Winter fishing camp

BLANCHARD SPRINGS – After fall, winter is my favorite time to go camping.

Campgrounds are vacant. There are no bugs. A hot meal tastes better in the cold, and there is no cold that a large campfire and a good sleeping bag cannot heal.

Bill Eldridge of Benton suggested a December camp in October. Some of our group were not enthusiastic. Their dislike is understandable. For nearly a decade, our usual winter outings at the end of January have been in warm lodges with comfy beds and satellite TV with big screens for watching NFL football.

In other words, we have softened.

Our last tent camp during the winter was in January 2010 at Blanchard Springs Recreation Area. This group consisted of Eldridge, Rusty Pruitt of Bryant, my youngest son Matthew and his late son Daniel. The boys filed some memorable incidents. One was a fishing stop on the second day at a nearby public access on Sylamore Creek. The temperature was below zero, with ice on the roads. Dressed in neoprene waders, Daniel stayed warm and dry.

Matthew didn’t have waders, but he followed Daniel through several stream crossings in jeans and tennis shoes. We cut the fishing short because Matthew was almost hypothermic. This is one of the few times that I have seen the skin turn blue.

The other incident happened earlier in the morning. The boys climbed a nearby ridge and rolled rocks off a cliff. The noise was deafening and was accompanied by wild screams and cheers that echoed through the canyon.

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Like a dervish bursting from a cloud of flash powder, a guy carrying a machete on his hip materialized in front of Eldridge, Pruitt and me. He was very agitated.

“I am very worried that these children will destroy the bathroom!” he barked. Regarding the machete cautiously, we calmly assured him that the bathroom was well beyond the reach of the rolling stones.

We, minus Matthew, remembered all of this fondly when we arrived at Blanchard Springs Recreation Area on December 14th. As in 2010, we camped at the group’s site overlooking North Sylamore Creek, whose murmuring waters are as calming as the scriptures. The group also included Ed Kubler of Benton and Richard Phelan of Benton. Phelan, a dentist, endured a great deal of grief during a fast food stop in Clinton when he got a sugary soft drink.

A large pile of firewood was next to the ring of fire when we arrived, but it was not enough. We love our high campfires. It was a bonus that the US Forest Service had cleared the woods in this area. A team had left a large quantity of logs beside the road. After we unloaded our gear, we went up the mountain and got it on.

After making camp, we rigged our rods for trout fishing at Mirror Lake. It is a small reservoir that once supplied a flour mill whose ruins stand under the dam. The spring-fed lake is stocked in winter with rainbow trout, some of which pass the dam into the stream below. The cove is lightly fished, and Eldridge thought it might be home to a large reserve.

Eldridge used a Trout Magnet stickbait and a drop shot rigged with Berkley Power Eggs. His first stop was in the last large pool between the dam and the stream. After several unsuccessful throws with the stickbait, he threw the Power Eggs at the base of the dam. A 15 inch colorful rainbow bit the hook and gave Eldridge a good fight. While not giant, it’s considerably bigger than a freshly stocked rainbow.

Then we walked up the hill to the next pool which we thought would be even more likely to hold a good fish. Nothing at all, so we joined Kubler and Pruitt to throw in the lake.

Kubler had already caught and released eight trout with Power Eggs, and Pruitt had caught six. It was late afternoon and the trout were hitting insects on the surface. This was the perfect location for Eldridge’s Colorado Platform, which he uses to great effect on the South Fork Reservoir near South Fork, Colorado. It’s a Royal Wolf fly on a 3ft long leader behind a clear throw bobber. You can launch the platform halfway across the lake. Slowly recovered, the fly rises behind the float like an emerging pierrot. Eldridge grabbed half a dozen in no time.

On the way back to the truck, we met a family from Newport. A boy of about 9 asked if we had caught any fish. He got excited when we said yes, but we were disappointed that we didn’t have a fish to show him.

“But, I have a video,” I say. “Do you want to see him?”

He really wanted to see it, so we circled him while I played the video on my smartphone. It showed Eldridge hooking and fighting a jumping and struggling trout. Online subscribers can watch it in the video accompanying this article.

When it was over, the boy said, “I want to go fishing!

“Well you should!” I tweeted.

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He turned to face his parents and reiterated his desire. His parents didn’t seem to like him. That’s why Pruitt calls me “The Instigator”.

Back at camp, we lit a row of lanterns and stacked a large pile of firewood. Shortly after, we had a big roaring fire.

Kubler broiled our usual meal of hubcap size rib eye steaks, salad, baked potatoes and the sweetest corn on the cob I have ever eaten. Kubler and I washed it down with a festive shot of Droptine 12-Point Bourbon. It replaces Jefferson Reserve Ocean as my favorite sipping bourbon.

The bonhomie prompted Kubler to share stories from his youth in Pittsburgh, including watching Tony Dorsett’s 1976 Heisman Trophy-winning season at the University of Pittsburgh.

“They won the national championship that year, but hardly anyone went to the games,” Kubler said.

Community beer was a brand called Iron City. Kubler said it was brewed with water from the Allegheny River downstream from a steelworks.

“It was real rotten stuff,” Kubler said. “The Pittsburgh Brewing Company had one called Olde Frothingslosh. ‘The Pale Stale Ale with the foam at the bottom.’ That’s what he said on the box. ”Kubler showed us a can of Olde Frothingslosh for sale on eBay.

My favorite Kubler tale is about his brother who worked for a welder. They and an apprentice worked near the elephant enclosure at the Pittsburgh Zoo. One of the elephants resented the young apprentice.

“This elephant picked up a big pile of excrement with its trunk,” Kubler said. “When the kid saw that, he ran away. This elephant threw him up and splashed him all over his back from head to toe.”

And so unfolded a long night of laughter and fellowship beside a roaring bonfire as we toasted the boys who grew up, the boys who left, and the stones they rolled away.

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Bryan Hendricks
Richard Phelan (left) watches Bill Eldridge hoist a large rainbow trout from the pool below the Mirror Lake Dam on December 14.

Sport on 12/29/2019

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