up and started the process all over again. Coffee, breakfast and then a quick run to the river to check on water conditions. The previous days brown water had been replaced with an off-colored greenish water which looked much more conducive to fishing.
We decided on a float and shuttled the vehicles before pushing off for another day of trying to catch a few Ozarks smallies. It turned out to be another great day, with the fish in an even more cooperative mood than they were on Saturday.
The sunny weather did bring out a few more of the locals, and I'm not talking about the ones who reside in the river 365. Other than a few rafts full of drunken, noisy idiots the day couldn't have been much better. A sign of things to come unfortunately, a couple more weeks and it'll be time to hand the river over to the partying masses for the Summer season. Until that happens I'll continue to enjoy the full-time locals that reside here and wait for the return of the creek I love come Fall.
Posted by HighPlainsFlyFisher