Why North Arkansas? My First Trip to Gaston’s
by Beth Hardy Duff
WHY NORTH ARKANSAS?… You might wonder what ever made Paul and me decide to visit North Arkansas and the White River area in the first place. Most people would assume it was my husband’s sincere love for the great outdoors and fishing and that he dragged along his somewhat unwilling and unsuspecting wife on that first trip. But that is far indeed from the truth! Let me tell you the story and in the process, let you in on a little bit about myself.
FIRST SIGHT… My first recollection of that beautiful area would have been from a trip my parents took my brother and me on many, many years ago. I’m guessing that I was about 12 or 13 and my brother was about 4 or 5. Getting there was NOT half the fun, but rather twice the battle! I was imprisoned in the backseat of my parents’ Pontiac Bonneville along with my little brother – that was already bad enough. Neither of us loved long trips in the car OR in the backseat OR with each other. To boot, I remember both of us turning as green as could be since neither of us were tall enough to see outside as Daddy drove up and down and all around those winding mountainous roads enjoying the dickens out of how his new Bonneville hugged the road and handled the curves! Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World could not have taken any longer or been more arduous than this interminably long trip! Mama and Daddy chatted away up front thoroughly enjoying the scenery as if the forgotten children in the backseat were on another planet. At long last, (approximately 8+ hours after bathroom breaks and coke stops), the car finally turned in and came to a halt. Upon arriving at Gaston’s White River Resort, I remember scrambling out of the car and thinking – WHAT? Where’s the nice hotel, big playground and swing-sets, WHERE ARE THE OTHER KIDS??? Instead, what unfolded before me were a bunch of little pink-cabin-looking-things, a shuffleboard court, a big LONG mowed yard that looked like we might could play kickball on it if we could scrounge up some other kids (that turned out to be the airstrip) and a bunch of screeching peacocks!
HOME SWEET HOME, FOR THE NEXT SEVERAL DAYS… So we got checked in, ate whatever we had brought since we were staying in one of the pink cottages with a kitchenette (I found out I had mis-identified the little pink-cabin-like-things and that they were correctly called “cottages”) and settled in for the night. The next morning came oh, so early. I had always enjoyed fishing with my father, but that was lake fishing at home and we always went at some decent hour of the day – like about 4:00 in the afternoon or so. My mother, who has never enjoyed fishing, has always loved my father, so being the dutiful wife, she shoveled the children out of bed, fed us something for breakfast and herded us down to the dock. Daddy was already there and oh so ready to get out on the river. I remember it being cold and foggy and wishing I could go crawl back in bed. There were two boats and guides all set up for us – Daddy and Mark would go in one boat and my mother and I would go in the other. Our guide’s name was Austin and he was nice and funny, Daddy and Mark went with Preston and I believe he was Austin’s brother. I remember Austin being short and round and Preston being as tall and skinny as Austin was short and round. I kept wondering how in the world those two men could be brothers, but they were. Regardless, we geared up for a day on the river.
ME AND MY ZEBCO 33… I was allowed to carry my very own rod and reel combination as it was MINE and I was so proud of it. Daddy had given it to me not too long ago and had finally taught me to somewhat successfully cast with my Zebco 33. Its only experiences with me up until that morning was casting lures at “where the bass should be” and coming up empty, but I loved it nevertheless. My father “somehow” always had all the luck catching fish casting with those lures and I sure wished I could catch a fish on one like him. On occasion, I had done a fantastic job of snagging a “limb bream”, but no fish had ever been harmed due to my Zebco 33 & me.
AND WE’RE OFF… We all finally got seated in our appointed boats after I made one last mad dash to the bathroom since my mother reminded me, “There’s nowhere to go out there for a girl, so you’d better go good now.” I remember us getting to the first spot in the river that it was deemed we should fish and the boat came to a stop. Austin baited my hook with corn and pink salmon eggs. I can tell you right now that I thought our guide was CRAZY! Everybody knows fish don’t eat CORN! But I was willing to go along with this crazy man – he seemed to think he knew what he was doing. And besides, it looked like he forgot to bring the worms or the crickets. Just wait till I get back home and tell my friends that this idiot was putting corn on a hook to fish! And then he put these pink things on there too – kinda looked like my Barbie’s new earrings. HA! So, all baited up and so excited I could hardly sit still, I managed to eek out a meager cast (at best) and that was when I first noticed something quite different about this area. I could see clean down to the bottom and know what was even better??? I could see…yes, I think it is….A FISH…wow, not just one, but BUNCHES of ‘EM! I got so excited I nearly fell out of the boat – screaming, “I see one, I see one!”
THE “DE-FLOWERING OF MY ZEBCO 33”… Austin got me calmed down and told me just to wait and see what happened. In no time at all, I felt that wonderful jerk, jerk, jerk of “something” on the other end. I had a fish! I had a fish! Despite the fact that I nearly capsized the boat with all my excitement, I reeled and reeled as if I were winching in Moby Dick and we did manage to land that fish (he must have swallowed that hook clean down to his tail, thank heavens) and we got to keep him! WOW, that was just great – give me some more of that corn and some of those pink things – let’s get another one!!!
WHAT ARE YOU DOING??… As the day wound on, I was just as excited every time I reeled in a fish as I had been with the first one. Then it got to the point that Austin was quietly throwing my fish back. I caught on and couldn’t imagine what was wrong with this man! WHY ARE YOU THROWING ‘EM BACK? He told me we could only keep a certain number of the fish and that we had to leave enough for somebody else to catch, but that we could come back again tomorrow and catch some more. As disappointing as all that was, I understood and then it hit me and I grinned a big ole grin — I GET TO COME BACK AGAIN TOMORROW!
I truly cannot tell you what my mother was doing all this time – in fact, I pretty much forgot she was even in the boat! (Kinda the same way she & daddy had forgotten my brother and I had been in the backseat of the car). She may have felt honor bound to wet a hook for a little while, but I never saw it. Most likely she was just as content to read the good murder/mystery she had brought along under her new groovy blue flowered hat.
During the day, we had worked our way up and down the river and by afternoon, it was time to head back to Gaston’s with our catch. I was just as pleased and proud as I could possibly be – grinning like the Cheshire Cat. Not only had I gotten to catch my limit of fish, but I got to SEE the trout swimming in that crystal clear icy water too. They looked so big and happy and graceful swimming against that current so close to the bottom of the river. At home, the lakes were always too muddy or cloudy to see the fish, so seeing them in their natural state BEFORE they were in the boat was a big treat for me!
THE EXCITEMENT’S NOT OVER… On our route back, Austin had slowed down to navigate a shallow, gravelly area in the river and when he cut back the throttle on the boat motor, I could hear a dog barking. I looked up and a white and brown dog had started to bark at us from the shoreline and was wagging his tail. I thought he looked like a happy dog so I yelled, “Hey puppy!” to him. Apparently that was the only invitation he needed! Before anyone knew it, that dog had shot off the shoreline, swum his way out to the boat and was clawing at the sides to get in! Next thing I knew, the dog was in the boat and Austin was not real happy about it. The dog was thrashing about like the deliriously happy animal he was, knocking over the tackle box, clamoring over rods, licking me in the face and doing his best impression of the “wet dog shake”. Austin stood up and calmly took the dog, picking him up by his rear end and his collar, and launched him overboard. Thankfully for him, the dog decided he had done what he had set out to do – to say howdy to the boaters with all the gusto and enthusiasm of a newly appointed Wal-Mart Greeter. Thank Heavens he happily opted to swim back to his shoreline and stretch out in the noonday sunshine for a much-needed recuperative nap.
When we got back that afternoon, we were all as tired as we could be. The cold fried chicken lunches that had been brought by our guides had been delicious, but that meal was gone and we were beginning to get really hungry. So off we children went to get bathed and my mother set up shop in the kitchen, doing one of the many things she does best – COOK!
Stay tuned to part II, SORTA KINDA LIKE SPAGHETTI, BUT NOT EXACTLY…