We've had some mild weather in August, cool temperatures that would've been welcome many summer moons ago on the Kings River.
You'd think the floating and fishing would be terrible on the stream in August. Hot weather and low water were just the conditions the late J.D. Fletcher hoped for when he slid his aluminum johnboat into the Kings for an August float trip.
"We'll catch 'em all right," J.D. told me over the phone sometime back in the 1990s. Our trip would be the first time J.D. and I ever floated together so late in the summer. Not only that, we'd catch 'em on buzz baits. "The hotter the better," J.D. said, excited for some hot weather.
Over 40 years of guiding float-fishing trips on the Kings River, J.D. became one of the Ozarks' legendary anglers. Most folks who'd ever held a fishing rod had heard or read about J.D. Fletcher. He was 83 when he died in 2014.
"The legend of the Ozarks," people called him. J.D. appreciated the praise but quickly shrugged it off.
One of the greatest privileges of my life was to become friends and enjoy dozens of float trips with J.D. Those were some of the best times of my life. J.D. was like my second dad.
Still, I thought he was nuts when he said we'd catch smallmouth bass and some big largemouths on noisy top-water buzz baits at high noon this hot summer day on Aug. 31. The hotter the better? I was a doubter, but the legend proved me wrong.
J.D. would sling a white and chartreuse buzz bait toward the bank. Halfway back to the boat a bass would nail it under that hot sun. It was nuts the fish we caught that first "buzzin' trip" as J.D. called them.
I caught a four-pound largemouth and J.D. got proof with his video camera. Along one bank, J.D. caught three bass on three casts. What a day we had. After that, we made a standing date for our annual buzzin' trip every Aug. 31.
We'd be the only crazies on the stream, sweating and dragging the boat some, but catching fish. At lunch, J.D. always took a nap in the shade, and I'd swim in the river. Once I asked if it'd be OK to bring two folding lawn chairs. "We don't need those," J.D. piped.
"Well," I answered, "how about I bring them, but you don't have to sit in one?" But he did. Before every trip after that J.D. would ask, "You got those lawn chairs?"
Then came the float where the temperature hit 101 by 11 a.m. There wasn't a cloud in sight and no breeze. But we still caught bass. That trip took a toll on both of us. From then on we moved our annual buzzin' trip to mid-September.
So I was tickled beyond measure in 2016 when the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission voted to name a new Kings River access at the U.S. 62 bridge east of Eureka Springs in honor of J.D. That happened, thanks to another fishing legend, Ron Duncan of Springdale.
Duncan may be the area's best stream fisherman. But more important, he mentored hundreds of young anglers in the Central Junior High fishing club where Duncan was a teacher and counselor. He's also a former Arkansas Game and Fish Commission commissioner and chairman.
A couple of times a year, Duncan and I would float the War Eagle River together. It's his all-time favorite stream. On one float during Duncan's term on the commission, we were talking about how great it would be if Game and Fish named that new Kings River access after J.D.
"Heck, yeah," he said. "That's a great idea. We name stuff after people all the time."
Right there on the river, he whipped out his cell phone and called Game and Fish headquarters in Little Rock. He got it on the agenda for the next commissioners' meeting.
The panel approved, and the J.D. Fletcher U.S. 62 Kings River Access came to be.
Now, when folks stop to launch kayaks, or maybe a johnboat like J.D. did, they'll know more about the man whose name is on the big wooden Game and Fish sign. It's right there beside the water at the J.D. Fletcher Kings River Access.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at [email protected]