Bob Mitchell: Memories of river floating with friends

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

With 80-degree temperatures and free-flowing streams in the prospect, thoughts these days have to turn to floating on streams of the Ozarks.

Iíve often told folks who saw the Brooks-Funk map of Ozarks streams that it might be possible that I cut some of my teeth on a wooden boat paddle.

That was long before they became metal, along with the boats that we used to make our way down one of the rivers, either in a partnership or sometimes in a multi-boat party.

Before they get out of mind, letís review some of the folks that were once in a boat with me or in a party that was making a day trip, mostly in good weather, a few times when we should not have been on the river.

Floating with friends

It might sound like a mixed crowd but here goes: Laverne Hilburn, Bill Easley, John Starchman, Jim Bower, Gary Chaney, Bruce Mitchell, Andy Parsons, Dennis Ledgerwood, Trolinger Wilson, Charles Chumbley, Dale Assing, Tom Cardin, T. J. Smading, Tom Johnson, Steve Burch, Dennis Bartkoski, Bill Sellers, Bobby Mitchell, Greg Turner, Chan Griffin, Carter Koon, Truman Baker, and there could have been a few more who provided some lasting memories.

One troublesome trip

Possibly the most troublesome trip was with Sellers, Smading and Johnson that began up Kings River in Arkansas, putting in point at Trigger Gap and take out point at Ford, also in Arkansas, which amounted to a two-day trip. Overnight was on a broad gravel bar a fishing distance from the Trigger Gap bridge.

Our two boats were loaded with sleeping bags and all the trimmings for meals along the way. If you were in a Sellersí party, the first night meal was steak, trimmings and strawberry shortcake.

The first few hours went well, but breakfast was finished under a shelter half, again including about all you could ask for under the circumstances. Starting down stream fishing heavily, we quickly noticed the river kept rising and becomes muddier and faster. At this point were stopped and tied everything in the boats and began motoring through the large holes of water.

Then came some real trouble

Going along just fine, the rain became heavier, making it difficult to see very far ahead. Coming upon a sizeable ripple, with a root wad right in the middle I asked my passenger which side to take and he told me left, so I moved the boat to that side, then seeing a large limb across that side. Hoping to move the boat to the right side we caught the obstruction and the boat went down, open side against the roots.

We couldnít move the boat, but finally, Smading and Sellers came to our aid. T.J.ís strength getting under the bow of the boat and lifting caught enough air and we could get the boat out, wringing out some water and resuming our trip. My motor would not start, but Bill pulled us though the holes the rest of our shortened trip.

The fortunate part of this tale is that Johnson owned the telephone company and personnel back in Cassville were aware that it came a flood in Rogers that morning, causing the rivers in that area to rise. Their similar experiences told them we would want off the river. So, they went to the Highway 62 Bridge and waited for us to reach that point.

They were a sight our eyes were glad to see!

Shorter exploration trips

In those days, before Table Rock Lake, all three rivers, King, James and White were float possibilities. And then we learned of the Smallmouth Bass haunts in Elk and Shoal and began making exploration trips on those bodies of water.

Starchman was extremely popular with Elk in McDonald county, riding those waters a couple of times in rain and most uncomfortable in some heavy lightning. Easleyís 18-foot canoe was the most comfortable because you could stand up, very carefully. Starchman and Turner had composite boats.

All these vessels were much easier to handle than those of early float people like Rube Dick and others. Those john boats of wood, were heavy to handle and cumbersome to run down a stream. It was a pleasure to run a canoe.

One of the best short trips was from the Viola Ford to the mouth of Kings, taking out on the west side of White River. In later years, the trip from Grandview on the Kings to Summerís Ford was a good dayís outing.

That route and Elk River were possibly the most used waters of that now-passed career. They were definitely the most productive so far as the fishing part of the experience might be remembered.

These days, my uppers are false, which might have been a result of the wooden paddles not lasting long enough.

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.