An Ozark stream can be a gentle ribbon of flowing water one moment, then a raging torrent the next.
Savvy paddlers know to have a backup plan in their life jacket pocket when a float trip is on the agenda.
An episode that unfolded over two lovely days in mid-May proved the point. Plan A was a leisurely float-fishing drift down a scenic section of the War Eagle River upstream from War Eagle Mill. It was a stretch Alan Bland of Rogers and his fishing pal had navigated dozens of times.
A check of the river the evening before found the stream to be higher than desired, but still clear and fishable. Steady but moderate rain overnight changed the scene dramatically.
When the pair met at the mill early the next morning to float, they gazed on a much higher and muddier river. Oh, a float trip was still possible, but it’d be a quick, fishless expedition on the muddy War Eagle River, also called War Eagle Creek. Successful fishing is doubly tough in muddy water, particularly for smallmouth bass that the floaters hoped to catch.
Time for Plan B. That is, head to another creek, one with clearer water and fish that are eager to bite.
Little old Pine Creek out in the boonies of east Benton County is narrow enough to jump across, yet it forms the Pine Creek Hollow arm of Beaver Lake. It’s more of a big cove than an arm on the upstream end of the reservoir and only a 15 minute drive from War Eagle Mill.
Driving along gravel Pine Creek Hollow Road leads to the lake at the end of the line. Bland launched his kayak, and his buddy slid a canoe into the calm water. Nary a breath of breeze disturbed its reflecting surface.
This Plan B destination wasn’t the pair’s first Pine Creek rodeo. Springtime fishing in Pine Creek Hollow during previous May trips always resulted in a mixed catch, usually crappie, spotted bass, walleye and various sunfish.
Crappie were the target fish this trip since the spawn was on, and these tasty fish should be in shallow water along gravel shorelines.
“We didn’t get to float, but this sure is a pretty place to fish,” Bland said while lobbing a crappie jig. His lure sported a black body and chartreuse tail, a favorite color scheme at the lake.
Over an hour, three crappie put a bouncing bend in Bland’s fishing rod. Only one was a keeper at about 11 inches long. Crappie must be 10 inches or longer to keep at Beaver Lake. The daily limit is 15.
All the while, Bland watched a bald eagle soar high over the lush green forest that cradles most of Pine Creek Hollow. Wood ducks whistled as they clawed for altitude, startled by his kayak’s approach.
A snag deep underwater cost Bland his crappie jig, so he went to another Plan B in his small tackle box. His fingers resurrected a tiny Rebel Crawfish crank bait. In the world of fishing lures, this little fake crawdad catches any fish in the water. Bass, crappie, bluegill will all attack a Rebel Crawfish. In cold water, it’s a go-to choice to catch trout.
On the second cast, a spotted bass got Bland’s fishing pole dancing, pulling the line tight. Most folks call these spotted bass “Kentuckies,” and they made up most of the day’s catch that morning in Pine Creek Hollow.
Plan B saved the fishing day. A river float will be Plan A on another day.