The plaque looks like an award, but it's more than that. It's a memorial to friendships made through fishing.
Ed Kubler of Benton, a longtime fishing companion, had a set of plaques made for friends that have been fishing together since 2007. It reads, "This Plaque Is In Honor Of The Fishing Group Formed By The Eldridge, Pruitt and Hendricks Families In The Year 2007."
Present members include Bill Eldridge of Benton, Rusty Pruitt of Bryant, Dick Phelan, Kubler and me. Original members are Eldridge, Pruitt and me. Associate members are Matthew Eldridge, Nathan Eldridge, Kelly Eldridge, Ray Tucker, the late Daniel Hendricks, Matthew Hendricks, Amy Hendricks, Josh Wilson, Lucas Wilson, Rodney Staggs, J.T. Staggs, Ron Garner, Jay Pruitt and Kate Kubler.
The group's fishing adventures have been chronicled in this space for nearly 15 years.
What's behind a plaque like this? Memories, man, memories. Hubcap size ribeyes grilled on gravel bars. Sitting beside roaring campfires talking until the wee hours of the morning. Raccoons getting into seemingly raccoon-proof food containers. Bad jokes told over and over again. Fish stories, most of them true.
Pruitt, Eldridge and I made our first trip in the summer of 2007 to Snow Access on Crooked Creek. We were so excited, but when we arrived, the creek was too high and too swift to fish from the bank. It was the same at the Pyatt Access and at Kelly's Slab. Eldridge was despondent.
"All I ever wanted was to catch a smallmouth on Crooked Creek," Eldridge muttered despondently as we drove away. He sounded like a kid who didn't get the gift he expected for Christmas, and it's a running joke every time we have a dud trip. "All I ever wanted was to catch a smallmouth on Mazarn Creek," or wherever it happens to be.
We rented canoes on the Buffalo River instead, which was in better condition, and we caught a ton of fish. When we finished, we hit Crooked Creek one last time before heading home. It was milder, and Eldridge caught a little smallmouth. He was elated.
There was the trip when Pruitt, Kubler, Eldridge, Matthew Eldridge and my boys entered the Buffalo River at Spring Creek. We hadn't gone far when one of the most violent thunderstorms I've ever seen erupted. I've never gotten so wet so fast. My boys burrowed under an overturned canoe on a gravel bar, and Matthew Eldridge put up a tent and rainfly faster than humanly possible. The storm passed as quickly as it arrived, and the fishing was outstanding for the rest of the trip.
As we left Spring Creek Recreation Area for the drive home, Matt Hendricks had a migraine. Groaning, he wallowed around the back seat of my truck until he rolled onto Daniel's can of Axe cologne and discharged the entire contents into the cab. It was the worst stench ever. Daniel excoriated Matthew while Pruitt wailed continually, "My sinuses are friiiied!"
Oh, the trout fishing trips! For several years, we based an annual January trip on the White River at Cedarwood Lodge near Flippin. Our first was the "Zen Boating" trip in which Rusty Pruitt, Jay Pruitt and I couldn't tear ourselves away from the great fishing at Buffalo Shoal. The water dropped out, but we barely made it back crabbing the boat through mere rivulets until we reached the big water below Ranchette Access.
The next day, the jet drive outboard quit above Buffalo Shoal, and a couple of kids towed us back to the Cedarwood. That night, in low water, we anchored in a narrow channel above the lodge. Eldridge hooked a monster trout that broke his line moments before we could net it.
For the last several years our base has been White Buffalo Resort. Our first trip was in the snow. It was gorgeous, and the fishing was stupendously good.
Last year's Labor Day trip on the White River was the best. The White River was a fall-back option because the Buffalo River was at flood stage. Bill Eldridge and I fished with guide Craig Yowell, who put us on big brown and rainbow trout all day.
Let's not forget the wade fishing trip with J.T. Staggs at Steel Creek on the Buffalo. We caught big smallmouth and Ozark bass from impossibly small water, demonstrating what's possible with patience and perseverance.
When I look at my plaque, I see all that and much, much more, enough to fill a book.