The River Journal Chapter 16 Smith’s Island to Shipp’s Ferry..a wonderful day


I was in no hurry as I pushed off from Smith Island. If all went well, the metropolis of Norfork, Arkansas would be my next stop. For the first time I was able to see the bottom of the river. I was shocked to see how shallow it was. Thinking about the “breaks” or rapids I would be traveling through later in the morning I decided to check my depth meter. It looked two feet deep but was at least twice that much. The water was so clear it fooled me big time.  I checked the temperature and it was hold steady at 59 degrees some 33 or more miles from the damn. When you considered the amount of warmer water the Buffalo was contributing it was a little surprising the White could maintain its frigid temperature.

What a commute! While my peers were fighting the freeways, toll roads airports, rental cars and deadlines I was drifting down one of the most scenic rivers in the world. 

Actually I wasn’t exactly drifting I was running the motor at trolling speed. The fog began to lift and it looked like it was going to be a beautiful day. I knew I was way ahead of schedule as I was not due in Norfork until late afternoon. With the current still running over 5 mph I should be into Norfork town no later than 1 or 2 p.m.

After passing over a shoal called Nellie’s Apron I continued on down river. My excitement over the rising fog came to a halt. The fog sprites began to dance and here it came again. It got thicker and thicker until it was almost back to the hot and cold rainy day level of yesterday. As the fog thickened to a point where I could barely see 15 feet in front of my little boat I heard the dreaded whine of an outboard engine coming my way.  I thought “oh yeah, perfect timing”. It took a couple of minutes but then they appeared just thirty feet off to my right. Three guests and a guide I figured. These folks were a little less sodden and a lot less sullen than the day before. The guide actually slowed down his craft to keep from rocking me. I waved a big appreciation and they waved back and off we went.

Soon I passed the Cartney Access without ever seeing it. The fog kept me from seeing either shore. By looking toward the bank and upward I could see tree tops on one side and towering cliffs on the other. They became my guide. I took the simplest of approaches by aiming “Proud Mary” half way between the cliffs and tree tops.  No pictures here. It wasn’t that I can’t take pictures in the mist or fog it’s just that I don’t want to take my hand from the tiller nor my attention off my river. Far too dangerous for the cheechako.

A little after Cartney, I came across Barren Creek Shoal. I wondered if that was the same Barren Creek that was under Lake Norfork. When I was a little kid the family would motor from Shelton’s Landing to Brushy and Barren Creek area of the Lake. We had a 14 foot Arkansas Traveler with a 22 horse Mercury on it. We thought we were flying.  There we would spend an evening fishing for crappie. Great memories. I was not all that far from the Dam so it could be the same. I might find out some day.

The water was lower than I had seen it for the entire trip. These were the first shoals I had experienced at normal water levels. I had no problem. The water was easier to read. At least now I could see the obstacles and steered away from the big ripples and waves. This is where the little motor really paid off. It is just enough power to guide the boat in the direction you want to go rather than the way the current would take you. A good canoe paddler would have no problem. An experienced kayak fisherman would laugh at my speed as well as maneuverability. I had been amazed at how well the kayakers seemed to get around. It always looks so quick and effortless.

But back to the Proud Mary and her all powerful three and a half Mercury. They were doing very well this morning. After the first set of shoals I had a lot more confidence in my rig. When leaving Smith Island I made some changes to the outriggers trim. I moved the floats from skimming the top of the water to all the way up where the floats would not hit water unless we were almost capsizing. That would help the splash factor if I did hit any white water. It was like taking the training wheels off a bicycle for the very first time. I could tell no difference. The canoe balanced the same as always. Everything felt normal. Apparently I had not needed the training wheels near as much as I thought.

After Barren Creek Shoals the fog receded, as did the clouds. The sun came out and my surrounding world became absolutely gorgeous. I cut the motor, pulled a paddle near, found my fishing rod and set about pulling a plastic box full of Mepp’s lures from the big old tackle box. At this point I decided I had had it with that big old box and it would not make the next trip. It was a fine box but the thing just took up too much room. That darned ice chest wouldn’t make another trip either. I was tired of not being able to stretch out my legs because of those two. Jettisoned, they would be, yes. As Yoda would say.

The boat drifted peacefully as I rigged the Browning four-piece rod and little Penn reel. I really enjoyed using these two products. The Penn was the next to smallest of their line and was loaded with some four-pound line. I brought a nine-foot plus crappie rod with me but left it with all the other excess equipment back at Cotter Trout Dock. I had looked forward to fighting a nice trout with that long rod. I thought that it would give me the action of a fly rod while letting me use the spinning rig. Maybe next time for that one. I’ve already packed the tall Loomis for the return trip. I have a lot of ambition for that crappie rod.

So for the last seven or so miles of this trip I simply relaxed and enjoyed the fishing. I didn’t catch a thing. I didn’t even get a bite. I kept casting just as if I knew what I was doing and really didn’t mind not catching anything. It was a wonderful day and a great time to be alive. I couldn’t ask for a more glorious way to spend a morning. I thanked the Lord, fishing pole in hand, eyes wide open. I hope he didn’t mind a prayer from a canoe instead of a pew.

The sun was really bright. Before I realized it, my legs were turning pink. I had a bottle of sun block hanging from the canoe seat for just this occasion. I was never one for sunscreen or suntan lotion. Neither did I use bug spray unless I was in dire straights. I just have never liked greasy smelly stuff on my skin. But, and I say but, since having dealt with skin cancer on my face and other dermatologist types problems this past winter I was going to do my best to stay out of doors and healthy at the same time. The Tilley hat was working. Hopefully the sun screen would do its’ thing as well.

Note: They both did great and I have since purchased another method of protecting my face from those bouncing sunrays. This is crazy but if it works I won’t have to put greasy stuff on my face. I bought a mosquito net that hangs from your hat and covers your face and neck. I have no idea if this method will work or if it will be too hot but I am going to try it. The idea is to deal with the glancing sunbeams by hanging the mosquito net as a sun block. I hope the air will flow through it o.k. I originally bought the hat net for use in sleeping outside the hammock or tent when it’s really hot. But I’m also thinking of future swampier runs as well.

The current did its job and in no time I was taking pictures of a big old bluff known as White’s Bluff. I think the bluff had been misnamed by the mapmakers. This bluff was white in color and if I knew my Leatherwood folks it was named for it’s color and not as a possession. It probably should have been White Bluff. But that’s just a guess.

Next: The town of Norfork and the Norfork River.

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