This week was full of birthdays and/or birthday celebrations. First, Sunday was Jenny’s day as she celebrated her 33rd birthday; I remember the night she was born as if it were yesterday. Wednesday, Kaden celebrated his 18th birthday, and he is a very busy senior in high school with little time for anything else. And then Saturday, Ridge celebrated his 2nd birthday a couple of days early.
We began the blog week visiting briefly with Karyn, Ridge, and Matt before they said their goodbyes and departed for home. Ridge was up very early as were we, and we got to enjoy him for several hours before his parents got up. We played with trucks and building blocks until daylight, and went outside and continued playing with his new trucks on the patio. He loves to walk, and we walked down the lane to the street, and then down the street and back, logging well over a half mile. Back at the house, we built a fire outside, his firsts. We had a great time. By the time he and his parents left, he was exhausted, but still grinning from ear to ear as they put him in the car seat. He was asleep before they crossed the bridge about two miles from the house. We had lunch with Jerry and Karen Smith at Chen’s, then went on a long pontoon ride all the way up the east arm of Lake Norfork and back, seeing lots of birds, including several bald eagles. We also saw a few persimmon trees, somewhat foreign to Jerry and Karen; they really enjoyed the ride.
Jerry and I fished Monday morning. As you may recall, Jerry and his wife, Karen, are full time RVers, whom we met in Alaska. He is a retired senior regulator/biologist with the US Army Corps of Engineers. We waded in at Mill Dam Eddy, only to find the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission staff continuing their channelization of the Norfork River, having moved from the right descending bank to the island below McClellan’s, the river itself, and the bar below the island; heretofore, this had been considered sacred and hollowed fishing territory. It is my professional and personal opinion that the greatest segment of the Norfork River has now been destroyed and rendered sterile by this state agency. They have removed practically all structure and changed flow patterns and regimes. Areas where I caught thousands of fish have been robbed of substrate flora and fauna. And, there is absolutely NO SCIENCE to support what is being done. I have lost all confidence in Trout Unlimited, Friends of the Rivers, and Friends of the Norfork Hatchery. These groups have coalesced in “improving” the river to the point of ruining it for me. Jerry, too, was amazed at what he saw, and as a former regulator, was astounded as to how this work was permitted. We now have a great catch and kill, channelized river. Out of protest, I published the last entry in Donald’s Fishin’ Journal after a 9-year run.
After the river debacle yesterday, I woke up Tuesday morning and felt like a great burden had been lifted, and told Kay that I was ready to fish again, after almost a year of “going through the motions.” However, rather than fish, Karen, Jerry and I drove to Ponca and Boxley Valley, hoping to see elk and some hint of fall colors. Enroute, we drove through Maplewood Cemetery in Harrison, but the maple trees had not yet begun to change. The Elk Education Center in Ponca provided a restroom break, and information on the area. As we drove through Boxley Valley, we saw two trumpeter swans and a bald eagle, but no elk. Making our way back to the Mountain Home area, we stopped at KT’s for some great Memphis style BBQ before dropping Jerry and Karen off at the house on wheels at Denton Ferry.
Wednesday was grandson Kaden’s 18th birthday—my, oh, my but where has the time gone. He was just a tot when Kay and I first started seeing each other. Wednesday also marked a new beginning for me. After the gross disappointment experienced the last several days with respect to the destruction of the Norfork River as I knew it, I rationalized that there was nothing I could do to affect the work. And, having awakened yesterday morning with a fresh outlook, telling Kay that I was ready to fish again, my resolve was tested. As I was preparing to suit up, a group of four fishers, 3 who were in my Sunday school class, called and asked if they could park in our driveway, as they had received permission from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission to access the Norfork River via Dr. Ronnie Warner’s place, being used as a mobilization site for equipment and materials used in the river “improvements.” Kay and I both informed them that AGFC did not have authority to grant access, and that trespassing was seriously frowned upon in the neighborhood. I offered to take them to private access at which I had permission to use, but informed them that they were on their own to find a way back if they wanted to fish beyond 12 noon as I would be departing then. We all accessed at Mill Dam Eddy, and I took two with me upstream, gave them flies to use, and showed them where to fish. I waded upstream, fishing the Plunge Pool, Ace in the Hole, and the river below Otter Creek without so much as a nibble on the scud, sculpin, or zebra midge fished in different combinations. I saw more sculpins in the river than ever before, and was surprised that the sculpin imitation did not work. Duane Hada floated downstream in a canoe with a couple of clients, and was kind enough to paddle behind me, even though there was not much room for him to maneuver; he’s one of the rare people that have done that, and I really appreciated it. Switching to a pink cockleburr, I fished the riffle above the island, catching several fish on top. I waded downstream on the left descending side, but with minimum flow the river has changed course and is flowing more to the right, necessitating really long casts. I picked up a fish here and there on the pink cockleburr in the tailout of the riffle. Downstream, along the island, I had no success. Just in the last couple of days, the river has scoured away all the substrate down to bedrock along the right descending bank in the vicinity of the bank protection. At the bottom of the island, I chatted briefly with Mike Womack, and he said he had caught fish on the left descending side of the island and at the bottom of the island on #18-#22 Adams. After he left, I caught several small fish on the pink cockleburr near the walk-in access before leaving the water., fishing with Bruce, Al, and two others
Thursday, I fished with Al Vekovious, a friend from Sunday school. Al is retired as the Dean, LSU Shreveport, and has a PhD in mathematics. He has an acerbic sense of humor and along with his wife, Gaye, is a real pleasure to be around. They enjoy watching many of the same British television shows that we do, and share many of our cultural values and outlook on life. Al wanted a lesson in fishing “dry” flies, and we lucked out with a sparse cranefly hatch. We walked in at Mill Dam Eddy on still falling water, walked up the island, crossed back to the right descending bank, and briefly fished the riffle from that side of the river. We moved to the middle of the river between the riffles, and Al began catching fish on the Pink Cockleburr. A couple came through in a canoe, and asked what we were using and when we told them a pink fly, they didn’t believe us. Al continued to catch fish for over an hour on the Pink Cockleburr. We waded back across to the right descending bank, and downstream where we met the young lady in the canoe. I showed her the fly we’d been using and she said, “You really were using a pink fly.” I gave her one and told her how to fish it. We walked along the island to Mill Dam Eddy and Al resumed catching fish on the Pink Cockleburr. He remarked, “You can call this Al’s Greatest Day.” l is a very good fly fisher, but lacked experience fishing with a “dry” fly. His abilities, in combination with the fish cooperating, made the day great for both of us.
Bruce Burr called and needed access on the Norfork River Friday morning for he and Kirk Bobo, a prominent architect in Memphis. Generation continued until 10:00 AM; consequently, we didn’t enter the still falling river until about 12:45 PM. That gave me time to do some pre-winter chores, including removing the soaker hoses around the lariope and turning the irrigation system off and draining its water lines. Bruce and Kirk arrived about 12:30 PM. After “suiting” up and accessing the river, they waded upstream to the riffle above the island, while I waded across to the left descending channel along the island. Before the floods of 2008, there was negligible flow in this channel. Reconfiguration of the river after the floods caused more water to flow down this side channel, and minimum flow added even more water. With lots of shallow rocks, riffles, and drop-offs, the river has become highly oxygenated in this area. With the bank stabilization work and dredging on the other side of the river, and the consequential scouring of all remaining stream substrate and higher velocities, I wanted to explore the other side of the island. I noticed a “sip” here and there on the skinny, flowing flat water. I had given away all the Pink Cocleburrs I had, so reverted to a red one. I took a few fish, but experienced several misses, so switched to a #20 Furnace Cocleburr. Again, I took a few fish, but had a bunch of refusals. The Kay’s Gray didn’t even entice a look. The tiny midges coming off appeared to be olive, so I tied on a #16 Olive Cockleburr, and it was the ticket. Though it was not a fish on every cast, I did catch one fish after another, and they were larger than I had caught earlier in the week with most going between 14 and 16 inches. The fly worked very well on top, but also stripped after making the swing. It reminded me of the good ol’ days fishing Ace in the Hole with the Dunn’s Dun. I moved to the tip of the island, and caught fish along the drop off near the middle of the channel. Catching slowed, and I tied the #14 Red Cockleburr back on and began catching fish stripping the fly after casting quartering downstream. The seam, newly created by all the dredging work, seemed to hold lots of fish. Neighbors Bill and Carolyn Pickens, and Mike Womack entered the river at about 4:00 PM and fishing just downstream of me, so I leap-frogged them and moved to the tip of the newly dredged gravel, and again the stripped Red Cockleburr produced fish. Bruce and Kirk made their way downstream, so I reeled in and noted the Red Cockleburr was ragged and almost bare. This afternoon was great, and reminded me of the great fishing 10+ years ago. Let’s hope it continues.
As the title of this blog entry states, this was a week of birthdays. Though his actual birthday is not until next Monday, Kay and I drove to central Arkansas on Saturday to attend Ridge’s birthday party. He is a real active little fellow, and enjoyed many friends and relatives helping him celebrate. The party was at a park near his parents’ house, and his mom and dad had set up a nice array of light hors d’ oeuvres for the many guests. After playing hard on the grounds, and on the large gym set, the kids eagerly ate the sugar-loaded cupcakes! Ridge was “prince of the ball” and took part in each and every thing going on. We particularly enjoyed watching him write on the sidewalk with chalk, climb and slide on the gym set, and run the based on an empty ballfield, the latter which he did some 4 times. We drove back to north central Arkansas, and ended the week in our PJs watching television.