Friday, after work, Brian D. and I took out of town, vehicles laden with floating and fishing gear and headed an hour and half southeast of Springfield for Rippee Conservation Area, our night's stay. We hit up a little mom 'n' pop BBQ joint in Ave, Missouri on the way. The food was good. Could have done with a dry bun on the sammy, instead of a buttered one, but otherwise pretty good stuff. Lots of taxidermy lined the walls. Everything from fish to foxes to deer and elk. No matter how civilized people get through the ages, we still like to decorate our stuff with dead things. Peculiar…
With the cloud cover it was very dark and since it's still pretty cold out and there's no real hunting being done, we had the place nearly to ourselves. Owls hooting and small critters rustling in the leaves outside the range of the firelight were our only company.
Up early Saturday morning, messed around in camp a bit and fished below our campsite. Bacon and biscuits for breakfast. With Hank Sr. in the CD player, it was off to Hwy 181 bridge to drop off our shuttle vehicle and check out Hodgson Mill.
We walked around the mill a while, dropped off the shuttle truck and headed across the hills and hallers to the put-in at Hwy 95 bridge. We lost GPS signal down in the sticks and as we were driving through a creek bed and low water crossing, we stopped and asked a wiry-looking local boy for directions. You never know how you're going to be received by hill folk, but more often than not, they're honest and helpful. He gave us a rundown of how to get out of where we were and where we wanted to be, also asking if we were fishing for "trout" since it was still March. He said trout like it meant more than that, since some other fish in Ozarks streams can't actually be kept till May. He also told us that the creek that ran past his cattle and donkey, which we were sitting in while talking to him, could've floated us to Bryant Creek a few weeks earlier, having been well flooded.
Bryant Creek was swift moving and full of downed trees. We frequently had to navigate through and around root balls and deadfalls. Sometimes portaging completely or tying on a couple of lines, walking the banks and kiting the canoe through danger.
We did manage to catch a bunch of smallmouth and I caught a couple of lunker common shiners. Too bad it wasn't smallmouth season or we'd have had a fish fry in camp Saturday and would have taken some home on Sunday.
The creek had more springs flowing into it than we could count. We explored the mouth of a couple of them.
Where we decided to camp, there were tons of small animal tracks. We'd seen a river otter earlier in the day and we were awoken by them calling just outside our camp multiple times throughout the night. Also, we found a spot on the ground where a twig or grass had been blown over and in a circle, gouging a perfect little sphere into the sand around it. Like a tiny alien crop circle.
Brian brought his tent, I went the more open and paranoia inducing camping route under a tarp. I wimped out last summer camping like this, due to molestation by ticks and spiders, but since it was colder this time of year, I tried sleeping out again. Still had a few large spiders and the otters in camp had me awake much of the night, but I managed to get some rest in the near freezing temps. Before turning in, we hung around the caveman TV, dined on gourmet hotdogs from Horrmann Meat Company, drank a couple of Smithwick's (Smit'k's) Pale Ales and played a game of checkers on my homemade checker board. We also had some barred owls asking "Who cooks for you?" from the darkness.
This is what little sleep on a gravel bar looks like at 7am in 32 degrees. A gust took out half my tarp shelter at 6am, it had me cussing and scrambling to fix things in the dark. Luckily Brian made bacon for breakfast (also from Horrmann Meat Co.) and after some coffee and oatmeal, things were quickly remedied and spirits were lifted.
Camp was packed and we were back on the creek fishing by late morning.
It was a more strenuous float than either of us are used to making. The cold air, swift moving water and downed trees made for some hairy situations. We found ourselves in the water a lot more than we wanted to be in order to save our gear from going over and under. Bryant Creek is a beautiful and rugged stream. We had it nearly to ourselves, there were a couple of local bank fishermen, but no one on the water with us.
Noteworthy items seen or heard on the trip: owls, blue herons in a rookery of a dozen nests or more, kingfishers, otters, red fox squirrels, deer, pileated woodpeckers and more tracks along the banks then we could possibly identify or list.