By Jill Easton
My big toe throbbed like it had been smacked by a hammer. The poor sore thing had been squashed into the hole in the bottom of our canoe for what seemed like two or three lifetimes.
The bottom of the creek was becoming more visible by the minute. It all started as a leak that was pin-prick size, only an occasional drop of water oozed in. But as we paddled further down the creek, the ancient canoe seemed to lose heart. A chunk the size of a dime flaked off. Soon a small fountain of water flowed between my feet. Not a good thing.
That’s when I got the idea to try a slightly different version of the little Dutch boy and the finger in the dike.
The morning had started off well enough. As dawn was breaking we dropped off a car downriver at The White River. Several miles upstream we parked the Jeep, unloaded the two canoes, and stuff, then carted everything alongside the bridge and down to the creek.
We started by trying a variety of lures – Rebels and Rapalas, silver minnows, beetle spins, small soft plastic crawfish. The fish wanted: small Rebel crawfish and minnow plugs. In the first quarter-mile of river, before the flood started in earnest, we caught a couple dozen assorted bass and panfish, topped by a two-pound smallmouth and several others in the one-pound class.
Everybody in both canoes caught fish. The day was hot but comfortable, thanks to an occasional dip in the creek. The scenery was gorgeous and the fishing was good enough that every deep hole and run beckoned us to stop, wade and cast.
Soon we left the noises of civilization behind: growling lawnmower motors, people talking and the thump and tire whine of vehicles crossing the bridge.
The creek was beautiful, so clear you could count the claws on a crawfish two feet down. The woods along the bank were dark, cool and mysterious, and there were plenty of deep spots to stop and swim with bluff banks just right for a high dive.
Yes, there were places where we had to drag the canoes over gravel bars and navigate around trees that barricaded the river, but nothing that we couldn’t handle.
It was a great way to spend a hot July day, either up to our necks in a cool Ozark stream or letting the gentle breeze blow wet clothes dry while the creek meandered us downstream.
It was easy to imagine we were early pioneers, or trappers who nearly two centuries before, had used these same waterways to explore Arkansas and to travel from place to place. Out here, electricity and internal combustion engines didn’t exist; it was strictly humans in harmony with nature.
It was a great day…at least until. . .
Speaking of which, as I’ve already mentioned, soon the drip turned in to a trickle, then water was flowing in, and finally it was gushing in and the hole was about the size of a dime. In the back Jim was using a Folgers coffee can to bail every five to ten minutes, and in front I kept my toe crammed into the hole.
Getting rescued was not an option. On Ozark streams, roads are scarce. By this time we were two miles from the put in, and had three more miles to go before reaching our take-out point.
Turn back, or continue to the end? Either choice had problems. Downstream was easier, upstream closer. Either way we might finish by dragging the keel off the raggedy old canoe.
Our trip mates Tom Fanning and Matt Bolduc, visitors from Maine, were riding high and dry in the much newer plastic canoe we’d loaned them. They spent their time fishing, taking pictures and laughing at the rapidly increasing amount of the creek that flooded into our canoe.
The day before the trip Tom had discovered the retired rental canoe Jim and I were using was in bad shape, but we optimistically applied a jury-rigged combination of epoxy, duct tape and hope to the thin spots on the keel. Surely it would make just one more float trip.
We were prepared in case the emergency patches didn’t work. We’d packed plenty of duct tape and figured that would fix anything the canoe gods could throw at us. But we hadn’t figured in one thing: wet canoe surfaces. Water is sneaky, and soon lifted our hastily applied patches. When we tried to replace them, the tape wouldn’t stick to the wet canoe. It seems there are some things even duct tape can’t fix. Who knew?
After another hour of bailing, walking the canoe over shoals and keeping my toe firmly planted in the hole when we were in the boat, we began to see signs of civilization. First a four-wheeler trail, then another canoe being paddled and pulled upstream by a couple of fishermen.
Sooner than I would have believed possible we were in sight of the car, dragging our boats up to the boat launch where we’d left the other vehicle. We’d made it.
All things considered it was a good day. Our company had a good float and fishing trip and we didn’t have to drag a sinking canoe the last few miles.
A week after the trip, I’m finally able to walk on my sore toe without hobbling. And the canoe? Well, we were right about one thing: the old boat had made just one more trip. Now it’s getting ready to start a new career as a flower box.
I just have to drill a few more holes.
Visit Jill’s web site at www.treblehookunlimited.com.