Peaceful Coexistence: What appears to be a family outing combines two unlikely activities — bream fishing and reading. The anglers are competing in the 2011 Felsenthal Bream Festival Bream Tournament. Mom, along for the ride, is engrossed in a paperback. Well, since both pursuits place a premium on quiet, perhaps we are compatible after all. Life is good.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
For the better part of two days, Friday and Saturday, May 27 and 28, 2011, tiny Felsenthal, Arkansas, home to 150 souls according to the census-before-last, probably increased that population by eight-fold or more. Give credit for the population surge to a fish and a festival named for it.
The fish, a scrappy little scamp who rarely tops a pound in weight, is the ubiquitous bream. As common as your foot in the South. The event: The Felsenthal Bream Fest, the centerpiece of which is the Bream Tournament. The fans of this fish are legion, and as proved at Felsenthal, will travel great lengths to catch a "mess."
An explanatory note to non-Southerners:
On this day, the big bass boat shown here was after bream. The happy occupants waved at the camera just after this shot. Why not? Great day to be on the water.
The bream, for many of us, was the first fish we ever caught. It was for me, and it was a heart-thumping experience I've never forgotten. Most anglers agree that ounce-for-ounce, a bream will put up one of the best fights of any game fish. But wait, there's more. The bream's flavor is as desirable as is his mean streak. So, the little bream is a good provider of fun and food — and in this case, it draws a crowd for savvy townsfolk in Felsenthal.
Since there's a party atmosphere in the air, the Party Spray comes out. Under the watchful eye of one of their mothers, this girl and her friend were engaged in a Party Spray duel. Best I could tell, the duel was a draw.
The festival, in addition to its root event, features a beauty pageant, food and vendor booths, a Friday night Gospel "sing," a Saturday night "street dance" in the open-air town pavilion, a water slide, a rock climb, and more. Just goes to show you what a small group of determined people can do when they set their minds to it.
In the case of Felsenthal, it also does not hurt to be smack-dab in the middle of some of the finest non-molested wetlands in the nation and next door to the 60,000 acre Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge. Not a bit.
Mon 30 May 2011 09:36:08
It did my heart good to think of Felsenthal. It took me back to time when you would rent a 14-foot aluminum john boat from Buford Ball and his mother (Mary), who had a rental place on the banks of Grand Marie Lake. From there one could tool up the Ouachita River to the mouth of Wildcat Slough, bypassing the temptation to turn up into the ever popular Pete Wilson Slough. The mouth of Wildcat was where my Dad's lumber company would put in a quonset hut that floated on a sea of 55-gallon oil drums — this was in the pre-styrofoam blocks days — so they would have a place to use for duck hunting when the water got up. Four steel pipes from the oil fields set in concrete kept the hut from floating away.
A few years before the hut went in, when I was of an ass whipping age (about eight or nine), I went up there with my Dad and Dugan Reed, his fishing buddy who was a foreman at Lion Oil. I remember him as a towering guy with a sort of John Wayne presence. He whipped my ass with a fly rod the night before to make me settle down.
We were cane pole fishing out of a john boat and using worms for bait. The water was maybe six or eight feet high above the banks and it was that most magical time when the worms were dropping off the catalpa trees. The bream would hit anything that moved, and it was not long before the icebox was full of fish. The only reason we stopped was that we ran out of ice chest, so we headed back in after a happy morning, maybe the best day of fishing I ever had in my life.
When we got back to the landing, Dugan saw that the game warden was nearby, and he said to my Dad, "You settle with Potts, while I go get the truck." The warden came over as the ice chest was being unloaded, and took a quick look. All he said was, "It looks like you boys got yourself a good mess of fish!"
Everything down there seems to have changed from the shape of the lake, the locks, and maybe even the position of the railroad trestle that provided a short cut to the river when the water was high. There were places there that I knew that may have been obliterated by the changes installed by the Corp of Engineers and the wildlife mangaement folks. I don't know if the sloughs still exist or not, or if you can still find places like the First Break of Wildcat Slough, or that hidden fishing spot off the river that was called the Hole in the Wall. I guess I'll just have to file those away in the memory zone along with the house I grew up in that is now a vacant lot.
The quonset hut is still down there along the road by the lake, and the last time I saw it, which was around 1988, it was sporting a screen porch that had been tacked onto one end. My cousin, Clark Norman, still uses it as a base when he goes to the river, and I'm glad to know that there is a little piece of the past that is still hanging around.
Clark Buchner AIA
Our towns and villages are more often saved
N O T E : Clark sent two photos, little pieces of the past.
Wall mural in England, Arkansas
Farm structure in Scott, Arkansas
Mon 13 Jun 2011 09:46:31
I just remembered another part of that fishing expedition to Felsenthal:
We had gone down to Felsenthal on a Friday afternoon, and my Dad and Dugan Reed decided to get in a little bass fishing that evening before we went out after bream and crappie the next morning. So we took our boat down to the south end of Grand Marie Lake. The main entrance to the Ouachita River was at that end of the lake, but before you got in the river the lake was mostly open water except for this area to the south, which was a backwater area of stumps, fallen trees, staubs and cypress trees with knees all over the place. My Dad and Dugan were casting for bass. Not 30 yards away in another boat were a couple of men from El Dorado who knew my Dad and Dugan, and like Dugan they, too, may have worked at Lion Oil.
All of a sudden, Dugan hooked this fish and worked it a bit and slowly pulled it in kind of warily, like his lure had snagged on log and he wanted to get it in without losing it. A fish emerged without much of a fight, and it was without question the biggest large mouth bass I had ever seen in my life. It must have weighed somewhere between ten and twelve pounds. It was the old warhorse fish from that end of the lake.
Dugan pulls in this fish, holds it up to look at it real good, grabs some needle-nose pliers, takes the lure out of its mouth, and without hesitation throws it back in. It causes one hell of splash as it slaps the water and slides in. It was almost like throwing in a small dog. The men watching from the other boat were in utter disbelief.
The talk around town the next week was that Dugan Reed was the craziest son of a bitch they had ever seen for throwing that big of a fish back in. A few minutes after he did it, Dugan had a sly grin on his face, kind of winked at my Dad, and said in a low voice, "Ya know Clark, I think that's the biggest fish I ever caught in my life."
I have thought about that little incident over the years, and the more I think about it, the more I realize that Dugan wouldn't have taken a million dollars for that moment, and if he had it to do over again he would have done the exact same thing. It certainly opened up my eyes to the ways of men and let me know that there are all kinds of ways to express one's presence in the world.
I thought you might like this one. too.
Clark Buchner AIA
Wed 1 Jun 2011 07:14:35
For many years my folks, and my siblings, rented houses and built a boat dock on the Ouachita at Brown's Camp, which was later flooded as part of the preserve. Dad could never quite get his tongue around the name of this little town and would reverse the breathy consonant sounds. As a little girl I would say, "Daddy, look at me: FELL-sin-THALL!" He would reply, "THELL-sin-FALL". Now, as an elder, I look back and think that it may have been a game with mutually known strict rules performed to entertain each other. I could never quite tell when our dad was teasing, but I think it was most of the time.
Dad and Mother would also have known a person was not from L.A. (lower Arkansas) if he or she pronounced the fishes' name Bream (to rhyme with dream) rather than the colloquial "brim," as in the brim of a hat. They probably spelled it thus also.
The festival must have been concocted after the flooding, since I recall a thriving fishing/hunting vacation community adjacent to Quinnie Brown's beer joint and bait shop. All the men would sit around flaming barrels until well after dark (for warmth during the winter hunt, and against the mosquitoes during the "pretty" weather) while the women cleaned up the evening's repast and herded the dusty children and grandchildren through their nighttime baths and into beds on sleeping porches.
Given the relaxed vacation attitudes of their parents, some were even allowed to go to bed unwashed with just a few swipes of a damp washcloth! "A lick and a promise." Having been allowed to run and play long past their usual bedtimes, since the men and a few of the women were awake and alert for abnormal squeals and/or splashes, their parental units could tell when they were becoming overtired and cranky. After a few mild protests, they usually slept well in the cool river breezes.
As a young mother during those seasons, it was wonderful to have an opportunity now and then to share parenting chores with a group of other mothers, who felt keenly that all the children belonged to all the community's moms and grandmoms. This Weekly Grist brought back many sweet memories. Thank you, Joe.
N O T E S:
Most of the time, there is more to the Photo of the Week story than can be told in an essay. And most of the time there are more pictures to be seen. Presuming that some folk will enjoy being privy to this trove of information, I have created a blog, “Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind,” where I am showing and telling “the rest of the story." There are also some blatantly commercial mentions of some of the things we do to earn our beans and taters. Click on the Weekly Grist logo and go to the blog. — J. D.