Crooked Creek

Posted by John Berry on September 30th, 2011
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For the last month or so my wife, Lori, and I have been unable to float Crooked Creek in our kayaks to fish for smallmouth bass. This is possibly our favorite stream to float and it just got too low. A few weeks ago, when we were driving across the Highway 14 Bridge in Yellville on our way to float a section of the Buffalo River, we noticed that the section of Crooked Creek below the bridge was totally dry. There was nothing but gravel as far as the eye could see. As a result, we have been kayaking other streams like the North Fork of the White and the Buffalo River. While we have enjoyed fishing those waters, we yearned for a return to Crooked Creek. We carefully monitored weather trends looking for a significant rain event that would put enough water into the Creek for us to kayak it again.

Then last week it happened, we got four and a half inches of rain (according to the rain gauge at my house in Cotter), in two days. We carefully monitored the creek levels at Kelley’s slab and noted that it was registering nine point eight feet. Our previous experience had taught us that we needed at least nine point six feet to float it without having to drag our kayaks through any shallow spots. We made immediate plans to float Crooked Creek. We found an open day without any guiding or teaching commitments and lined up our neighbors, Marcia and Schuyler, to let our yellow lab, Ellie, out midday.

We loaded our kayaks and other gear in Lori’s car the night before, so that we could get an early start. We left Cotter around eight o’clock in two vehicles. We drove to the take out point and dropped of the ancient Volvo. I hopped into Lori’s Taurus X and we drove to the put in point on Crooked Creek. We unloaded our boats, donned our waders, rigged our rods, parked our car and eased into the water. It was cool to start but the water level was perfect and the sky was cloudless.

We floated downstream about a mile before we came to some interesting water, a fast deep run with some nice structure. Lori and I were rigged pretty much the same. We both were fishing a Clouser minnow on a floating line and a nine foot 2X leader with no extra lead. Lori used a stiff nine foot seven weight rod while I used a stiff nine foot six weight. We cast our flies as close to the bank as possible and then let them swing in the current. When they reached mid-current, we stripped them in a bit. Lori and I were into smallmouth almost immediately. We caught a few and then moved on downstream. We caught a few at each stop. If the run wasn’t big enough for both of us to fish, I would boat down to the next spot and fish it.

Everything went well. We stopped on a small island and ate lunch. We didn’t dawdle. We had a lot of water to cover and there were plenty of fish to catch. We launched our kayaks to continue the float. Lori arrived at the next place to fish first and was already casting as I arrived. Somehow I floated over an unseen branch that lurked just below the surface of the water. It caught my kayak on the right side and as I passed it and it raised the side of my boat. This threw my balance off and flipped my boat over dumping me into the water in the process.

Now, I have over fifty years of experience canoeing and kayaking small streams and there is one thing I have learned. It isn’t if you will flip your boat. It is when this will happen. No matter how experienced and careful you are, there are unseen obstacles that will eventually catch up with you.

Since you cannot avoid it forever, the best strategy is to be prepared for it to happen at any time. Based on past experience, I was ready. First and foremost, I was wearing a properly fitting PFD (personal flotation device) designed for kayaking. This kept me from sinking and I was floating high. As a result, I got very little water in my waders before I was able to stand and move to the bank. Basically the only thing that got wet was my fishing shirt. Luckily it was a quick drying tropical shirt. It was bone dry in under an hour.

I didn’t lose my glasses because I had secured them with a strap around my neck. This is a lesson that I paid for in the past. I have two pair of glasses on the bottom of the Spring River. Lori was just downstream and was able to retrieve my kayak and paddle (a paddle leash is suggested). It is a bad idea to ever kayak alone, especially on remote water.

I didn’t lose any of my gear. My rod, fishing tackle, cooler and fleece vest and wind shirt (it was cool when we began our float) were all secured to my boat or stored in my hatch. My camera was not ruined because it is waterproof and my cell phone was unharmed in a Ziploc.

Lori and I continued fishing. I dried quickly. We finished the day with around fifty fish between us. The best part of the day was that we had total solitude. We didn’t see another angler or boat all day. It was nice to be back on Crooked Creek.

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