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Examiner
  • Kenneth Kieser: Shadows on the White River

  • There are shadows on the White River that run through Missouri and Arkansas. Richie Hays, White River guide for Gaston's Resort, is well aware of these shadows that few see. Some may even feel these apparitions that refuse to leave while others never believe they exist.

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  • There are shadows on the White River that run through Missouri and Arkansas. Richie Hays, White River guide for Gaston's Resort, is well aware of these shadows that few see. Some may even feel these apparitions that refuse to leave while others never believe they exist.
    Hays lives and breathes the White River after 16 years of guiding. He knows that the shadows are there and perhaps someday he will join them. I have written many stories on this river and may someday be a shadow on the river too, joining a big crowd. Many shadows with unknown names and faces started the White River history centuries ago.
    Men, women and children used the river for survival long before dams created this cold water chute that now supports rainbow and brown trout survival. Native Americans fished and hunted this sacred place and likely thanked their god for this special place.
    Eventually, pioneers took over, no doubt still thanking God for nourishment and fresh water. These pioneers brought civilization to the region and by the 1920s, when a dollar was still worth a dollar, guides found they could be paid for a day's fishing, many are now likely shadows.
    Early guides on the White River worked hard for their pay, between $2 and $10 a day. After cooking breakfast, most used long wooden johnboats to propel clients down the river in search of goggle-eye, green perch and bass. Then, after a long day of guiding, camp was set up with fresh fish, steak or chicken for dinner with potatoes and beans or whatever they decided to haul down river and grill over an open fire.
    Jim Owens, out of Branson, was likely the most famous guide on the river. The Jim Owen's Boat Line started in 1935 and catered to thousands of sportsmen by the late 1940s for a rate of $2 a day that eventually ballooned up to $10.
    His wooden johnboats were not equipped with a middle seat so fishermen could comfortably sit in director's chairs and drink iced beverages. Owens even brought portable toilet seats for the more delicate anglers. Eventually, he scored the highest paying clients. By the late 1940s he owned over about 40 johnboats with almost as many guides, likely several of the shadows that follow Hays up and down the river on every guide trip.
    Many changes have occurred since the wooden johnboat days. Table Rock and Bull Shoals Dams started releasing cold water down the White River chutes, creating ideal trout conditions.
    Bass, goggle-eye and green perch may still be found on stretches miles away from the dams, but now White River guides mainly show clients how to trout fish. Chances are some of the earlier customers and guides since the dams are now shadows, too.
    Page 2 of 2 - “I love the history of guides on the river,” Hays said. “Some of the guides I worked with are gone; they just never had a feel for this river and only wanted a pay check. Many of the guides I work with now love the White River and will likely stay.”
    Hays is a successful guide because of his patience with novice anglers, including women and children. If fact, many beginners insist on Hays as their guide on return trips and Gaston's White River Resort makes that possible, even though the business has a successful staff of many guides that share their river secrets with co-workers, like a select society. This group of guides loves the river and will likely be shadows watching younger guides and clients many years from now.
    But for me, watching Zane Wheeler and his buddies, Michael and Hunter Taylor, all younger than 10 years old, having fun catching rainbows on the White River is a reminder why there are many shadows on the river – or maybe not shadows, but kindred spirits. Either way, most who discover this special place never want to leave and return whenever possible for the rest of their lives – or possibly forever.
    About Gastons: Gaston's has an excellent shoreline lunch where freshly caught trout are deep fried with “all the fixings.”  But their restaurant, with chef Mark Pagni, serves up remarkable lobster and steak dinners. Of course they have chicken and other entrées, but I only ate the incredible steak and lobster that was served by the chef's beautiful wife, Erica, and other members of a professional staff. The rooms are clean and comfortable.
    For more information about fishing the White River, contact Gaston's White River Resort at: 870-431-5202 or check their website at www.gastons.com.
     
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