Smallmouth, gar, and glee on America's first national river

The problem was simple: We were thirsty and couldn’t find beer. Barreling north out of Little Rock, we careened through Ozark mountain highways, pushing that little rented Ford like we were competing in some sort of Redneck Indy Invitational. K.V. must have been as thirsty as I was, because he took the corners fast enough to have me grasping for the oh shit handle, braking only for small creatures contemplating a chicken maneuver.

“I don’t want to kill anything,” he muttered, as he accelerated around a suicidal armadillo that was convinced the promised land lay just across that strip of divided asphalt. From where I sat, it all looked the same: dense green walls of elm, ash, and oak occasionally giving way to limestone cliffs or terraced stone creeks.

We pulled into yet another town that reinforced the unfortunate stereotypes much of the country holds about rural Arkansas. I jumped out of the passenger seat before the car completely stopped in front of the grocery store, already concerned at the lack of neon signage advertising malt beverages.

If we’d been looking for t-shirts with the sleeves and the bellies torn off, we would have been in luck. Scraggly chin-strap beards? Check. Overweight women pushing carts avalanching sugary cereal and frozen meals with towheaded children jabbering at their heels? In spades. But this was the third county we’d stopped in only to be told that this one, like the other two, was dry and that we should check the next one down the road. How did these people not know exactly where they could get beer? They probably did, but derived sadistic pleasure by frustrating harried tourists. I don’t blame them. If the roles were reversed, I probably would have done the same, and then gone home to chuckle at my stacked cases of beer and cellar full of ’shine.

[Read more of this feature article in the Fall 2015 Issue. Click here.]


Photography by Tosh Brown