I love me some March Madness. I look forward to it every year about this time; I get excited at the prospects of what’s about to happen.
Oh, you thought I was talking basketball? Sorry, that’s not what March Madness means to this outdoors guy. What flips my switch is the opportunity each March to go alley-oop over the prospects of heading to the White River in north Arkansas for the chance to apply the pick and roll and slam-dunk on some rainbow trout.
Earlier this week, I set my CRV on a course that would take me from north Louisiana’s red clay hills to Arkansas where the hills melded into mountains north of Little Rock.
I had satellite radio installed recently and the seven hour sojourn was helped along by switching between Willie’s Roadhouse and Enlighten; from Charlie Pride to the Chuckwagon Gang. Before I knew it, I was pulling up in front of the sprawling complex that is Gaston’s White River Resort nestled and strung out along half a mile of the margin of the river.
Several items on the invitation I received attracted my attention, as they always do when the White River is my destination.
For one, the scenery is breath-taking. Standing on the bluff bank high above the river, the water is cold and as clear as what trickles out of a garden hose. Moss-covered boulders with strands of greenery swaying in the current are harbingers of the fun about to begin.
After a meal fit for a king at Gaston’s world class restaurant – I could have had lobster; I chose rib-eye instead – it was off to bed in one of the scores of comfortable cabins with all the amenities of home.
Next morning, the real reason for the trip came into focus. Paired with Patrick Kalmerton who hails from Wisconsin and a pro-staffer for several outdoor products companies, we were guided by Steve Lopez, a savvy guide who obviously knows his way around the river.
After drifting for awhile and picking up a fish occasionally, Lopez pointed the boat toward a nook in the river where the water flowed around the end of a point. Dropping anchor, we lobbed scent impregnated soft plastic fake worms to which a scented nugget was attached and the action began almost immediately. It was like sitting on a bluegill bed during the spring spawn; we caught rainbow trout hand over fist, and on ultra-light gear and fishing line the weight of a strand of spider web, it was just flat-out fun.
As enjoyable as it was to catch fish until you tired, next on the agenda was another reason to make the long drive from north Louisiana. You haven’t lived until you’ve been treated to a world famous Gaston’s shore lunch. The guides cleaned the trout we caught, battered and fried them up and served them piping hot alongside tubs of cole slaw, baked beans, French fries and hush puppies. If there was any room after this feast, there was a choice of cherry, apple or blueberry cobbler.
Add to the fishing and the feasting, the White River offers wildlife watching opportunities galore. From the majestic bald eagle sitting atop a tall tree to the raft of bluebill ducks diving and feeding on aquatic insects, the opportunities to enjoy all that nature offered was right there for the taking.
It was March Madness at its dead level best.
(For more information, contact Gaston’s White River Resort at www.gastons.com or call 870.431.5202.)