Vol. VIII, No. 4, 1995


A Yell of a Fishing Trip

By L. B. Cook



This happened back in the 1930s, entirely too many years back to remember all facts in the proper perspective, but I still have some wonderful memories. It came about with three of us hellions who grew up around the village green of Joplin, Missouri. No doubt we did about every bad thing that any boy in the growing-up process does, but we all had one redeeming feature -- we each loved to fish. This perhaps replaced some of the more obnoxious things we might have done.

The trio consisted of Bill Kennedy, Earl "Red" Enright, and myself. The three of us decided to pool our respective vacations and take a real fishing trip. The problem was, we didn't exactly know where to go. Most of our previous fishing trips had been made within about a 50 mile radius of Joplin. Either to Shoal Creek, (barely out of the city limits), or to Indian Creek, the two Sugar Creeks, or Elk River, all in McDonald County.

One of the top executives of the Empire District Electric Company at that time was Reginald Barrett, known by almost everyone simply as "Reggie." He was considered to be an expert fisherman, having fished over most of the United States and also in a number of foreign countries. He was well known as a real nice guy. Red, one of our fishing trio, also worked for Empire Electric -- on the telephone switchboard. So Red approached Reggie and asked for suggestions as to where we three boys might go.

Reggie asked how far we planned to go and how long we wanted to stay. Red told him we wanted to reach our fishing spot within a day's drive or less, and we would like to stay a week after we got there. We wanted to fish for bass and goggle eyes, Red said, and put out a trotline for catfish..

With no hesitation at all, Reggie suggested the Buffalo River, in Arkansas. It was one of his personal favorites, he said. Anywhere we went on the Buffalo would be good fishing, he told us. It was that kind of a river.

With that unqualified recommendation, we found an Arkansas map and looked over the Buffalo River, trying to pick a spot that was semi-isolated, but also a place we could get our car to, for we had to haul enough food and gear to last us a week. We finally settled on a spot at the mouth of Cedar Creek, a few miles downstream from the small community of Rush. Besides Rush Creek we also would have to ford Clabber Creek and Cabin Creek, but they were all small and shouldn't create any problem for us. A road of sorts was indicated on our map along the north bank of the Buffalo. We found later that it was originally put in many years before to haul the zinc out of the several small mines in that area. Even then it probably was used by horse and wagon, or high-wheeled cars.

We managed to get through on this road by rolling some large rocks out of the way occasionally, and riding the wheels on one side of the car up on the high centers. We learned later that when the river flooded it washed out sections of the bluff down onto this old road. It isn't shown on any current maps -- in fact the Cedar Creek area we had selected is now in a wilderness area of the Buffalo National River.

We loaded our Ford roadster the night before and pulled out real early on a Sunday morning. We didn't take a boat with us. We thought we would just rent one from someone after we got where we were going.

Our route took us to Yellville, Arkansas, then south on highway 14. We turned left on a not-so-good road and went down a steep hill into Rush. Rush consisted of a large store and a few old buildings left over from the earlier mining days. The store had a front porch with a railing across it, and there were several men sitting around visiting, as is quite often done in rural areas.
We pulled up in front of the store and told them we wanted to camp and fish on the Buffalo. We asked where we could rent a boat. After talking among themselves for a little while, they agreed that we might find what we were looking for by driving on down the river to a small schoolhouse, some distance below Rush. They were certain we could drive there with very little trouble. They all agreed, though, that the road could be some better.

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We made it just fine and arrived at this old school house, the one-room kind, just before noon. We learned that this was a school building on weekdays, but on Sundays it served as a church. Church was just letting out, but several men were already outside. We walked up to one of the men and asked about renting a boat. We were hopeful, because we had seen a johnboat tied just below the schoolhouse. The man we talked to said that the owner of this boat was the preacher and he was still in church but would be out in a few minutes.

When the preacher came out, we told him who we were and that we hoped to camp out there for about a week to fish, and that we wanted to rent his boat from him to use for trotlining. He didn't hesitate or blink an eye. He told us he wouldn't rent his boat. Well, we asked, did he know of another boat around there we might rent? He said the nearest one would be down on White River, nearly a day's float from where we were.

Cartoons by Tyler Stephens.
That threw us somewhat. When he saw how disappointed we were, he added that he didn't say we couldn't use his boat, he just said that he wouldn't rent it. He asked only one favor of us -- if the fiver came up to where his kids couldn't wade across the shoals to get to and from school in the morning and evening, would we mind "settin' them across" with the boat? Needless to say we were more than happy to agree to this. All the time we were there, however, the river remained calm and it wasn't necessary to ferry the kids, so we had full use of his boat. When we left, we again tried to pay him something, but I had a feeling it bothered him, and he still wouldn't take it. Of such is the old Ozarks.

We hurried to get our fishing gear out of the car, and while Red threw some things together to get our tent ready to set up, Bill and I grabbed a quick bite and strung our trotline across the upper end of the hole near camp. We then took some softshell crawfish and headed out to try to catch our supper. We knew that soft craws are ice cream and cake to almost all fish that swim, so we brought several dozen soft crows with us, in an icebox especially built to keep them in. While we were fishing we set our two glass minnow traps out to catch some trotline bait. We also planned to use live minnows, along with the crows, for our rod and reel fishing.

We ended up with a nice mixed string of bass, goggle eyes, and channel catfish on the craws. We brought them back to camp and fixed the smaller fish to eat for supper. After that we baited our trotline and hit the sack. It had been a busy day.

The next morning we climbed out early, ran our trotline, and took off several nice channel and flathead catfish, which we put in our livebox at camp. Then all three of us waded across the shoals and started rod and reel fishing in earnest. When we came back to our camp around noon we had a real nice string of fish, including smallmouth bass as large as four pounds. Again, the larger fish, especially the catfish, were put in the icebox to save and we strong the smaller ones to eat as we wanted them.

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As we headed back towards camp that first noon, we noticed a long, lanky young fellow, about our own age, standing off to one side of the camp. We could tell that he was curious about the three of us, so we spoke and invited him to come on into camp with us and have some lunch and coffee. He seemed real pleased to do just that and we then found out his name was Paul Beavers. He said that his folks lived "just over the mountain," in Rea Valley, on White River. That was above the mouth of the Buffalo River at Buffalo City.

All three of us immediately liked Paul. We enjoyed having him visit us, and he seemed to enjoy being there, too. Young hill kids of that age simply didn't get the chance to visit with too many outsiders then. When he left for home later that evening, he told us he would be back early the following morning, and, sure enough he was. He went fishing with us, and since he knew the Buffalo real well he proved to be an excellent guide. We asked him if he couldn't just stay in camp with us, instead of going back and forth over the mountain twice each day, and he told us he would. He made one more round trip, and then he was with us the rest of our stay.

Later in the week our trotline quit producing as good as it had been so we decided to move it to another hole, just below camp. That involved running the shoals with the boat. Paul said that he and I could do that with no trouble at all. I wasn't so sure-- the riffle was deep and swift, and full of room-sized rocks here and there that could easily change your location from inside the boat to outside. And fast!

But, after the two of us took our line out, Paul headed into the shoals, standing up in the back and poling, as Ozarks river people usually did. I was on my knees in the bow of the boat, trying to watch ahead for large rocks to point them out to Paul. We were usually past them, though, before I could tell him where they were. We made it without any trouble, as Paul had said we would.

It was mid-afternoon when we stretched our trotline across this hole, just below where the shoals curled into deeper blue water. We planned to put the line out and then do some fishing with rod and reel before baiting the line. Then we would pull the boat up high on a gravel bar and walk back to camp. That way we could run the line early the next morning.

As we finished getting the line strong and were tying a couple of rocks on to weight it down, I happened to look downstream and saw a man walking in a field up on about the second bench. The field was at the very lower end of the long hole of water where we were, and a good three-quarters of a mile or a mile from us. So far, in fact, that I couldn't even tell what kind of a field he was in.

As I was watching this man, there came the awfullest noise from the other end of the boat. It was a screeching, wavering yell that almost boosted me out of my seat. It roared and soared and sailed and echoed back and forth between the hills until it finally died out entirely.

Before I could even begin to figure out why Paul had let out that awful howl, another entirely different yell came rolling back upstream to us from this other party. And then he moved completely out of our sight.

While I was trying to figure out what all the hollering was about, Paul picked up the long boat pole, and asked me what I would think of a mess of roasting ears for supper that evening? And maybe a ripe watermelon or two to go along with the corn? I had no idea how he intended to come by these items, but, of course, I told him that sounded swell.

Without saying more, Paul started poling our boat downstream, toward where we had seen the man in the field. He pulled the boat up on the gravel bank and said, "Let's get out and pick some corn." Well, at that I began to balk a little. I knew we would be in a lot of trouble if we got into someone's cornfield and watermelon patch without him knowing about it. I suggested that we should try to find the man we had seen and offer to buy some roasting ears from him. Paul said there wasn't any use in that. This man already knew who Paul was and what he wanted to do, and it was alright.

I wasn't too sure, but by then we had reached the cornfield and Paul picked some big ears of com and tossed them into a pile at the edge of the field. When he had pulled off what he thought was enough, he started looking for some watermelons. We added two nice melons to the pile of roasting ears. I kept looking behind me, because by then I was sure that when we headed back toward the boat with that com and those melons there would sure be some buckshot following close behind us.

But we made it back to the boat without any shots being fired. As he poled the boat back toward camp, Paul explained what was going on. He grinned at me while he did -- I was a typical city dude. He told me that all the natives in this country of steep hills and deep hollers had their own particular yells. In this way, a man didn't always have to walk long distances and climb hills and ford streams in order to talk with his neighbor. He would just yell, his own "copyrighted" sound, and his neighbor would answer in the same fashion.

When Paul yelled at this man, whom he assumed was the owner of the field, that told the man who Paul was and that he would like to go into the field to pick a mess of corn, or whatever else happened to be growing there, When the other man yelled back, it told Paul that it was the man he thought it was, that he knew who Paul was, and that it was alright for him to go on into the field and pick whatever he wanted to. Paul said that anytime this man got over into Rea Valley and wanted anything that grew there, it would be the same story in reverse.

The "arranged for" roasting ears and watermelon ate plumb good that evening. Nothing beats fried fish and home-grown food at a time like this, especially if it's pre-pared on an open £we in the beautiful Buffalo River country, with the gurgling river providing the dinner music.

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After another day or two of rod and reel fishing and trotlining, we took up the trotline and dragged our borrowed boat back up through the shoals to the owner's place, and we broke camp. We left a day earlier than we had originally planned in order to go over to Rea Valley and visit with Paul's folks there. It was quite a distance around there by car, not just the "short piece" Paul said he walked over the mountain to get to our Buffalo River camp. Also, after hearing all his fish catching stories, we wanted to fish one night on the White River with Paul.

We didn't even have to unpack our trotline, for Paul already had his set in the river above where his folks lived. We got our minnow seine out and got all the trotline bait we needed by seining along some gravel bars at night. We added still more catfish to our take-home catch. It was a real pleasure for the three of us not only to fish with Paul, but also to meet and visit with his folks. We also appreciated the big hill breakfast his mother fixed for us the following morning before we headed home.

This first visit to the Buffalo was many years ago. The fishing was great, but the beauty of the river itself and, especially, the wonderful hill people we met, made it nearly perfect.

Any way you spell it, it was really one yell of a fishing trip.

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