Little Missouri Fishing and More
Learning Why River Conservation is Important
It had started off as an itch. I had visited the Little Missouri years before as a boy scout. That is, my short experiment with organized exploration under the care of well meaning but limiting adults. Though, no matter how much I hated structure, I couldn’t complain about the doors it opened for me. That’s what this trip was about. Revisiting a fond memory and seeing if I couldn’t hatch another.
We had worked a lot that summer. I guess it would be easy to say that we needed a break. Our friendship needed something like that as well. Jay and I had been acquaintances turned confidants since our pretentious business had grown far beyond two teenagers trying to make some extra cash, but not quite yet to a legit business. That would come later. Today however, it was about opening a door that I had left cracked some years before intending to revisit it when I could. That was me at least, for Jay, well, I think he was trying to tap a side of himself that he had never gotten the chance to see since his father had never been around. He knew the rugged masculinity he wanted and he thought I could show him the way. This however, he would never admit.
It started and ended in a small red truck that barely ran, rode rough, and was perfectly suited for everything and anything we could imagine. The day began slow as did every day in that truck. Neither one of us wanted to wake up early and to this day I am amazed that either one of us did. None the less, there we were, driving down a remote dirt road in the middle of Arkansas. Between the insane bumps, washouts, and exposed rock that threatened our tires, we began to finally stir and open our eyes for the first time. Which was just in time because we were soon met with the steel piped gate that a government agency honestly thought would keep out motorized vehicles. In our case, it worked splendidly.
We packed light, too light to be truthful. Fishing gear and crackers seemed to be enough, but around noon I’m sure either of us would have argued differently. Our gear is essential to the story. It was both the gateway into river fishing I didn’t knew I needed and wanted at the time and it was also the limitation that would push me into my real passion that I had yet to discover; fly fishing.
Never mind that for now, this trip was about ultra light fishing. Short flimsy rods, spin cast reels, 8lbs test line and one certain crank bait that gave a realistic imitation of a craw fish was the suggestion by my father and that’s what we went with. We didn’t know anything better anyhow, nor did I care. For me, fishing was a reason to be there. I didn’t care if we caught anything or not, I just wanted to look at the insane rock formations, towering cliffs, and hear the rushing water one more time. I should have been warned, I didn’t know at the time how those lusts would seep into your blood and bring you back time and time again.
I threw the first cast. Mainly because Jay would only accept abbreviated instruction on his spin cast reel so he could preserve his pride. As I retrieved my lure it wiggled enticingly to all the rivers inhabitants. I was impressed by the action and instantly fell in love. It was an affair that would last years. However, much like a high school fling, it would only serve to fulfill my appetite until I graduated into something more mature.
I caught the first fish. It only took three casts. It was a small perch of some variety, I can’t recall. I can’t recall because it was one of 100 if not 1000 we caught that day. Jay took his time getting his crawfish wet, but when he did he was competitive enough to forget to keep count. For the rest of the day, if one of us wasn’t taking one off the hook the other was reeling another in. None of the perch were worth recalling; however there was one that was more than worth it.
We had moved up the river to a very interesting rock formation. At some point either God or geology had placed two massive boulders side by side with only a small gap to allow the river to squeeze through. As a result, gravel had accumulated and climbed its way up the boulders forming a small waterfall and a deep hole. We stood side by side and surveyed the small, yet stunningly beautiful sight. Slowly moving into position directly in front of the waterfall, I cast my crawfish into the head of the waterfall. It fell, tumbled really, and landed atop a rippled clear pool that housed, as I soon found out, one of the rivers most splendid treasures.
My crawfish swam downwards, though, not far. A creature of the pool rose and violently attacked my lure. The fight was on, to put it mildly. For the first time in the day, I had found a fish that more than excited me. Instead, it elated my soul as I watched it flash and felt it pull. In comparison to the perch we had been reeling in all day, this monster was a leviathan. It ran, then would rest. Once it felt it was losing the fight, it would run again, truly believing it was a breath away from victory. I wasn’t sure that it was wrong, but I fought none the less.
When the fish finally broke, a sterling white crappie came to my feet. Reflecting the light with its pearl sides and looking as majestic as it should. Not large by crappie standards, yet still not small. To this day I wonder if crappies are known to be in that area of the river, regardless what they are known for, one was there none the less.
That fish carried the day, which was already memorable. Etched in my mind is the image of Jay and I wearing out some of the smallest fish of my life at least, and falling in love with a whole new way of life.
That day began my thinking into what responsible living is. That day fortified my love for the wild lands not yet subdued by man and implored me to protect it. Today there are many that take up the cause of preserving the lands we have been entrusted with. Retailers that donate large portions of their revenue to protecting the last few truly free wildernesses from the dramatic damage of hydropower and industry, engineers that design more fuel efficient vehicles to protect our atmosphere, and consumers that are choosing not to consume as much any longer. There is only one earth. There is only one Little Missouri River. If we choose easy over difficult yet right, if we continue to choose to consume rather than to reuse, if we choose to continue rather than to change, then there won’t be future generations that hear the running waters and feel it’s cold serenity.
We must protect it.