NANFA-- quick trip to se arkansas
Mon, 17 Feb 2003 13:14:24 EST

this post is not full of fish but it is a bit fishy... ive carefully
re-edited it to remove all the exaggerations and lies... some of it is more
personal and journalistic but it keeps the fish mongering relevant.

2/8/03 se arkansas

i recently returned from a drive over to se arkansas to visit my father after
his unexpected lung surgery. he is a long time smoker and they had to remove
a portion of his lung that contained a small but dormant tumor. hopefully
they removed all the cancer but he still must consult w/ his surgeon and a
cancer specialist about ongoing treatment and concerns. my intentions were to
help care for him after his hospital stay but he was up and moving around
very well within 4 or 5 days after the surgery. at 66 i think he could still
take me on... and out! :) they broke a rib in removing the smaller lobe of
his right lung and this seemed to cause him the most pain. morphine and rest
had relieved his first days after the surgery.

i choose to drive over by dropping through birmingham and crossing straight
through mississippi and on into arkansas. martin moore had not recommended
any site along this route so i focused on the drive and decided to
concentrate any fish activity near my dad's place just below pine bluff,
arkansas. this was my first wander along this route and to this region. the
land became flat, flat and flatter. cotton fields were everywhere along with
their straight channelized ditches. miles and miles of plowed fields. i had
purchased a arkansas gazateer prior to the trip and had found that the area
south of pine bluff was covered in fish farms. i was eager to visit a few and
see what was in them. after crossing the mississippi river in greenville and
on my way into arkansas i dippnetted a few outflow ditchs of these fish
farms. tons of mosquito fish. nothing else. i later learned they were all
catfish farms. i had been considering they were bait fish farms as a truck
from arkansas delivers all kinds of fish to farm ponders at the local co-op
in chattanooga. but all these were catfish farms. everywhere. eat more
catfish. the bait fish farms are in the north closer to the mountains.
fayetteville in the nw.

i arrived at his home the following afternoon and we had an evening of
relaxation, shared memories and concerns for the future and his health.
the next morning feeling like the fresh air and a gentle activity would be
benefitial he took me to a waterway called bayou bartholomew. it is a long
meandering stream drifting through cypress trees and knees. at one time it
was an awesome site full of indians and legends. now many plowed fields back
up to it and the once tea clear water is now dank and muddy. i dipnetted
along a step bank while he chatted with an old timer friend of his. the man
spoke of his days of trout lines, fish traps and the deep mysterious waters.
he is 91 and still lives along the same banks. a veteran of the pacific war
he is quite proud of the lush vegetables he grows in this rich soil of the
ancient floodplains. old fish traps and rusty farm gear adorned his 3 walled
creek side shed.

after some sweet milk, lemon cake and well wishes from the man and his wife
my father took me to a site on the other side of the bayou. suprisingly it
featured a low dam and rough cobbled river crossing. the water must have
dropped at least 4' at this point. i could not figure where the gradiant come
from! the landscape all seemed as flat as flat is. it was a nice spot and i
was able to dipnet up vast quanities of gambusia but also several banded
pygmy sunfish, glass shrimp and what i think are dwarf crayfish like the ones
gator bruce recently sent me. i also collected lots of small sunfish of which
i brought 4 differently marked and very small juveniles home so as to watch
them develop. i also placed my net in the outflow riffles of the cobbled dam
and collected a couple bluntnose darters, a first for me and a very gravid
blackside darter. i think this is the only time i have ever knowingly crushed
a fish while turning about the cobble. sadly the female was ruptured and the
eggs were oozing out. ive always been amazed how fish have always seem to get
out of the way of this behavior. none the less i try to minimize any
excessive substrate disturbance. this is another reason why snorkling makes
such a pleasant and non abtrusive method of observation. the water here was
almost clear enough to make a go of snorkling. the dam seemed to allow some
settling and the cold i suspect kept the algae in check. i wished i had
brought along my small siene. i could have easily cornered some shiners...
which are very difficult to catch with a dipnet. i also caught a lot of black
spotted topminnows, a few blacktail shiners and a couple darters unknown to
me... even after pouring over the books for several hours. this will be a
great site to return to.

he then took me to the saline river where in addition to the previous species
i caught some brook silversides. the river offered very nice sand bottomed
flows, a spattering of bankside vegatation and driftwooded back water eddies.
i was able to put on the waders and work a 100 yard side of the river. large
schools of very small and still unknown minnows hugged the shallows. i
brought home close to a dozen so as to watch them develop and maybe id in the
future. three silversides survived the 4 days in my airiated cooler and the
drive home but almost immediatly succumbed in my florida 55 tank. such a
unique body shape, fin alignment and transparency. very pretty.

the following day after visiting his doctor in pine bluff we rode over to the
arkansas river at a site just below a dam that looked to drop 20 or 30 feet.
here to were long winding sand beaches that urged you to wander endlessly
downstream. i tried to get my dad to walk with me but i think the cold wind
was a bit snappy and my eagerness to far going for his desire. still tho we
were able to check out the concreted boat ramp, big uprooted logs strung
along the bank and a few pools along the beach. the water here too was
possibly clear enough at times to snorkle. ive learned that the flows below
dams can provide clarity... a settling of the waters above the dam.

a day later we drove south below monticello to the deer camp where as a boy
of 10 i shot and killed the one and only deer in my life... a 13 point. a lot
of huntsmen were very jealous that day! it was like a time warp to go back to
a site from my youth's memory, 35 years back and again seeing just about
every detail, location and structure or where it once stood. memories of
sitting at a kerosene lite table doing homework, watching men eat squirrel
brains spread upon a broiler platter, learning the goodness of biscuits,
sorgum molasses and butter, witnessing the great leonid meteor shower of
1966. sitting around the camp stove at night and hearing all their wild woods
hunting lore. leaving we drove down to brown creek that flows behind the camp
and i was able to collect a few banded pygmy sunfish along with one pirate
perch. i now know why ive been so confused in the past during my florida
trips with these 2 species... especially when they are both small. both share
the same purplish gut area along with a fairly similiar body shape. and both
will lay at the bottom of a tank during observation. i think this is now
another 2 species that i will be able to quickly id in the field.

that evening we visited a friend of dad's. a fellow that grew up in this land
hunting, fishing and exploring the deep isolated expanses. his stories lasted
well into the night... pulling gators from his fish nets, stretching trout
lines across swamps, saving his dogs from enraged wild hogs, pulling loads of
buffalo fish, bowfins and crappie into his boat. he had photos, albums and
newspaper clippings to back his stories up. he pulled out his dusty massive
fish hoop traps, seines and gill nets and illustrated their use and
techniques. he had worked through his younger years by these activities. he
spoke of the hundreds of water moccasins piled up on a beaver dam in a breedi
ng mass. and the time as a boy deep in the bayou and looking into the water
and seeing an eye the size of a saucer gazing up at him. a gar longer than
the boat! yes i think he may have exaggerated but the stories were vivid and
full of life in the wild. old dusty fish mounts, skulls, antique prints and
snakeskins were buried back in his closets. he pulled out old photos that
showed me as a child sitting with the big buck i had just shot. he found the
old camp journal describing my hunt, the time and place, the bucks size, rack
and weight and the emotion of that day long ago written in an unknown hand.
we dusted off photos and newspaper clippings of the black panther hoax. a
devious forward placement of a common black cat carcass alongside some deer
carcasses had greatly exaggerated the "panther's" size and the word was a
large male had gotten away. all the town folk spent sleepless nights behind
bolted doors and shuttered windows until the truth was eventually revealed.
he spoke of a real panther following him and his father for 3 hours through
the dark night snarling with blood curdling yeows. hair burning straight up
his neck. ive been promised a siene drag through some back waters on my next
visit. he also told me of "blow outs". areas where the river alters course
and the water is deep and clear. i may not make it back! he may make a story
out of that fella from tennessee that wanted to snorkle a deep hole!

i spent another day with my father and wished him well and a promised return
in early may w/ my son. i headed out in the icing noon rain and just before i
crossed the mississippi i saw a sign that said aquaculture something. i did a
quick u-turn and pulled into the lot. a small store filled with catfish
raising equipment and supplies. pumps, gadgets, chemicals, nets and gizmos.
we shared a few quick stories, i showed him my fishes of tn book and i told
him of my ongoing cement pond experiment. he said i should check out the
trade show over in mississippi and that it was on my way home. i got
directions and within a half hour i was walking past a 8' long fiberglass
catfish painted with the red, white and blue. inside were all kinds of giant
motorized paddle wheeled aireators. the game & fish authorities and regional
universities had displays set up featuring their knowledge and service. i
picked up all kinds of literature on the aquaculture of shrimp, prawns,
catfish, fish and baitfish. i sampled every kind of catfish cooking from
booths boasting of new recipes and techniques. i studied all kinds of
monitoring devices for ph, oxygen, temp and water quality... solar powered,
infra red transmitted and satellite cordinated. displays and samples of new
feed offering vitamin suppliments and growth enhancement. this stuff was big
time and well beyond my little cement pond plaything. however i sure would
like to walk up to my sliding glass door overlooking the pool and look at a
panel readout and monitor my ph, dissolved oxygen and temperature. about a
thousand bucks should do it! the ongoing time and a long drive lay ahead
motivated me to walk one last pass. i snatched one more piece of catfish, a
aireator cozy and headed for the door.

ive learned the area a bit, studied the maps and books and will not leave
behind my minnow trap or seine next time. when i return to arkansas for
bill's smelly but fun ozark adventure i will spend another week exploring
these swampy lowlands and the other range of arkansas mountains... the
ouachitas. out of which flows the famous hot springs. im eager to return and
do it right! i might even get a massage in that old town with the hot mineral

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