Jacks Fork

Jack’s Fork Information

Posted by Phil Lilley on March 25th, 2013
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Mark, a member on OzarkAnglers forum, ask a question about help on floating and fishing the Jack’s Fork River. One thing nice about OA’s forum, there’s quite a few members who’s knowledge of Missouri’s rivers is extensive and their willingness to give advice is second to none on the world wide web. The following is a compilation of postings by various people answering questions about the Jack’s Fork.

Mark’s questions: He and his buddy are planning on floating the second week in June. Their put-in point is Prongs or Buck Hollow. They expect to float between 5 to 10 miles a day and pull out somewhere between Bay Creek and Eminence. Mark is hauling down a squared off Stern canoe and thinking about taking a 2.5 hp motor to get them through the slow stretches of the river.

River levels are important when floating any stream. USGS provides measuring stations at various points in Missouri’s rivers and there are 3 on the Jack’s Fork. The Prongs stretch of the river can be marginal later in the summer for floating because the river becomes too low and Mark’s next question is about which measuring station should he read and at what level should he not put in at Prongs because of low levels.


Gavin – The river really flattens out below Rymers and the main obstacles are submerged rocks, sweepers, and there are a few sporty little ledges to run. Best scenery is between Prongs & Rymers. I’d want at least 150 cfs if you want to head down from the Prongs in a loaded boat. Prongs or Buck down to Alley would be a nice trip for 3 nights on the river. Bring a good saw because firewood can be scarce. Moreover, the shuttles are LONG…you might want to hire that out to maximize your time on the river. I’d use Harvey’s @ Alley Springs and park your vehicles in their lot. Watch for flash floods, forecast.

Steve – Four or five days = 3 or 4 nights? Three nights is perfect for me from Buck Hollow to Alley assuming the river is floatable. My reference point on the gauge is feet instead of cfs. My preference is 1.5 to 2.0 feet. Below 1.5 & you will start dragging quite a bit. The gauge gets to three feet & the river is moving along a somewhat better clip. Much less time will be needed on the river. I think it is closed at 4 feet.

My wife and I do Buck to Alley every year in three nights, and and we paddle basically not at all & fish it pretty hard.

About the only “must see” location on the river to me is Jam-up cave. Really a spectacular entrance. Also the mill at Alley Springs.

Flash floods- always camp high above the water and have a way to escape rising water if there is rain in the forecast or if it’s raining. River levels can rise as much as 10 feet in some areas.

ColdWaterFshr – I think you could get away with as less as 100 cfs on that gauge, but you would have some dragging to do.

If it were me, I would put in at Prongs or Buck and take out at Alley Spring. Leave your cars at Alley because they’ll be safer there due to the Park Ranger and campground host that patrols the area.

Only time I felt it was slightly tricky was from the Prongs and that was in high water — the gradient is a little steeper up there and its a little more twisty. I remember once when we floated that 7 or so miles from Prongs to Hwy 17 in a little over an hour and it had some fun little rolling waves, but still very mild class I-II.

From Buck (Hwy 17) on down to about Bay Creek its not as fast, and after Bay Creek its slows even more.

Blue Spring and Ebb and Flow Spring are also cool to check out, but the bluffs are what you’ll spend your time viewing.

Freeze milk jugs full of water for ice. Always keep a damp cloth over the ice chest lids, this will help keep the ice.

Al Agnew – The Mountain View gauge is the best one to use, but the Alley Spring gauge is located above the spring, and much of the time there isn’t much difference between the two gauges. With a square stern canoe loaded with camping gear and two guys who don’t want to work too hard, I’d want at least 120 cfs on the Mountain View gauge to float from the Prongs. But also keep in mind that the upper river from the Prongs to Rhymers has some steep little rapids and rock gardens, along with some serious sweepers here and there (sweepers are trees that lean over the river or into the river on the outside of fast water bends, too low to go under, and the current “sweeps” you into them, “sweeping” you out of the canoe or the canoe under the tree). Unless you are really good at maneuvering that square stern in fast water, you for sure don’t want TOO much water. I wouldn’t attempt it from the Prongs if the gauge reading is much over 300 cfs unless you’re sure you know what you’re doing in that canoe full of gear. I know you float the Eleven Point a lot, but the Eleven Point is much wider and more open in all the riffles than the upper Jacks Fork.

The Buck Hollow and the Alley Spring gauges are about equally valid for the Jacks Fork above Alley Spring. The Alley gauge is above the spring, and its flow readings are usually pretty similar to the Buck Hollow gauge (note I’m talking flow in cfs, not level in feet) unless there’s a flash flood that has reached Buck Hollow but not Alley yet. If I’m floating from Rymers to Alley I’ll use the Alley gauge, if floating Prongs to Rymers the Buck Hollow gauge.

I’ll say it again, if you are already familiar with a stream and know what the level in feet signifies for that stream, that’s great, but the flow in cfs is a much more useful reading if you aren’t familiar with the stream. If you tell me the Jacks Fork is at 2 feet on the gauge and I don’t know the Jacks Fork and have never paid attention to that particular gauge, I have zero idea what you’re talking about. But if you tell me the Jacks Fork is flowing 200 cfs at that gauge, I KNOW what 200 cfs looks like on ANY Ozark stream, and know that on any stream comparable in size to the Jacks Fork, 200 cfs is very floatable but not high.

From the Prongs to Buck Hollow, the river is all short rocky pools and fast, steep riffles full of rocks. The pools start to get a little bigger below Buck Hollow, the riffles are a little wider, but it’s still a lot of fast water to Rhymers. From Rhymers to Bay Creek you start encountering a lot more shallow, gravelly pools and runs, but with enough deep water and rocky riffles to keep things interesting. From Bay Creek to Alley the runs get longer and shallower, the pools farther between, and the riffles often wide and very shallow. From Alley to Eminence, due to the influx of Alley Spring, the river is much bigger and easier to run, but the fishing suffers. In the upper end the bluffs are numerous but not very big. The farther downstream you go, until you reach Alley Spring, the bigger the bluffs get. Below Alley the valley widens considerably and the bluffs get less tall. But the upper river is almost a canyon, with no bottomland, just a hill on one side and a bluff on the other all the way. Which is why it comes up so quickly after heavy rain and gets so high. It truly is the most dangerous river in MO when there is heavy rain in the watershed.

Jam-up Cave is the only “must-see”, although I would argue that the whole river from the Prongs to Alley is a “must-see”. If you wanted to, you could spend a day poking around Jam-up Cave, because it’s a part of a very interesting geological system. The cave comes out onto the river valley in a big bluff. Jam-up Creek is a small stream that flows off the highlands toward the river to a point just a hundred yards or so in back of that bluff, and then the valley of Jam-up Creek swings away from the river and winds through the hills for another couple of miles before reaching the river valley. But the creek drops through a hole in its bed (which is sometimes jammed up with driftwood, hence one origin of the name) right where its valley comes closest to the Jacks Fork, to emerge at Jam-up Cave. Not only that, but there is another hole in the roof of the cave between where the creek enters it and where it empties into the river, which gives you a “skylight” into the cave. The creek within the cave drops over a waterfall a little ways back into the cave, and that skylight, at the right time and the right sunny days, shines a sunbeam right onto the waterfall. it’s a truly magical place. So you could hike around the bluff and atop it, and look for the holes from above, as well as clambering around within the cave.

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