by Flip Putthoff
Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
It isn’t every fishing trip you throw everything back and still come home with something to eat.
The catching was slow enough during a quiet afternoon on the War Eagle River that I wouldn’t have come home with much anyway. Still, my dinner plate was full that night.
A summer day many moons ago found me with a free afternoon, perfect for loading up the canoe and pointing the pickup east toward the War Eagle. Tires crunched the gravel where a Madison County road ends at the river near Hindsville.
My game plan for this sunny afternoon was a “Lewis and Clark” style canoe trip. I’d put in at the road end and fish my way upstream, then drift back down to the truck. It’s a great way to fish a stream without worrying about a vehicle shuttle.
There’s a long, quiet pool at the start of this upriver trip. I worked it hard with tube baits and plastic worms without a tap from any kind of fish. I hoped for some smallmouth bass, which I’d release, or some Ozark bass to keep for dinner. It’s a fish most people call goggle-eye.
The sun beat down on my straw hat. I launched another cast when a landowner who lives along the War Eagle moseyed down to the river with his dog.
“You havin’ any luck?” he asked. Negatory, I said.
We talked fishing, and he testified that the best way to catch fish on the War Eagle is with minnows. He’d caught some fine catfish with minnows along a bluff we could see downstream.
He sat down on a sun-bleached log and his white dog plopped down on a cool slab of rock by the water.
I asked him if the river had ever flooded high enough to reach his house. Almost, he told me.
A flood in ’85 washed away a pile of lumber, but spared a lawn mower and a ’57 Chevy in his yard.
“Those boards probably went clear to Beaver Lake,” he said.
We talked gardening. I complained about my plaid thumb. He said he was picking green beans every day and his tomatoes were looking good.
“You’re eating high on the hog,” I said, casting again. If I was going to eat any fish tonight it was going to be filet of fish sticks.
The man wished me luck. He and his hound shuffled back toward the house and vanished into the woods along the river. I felt a tap and set the hook. The little goggle-eye put up a valiant fight and earned its freedom to bite again. One fish does not a fish fry make.
I was way up the pool when the man returned to the river bank and hollered upstream at me.
“Hey, when you get ready to go here’s a little something for you. There aren’t many because I picked ’em pretty close yesterday.”
When I drifted back downstream a half hour later I stopped by the riverside log to pick up my gift — a zipper bag full of green beans. I’m sure he was out of ear shot, but I hollered a big thank you.
There is so much I love about living here. One, there is lifetime of things to do within two hours of your front door if you enjoy the outdoors. Two, it’s nice people like my thoughtful riverside friend.
I’ll bet he’s busy in his garden right now. With a thumb as plaid as mine, I’ll be sure and fish that pool again once tomato season gets here.