Adventurous captains of canoes and kayaks have a little Star Trek in them. “To float where no man has floated before.”
Small streams that aren’t on a paddler’s radar are the final frontier of floating and fishing for folks like David Thrasher.
He and his pals explore Ozark waterways that most paddlers have never heard of. It takes effort and research to find these out-of-the-way creeks, some no wider than a couple of canoes.
Thrasher didn’t have to blindfold his paddling partner on Memorial Day during the trip to the put-in at one of his favorite creeks. The twisting and turning drive through the wilds of Carroll County would spin a compass. A gravel road here and a back-country lane there eventually led to a low-water bridge. We’d arrived at Osage Creek.
Heck, who could ever find this place again?
Osage Creek rises in the countryside above the little village of Osage. It meanders north until it joins the Kings River at the J.D. Fletcher U.S. 62 access, where the highway crosses Kings River east of Eureka Springs.
Thrasher, a lifelong Rogers resident, and Bill Elder of Fayetteville have floated most of it. Thasher and his paddling partner, along with Elder and Karen Freeman, launched two canoes at the lonely little Osage Creek bridge. Kona, the stream-loving dog, lounged on a towel draped across a cooler amidships in Elder and Freeman’s blue canoe.
Float on Memorial Day? What about the crowds?
“We might see some people on the bank but I doubt we’ll see any other boats,” Thrasher assured.
To run the upper reaches of Osage Creek means getting on the creek quickly after a heavy rain, while the water is still up.
The downstream miles are more forgiving, but that window of floating opportunity opens and closes quicker than on the Kings or Buffalo rivers.
Osage Creek flows mostly through pastoral forests and meadows. Boulders and log jams are the lairs where smallmouth bass wait to ambush crawdads, minnows or an angler’s lure.
“We’ve had trips here where you catch ‘em on almost every cast and then ones where we caught hardly any,” Thrasher said, working the water with a jig-and-craw lure.
No one counted the number of fish our quartet welcomed aboard the canoes. Smallmouth bass, sunfish and Ozark bass (called goggle-eye by many anglers) were hoisted over the gunwales by the dozens. A handful of smallmouth bass were beauties in the 16-inch range. All fish were released.
The float was no cake walk down the Osage. The water was low. “I wouldn’t want to float it any lower,” Thrasher testified. Frequently he got out of the canoe to walk it around fallen trees or tangles of timber that blocked the river.
“You’ve got to watch out for log jams on these low-traffic creeks,” he said.
Then there was the take-out. That required hauling gear and boats 30 yards up a weedy 45-degree bank.
To float Osage Creek, you gotta want it. Thrasher and his pals do. They’ve done the research to find access spots on the Osage and other streams in northern Arkansas and southwest Missouri. Map study, plus talking to landowners and other paddlers, have shown them the way to these small, little-known gems of clear water.
Then comes the maiden voyage. No telling what awaits downstream. The first time Thrasher and friends floated this particular stretch of the Osage, they started to hear traffic about noon and figured they were near the take-out. The gang took their sweet time, fishing and whiling away the afternoon.
Turned out they were only half way. The highway just came close to the road. “On that float we took out after dark,” Thrasher said.