May Day on the Finley

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Published on: May. 2, 2009

Last revision: Dec. 14, 2010

from the interior Ozarks chug up the abrupt escarpment past Lead Hill, through the Cedar Gap, and into the westward-flowing, low-gradient headwaters of the Finley.

Forty miles downstream, the Finley meets the James. On his tour of the Ozarks in the winter of 1818–1819, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft lingered on a magnificent promontory overlooking this confluence, pronouncing it an ideal site for a town. He claimed that the beautiful, clear stream flowing below him got its name from a local beaver trapper—a man named Findley (So, you might ask, why isn’t it called the “Findley?”—good question).


Jud and I usually spend a long day on the upper Finley. Having floated this section of stream many times, we know about how long the trip

should take. We know that if the fishing is good, we will most likely paddle furiously the last few miles to get off the river before dark. If the action is light, we will fish only the high percentage spots. For the most part, we stay with the tried and true—brown curly tailed jigs, spinnerbaits, plastic crawdads. Later, in the summer or fall, we will angle for the flashy and exciting top water strike, but now, in the warming spring, the red-eyed fighters must be lured from their deep eddies and hidey holes.

We enjoy catching fish, but fishing is only a narrow sliver of the experience. The river itself holds our attention. Jud, a dedicated naturalist, points out the movements, sounds and interactions of a variety of creatures, both in and out of the water. In the depths of winter, we talked about—longed for—a vibrant, fully awakened spring day on the Finley. Now, at long last on the water, we are hard-pressed to say what we find more enjoyable—the warm sun on our backs, or the melodious bird songs rising from the thickening foliage. The exact nature of the allure is hard to pin down, but its shorthand expression is easy—we love the river.


Floaters enjoy a front row seat, getting an up-close and personal peek into the river’s complex personality, unfolding mile after mile. There is something new and interesting around each bend. Myriad creatures lurk and move in the ribbon of lush vegetation near the stream, a zone of ecological significance far out of proportion to its physical extent. Human bonds with the natural world can be sensed strongly here.

Jud and I feel this attraction, though we don’t try to

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