A wrong turn leads to a great fishing experience

I was expecting excitement, but I heard crickets.

Not the proverbial type of boredom and dullness. These cockroaches looked like life. Like freedom. One only hears these crickets in the wilds of Arkansas after Labor Day, when people all go back to work and school.

Jim Spencer, an accomplished outdoors writer and former associate editor of Arkansas Wildlife magazine, often taunts his readers with phrases like this: “Don’t ask me where I’ve been. I won’t tell you because I don’t want to see you ‘there.'” Those articles used to bother me, but on Thursday I understood what He means it.

I was in a place on the Buffalo National River where I neither expected to be nor wanted to be. I intended to spend Thursday fishing at Steele Creek Recreation Area near Ponca. The logical route is to go up Highway 7 to Fallsville, then down the mountain to Ponca and then up the mountain to Steele Creek.

I usually fish downstream, near Yellville. As usual, I unconsciously exited I-40 in Conway and headed north on US-65. In Leslie I realized my mistake, but it was too late to reverse.

Compounding the problem was my late start. I intended to leave Little Rock around 7:30 a.m., life happened, and I didn’t leave until almost noon.

So, I was about 50 miles off course and didn’t have time to correct. (Hey) Siri gave me a good route from Western Grove to Ponca, which is even better than the Western route. As I crossed the Buffalo River at Hasty, I glanced at the water.

“Dang! This looks so good!” I believed. It looked so good that I decided I didn’t need to go to Steele Creek after all. I moved the truck, and 15 minutes later I was in the water.

No one was on the river, plus. The fishing is never good to come by as it is very hard fished, so I waded downstream and started fishing the next pool below.

This is where I heard the crickets. The sound was faint and sparse, like someone scraping a penny on a hair comb. I stopped and tuned my ear to him. How long has it been since you’ve heard crickets? I’m sure they’re always there, but I don’t hear them. Gradually, I began to hear other insects. Then birdsong became audible. I’ve heard phoebes, kingfishers, wood thrushes and many more. A gentle breeze blew through the leaves like the rattle of a thousand maracas.

As if you were laying channels on a mixing board in the studio, the sounds blended into a symphony that quickly blossomed into a soundtrack to a serene river.

Above, eagles were circling the soaring temperatures of hills that were shrouded in gray mist caused by heat-induced drought. From behind me came the sound of a small jet. A flock of about 30 blue-winged teals darted low. They darted from side to side as they did. When they reached the next pool, they pushed upward at about a 70-degree angle, banked sharply, and then plunged headfirst into the water. More mallards came and went. One group was larger. They were my constant companions for the rest of the day.

A deer materialized from the brush and stood confused and unsure on a gravel bar. He eyed me suspiciously, but since I was only visible from the waist up, he didn’t take my appearance as a threat. Finally, with his rump and tail swinging from side to side, he crossed the river and climbed the steep bank on the other side.

I looked upriver and noticed how the sunlight gave the rippling water a mesmerizing, pixelated effect.

Upstream, behind the pixels, I saw a double flash and a patch of orange. The kayaker was approaching. It was Jerry Siegler, a Wisconsin native, who settled in this area with his wife 25 years ago. He said he kayaks every day.

“What did you do when you were working?” I asked.

“I was a computer programmer,” Sigler said. “I started in the 1970s, so I got in at a good time.”

“Maybe it was written in COBOL,” I said. “Or Fortran.”

“Oh my gosh, no, I got into it after that,” Sigler said with a laugh. He talked about six programming languages ​​that I didn’t know.

Sigler said the community accepted him and his wife warmly from the beginning. They were the first to build on their road, but now they have a lot of neighbors.

“I bought 25 acres for $1,000 an acre,” Sigler said. “It might have been a lot, but I wanted to. My wife is involved in everything. She’s a volunteer everywhere, so we’ve built a lot of great relationships through all the things she does.”

The power company originally wanted to charge $16,000 to run a line to its location, Sigler said.

“For $16,000, I thought I could have a lot of fun with solar power, so I went that route,” Sigler said. “I used 12 golf cart batteries, and that took care of everything except the air conditioning. We had to be very conservative with that. Basically, we dealt with the heat by going somewhere else for a few weeks.”

Eventually, electricity became affordable, and the Sigler family was connected to the grid.

With that, we parted ways, and I focused on hunting. I used a light-action Creekside spinning rod paired with a Mitchell Avocet reel spooled with 6-pound test line. I had a bag of Zoom Tiny Brush Hawgs in Watermelon/Red Flakes and a bag of Zoom Mini Lizards cotton candy. I had about 1/0 hooks in a medicine bottle and about 1/16 ounce and 1/8 ounce hooks in a different medicine bottle. I had three bottles of water. It all fit into a dry bag that I carried on my back. In my pocket I had a Fuji XP, an excellent waterproof camera that takes great photos and videos.

I caught a few smallmouth bass and a green sunfish in the first pool below the bridge. The river has recently changed its course. It was used to cut hard to the left and run alongside a low slope. A gravel dam diverted the channel to the right, necessitating a long walk through wet gravel and weeds to reach the next pool.

It was worth the walk. I caught four smallmouth on the tail of the gun. I cast to the left bank and felt a strong strike from a 14-inch Smallmouth Bass. The next was 13 inches. I caught a total of 10 smallmouth bass and three green sunfish.

I would have gotten a lot more using a different platform. Six-pound test line stretches too much, and a light-action rod isn’t stiff enough to pull the extension when a fish hits the end of a long cast. I hit some big fish, but I couldn’t get enough force to set the hook. I’ll be using more solid stuff going forward.

As the sun set beneath the hills, I headed back up the river. Sigler has long since returned home. The symphony grew louder as the night fell, and I took it all in as I slowly waded back toward the truck.

It was a wonderful feeling to be alone with the river I love.

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