5/15/13 – Carthage
Bike time. We unloaded the bikes and rode into town. My standard plan is to start riding uphill. It is always easier to down when you are tired. Just watch for the local water tower and head for there. That defines the top of town. As we reached the water tower we came upon the local high school. Beautiful new building that was built like a bomb shelter. You have to remember that Carthage is adjacent to Joplin, MO that sustained one of the worst tornado disasters in 2011 when at least 170 people were killed.
They take their storms seriously here. Even the RV parks have the storm shelters marked on their maps.
5 mi. later we found the Civil War battle field. In 1861 this was one of the earliest battles of the civil war. Like so many others it was victory for the South. The interpretive site was good.
The GPS said there was another way back to the coach. Before long we had left town and were headed on back country roads toward our Big Barn Park.
It has gotten progressively warmer. I made a note to thank the air conditioner.
In just a few miles we were into the Ozarks. The hills got steeper. The trees were all hardwoods, and the dryness of the Kansas plains has turned into lush deep woodlands. The closer to Branson the steeper and windier the road became.
The Cooper Creek RV park in Branson was right on Lake Taneycomo about seven miles below the Table Rock Dam. When I was a kid my father used to take my brother and myself down to Table Rock to fish. I wondered if there were any fish left after all this time.
We turned off Hiway 65 onto Hiway 76 – the main drag of Branson. Impressive. The Dick Clark theater was our first sight. Lots of old time entertainers seemed to have ended up in Branson. Some of the names clearly were in their 80′s. As we drove past a couple of theaters I saw a stethescope hanging on one of the signs. I guess they had to check some of these old timers for a pulse before they could go on stage.
We wound around the little roads (everything looks little when you drive a bus) to the Cooper Creek RV camp. ”Fritz” was the owner. She made it clear she had just retired her husband of 22 yrs and bought him out of his half of the camp. I mentioned I was looking for a fishing guide and she handed me the card of John Sappington. John would turn out to be the highlight of the trip so far.
Our site seemed to have a little slope. When our leveling jacks wen down the front of the coach was so high I had to get a step ladder to reach the first step. The manual says the wheels should never be off the ground. We needed a new site. Fritz told us we could take any 50 amp site we could find.
We squeezed into a slightly flatter site.
I called John Sappington and was able to set up trout fishing for the following afternoon and bass fishing the day after that.
Lake Taneycomo is really a river that flows out of the base of the Table Rock dam.
This cold clear water creates the ideal habitat for trout.
John met us at noon and we headed up stream for the dam. It was clear that this fellow knew everything there was to know about fishing this area. He had the ideal boat and positioned it easily right over the fish.
Don knew how to trout fish. I knew how to consult in the boat. I didn’t realize you had to set the hook and it should always be downstream. The first time John told me to mend my line I was looking for a needle and thread.
It was a rainy day but that seemed to go with the fishing. My rarely used rain gear did the job and I was dry and toasty despite the moisture from above.
But the real value of this expedition was to hear John Sappington’s story. He is a large, quiet, competent, fellow that handles his fishing boat gently and with precision. It took awhile but he finally shared with us that he had been a professional fisherman for 6 years. Then he had a major accident as a ferry suddenly raised a cable in front of the open boat he was piloting. It shattered his helmet. Fractures of C1,2,3. Head injury and other major trauma. He was in a halo cast for 6 months. It sounds like he wisely declined surgery. He tried but was unable to return to professional fishing. Both Don and I raised an eyebrow when he told me he was on track to make between 4 and 500,000 a year a professional bass fisherman. That was when he became a guide. He was a guy that loved to fish since he was a kid.
His skill at finding and catching the fish spoke to how long he had been doing it. This was the most remarkable fisherman I’ve ever met. He was great at what he did and he clearly loved to fish.
Trout fishing is fun but Bass fishing is why folks come to the Ozarks. We arranged to meet John the next day on Table Rock Lake – this time above the dam. When I was a young lad my father would take my brother and myself down here to Indian Point to fish. It was about 4 hours from St. Louis. We would rent a boat with a 15 hp motor. The guides had bigger boats and some of them had big motors at 30 hp.
At 1PM John pulled up to the dock in his rather fancy Tracker fishing boat with a 250 hp outboard. I should of been suspicious of an out board motor that was bigger than my airplane engine. It looked like it could move across the water and I luckily had the chance to grab my hat before we reached 60 miles an hour. Most small planes lift off before this. I was afraid we were going to do the same. I kept looking for the seat belt. I leaned over to ask how fast we were going and John apparently thought I wanted to go faster. We easily cleared 70mph. Terrifying. Fortunately, we came out of warp prior to impacting the shore.
This time Don caught the big fish. Smallmouth, largemouth, Kentucky bass. We must have landed 40 or 50. John knew where to find the fish.
At the end of a great day we finally said goodbye to John. If anyone ever wants to experience one of the great fishermen of this era. Find him on the web and give him a call.This is truly a great fishing guide. The experience could only be rated a 10 out of 10.
Branson is filled with theaters for those who have to hear “old time music.” There is Country, Western, and Nostalgia. Don and I were tired and fortunately Bev and Terry thought we were going to make show reservations and we thought they were….so no show.
We decided to go out to dinner. After careful research we decided on the Olive Garden. We had passed it on the main strip during the day. Lengthy traffic lines did not portend well on Fri. night. When we reached the Olive Garden lots of folks were standing outside. I don’t do lines well. I got the look from Bev. We went inside and I asked the young hostess how long the wait might be. She reached down for a calendar. I shook my head. We looked at the bar. Usually works for us. We had dinner before dark.
Back to the coach and set up for an early departure. Memphis would be a long days drive.