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September 14, 2023 Comments Off on Fishing memories still make a big splash – End-of-summer floats on the Kings a fishing tradition Fishing, Latest, Nature, On The Water

Fishing memories still make a big splash – End-of-summer floats on the Kings a fishing tradition

Flip Putthoff
NWA Democrat-Gazette

The last days of summer never slip away without priceless memories of catching hard-charging small-mouth and largemouth bass with buzz baits on the Kings River.

Battling those fish was a thrill, but the best part of those float trips was fishing with the late and legendary fishing guide J.D. Fletcher. J.D. showed hundreds of customers, both fishers and nonfishers, the joy and beauty of a Kings River float. He was a teacher to fishermen, showing them ways to wrangle smallmouth bass from the clear water. Buzz baits were among his favorite lures. For people who wanted more of a sightseeing trip, J.D. was a naturalist pointing out shoreline delights such as paw paw trees, wildflowers and wildlife including a mink skittering along the bank. J.D. was 83 when he died in 2014.

One of the true joys of my life was becoming friends and fishing many years with J.D. floating the Kings River. J.D. was like my second dad. No telling how many trips we enjoyed together from spring into the fall.

One day, over the phone, we planned an end-of-summer float for Aug. 31. The weather was going to be sunny and hot, so I envisioned fishing deep with tube baits or other crawdad-type lures. That’s when J.D. piped up. “We’re gonna catch ’em with buzz baits at high noon. The hotter the better.”

Buzz baits are anything but subtle. A propeller-like blade on the front of the lure spins like a whirly-bird as it’s reeled across the surface. It creates a ruckus that would seem to scare fish, not get them to attack.

The late fishing guide J.D. Fletcher shows a Kings River largemouth bass he caught with a buzz bait in 2010. Fletcher preferred a big buzz bait for fall bass fishing on the Kings. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Flip Putthoff)

When J.D. mentioned buzz baits I figured he’d been in the sun too long on his guide trips. I humored him by arriving streamside with a buzz bait tied to my line. Mine was a dinky little thing. J.D.’s lure was five times the size of mine with a big silver blade and white skirt over the hook.

I figured this trip was going to be skunk city casting the noisy, splashy top-water lures under bright sunshine. Negatory, good buddy. J.D. caught smallmouth and largemouth bass right off on his big white buzz bait. My mentor outfished me about three fish to one, but I managed to land a beauty of a 4-pound largemouth bass that darn near pulled me into the water.

By the end of the trip, I was ready to give away all my other river lures and just fish with buzz baits the rest of my life. J.D. was right. Fishing was so good that we had a standing date on Aug. 31 for years to take a buzzin’ trip down the Kings River.

Then came that end of August day when it was 99 degrees by 11 a.m. Sun beat down on our hat-covered noggins like a relentless hot drum. There wasn’t a puff of breeze. Even our lunch stop in the shade was hot. J.D. managed his usual post-lunch nap. I took a swim. We still had half of the trip to go on a Kings River that was more like Death Valley. We managed a few afternoon casts, but mainly just paddled to the take-out.

That float trip took a toll on both of us. Later, we agreed it might be best to plan our annual buzzin’ float for mid-September in hopefully cooler weather. So that’s what we did.

Another quirk about buzz baits is they don’t look at all like something a bass would eat. As J.D. put it, “a buzz bait is kind of like an old dog asleep on the front porch. If you startle him, he just might bite you.” Big bass are like that hound dog, reacting to a sudden splash of a buzz bait’s whirling propeller.

Just for grins, my plan is to catch a buzz bait bass from Kings River before summer slips away, like J.D. and I used to do.

Flip Putthoff can be reached at when he’s not cranking in a buzz bait.