Glorious days floating Buffalo National River

By Len Stagoski 

“How did a river surrounded by the progress of civilization escape impoundment, impairment, and change? 

“To preserve the Buffalo as a free-flowing stream, Congress designated it a ‘national’ river in 1972. Floating the Buffalo can give you a feeling of the wilderness once embracing this country. 

“The Buffalo is nestled in the Arkansas Ozarks, which are bounded on the north, east, and south by the Missouri, Mississippi, and Arkansas rivers, respectively. To the west lies open prairie.” — National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior 

During these glorious days of summer, I reminisce about wonderful fishing floats in the Ozarks with buddies from the Missouri Smallmouth Alliance (MSA) — Dennis Norton, Dave Pins and Heinrich Heissinger.

The quest of St. Louis-area members of the MSA is catching smallmouth bass, however, we don’t reject landing other game fish which happen to inhabit the waters we are floating!

One of the best floats we did was a two-day trip in 2008 on the Buffalo National River. In a good many years past, the Buffalo River was regarded as an outstanding smallmouth fishery. 

It is still good fishing, but some say its glory days are past. Well, never mind. 

While our group did not exactly fit the definition of true naturalists, we were somewhat conscious of the geologic history of the Ozark mountain range in which the Buffalo River flowed. 

In our reading, we were aware of the hundreds of millions of years of geologic uplift and the erosion caused by the Buffalo… the deep stream valleys, the magnificent high cliffs, the caves and springs.

We just had to experience this area firsthand, and if we caught a few smallies along the way, that would be an added thrill. 

In our group of four, we had two canoes: one trailered, the other carried on car boat racks. We set out early on a Monday morning, traveling on Highway 65 out of Rolla heading due south, eventually crossing into Arkansas, then to Mountain Home, thru Yellville, then southwest to the small town of St. Joe, where we checked into the Buffalo River Motel located just four miles from the river. 

We continued on the road toward the river, pulling off to stop at Buffalo River Outfitters. This was an important stop; two canoes, two cars… we needed shuttles to follow us to the put-in point, then shuttle the cars to the take-out point… this arrangement for each of two days. 

In our trip planning we had previously contacted Buffalo River Outfitters and were assured that they could provide us with shuttle services. 

When we entered their office to make arrangements, we were greatly relieved to hear that shuttles could be provided! The day after completing arrangements with Buffalo River Outfitters, our adventure began.
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We drove our two cars with canoes to Carver… the day one put-in access. The map shows our planned two-day Buffalo ad- venture; put-in and take-out access points and river miles to cover for each day. 

Stream conditions were perfect. The day was perfect. The clear morning air was perfect. A few smallies even liked our lure offerings. 

As we drifted along, the towering cliffs rising from river’s edge cast shallows across the Buffalo… validating the literature we had read when planning our adventure. 

Of all the rivers in the nation, the Buffalo was the first to be protected by Congress as a free-flowing stream with “National River” status. 

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