I went back to an old playground last week for a couple of days, staying at the little resort and café at Diamond City, AR, on Bull Shoals Lake. When I moved to Arkansas just out of college more than 40 years ago, it was there, just north of Lead Hill. When my two oldest daughters were only 12 and 13 years old, I took them fishing out of that boat ramp, around a big island there. It was mid summer and the white bass were schooling around that island and the two of them caught fish one after another. Their little sister was only about five years old, and I would cast for her, then hand her the rod and let her reel in some two-pound and larger white bass. Finally, with the ice cooler filled with fish, she said, “Daddy, can’t we find something else to do that is almost this much fun, I’m just about wore out.”
I drove over to the east a few miles last week to see another part of the lake I love, the place where the old White River ferry still crosses the lake. In 1976 I put my boat in at the ferry, and took someone fishing. We saw a huge storm forming to the west so we came back and tied the boat in a protected area on the bank, and took shelter in my pick-up. I got the bright idea of going up the hill and down the other side of the peninsula to the Hwy. 125 boat dock, owned at the time by Jim Carr.
Jim himself was quite a story. The two of us went fishing at night on occasion, fishing large spinner baits by dropping them down over the ledges of steep bluffs where the water was deep. That day in 1976, he was in the boat dock as I stopped up at the top of the hill and watched a tornado rip down the hillside about 100 yards south of me, clobbering the boat dock full bore. It just seemed to explode before my eyes, and seconds later in the calm that followed, there were pieces of the dock everywhere, in the parking lot and on the water. But what I remember most is seeing boats by the dozens strewn across the open water to the northeast, some upright, some upside down. I don’t know how Jim came out of that little boxed in office alive, but he was unhurt. I took a whole roll of film of the aftermath of that storm.
Jim wasn’t so lucky later in life. He sold the dock and became a Marion County sheriff’s deputy, and one night he walked into a remote marijuana patch that had been booby trapped with a shotgun set up with a trip wire. Jim lost most of the use of his right arm, and was lucky to have survived the blast.
Keith Hyde is a friend of mine who has lived all his life near the little Bull Shoals community of Peel, a few miles south of the ferry. He knew an old guide named Manfred Long, whose family lived near what is now known as the Long Bottoms, a name retained from the days when the White River flowed free. Today it is still known as such, across the lake from what is known as the Jones Point wildlife management area.
Many years ago, when Keith was young, the old man likely wanted to get something off his mind, so he told him a grisly story. Right there a few miles below the old ferry, a family feud developed between the Longs and the Wallaces, over some free-range hogs that both families claimed. Manfred Long and his brother were swimming across the river when rifle fire from a nearby bluff took the life of his brother. He told Keith that there was no proof that the Wallace boys had done the shooting, but he knew who it was, so a few months later he waited at a river crossing hiding behind a big tree, and waited for hours for them to come by. When they did, Manfred took careful aim with a 30-30 rifle and killed the one he was sure had killed his brother.
Thinking about those free-range hogs, I recalled the time in the eighties when my Labrador and I were hunting mushrooms above the Long Bottoms and came across an old wild sow with little pigs. She would likely have caught me before I reached my boat, but my Lab seemed to be her main intent and she couldn’t catch him. I had the boat running when he jumped in, and 20 feet away, grunting and growling, the old hog stopped at the waters edge. I wonder if she was a descendant of the hogs that got two men killed.
Keith Hyde is much like me, and talking with him is sort of a living history lesson about that beautiful wild area of Bull Shoals that I love more than any Ozark lake, because it remains so natural. It will not remain so forever. The Corps land will someday be surrendered to the loggers and the developers who want to make money from the shores of that crystal clear haven that has remained much like all lakes should have been. In places like Diamond City, houses and cabins and mobile homes were set up in the boom that took place in the 60’s and 70’s after the lake was built. Today that generation is old and dying off, and the real estate signs offering a little home on a lot just a mile or so from the lake are everywhere.
A new resident has moved into Bull Shoals. Everywhere, you can find hordes of zebra mussels, about the size of a dime coating rocks and submerged willows. Keith tells me that when he crushes up a few and throws them into the water, bass and sunfish swarm on them. “I think someday the bass will figure out how to smash them and they will grow fat from zebra mussels.” He says. “That has happened in the Great Lakes already.”
In a month, Keith and I plan to take my pontoon boat-camper out to the Long bottoms and fish beneath lights like we did back years ago. I was thinking it might be a good idea to fill a bucket with zebra mussels and mash them up about midnight and see if we can create a fish feast beneath the lights, something like the swarming threadfin shad will do. But that will be another story to tell, sometime in the middle of May.
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TORNADO AFTERMATH – The tornado was small, but it roared mightily as it passed my pickup and slammed into the Hwy. 125 Boat Dock on Bull Shoals.