When the dogwood leaves get as big as a squirrel’s ears…
…it’s time to go fishing.
At least that’s what my dad always said. We spent many a summer day on the different creeks and streams that weave their way across The Natural State.
My father is a purist at heart, not one to splurge on fancy equipment or a hulking bass boat—so we fish Arkansas’s creeks for smallmouth bass, working our way upstream with kayaks tied to our waists.
Smallmouth are great sport fish. They fight harder than largemouth and are apt to give you a dazzling aerial display when you’ve got one on the line. They’re sneaky, though, and it takes a patient, trained hand to land one on a spinning rod, especially a big one.
These days we mainly do our fishing in Yellville, Arkansas—a place called Crooked Creek. There is no better smallmouth stream in America. Crooked Creek boasts some of the clearest waters, gentlest rapids, and most picturesque scenery any angler could ever hope to find.
Last year the whole family ventured to Crooked Creek; wife, daughter, Mom, and Dad. We even hosted a fellow writer friend from Kentucky, Alex Taylor.
In his book, “The Name of the Nearest River,” Alex sums up the allure of fishing about as well as any who’ve ever tried. He says, “There is a kind of faith with fishing. It is the belief that the brevity of all things is not bitter, but a calm moment beside calm water is enough to still the breaking of all hearts everywhere.”
But for me, fishing was an acquired taste. I lacked the patience (still do) required to truly become a master angler, and my dad, well, he taught fishing like he did everything else—without mercy.
I can still remember us getting caught out in the dark in the late summer. Dragging our kayaks across rocky rapids because the water level had dipped too low to float on through.
Dad was the first coach I ever had. Didn’t matter if it was fishing or throwing a football—he demanded perfection. And when it came to fishing, I just never could get the hang of it.
We used open-faced spinning reels, good for the creeks, but bad for a youngster just learning to cast. My line would tangle, unspooling down my pole, and come out looking something like a spider web. Not to mention I was never too great at taking a fish off the hook, or tying lures to my line.
Dad greeted my many mishaps through gritted teeth, grunting as he worked his way through the tangled mess I’d weaved. But he kept on asking me to go. I can remember a string of his birthdays where the only thing he asked for was a fishing trip with his only son.
I’m thirty now, almost half the age of my father, and Dad no longer has to beg. I’ve learned to appreciate the allure of a “calm moment beside calm water.” Or the breeze coming up off the creek, carrying with it the scent of honeysuckles and an earthy trace of moss.
Between working full-time, writing, and playing husband and Dad to two beautiful blue-eyed girls, I don’t have as much time for fishing as I’d like.
If you also find yourself too busy to fish, or if you’re currently traversing rocky ground, remember there is peace to be found in the water. Like Alex said, fishing is about the calm moment. Lucky for us, the dogwood leaves are as big as squirrel’s ears—probably bigger—and that means it’s time to go fishing in Arkansas.
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