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Joy of wade fishing never ends

by Bryan Hendricks | July 26, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.

Days like these make me appreciate simple things, like standing chest-deep in a creek.

More serious people gave up that sort of thing about the time they got their first job where appearances mattered. When you're trying to impress people on the lower rungs of the career and social ladder, waxing poetic about creek wading doesn't hold par with more professional pursuits like duck hunting and golf. It's acceptable if you're fly fishing, but at that season in your life, the destination is the brag point.

It is, of course, gauche to mention or even hint at how much you spent on your fly fishing trips. It's understood that a guided trip is expensive on Wyoming's Wind River or Utah's Green River.

Eventually, you will return to the sublime joy of standing in a stream in the Ozark or Ouachita mountains, wearing only shorts and ratty old tennis shoes, casting for bass or bream. Over the years, we traded the T-shirt for a proper long-sleeve fishing shirt. The fishing shirt is more fashionable, but we wear it because it protects more skin from the sun. At this season in our lives, we regret not taking better care of our skin. We might look better if we had.

Think about the White River below Bull Shoals Dam for a moment. Anglers come from around the world to fish this legendary trout stream, attired with the brand-du-jour fishing waders, Columbia fishing attire and Sage fly rods. They're everywhere. And then I rounded a bend at Roundhouse Shoal and saw a guy sitting chest deep in an old lawn chair amid these people. He was built like a barrel, with a hillbilly beard and wearing denim overalls and no shirt. He had to have been freezing in that cold water, but he looked totally content.

It spoke very well of all the L.L. Bean/Sage catalog anglers that they co-existed quite peacefully with this gentleman, and he with them. Fishing is fraternal that way. It doesn't really matter how or why we reached our individual fishing stations. That we are there is all that matters.

My creek-wading meanderings are more pedestrian. I do it in waters you know, but also in many waters that nobody knows except, perhaps, the people that live beside them. Even that's not guaranteed.

Summer is the time. The hotter the better. It goes back to my elementary school days when fishing was about all there was for young kids to do. We all fished.

Woodruff Creek in Sherwood was our main haunt, from North Hills Country Club to the far reaches of Club Road and beyond. We caught mostly longear sunfish, green sunfish and small catfish. Sometimes we caught crappie. Bass and chain pickerel inhabited those waters, but catching them required lures, and we couldn't afford lures and had no place to buy them if we could.

Bass fishing came much later, and it only enhanced my love for wading creeks.

Here's why wet wading is so great. The Buffalo River is my favorite because there are so many places to do it. You get to Steel Creek Recreation Area early in the morning before direct sunlight strikes the valley. It's cool, but humid, and you know what's coming. As soon as the sun tops the ridge, it turns that canyon into a sauna.

I enter the water near the bathroom at the horse trailer parking lot above the rapids. Much of that pool is chin-deep. It makes me gasp with each new body part that immerses, but I acclimate to it quickly and welcome its coolness.

I inch along on tiptoe, but I have its smallmouth bass and Ozark bass to myself. Near the top of the campground is a stretch where I always catch some bigger bass.

Past the campground, I encounter no more people. The river, by then a creek, is narrow and shallow except for the channel. It's so narrow that the trees on the banks shade it almost entirely, cooling the air and the water.

I wade almost to the Ponca Bridge before turning around. I've spent the entire day in the shaded cool water, and I've enjoyed the kind of fishing they write about in magazines.

The L.L. Bean/Sage crowd, especially those on the highest rungs of the ladder, enjoys hearing these tales as much as they do each other's stories about fishing the Wind and Yellowstone Rivers.

One guy in town has made a career of it.

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