Fishing on Beautiful Crooked Creek

by Floyd Burleson

Crooked Creek, winding its way through this community, has brought a lot of pleasure and entertainment down through the years dating back to the Indians and probably before. This is not to say anything about the food that was obtained from its waters. Starting with the Osage Indians and down to the present there has been many a person that has taken their fishing line, hook and pole and went down to this creek and caught a nice string of fish to take home for a delicious feast.

My grandfather did a lot of fishing and gigging (using a pronged fishspear) in Crooked Creek. I remember hearing an interesting story about his first fishing trip just after settling here in 1848. Grandfather was asked to go with a fishing party on White River. They were gigging fish from boats using two and three pronged gigs and were having very good luck gigging big drum and buffalo fish.

Soon some Indians canoes joined them and they were using one prong gigs with two or three beards on them. It amazed my grandfather how the Indians were so good with the gigs as they got a fish about every time they threw them.

I might say here that there were not many fish caught out of Crooked Creek that weighed more than twenty pounds, but there were a lot of smaller ones caught over the years. There were blue, yellow, channel and what we called the flathead catfish or river cats caught out of the creek. I wouldn't want to forget the small yellow catfish, what we called mud cats. These didn't get too big. I have caught a many of them with a pole, hook and line setting on the bank when the creek was muddy. When I was a boy I had more fun catching them and sun-perch than any other fish.

My brother Virgil, his wife Dalia and son Ulis lived up in a hollow about a half mile from where we lived. Virgil was walking to the Turkey Store carrying a bucket of eggs to sell so he could buy a few groceries. That was the way a lot of people had to buy what few groceries they needed. There was a path we always used when we were walking to the store that was right along the creek bank. As he walked along he saw a big catfish come across the creek and go under a big tree stump that was on the bank. He decided to catch it with his hands, called noodling fish back then. Off came his clothes and into the water he went. When he reached back in where the catfish was it started fighting him as it had a nest of eggs it was protecting. It was so big he couldn't hold it and it whipped him out. As he looked up he saw Bill Copeland, who lived somewhere close to Longtime Schoolhouse, riding a mule with a sack of corn on the saddle behind him going to Turkey to get it ground into meal. Virgil went down to the road and stopped him to tell him about the big catfish. Bill immediately said he would help him catch it. The fish had my brother's hands and arms already bleeding. Virgil showed Bill where it was and it didn't take long until it had both of them whipped out. They were sitting on the bank about ready to give up when Bill said he had a leather rein that was small and stiff. He thought he might be able to go in from the backside because the fish couldn't fight them so bad as its head was turned the other way. They needed to get the rein through the gill and up through the fish's mouth, sliding it down to the ring on the end. After quite a struggle they had him and all they had to do was lead him out and pull him up onto the bank. They brought the big catch up to the house and cut part of a limb off of a tree to run it through its gills to hang it up. I was a small boy at the time and it looked like a whale to me. They didn't have any way to weigh it but it was the biggest fish I have ever seen caught out of Crooked Creek. After cleaning it and cut- ting it up there was enough fish to feed six or more big families. Virgil and Bill's hands and arms were bloody and looked like they had taken a small-tooth hand saw and run it up and down them.

I was born here and have lived all of my life here. I have fished a lot on beautiful Crooked Creek and have caught fish in many different ways. My first fishing pole I made from cutting a cane from a cane brake that grew near the creek. I tied my line to the pole and a hook and sinker on the end I dropped into the water. I think the first fish I caught was a sun perch and I used a straight pin bent to make a hook. I have also caught fish on what we called a throw line. It was made by using a large cord line with a lot of short, small lines tied on it with hooks on them. We would bait the hooks and tie one end to something on the bank then tie a rock on the other end and throw it out in the creek and leave it overnight. That was a good way to catch catfish but I have caught a lot of turtles this way and also a big snake now and then. Catching fish with my hands by reaching under rocks, under the bank and sometimes in a hollow log down in the creek was another way of fishing. This was a little risky for I have had them to bite the fire out of me.

My favorite way I guess to fish was with a gig and if I do say so myself I was pretty good at it. But I had a lot of practice as I started just as soon as I was big enough to throw a small, two pronged gig my father made for me.

I have fished a lot with a reel and rod and I had one of the first ones used on Crooked Creek. My brother, Garland, was working at Cotter and he bought a reel and rod to fish in White River. He bought him a new reel and took his old reel and attached it to a cane pole he cut on the creek. By using some extra eyes he attached them to the pole and ran the line through them and it worked just as good as a store bought rod. Garland gave it to me and I caught more fish using it than with any other one I ever had. I remember the first time I used it. Garland wrote me to meet the local train at the Comal water tank for he would be on it as he worked for the railroad. The engineer said he would stop to get water and I could board the train and ride it up to the tunnel where he would stop and let Garland and I off and we waded and fished our way back down the creek home. Did we ever have fun fishing! I didn't catch but a few to what my brother caught but I was just learning how to use it. I had my plug out on the bank or caught on a limb a lot of the time but it was fun. We wound up with a nice stringer of mostly bass.

My father liked to use one grab hook with three points and tie it on the line of his pole and grab suckers one at a time. He would get in a school of fish and really catch them. I never did care for that kind of fishing. Now a lot of fisherman would take a reel and rod and tie a number of three point grab hooks on it and cast it out in the hole of water. He would have others throw rocks in the water to drive the suckers over the fishing line. With a quick jerk they could catch two or three fish at a time. Also when I was a boy I remember people sometimes catching fish by using a seine.

When we would have plenty of rain in the early spring and Crooked Creek would run all the way through to White River there would be a lot of yellow sucker fish that would come up to spawn in Crooked Creek, Clear Creek, Greasy Creek and Hampton Creek. Also some of these fish were found in some of the smaller creeks that emptied into Crooked Creek. In a dry year it will become dry between Yellville and Flippin and there won't be any of these fish come up this way. But I have seen so many of them come that the bottom of the creek would be covered just as thick as they could lay for a long ways. I remember once we were gigging them and it came up a hard rain and that muddied the creek. We got to just throwing our gigs into a hole of water where we were and one of us would get a fish before we would make very many throws. There are only two years I can remember when large schools of quill-back sucker fish came up with the other suckers. The quill-backs were a broad, flat fish that looked like the buffalo and drum sucker fish. They weighed from two to six pounds. People had been gigging them and they were good eating. Back then that is what they were mostly killed for because when a person went fishing they went to get a mess of fish to eat.

Mr. Bob McEntire and some others had been fishing one day in 1929 and had located a very large school of quill-back suckers in a large hole of water that was along the Estes farm. It was so wide and so deep at this point they couldn't kill very many from the bank. When he told some of us about them he said if we wanted to go and take his boat and help him we could get everyone a mess of fish. So Mr. McEntire, Jess McEntire, Leonard and Carmon Stonecipher, Brice and George Burleson, Kirby Stokes and yours truly Floyd Burleson got around early on a cold, spring morning to get the boat that Mr. McEntire always kept tied up near his home and just across the creek from where I lived. We took it up the creek about a mile to where the fish were and started to work on them. With two in the boat, one in each end, we would go to the upper end of the hole of water and float back down crossways. We were killing them from the boat and also the ones on the bank could kill them from there. We killed enough for almost everyone around to have a mess of fish.

Now to tell about some funny things that happened that day. Two were in the boat using their gigs to push the boat up creek. When two were experienced at it they could make pretty good time as fast as a person could walk. The rest were walking and George and I were opperating the boat. The ones walking decided they wanted to change sides of the creek. With all of us in the boat it was about all the boat would hold up. I was in front when we landed on the other side and I stepped out to get ahold of a limb on a tree. Some way the rest of them got overbalanced and tilted the boat one way where a little water came in and rocking back the other way more water came in and they sunk the boat. All of them came wading out in about waist deep, cold water. That only stopped us long enough to empty the boat and get on our way. We killed a few fish as we made our way back up the creek. Things went to picking up when we got to where all the quill-back suckers were. George decided he could hit the fish better from the bank so I took him back to the bank to get another partner. By this time we had been joined by a lot more people. Will Casey wanted to try his luck so he got in the boat with me but he hadn't had much experience gigging out of a boat. After getting to the upper end and starting back down I started to gig a big one that came around my end of the boat. Will also threw his gig at a big one about the same time. I pulled my gig back because it is very easy to get thrown out of the boat. This overbalanced him and when I looked back around one could not have laid him any flatter. When he hit the water he went under head and all. When Will came up he just took for the bank and headed home. Some of them asked him what happened and he said that_____ ______ Burleson boy threw him out of the boat. Of course I didn't do it on purpose. Will got a dry change of clothes and after a while he came back down to the creek. Some of them fixed him up with a big mess of fish and he left happy. To end the day we started back down the creek and we were all tired. As many as could climbed into the boat and there was standing room only. Carmon was in front guiding the boat. There was a long, swift place in the creek and at the lower end of it there was a stump just under the top of the water and a deep hole below it. They told Carmon to be sure and not hit that stump. But he did all he could nevertheless he hit it dead center. He went out over the front end of the boat and went under. The funny thing about it every one of us in the boat followed him just like goats. One after the other followed him right over the front of the boat into the water and went under head and ears. This ended a very happy and successful fishing day on Crooked Creek.

My brother Arthur and Ulis Burleson, a nephew, went it swimming in the creek over on the west side of our farm. My brother thought he could catch a big catfish that was sometimes under a big rock where they were swimming. So he dived down and stuck his leg under the rock to see if he could find it. But there was a big snapping turtle under the rock. It snapped his leg just belowthe knee cutting about a three inch gash that went all the way through his leg right behind the bone and we could see the bone. If the turtle had held on to him he would have drown. Arthur tied his shirt around his leg to stop the bleeding and made it to the house. My father and two of my brothers and Leonard Stonecipher went back and took a big hook and some gigs and got him. It was the biggest turtle I have ever seen caught out of Crooked Creek. It was as large as a No. 3 wash tub and had a big, ugly head. One of us could stand on its back and it was big enough to carry us.

In about 1940 when A.G. Keeter and Riley Brooksher were just boys they came over to see me about teaching them how to noodle a catfish. Noodling is what we called it when we would reach our hands back under a rock or back in a hole under the creek bank to catch a fish. I have also caught them out of a hollow log that was down in the water. We went over to a big, flat rock that was out in the creek where there was always big catfish under it if it hadn't been caught by someone else. There were three holes that the fish could get out of so I put them at the two places where they didn't have to dive under the water. I told them to get ready to catch it and I dived down on the other side where the water was deep and took a short stick to scare the fish into swimming over to them. I wasn't going to catch it so as to let them learn how. Sure enough there was a big one under that rock and I begin trying to run it over to where one of them could catch it. When I couldn't feel the catfish anymore I came up to see what had happened. They both were setting out in shallow water looking a little pale with their eyes bugged out. They said they were afraid of that big thing so they got out of there and let the catfish get away.

My brother Brice was working with a wheat thrasher and they were thrashing wheat and oats over on White River near Peel. Someone had some six volt light bulbs which were a new thing for this part of the country. They were hooking these bulbs to a six volt car battery to use for light. Some one came up with the idea that they could kill fish at night with gigs by taking a car battery and hanging two light bulbs over the side of the boat in the water to see by. It was very successful and they got some big catfish that way. My brother came home on the weekend and brought some bulbs with him. We took the battery out of his pickup and loaded up my boat and took it to the upper end of the field on Crooked Creek. Putting in the creek, we floated down around the field about a mile. Did we ever have fun gigging fish! We had about a boatload of fish and about all of them were catfish. Some of them were really big ones. We got some of them out in the shallows where their backs would be sticking out of the water. I am sure this was the first fish to be killed with a gig on Crooked Creek by using a lightbulb to see them with.

I am using an article written by Conway Robinson, who lives at Eureka Springs, Arkansas, giving the details of an interview he had with me. It was published in the Arkansas Sportsman in the August 1984 issue. With Mr. Robinson's permission, I am using the article just as he wrote it.

CROOKED CREEK NORTH ARKANSAS' SUPER SMALLMOUTH STREAM
by Conway Robinson

This Marion County stream has received national acclaim as one of the top smallmouth streams anywhere, and its reputation is well deserved. Here's what it takes to catch your share a these stream battlers.

Crooked Creek meanders west to east just below the center of Marion County like a lost pup poking around in every nook and cranny he encounters. And, like a lost pup, the creek ha! endeared itself to many a smallmouth bass fisherman from far and wide.

During the peak fishing season here, beginning in the spring with the blooming of dogwood trees along the stream's edge in this gentle but wild land, it is not unusual to see fancy cars with out-of-state tags making their way down narrow county dirt roads. These fisherman have heard of the exceptional smallmouth bass fishing on Crooked Creek and are seeking out the little known "put in" points that are often as devious as Crooked Creek itself.

But, if the fame of Crooked Creek's smallmouth bass fishing has spread in recent years far away from its banks of both rocky bluffs and gentle beaches, the smallmouth bass always have been there - - a wellkept secret known only by a few locals, but just for a while.

Certainly, the Osage Indians camped along Crooked Creek for good reason. There are still arrowheads and other Indian artifacts to be found at ancient native settlements. As a matter of fact, Yellville, the county seat of Marion, once was just such an Indian settlement itself.

Floyd Burleson, a 68 year old third generation farmer of Crooked Creek's fertile valley, lives near an extinct country store and post office known as Turkey, and has fished Crooked Creek most of his life. As a matter of fact, his grandfather settled this generous land when covered wagons lurched westward along the Old Military Road.

"As soon as I was big enough, maybe around age five, I fished Crooked Creek every chance I got whenever Dad didn't have anything for me to do. Sometimes I'd slip over the fence and fish when I was supposed to be hoeing corn."

"There were a lot of smallmouth bass in the creek in those days, but I don't believe that they were as big as some of the trophy-sized fish that are there today," Floyd recalls.

The old-timers called the smallmouth bass "brownies" while the largemouth bass that also frequent Crooked Creek are known locally as "linesides", after the distinctive single stripe along the side of the fish. If the smallmouth bass had no such marking, these fighters of the streams have nevertheless gained fame as a superb sportfish that "eats mighty good" as well!

A smile crossed Floyd's face as he recalled something from the past. "I guess it was around 1950, I was married, and of course, working the farm. I was busy then and never did have the time to fish much," Floyd says.

"But one afternoon, my cows crossed the creek and I had to go after them."

"I asked my wife, 'would you like to have a mess of fish?' She replied, 'I wouldn't care!' So, I just picked up my rod and reel and one artificial minnow and I went up the creek and started the cows back.

"Then I went to fishing, casting that minnow in the deep holes, along logs and junk. I was bringing in fish just as fast as I could catch them. That was the best luck I ever had and honestly, I believe they would have hit a corn cob that day if you threw it out there!"

Although Floyd doesn't fish a lot anymore, he does have some advice for the growing number of bronzeback enthusiasts who are finding their way to Crooked Creek from all over the nation.

When they ask me for advice, one of the best things I tell 'em, in fishing with artificial bait at least, is that you've got to place that plug within a small radius. I mean you've got to place it right by a rock or a bit of brush or a log or something. That's where you catch those smallmouth bass. I don't know why, except they seem to be lying under places like that."

"Fish like to hang out in a certain place. You just can't go down there to the creek and cast around haphazard. Yet sometimes it seems like you can go down there and fish anywhere with anything and catch 'em," he says.

"I guess you'd have to say we've got more smallmouth bass in Crooked Creek now for the simple reason, back in the day when I was a boy, they cultivated all of these farms and washed so much of the soil into the creek. The sand, after there came a rise in water, would roll and fill up all the holes."

"But, since the farmers have gone to terracing their ground and putting it into pasture and not plowing it up any more there's practically no sand in Crooked Creek now and the holes, when one does wash out, it stays that way. These holes are the reason there's more and bigger fish in Crooked Creek these days than there was in days past", Floyd adds.

Floyd's eyes sweep the twisting, churning creek of spring flood time and his voice drops a little.

"This is a peculiar stream. It's bigger right here at Turkey than it is where it runs into White River. They say the stream sinks at Yellville and goes dry in the summertime."

"There's a stream at Cotter where it goes under and then comes up on the other side of town. I've been there when Crooked Creek would be muddy and White River, which the creek flows into, would be clear."

"It comes a rain on Crooked Creek and that spring at Cotter will be muddy. I think that they put some dye in it one time and traced it out."

"But I've seen it myself personally. Crooked Creek just plain disappears! Some call it a ghost creek, I reckon, but that doesn't stop the good fishing," he declares.

Arkansas Game and Fish law enforcement officer, Mike Foster, knows every twist and turn; all of the intricacies of Crooked Creek which is a part of his Marion County beat covering several hundred square miles.

I asked Foster why Crooked Creek is considered one of the best smallmouth streams in the nation.

"It's known as a high alkaline stream with a large population of both hellgrammites and crawdads in it which enable the smallmouth bass to thrive and reach trophy size. The fish of Crooked Creek have a bountiful food supply and this produces the quantity and quality of the fish that the creek supports," he explains.

"There are trophy smallmouth in Crooked Creek. A trophy would be anywhere from four to six pounds and there have been fish taken from this stream that will fall into that category." The state record is seven pounds, five ounces, taken from Bull Shoals Lake long ago.

"Some of the best fishing holes and places to put in and take out often are hard to find. Most all of the land bordering Crooked Creek is privately owned and fishermen should not run roughshod over the farmers. Most every landowner bordering Crooked Creek will cooperate with the fishermen if they asked permission first," Foster says.

"Fishermen who don't know Crooked Creek should understand that it does cross State Hwy. 62 several times. This enables any angler to find it real easy to put in and take out in many accessible places. Of course, there are other access roads to the creek that are off dirt roads or even off lanes that are a lot more difficult to find.

"West of Yellville, you could put in at Pyatt. There is a bridge on Highway 62 just east of Pyatt that crosses Crooked Creek. On east of Pyatt, there's another easy access at George's Creek. This place unique in that it is one of the few places in the entire State of Arkansas that has a train trestle crossing over a highway bridge. Just below this trestle is where George's Creek runs into Crooked Creek," Foster concludes.

Foster advises fishermen with their hearts and skills set for Crooked Creek that a county map showing all access routes can be obtained from any of the many real estate offices in Yellville or from the County Court House, also in Yellville.

There is a canoe rental place just before you get to Yellville. Crooked Creek Canoe Rentals, right on Highway 62 and west of the county seat, will rent canoes, transport you to and from Crooked Creek, and also sell you equipment. There are several trout docks on nearby White River that will take you up into Crooked Creek, provided there is enough water in the lower end of the creek east of Yellville.

Foster reminds would-be fishermen that any little country store in the area (and there are a lot of them) is a good place to find the equipment and food you need as well as the Arkansas state or non-resident fishing license needed to fish Crooked Creek.

And, like Floyd Burleson, Wildlife Officer Foster has some technical advice for Crooked Creek smallmouth bass fishermen.

"Depending upon the time of year, there are different lures you should use. Early in the year, say from February on through April, there's different lures that would be best," Foster explains.

"Slick minnows (live) and jigging frogs, a one-eighth-ounce jig and a small pork frog, would do exceptionally well. A brown jig would be fine or a black jig and a brown pork frog."

"Then, when you get into summertime, Beettle [sic] Spins, Mepps Spinners, and small crankbaits would do well, along with the minnows, pork frogs, and jig frogs."

"In the fall, you can stay with the crankbaits and spinners that I have already mentioned," he advises.

Foster continues, "Most of the Crooked Creek fishermen I come across are bank fishermen, although the best way to fish the creek is to float it."

"Crooked Creek is small enough that when you come to one of its larger pools, you can get out on the opposite shore and fish the entire pool, covering most of the creek with your casts. That's the method I use, to stop and fish whenever I come to swift rapids."

"But, once you are in a canoe and on the creek, you're pretty much on your own and there are some areas where expertise in handling a canoe is required. You know, I've never seen Crooked Creek when it was crowded. All you are apt to see is maybe four or five other canoes all day long."

"The creek is kinda remote. You'll be at peace fishing it. It's a great place to fish and it hasn't changed a bit since I began fishing it as a youngster."

On the state of the smallmouth today, Foster agrees with his Crooked Creek neighbor Floyd Burleson. "Actually, I think that the smallmouth bass fishing on Crooked Creek has gotten better through the years."

"In December of 1982, there was a lot of flooding and all of our streams got up to record highs, including Crooked Creek. This flooding served the purpose of deepening out a lot of the holes and making fishing better in the creek," he says.

More and more fishermen are discovering the secret - - Crooked Creek in Marion County promises some of the best smallmouth bass fishing you could find anywhere in the country.

And, these fishermen are apt to reap many more benefits and discover many more of the secrets that Crooked Creek holds for them. Chances are very good that they won't be disappointed.

The name "Crooked Creek" is a very appropriate name as it is as crooked a stream as can be as it winds its way through the hills and valleys. It is a very gentle, beautiful stream with its wonderful scenery along its banks. However it can get very dangerous and mean when it gets on one of its floods coming around each bend with a mighty force of muddy, rolling water taking its toll in destruction.

Here is a lovely poem about Crooked Creek:

"Old Crooked Creek in Arkansas"

Lyrics by: Leland Lowry
To see some nature in the raw.
Just go fish old crooked creek in Arkansas.
It's just the same today.
As when the pioneers came this way.
It's nature in the raw.
It's down old crooked creek in Arkansas.
The Ozark beauty, is just as far as you can see.
And all the folks are just as friendly as they can be.
It's nature in the raw.
Down old crooked creek in Arkansas.
There will be places you'll never forget.
From Harrison to old Pyatt.
It's nature in the raw.
Down old crooked creek in Arkansas.
Buddy, You had better be rugged and kinda tough.
It's full of snakes and, it's mighty, mighty, rough.
It's nature in the raw.
Down old crooked creek in Arkansas.

Reprinted with permission from Treasured Memories of a Beautiful Place in the North Arkansas Ozark Hills by Floyd Burleson, copyright, 1989.