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Road trip to Devils Tower Wyoming

Status of Caddie… So, after two hail storms and torrential downfalls at the campground near Hill City, SD our concerns turned toward the plane which was at the airport in Rapid City (KRAP).  The weather map on the iPad had the storm that was on top of us heading straight to the airport.  After limited sleep, we popped up early and drove straight to the airport to lay eyes on Caddie.  She was fine!  The tie downs were secure, the Bruce’s Custom Cover was a little askew, but there was no water inside or hail dings to be found.  The folks at the FBO said it had not rained that much there, apparently it is usually much more severe in the hills than down on the plains where the airport is.

Road Trip… So, with our fears of damage to the plane put to rest, we decided today would be a good day for a road trip.  We had 200 miles per day allowance on the rental car and had only driven a hundred or so.  We decided to head north and then west to Wyoming to see the Devils Tower.

Almost Rally Time… Our first stop, up I-90, was the infamous town of Sturgis, SD, home of the annual bike rally.  The rally was still two weeks away, but this little town was preparing for the arrival of thousands of biker dudes and babes!  A lot of them come up early and were cruising the hills on “Softails”,  “Fatboys” and choppers.  We stopped at one of the large T-shirt vendors and ran into a couple of guys from Birmingham that were running the business.  We bought a couple of T-shirts just to proclaim we had been to Sturgis and continued west.

Close Encounter… After nearly an hour of driving, we went over a hill and “WOW”, there it was.  Just rising up from the plains was this large rock formation unlike anything we have ever seen.   As we got closer, I could see how this site held such a spiritual significance to the local tribes.  It was one of those “goose bump” moments as we arrived at the monument welcome center.  The goose bumps got a little bigger when I realized there were people scaling the sides of this thing at varying elevations.  I did not realize that, not only did the Park Service allow climbing on the monument, but promoted it also.  While listening to a ranger give a talk about the turkey vultures (we call ’em buzzards) that were circling the monument, I heard someone behind me make a comment about “being caught in a storm in a tent the night before”.  I turned around only to see Jason and his family, our new friends from North Dakota that we camped next to.  What a small world… we were over a hundred miles from the camp and they had pulled up stakes that morning to head home by way of Wyoming.

“What an incredible Cinderella story!”… “Licensed to kill gophers by the government of the United Nations.”, Caddyshack’s, Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) would have come unglued at the sight of the area leaving the monument. Hundred of prairie dogs infested the grounds with warning signs not to feed them.  The warning didn’t keep us from stopping and “shooting” them with a camera, nor did it stop them from coming right up to you to beg.  These little buggers had holes dug everywhere and kept popping up at random as far as the eye could see.

More Beautiful Views… On our trek back to camp, we took the Spearfish Canyon Highway route.  Once again we found ourselves looking up to some of the most beautiful bluffs and scenery we have ever seen.  At the end of this road was the town of Deadwood.  Besides the HBO TV series, Deadwood was best known as a gold rush town that saw the likes of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane.  Now, this clean looking town has lots of saloons and gaming establishments, but would justify further investigation at a later date… we were tired!

There’s Goats in Them There Hills… We didn’t see any gold but we did see the local heard of bighorn sheep just outside of Hill City.  Most of the sheep had collars around their necks, which I suspect is what set off the flashing lights on the highway when they get near.  This area is such a photo trap for us tourists, that they have paved “pull over” lanes to protect us from crashing into each other.  So after several hundred miles on the road, we arrived at the KOA to find that their workers had done an incredible job of rebuilding the roads from the prior storms.  With more bad weather forecast for the next afternoon, we decided that we should probably cut a day off of our stay in the Black Hills and head out early the next morning toward Oshkosh.  So we had a nice dinner at the camp restaurant, washed up some clothes and packed the car for an early departure…

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Awe Hail… Stormy Night in the Black Hills!

Sorry about the delayed posts... but, the weather was pretty bad and we found ourselves without internet access for most of the remainder of the trip and since we have been home, we have been caught up with catching up.  Trust me there was plenty to talk about, both from South Dakota and Wisconsin!

The night from hail… after we made the previous post about what we did on day one in the Black Hills of South Dakota, we decided to head into Hill City to get a quick bite to eat.  As we approached town, the clouds got darker and the rain started.  Beth said “Was that hail I heard”… “naww, it’s just raining hard”, I said… Oh well, in about 30 seconds, I was looking for a place to pull over to escape the ice falling from the sky.  We did find a parking lot that was slightly protected and luckily the hail ranged from pea to marble sized, so there was no damage to the rental car.  After sitting in the hail storm for well over 10 minutes, we decided to bypass dinner for now and go back to see if the tent was still standing after the rain settled down.

KOA, Washed away!…Wow, as we pulled into the campground, the second wave of rain hit us.  The hail from the previous wave was pilled up inches deep as we turned into the campground.  At this point, we just knew the tent was destroyed and all of our stuff was wet.  When we made it to the bottom of the hill where our tent was located, we were met with a wall of rushing water carrying sand and gravel and most of the road down from above… this made for VERY loose material to drive on and that is where we stopped moving!  Well crap… at least we were stuck right in the middle of the road, so the KOA folks would eventually have to

Big Agnes after “round one” with the elements…

come push us out – so we waited  – but, not for long.   Out of the woodwork, help came from every direction in the form of six or seven barefooted, kind-hearted souls who literally picked up the front of our underpowered rental tin can and moved us out of the loose sand and gravel.  In no time at all, we were liberated and moving up the hill again.

Best Tent Ever! (hold that thought)… So when we did make it up the hill, much to our surprise, the tent was still standing!  Our neighbor’s large “kitchen” tent had collapsed with broken poles and such but our Big Agnes was still alive.   After the rain stopped we went through all of our stuff in the tent and it was all still dry and in good shape.  A few minutes later our neighbors arrived to assess the situation and from the looks of it, their “sleeping” tent was OK too, but… it is starting to rain again!  So, to get out of the weather, all 6 of us pile into the Chevy Aveo for shelter.  It is amazing how much camaraderie there is among campers and folks that like the outdoors.  Our new friends from Bismarck, North Dakota had two great kids and were fun to visit with.  After this last small shower passed, Beth & I decided we would head back into town to eat.

Karaoke from hail…  We rolled into Hill City and found what kinda looked like a “Biker-Bar/Mexican Restaurant”.   Margaritas seemed to be in order for the two of us, along with some pretty good food.  As we were finishing off our meal, a guy came around and handed out the song books for “Talent Time” … yep, it was karaoke night!  While I have been known to partake in song, I think my lack of body “ink” and facial hair would set me apart from this crowd in a way that would keep me way away from the mic.  Luckily, there were many “takers” to provide entertainment and within minutes it got loud in the building, just not from music, yep, hail again!  Lighting was crashing, the power went off, boy is this fun… At this point all we could do was order another drink and think about what shape the tent might be in now and enjoy the entertainment.

Check out the short video below…

Best Tent Ever! (hold that thought again)… After dreading what we would see when we arrived at the campground near midnight, once again we were surprised to see our tent standing in the head lights and in good shape after surviving two torrential downpours with hail.  At this point our thoughts turned to our plane, which was sitting outside in the weather about 30 miles away at Rapid City.  Our hearts were sinking as we watched the storm on radar move over KRAP, but there was not anything we could do tonight, but ride it out and hope for the best.  Our plans now included heading straight to the airport the next morning to see how Caddie made it through the storms.  More to come in the next few days….

New Video…. made with our GoPro Camera!

And as always… You can subscribe to our blog by entering your  e-mail address in the box to the right or “LIKE” our Face book page at https://www.facebook.com/2FlyAmerica and now you can “TRACK US” by clicking on the tab at the top of the page.

Trout Attack! – Memorial Day Weekend – Beth’s Turn to Talk…

by Beth Hardy Duff

So after a second day of instruction with Ron and a very successful one too, I might add, Paul and I decided to strike out on our own since it was time to “test drive” our new “schoolin”.  We drove a short way from our camper and ended up at Roundhouse Shoals.  This is another beautiful view of the White River and one we had noticed before.  (Frankly, I don’t believe there are any “unattractive” views of the White River).   Roundhouse is just across the road from where we pick up our free firewood from the truss company.  Hey – it’s free and it burns, don’t laugh.  We’ve actually grilled steaks over a “truss wood fire” when the electric fire starter for our Big Green Egg sputtered out and died one evening leaving us with a “cold egg”.

Anyhow, we found a place to park Jane (our beloved airport junker – she’s another story all by herself) and got out of the car.  I knew it was a long way down to the river from there but had no idea how steep the descent actually was until I stood above and peered down.  It reminded me of the Mountain Slide I had gone on at Camp DeSoto as a girl – the only requirements for it were that you be a Senior Camper and that you wear a “nearly destroyed” pair of blue jeans because they’d surely be, once you tore the seat out of them sliding down the rocky, muddy mountainside.  The only thing I had in common with this view and that slide was the fact that now I’m really a Senior!

As we were looking over the situation and considering tying a rope off to Jane and letting ourselves over the edge, mountain-climber style, we spied another person just a few yards up from us.  Paul suggested we go ask them where the best spot to get down to the water’s edge was located.   When we came up on the vehicle, a person was standing behind it obviously getting ready to fish.  As we walked around the side, Paul said “Good Morning” to which a lady turned around and said, “Well Good Morning!”   I have to admit, even I was taken aback when she greeted us.   Not just by the fact that she totally looked the part of a very well practiced fly fisher-person, but that she also was strikingly beautiful – complete with perfect makeup, hair, hat, waders, etc.  I didn’t exactly notice Paul’s reaction to her stunning good looks, but I’m certain he did notice, although he didn’t act that way.   Kudos to him for not gawking and hollering, “DA-YAM”!  Thankfully, he most always manages quite a bit of self-control when necessary; that’s one reason I married him.  He asked her if she knew of a good way to get down to the river’s edge and she simply replied, ”Well, there just isn’t a good one” and sorta laughed.  She sincerely meant that.  Then, glancing at our brand-spanking-new wading boots, she asked us if we had studs on our boots.   Our answer was, “No” and probably should have been followed up by, “well, not just yet…” Thankfully, she was very kind and gave us the benefit of the doubt by not just saying, “How green are you at this? Or better yet, “Should you two be out alone?”  We continued our conversation and divulged the obvious by telling her we had just had a couple lessons with Ron (whom she knew) and that we were truly “newbies” at this new sport.  We introduced ourselves and we found out that her name was T-Bird.  Don’t know what her “given” name is, but I have to believe that her nickname does truly fit her well.  She began to show us the flies in her fly box and it was quite an impressive collection.  Lots of things we had seen before, even more we had not.  What were even more impressive were her fingernails!  When I say this gal had fingernails, I DO MEAN NAILS!   They were really, really long and looked incredibly strong.  And these were definitely homegrown, no sculptured ones for her!  WOW!  I began thinking that maybe these must be her secret of how she scaled her way down to the river and back up again.  Anyhow, as she began to talk with us, we quickly found out that she was the real deal – she absolutely knew her stuff.  She pointed out to us that the bottom of the river where we were planning our “trout attack” was very slick rock and dangerous to navigate especially without studs or a wading staff.  Ron had already warned us about the slick blue rock.   We had looked quickly at the river’s bottom when we first got there, but not well enough to have noticed the infamous blue green rock we had been warned about.  Note to self, make sure you take a better “look-see” next time.  Hmmm… so after about two seconds consideration, we decided maybe this area was a bit more advanced than we were just yet and might be better saved for a day fishing with Ron.

We continued our chat and she gave us more advice and helpful hints and was truly a fine ambassador for the sport of fly-fishing.  She told us she had been fly-fishing for 12 years and tying flies for 5 years.  Once again, I sneaked another look at her nails and thought, I couldn’t even tie my shoes with those things!  Growing nails is just one of those things I’ve never been able to do and frankly, I just haven’t let that bother me that much.  T-Bird then gave us some safer suggestions as to where we might try fishing on our own.  One of her suggestions was to try the public access at the State Park below Bull Shoals.  She also made several suggestions of flies to try there, too.   So we thanked her for the wealth of information she had shared with us and for steering us “newbies” away from Roundhouse.  Regardless of whether she told us all this to shoo us off her favorite fishin’ hole or just because she didn’t want to practice advanced lifesaving skills today, we were thrilled to learn all we did and happy to try out a safer option for fishing.   So off we headed to Dally’s Fly Shop to pick up some of the newly suggested ammo for our “trout attack”.

We had a great drive to the Bull Shoals White River State Park.  This place was packed with people who had decided to camp or visit for the day – remember this WAS Memorial Day weekend!  We found the public access area and hopped out of the car.  Right away we found a great, safe way to get down to the river and fantastic benches to sit on & “suit up” and something else that didn’t delight us all that much – this place was also everyone else’s idea of a favorite fishing spot.   The number of other fly-fishing enthusiasts submerged “bootie deep” in the river numbered about twenty (that we could see at first glance)!  GOSH!  Did EVERYBODY have to show up here today?  This sight reminded me of the deep sea fishing “party” boats you go on when you can’t afford a real charter boat trip.  The “ding-ding” of the boat’s bell that signified you to fling your line overboard as you stand elbow to elbow with massive numbers of stinky, sweaty “city folk fishermen” who know nothing about fishing to the “ding ding” of the bell that signified you to pull in your line which then began a frenzy of tangled lines, crying children and endless streams of obscenities.  This was NOT what we were looking for, but we kept looking at the anglers who stood fairly close to each other and they were successfully casting their fly rods, not tangling up with each other and actually exhibiting some semblance of etiquette toward each other.  Hmmm..as we stood there a little longer, we noticed one catch a trout, then another one, and then another one.  Well, maybe it’s worth a try, we decided and so we donned our waders and boots and trudged into the water.

Fearing we might blow our cover of “newbie fly fisherpersons”, we carefully trudged in and stayed back from the massive line of fishermen, not wanting to disturb them and began to cast.  After a few casts, we managed to remember how to do this new skill and got more comfortable.  After about fifteen minutes, one of the guys in front of us, turned around and said he was going to have to leave and told us to move up to his spot, he had definitely had some luck there.

We thanked him profusely and began to move.   Paul, being my sweet husband that he is, encouraged me to move ahead and take the newly freed spot and said he would move up on my left.  I trudged forward several more feet to where the former fisherman had been and began to cast.  Although the person closest to me on my right had looked way too close at first, he now didn’t seem to crowd me as much.  He may have noticed my real skill level and taken a couple of serious steps to the right in self-preservation, but regardless, I had some room now.   One of the first things I had noticed right away about this area was that the water was considerably colder than where we had been earlier.  This was because we were closer to the dam and the water hadn’t had traveled far enough yet to warm up much.  Regardless, the 90-degree sunshine actually felt good and with the cold water cooling off the rest of us, the temp was just about as perfect as it could be.

I was the first one lucky enough to have my fly bitten by a trout that day.  It absolutely made my day!  I worked with the fish and played him down well.  Since I still didn’t have a fly-fishing vest yet and all the necessary (or unnecessary) accoutrements, I hollered over to get Paul to come net the fish for me, which he cheerily did.   I said, “It’s a nice one, wanna keep it?” to which my husband replied, “No, I don’t want to just keep one fish to clean, so throw it back.”  I’m sure my face looked like the little girl who’d just dropped her lollipop in the sand pile.  “Oh, well, okay,” so I let my newly prized possession down into the water and he happily swam away.    So I casted out again and was just getting ready to recast when another trout took my line.  “Woo Hoot!  This is really getting to be fun!” I said.  I wasn’t quite clear on what Paul said, but it didn’t matter, I was having a ball!  So I worked this fish down also and Paul netted this one for me too.  I said, “Well, since it does appear that we are going to catch fish today and the freezer is officially out of trout, let’s keep this one.”  Paul obliged, so we tied him off to the stringer.  I did offer to have MY FISH tied off to MY SELF, but Paul dutifully tied the stringer off to himself and walked back over to his spot.   I began casting again and caught another one – it seemed as though I had a fabulous fish magnet on the end of my tippet.  In fact, it was one of the suggestions that T-Bird had given us that morning that we had just purchased at Dally’s.  “Ms Nails” really did know her stuff!  Paul was not fishing with the same fly as I was, but was sure luck would find him soon, especially with the look of determination (or was that consternation) on his face.

With each fish I pulled in, it seemed it took Paul a wee bit longer to make it over to me and net my fish.  I did thank him kindly every time he came over and less and less was said by him (that I could understand anyway) to me.   On about the fifth fish, I thought, maybe I should just play this one down for a little while and not say anything right away since he had not even made it back to his spot yet.  As I glanced over at Paul, I noticed he was not casting, but attempting to fix or cut away a wad of knotted line of indeterminate proportion.   The day was not going like he had planned, but it was going.   As I began to look away from that sad sight, he looked up & saw that I had another fish on the line.   I grinned and his shoulders just sort of fell, but he didn’t say another word; he just made his way over to me and quietly put this one on the stringer too.  After that fish, things began to settle down a little bit and Paul did manage to get the chance to cast unbothered for a little while – but only a little while.

From his left, I could see about 5 or 6 children, ranging in age from about 4 to 14.  A few of them had rods in hands and the others were making their way around to the river’s edge in front of us.   The next thing I know, one of the boys casted a lure the size of a bowling ball into the water landing about 2 feet from where Paul’s fly lay.  I couldn’t help but laugh at the endless circus of antics going on.  Children were screaming and thrashing about in the water, some were throwing mud and everyone was having a good ole time.  Everyone except Paul! There couldn’t have been a fish left anywhere close to that area even if it had been blind and deaf as Helen Keller!  Paul just looked at me and it was hard to contain myself.   At this point, God intervened and two of the fishermen to my right decided to leave so I graciously moseyed over to the right to allow him room to move away from the growing water fracas.

After changing over to the same fly I was using and managing to catch 3 himself, Paul mentioned that we should be fishing “barbless” so that we could let some of the smaller fish go without hurting them.   I said, “Well okay, that’s good, we’ll do that.”  Before I knew it, Paul had grabbed my fly and had “bent down the barbs” so I was now appropriately fishing “barblessly”.

For some reason, I lost the next four fish I caught.  I’m not sure but I’m thinking instead of bending the barbs, he simply clipped the end off my hook.

For what it’s worth, I now have my own vest, but payback’s gonna be Hell!

(PLD) Watch the short video below… doesn’t she  look better in her new waders!  You can subscribe to our blog by entering your  e-mail address in the box to the right or “LIKE” our Face book page at https://www.facebook.com/2FlyAmerica.

Memorial Day Baptism – White River Style

Windy Ride…  The wind always seems to blow in the Ozarks and rarely down the runway, but we decided to wait until late in the afternoon to fly up, thinking if we get there about dark the winds will have died down a bit.  This time our thinking was right, the afternoon winds had been gusting to over 25 knots and mostly a crosswind at KFLP, but had now calmed down to 8 to 14 or so.  The ride to Flippin was uneventful and when we got there, the car cranked and we were on our way to the camper, waders & fly rods in hand!

Low Water!…  After years of high water and flooding conditions on the White River, things appear to have returned to normal.  Several weeks of low or no power generation has made the river safely wadable again and now we have nice new breathable waders (see old wader post!) and are ready to put them to the test.  I had called our fly fishing instructor, Ron McQuay before we left, to check his schedule for the weekend and was able to arrange an outing with him on Saturday morning, but tomorrow was Friday and we were going fishing!  We started at a familiar location just up from the camper, Wildcat Shoals.  Wow, we have never seen it this way, we waded completely to the other side of the river and never got in over 2 feet of water.  After fly fishing for hours without any bites, we had our usual picnic lunch next to the river.  We decided to pull out out spin fishing equipment when we returned to the water and still had no luck.  We could see dozens of fish just under the surface, but could not get them to bite.  I even saw a very large brown trout and was able to get so close to him that I took a picture of him with my waterproof camera.  We fished for a couple of more hours and gave into the hope of catching fish with Ron in the morning.

Beth’s Second Baptism…  We met Ron for breakfast and discussed the water conditions and decided to start our fishing for the day down at Rim Shoals.  The outfitter down there offers a water taxi service so we went up the river to where a creek enters the river.  As we prepared to enter the water, Ron pulls out this jointed “stick-like” device and starts putting it together.  “Hmmm, what is that?” I said,  Ron’s reply was “a wading staff, they are nice to have…”.  I’m thinking yea, well we waded all around yesterday without incident, so that should not be a problem.

We moved into the water, fly rods in hand and just as we got above knee deep, I hear Kuplush… I turned around to see Beth, my lovely bride of 30+ years, with her fly rod held high in her right hand and her whole left arm, up to her neck in the frigid water.  I’m thinking, good girl, don’t drop that new L.L. Bean rod & reel into the water… only GOD knows what she was thinking.  The good news is that the new, properly fitted, waders didn’t let a drop of water in and that fancy new fishing shirt she had on would dry out in a flash and we now have matching wading staffs on order…

First Trout…  I had caught my first trout on a fly the last time we were on the White River with Ron (story here).  Ron did not totally like the look of the water where we were, but we started casting, stripping & mending (cool fly fishing words, huh – only one of those words had anything to do with fishing before we met Ron).  Soon, the fight was on… Beth had her first trout on a fly and it was a good one!  After a few minutes of wearing him down, Ron netted the rainbow, pictures were taken & the fish was released.  Just as I had been hooked by this sport a few weeks ago, Beth too, was being taken in by trout fever.  We continued to fish Rim Shoals and Beth & I both caught another fish, but we left the island with Beth up two fish to my one.

Let’s Go, The Water is Coming!…  Since the water at Rim Shoals was not exactly like Ron wanted, we decided to drive down to the Norfork River below the dam.  The generators were shut down and the only water flowing was from dam and generator leakage.  Wading in this area was simple, but Ron warned us of the very little notice we would get if/when they turned on the generators.  So we waded upstream several hundred yards in mostly ankle deep water to find some nice looking pools that had fish that we could see.  Ok… there she goes again, catching fish.  Beth quickly caught a couple of rainbows in the pool of slow moving water while I was just casting away.  We had been fishing for an hour & a half or so when something changed.  I noticed the slightest change in the sound of the rapids just above us, so I picked out a rock to watch just to see if the water was coming up, then I heard Ron yell, “It’s a BROWN!”  Beth had her first brown trout ever and it was on a fly rod!  So, I moved down to where they were to take some pictures.  About the time I got to them, one of the fellows fishing down stream from us yelled, “Let’s go, the water is rising”.  As Beth and Ron took care of releasing the brown trout, I started the trek back to the access point.  I was amazed at how fast the water rises when they turn on the generators.  What had been a gravel bar when we walked upstream was now under a foot of water in just a few minutes, a great lesson to learn for future outings to the Norfork… at the first sign of changing water – get moving!  When we got ready to leave the parking area, Ron invited us to a pot luck fish fry up at Copper Johns Lodge on Sunday night.  That sounded like a good idea, especially since all of the fish Beth had caught had been in the catch & release areas and we had no fish to eat.  So, we took the beautiful drive back to Cotter with more great memories in our rearview mirror and another day of fishing ahead.

Watch Video Below…

Beth’s turn to talk…  Part 2 will come in the next few days and will be written by Beth about our fist successful day, fly fishing by ourselves…

You can subscribe to our blog by entering your  e-mail address in the box to the right or “LIKE” our Face book page at https://www.facebook.com/2FlyAmerica.  Once again, I would like to thank Ron McQuay for taking an interest in us.  Ron is a very patient teacher and is very knowledgable of the White River fishery.  Ron’s website is ronsflyfishingforbeginners.com.

Why North Arkansas? My First Trip to Gaston’s – Part 2 – The Rest of the Story…

by Beth Hardy Duff

SORTA KINDA LIKE SPAGHETTI, BUT NOT EXACTLY…   I wish I had paid more attention to exactly how this gastronomic extravaganza came into being, but, being children and  HUNGRY children at that, Mark and I had been given a snack and were sent out of the cottage to go find something to do until dinner was ready.  We went outside and caught lightning bugs and played on the shuffleboard court until that got old and we got really tired of each other (again) and we went back in the cottage.  When we hit the door, the smell hit us in our faces.   What IS that smell?  It smelled sorta kinda like spaghetti, but not exactly.  Weren’t we having some of the fish we had just caught?  “You know there’s nothing better than fresh fish that was just swimming this afternoon” If I had heard that said once, I’d heard it a thousand times”.  Of course, I don’t know how I actually thought my mother would fix the fish.  If you know my mother, you KNOW she doesn’t FRY anything – that just didn’t work its way into her genes, heck, it wasn’t even in her vocabulary!  About that time, I remember my father walking in and saying, “Oh Betsy, that smells good!”  I was thinking, well maybe it does to him…  It was time to sit down for dinner and we got served (and I mean that in the exact sense it was said).  My mother was so proud of herself – she had concocted a delicious meal for her family after having spent all day long out on the water herself.  We looked down at the plates and gasped!   It was our fish that we had worked so hard to catch, but somebody forgot to cut off the heads AND THE TAILS!  Did they forget to scale ‘em too?  The fish were decorated in a mountain of creole delights – tomatoes, onions, okra, squash, maybe even eggplant – YUCK!!!  We looked at her with the “You don’t REALLY expect us to eat this, do you??” look.  The look in her eyes clearly gave us our answer – “Yes – every single bite!”  Thankfully, the Good Lord has removed whatever happened next from my memory but I’m sure it wasn’t a pretty sight.  I will, however, venture a guess that it was the last time my mother fixed “Creole Trout” for her unappreciative children.

Still Loving it 35 Years Later!

IN THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER…  The next day was another perfectly sunny day and this time, I paid more attention to the surrounding area than to that strange man who was our guide – this time he wasn’t so strange, he was my old friend Austin from yesterday.  We set out from Gaston’s and I began to notice all the wildlife along the side of the river.  There were lots of birds – herons and cranes and maybe even an eagle or two.  There were deer – I used to have deer as pets growing up in the country.  You  just assume the responsibility of  “mothering” unusual critters as pets when you grow up in the country.  It’s understood and especially if you have the “Elly May” gene which I definitely do.  I thought these deer were just as beautiful as mine.  A mama deer and her fawns – they didn’t even run when our boat passed by them.

The shoreline sure was different from the fishing lakes I was familiar with from my “flatlander Mississippi home”. The river was flanked by mountains that seemed to shoot skyward and were punctuated by trees and the occasional bare rock spot.  Bare spots where a rock had lost its once tightly held grip and fallen face first into the river and was now hidden or partially hidden from view.  A rock that now changed the course of the river forevermore.  This was my first encounter with the mountains and I thought they were the most awesome and beautiful pieces of God’s handiwork I had ever witnessed and I still do to this day;  mesmerizing me to the point I just couldn’t and still can’t quench my gaze.  The mountains along with the river made a permanent impression on my young mind – a mind that had never seen dirt piled any higher than what the dog had unearthed while digging a giant hole in the front yard looking for shade.  Mountains that commanded you to hold onto your hat if you dared to peer all the way up to the top.  Mountains that made and make me feel like “shrunken Alice” from Alice In Wonderland to this day.  Some of my friends disagree with me that these mountains don’t qualify as “real mountains” because they aren’t tall enough or “west” enough, but I disagree.  It’s not all about height or location, it’s way more than that – it’s all about how you perceive yourself and your place in the world once you’ve been taken in by them.  It changes the way you look at everything from that moment on.  But, I digress…

AS IF I NEEDED ANOTHER REASON…  The sun beat down on us that day but it wasn’t like the sun of the beach because of the cool breeze of relief that always seemed to accompany the river.  I never liked the beach very much – okay, I downright hated and still hate it today.  I have very fair skin that burns beet red, hurts, itches, peels, looks gross and repeats the process if you’re dumb enough to expose yourself to the sun again.  I had tried to like the beach – all my friends were always going there with their families and were always gabbing excessively about what a great time they would have there.  They would run around and build sandcastles, play badminton, make ice cream, play in the gulf all day long, and end the day by squiggling their toes in the sand around a bonfire and making plans to enjoy the whole silly routine again the next day.  Frankly, not one bit of that appealed to me – other than the ice cream and the bonfire (fires belong in fireplaces or fire rings, not on the beach).  Beside the heat, and oppressive sun, there was the salty, sticky, smelly water, the sand that got into places that sand shouldn’t be in, sharp shells on the blazing beach and finally, my hair!  My hair!  The kind of hair that frizzes and stands out if it comes in contact with the least amount of humidity.  Impossible to tame on a beach vacation so you wear a hat – a HOT hat – on a hot sticky sandy beach!

The river and the mountains had offered the antithesis of the beach.  How wonderful it was with its cool morning fog and the sun that peeked in over the mountains but never seemed to heat my body past it’s boiling point.  The beautiful birds tending to their young in their nests and silently gliding by us just inches over the water’s surface.  The deer on the shore munching on grasses and tree leaves and their fawns leaping and jumping at each other without a care in the world.  Sometimes they would stop to watch us pass by, but not always, then back to mischief.  This beautiful green peaceful world with its majestic boundaries and tranquil liquid situated ‘neath our seemingly endless sky.   It was paradise indeed.

TEMPORARY HOME…  We had had another wonderful day of fishing and laughing and enjoying our time on the river.  My mother was able to finish reading her book and no dogs ventured to join us in the boat that last day.  On our way back to our temporary “pink” home, I once again tried to take in all that I could so that I would have these wonderful memories to enjoy once I was back in the flatlands.   The herons and cranes and deer seemed to say, “Come back any time, dear, we’ll be right here waiting for you.”  I closed my eyes and tried to remember each and every inch of the river and its green slathered mountains as the hum of the little motor on the boat tried to lull me to sleep.  I opened my eyes and I was surprised and a little disappointed to see the welcome of the little pink cottages this time, for my slideshow of memories had come to an end.  This would be my last time on the river before we headed home.   We gathered up our belongings and said our fond farewells to our new friends, Austin and Preston.  We trudged back up to the little pink cottage and I decided to take one last walk around before coming in for dinner.

THAT PERCEPTION THING AGAIN…  The peacocks that had greeted me with their shrill screeching voices when we’d first arrived had now become a welcome sound and the sight of them was as magnificent as the mountains themselves.  Not only the beautiful blue ones, but a white one or two also.  They roamed pretty much where they wished and sometime would sit atop the Gaston’s sign, a building or stand in the middle of the road daring you not to stop.   The shuffleboard court had become our afternoon playground and lost its definition as an old person’s sport.  The little pink cottages became more like home than any fancy hotel with its elevators and fountains and it was like leaving home to leave them.  The big mowed yard I had once envisioned with plans to play kickball on had been transformed into an airstrip and was the magic rainbow on which airplanes came and went out of this little piece of Heaven.   That is indeed another (LONG) story and another love of mine as well, flying – save that story for another time.  As for other kids, well, there did end up being other children there which we made friends of and with whom we enjoyed much fun.  Although many did not share my disdain for the beach, they all had great fun while there in the mountains too.

AND SO…  Over the course of the years, my parents took my brother and myself and eventually some “very well behaved friends” of ours back to the White River vacation spot where we had first had fun and where we had fun again.  Each and every time, the river and mountains spoke a little more to my soul and created such an impression upon me that I really felt like a bigger part of me stayed there each time I left.

One afternoon while my husband and I were sitting around talking with my parents, the subject of the White River trips came up.  It was like opening a 2-liter coke bottle that had been dropped on the floor!  I began to talk about it and talk about it and talk to the point that I think I might have exploded the very next second if I hadn’t gotten to gush all about my good times there and why it was my favorite place on earth.  I don’t know why I had never thought of it before, but it was my husband’s suggestion that maybe we should go there sometime.  Perhaps he saw that my sanity would vanish completely if a trip wasn’t scheduled and scheduled quickly!  It was such a grand idea and yes, one visit was all it took to make an addict out of my husband too.  And that, my friends, is how we have ended up spending every free moment we possibly can on the White River in North Arkansas.

It’s where a little more of our souls stay every time we leave.

Why North Arkansas? My First Trip to Gaston’s

by Beth Hardy Duff

Fishing on the White River

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…

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