Opinion

Bob Mitchell: River floating experiences

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

If you have been taking jaunts around the countryside, you may have discovered one thing about the rivers, that is if you are looking for this type of information.

As of this writing, the rivers are questionable for floating this time of the year. After taking the opportunity recently, there were rivers to cross that tells me there might not be much float fishing this early spring, unless Mother Nature kicks in with some rainfall to make the rivers flow adequately to push a boat downstream without constant paddling.

There was one of those trips on Elk River by Mike Gibson and myself, and it was the hottest day of the summer with the stream just barely able to float an empty canoe, much less the hulks of the passengers. If there were a dozen ripples between Pineville and Mt. Shira that were floatable, they are not in my memory.

Mike took the lead at providing momentum most of the time for the canoe with me either spelling him on short holes of water or providing the rudder on what few fast stretches of water that we might encounter.

One thing is for sure there is a low possibility that Mike would want to make that trip again.

River floating

That was once a huge advantage to living in this part of the country, easy access to so many floatable streams, which has to be the most desirable type of fishing. Lake fishing will fill some bills, but the outside activity of going down a stream and seeking out the holes of water that might be hiding a hungry bass that can really pull your string just isnít to be beaten in any manner.

Being one of those who likes to think at least some of his teeth were cut on a boat paddle provides some of the outstanding memories of my nearly 93 years of being on this earth. And all the floating experience has originated right from Cassville.

Float parties

There were a number of float parties in my experience book, including the late J.D. Fletcher, who was always a hoot no matter who he had in his boat. Then there was Rube Dick, who when picked up at his home near Golden early in the morning, would be putting on his overalls with nothing under them for his day of guiding.

Then there was Raymond Nance, probably would be known as the no nonsense river guide of his era. Raymond would put parties in the river and then take them out at a given point. During one of these experiences with one group stopping and fishing put us on the river after dark and the outfitter had a difficult time finding us at a White River take-out point.

Different rivers

Right in our backyard were the White, James and Kings rivers, all excellent streams to fish at particular times of the year. And, then in McDonald County, there is the Elk with its own species of smallmouth bass.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would be difficult between the King and Elk, both having provided some experiences that will never be forgotten.

Floating the White was one experience that required more paddle power than some of the others. The James was the most difficult to reach because of road conditions in those days. A trip east into the Owens Bend country to float from Lester Loftenís place down to the mouth required traveling a road of Flint Rocks that could shred a tire if speeds werenít controlled.

There were requirements for this trip, getting at least two mounted spare tires from cousin Jimmie Turner in case of road problems, making sure Ray Correll was able to go with us and move the car from Loftinís to the mouth of the river and provide him a couple of dozen softshell crawdads for his bank fishing during his wait.

The easy part of this trip was launching, which was accomplished down a steep sand bank right by the house. Mrs. Loftin often had biscuits and gravy for company before setting out.

Jon boats

Early transport was by Jon Boats, eventually going to canoes, preferably those of the 18-foot variety. It was out of this boat about the most humorous event occurred; finding a root wad on Elk, it was my time to paddle, so the canoe was pulled onto an adjoining gravel bar. Bill Easley waded out to fish for Goggle Eye. Lavern Hilburn had told us he would like some of this species.

Bill filled our cooler about half full of slab fish with me setting in the boat laughing at his exploit. Arriving back home, we took the cooler and put it on Hilburnís front porch and left. The next day, we learned of his experience in cleaning all those fish.

Disappearing

Float fishing water is one of those experiences that is disappearing. Some of the launching or landing areas are no longer available as landowners post. Party floats have increased traffic on the waters.

Flat fishing is like other disappearing acts.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State Universityís Regional Media Hall of Fame.