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story.lead_photo.caption A group of revelers jumps into a deep pool on Falling Water Creek on Labor Day in the Ozark National Forest in Searcy County. - Photo by Bryan Hendricks

Arkansas is a giant water park.

I appreciated the diversity of our water recreation last week when some relatives made their biannual visit to our great state. My niece Kerri Hamm and her husband Paul Hamm live in Princeton, N.J. Kerri spent her early childhood in Spokane, Wash., but she grew up in the Atlanta area. She learned fishing and paddlesports in the Cascades and in the north Georgia mountains.

Paul Hamm grew up in Ft. Myers, Fla., a superlative place for fishing, boating and sea kayaking. He is, coincidentally, a lifelong friend of a fishing guide named Eric Flett, who guided Miss Laura and me on a memorable trip for snook, trout and redfish in Pine Island Sound in 2015.

Their sons, Henry, 9, and Jacob, 6, are fishing fanatics. They love it so much that the presence of a nearby mill pond was the deciding factor for the home Paul and Kerri recently bought. The boys are strictly limited in the amount of time they spend playing video games and watching TV. Their parents want them burning off their energy outside instead of storing it up inside.

Two years ago, we took them float fishing on the Caddo River. It was a fabulous trip that produced a lot of big smallmouth bass. The adults dedicated their efforts to ensuring a good time for the kids, and that experience was probably the one that hooked Henry Hamm on fishing.

Our itinerary was to fish for trout on a Friday on the Little Red River below Greers Ferry Dam and visit Richland Creek on Labor Day. With so many of us in the entourage, fishing from a boat was out of the question, so we fished from the bank at John F. Kennedy Park.

The visit began with a stroll through the fish hatchery adjacent to the river, and the sight of so many trout excited the youngsters. Their excitement mounted as Miss Laura grilled hamburgers and hotdogs while I rigged up an arsenal of trout fishing rods. It was a hodgepodge collection of light-action and medium-action rigs with lines of various test sizes. I equalized them all by tying on long leaders of 4-pound test Seaguar flourocarbon line.

My brother-in-law Bryan Mason, a lieutenant colonel in the Arkansas National Guard, recently returned home from a year-long deployment in Kosovo. He was as anxious to fish as anyone, and he brought a spinning rig with a gizmo called the Spinfly.

Skip Halterman, formerly of Eureka Springs and founder of the defunct White River School of Fly Fishing, designed the Spinfly more than 20 years ago. It contains a length of tapered shooting head fly line to which you attach a leader. It enables you to cast the tiniest flies with a spinning rig.

The rest of us used Trout Magnets, a highly effective trout lure made in Arkansas. It contains a light jighead and a grub fished under a very small bobber. It is most effective on 4-pound test line, with a tiny split shot ahead of the lure to improve casting.

photo
A bluff overlooks the new road leading to the Richland Creek Recreation Area at the edge of the Richland Creek Wilderness Area in Searcy County.

My role was Mr. Fixit. With so many kids fishing, I was destined to spend my day repairing leaders and tying on new Trout Magnets.

The river was alive with rainbows. Everytime a Trout Magnet landed, schools of rainbows swarmed around it. They followed the Magnets on dead drifts, but they wouldn't bite. They were more interested when it moved, and we finally learned that they bit on a fast retrieve.

Kerri Hamm lost a big rainbow right away, but Henry caught one, as did my daughter Claire. During a break in repair work, I caught a nice one, too. Paul Hamm hooked a 2-pound rainbow, the best fish of the day.

The fishing was just getting good when the horn blew at the dam to signal the hydropower generation. High water drove us off the river 15 minutes later.

Paul Hamm was impressed with the river, its cleanliness and its peacefulness.

"New Jersey has so many people," Hamm said. "If they had a place like this up there, it would be fished out, and it would have a trampled-on look."

We migrated over the dam to Dam Site Park and Greers Ferry Lake for an afternoon of swimming. A veritable regatta of party barges and other pleasure boats cruised past, along with a flotilla of paddleboards. I was impressed at how fast the paddleboards moved with so little effort. Miss Laura has wanted one for a long time, and I think the graceful sight of them on the lake ensured that she will soon have one.

On Labor Day, we traveled to the Ozarks for a visit to Falling Water Falls. It's one of the most photographed places in Arkansas. One particular fall plunges off a high shelf into a deep pool below. Two Arkansas Tech University students inspected the pool with scuba gear and proclaimed it to be free of boulders. That gave the green light to everybody present to spend a delightful afternoon jumping off the ledge.

Our next stop was a few miles down the road at Richland Creek Recreation Area. It's at the edge of the Richland Creek Wilderness Area in Searcy County. It is a small, lazy little stream in dry weather, but it swells into a whitewater kayaker's destination in heavy rainfall. It winds through the mountains until it reaches meets the Buffalo River at Woolum.

It was inaccessible for a period several years ago when the access road collapsed, but there's a much better road in its place. Also gone is the small campground that was next to the creek. The U.S. Forest Service built a much nicer campground farther up the hill. It has no water or electric hookups, but the sites are spacious and fairly clean for tents or small campers.

A long pool behind the campground contains a deep, rock-strewn run that looks ideal for smallmouth bass, Ozark bass and green sunfish. I tied a Zoom Mini Lizard onto a light spinning rig and gave it to Henry. He caught a succession of smallmouths before running out of bait.

That young man has come to associate Arkansas with good fishing, and I'm already thinking about a new adventure for his next visit.

Sports on 09/16/2018

Print Headline: Family fishing adventure: From trout to bass, Arkansas has something for everyone

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