To Heaven and Back on the Upper Jacks Fork
shaped everything about this place: the path of the meandering river, the deep holes, the ripples, the dolomite bluffs, and the many caves and springs along the way.
Caves, springs, losing streams, and sinkholes permeate the karst topography. The Jacks Fork watershed, a land area of 445 square miles in portions of Howell, Shannon, and Texas counties, drains directly into the Current River. Approximately 20 percent of the watershed is in public ownership, most of which is managed by the Conservation Department.
Fish, Float, Explore, Repeat
The Conservation Department works for Missourians, and with Missourians, to improve the water quality and aquatic resources here. For years, the Department has worked with private landowners to develop best management practices to reduce streambank erosion and to improve forest management. Healthy uplands and woodlands benefit the river and all of the life in it. Citizens play an important role in keeping the river healthy, too. The Upper Jacks Fork River Rats, Stream Team 713, monitors water quality and has removed countless tons of trash from this stretch.
Conservation Department fisheries biologists study the waterway habitat and strive to improve it for a wide variety of aquatic species. The river teems with 67 species of fish, including popular sport fishes like smallmouth bass, goggle-eye, suckers, longear sunfish, largemouth, and chain pickerel. Forty of this river’s fish species are native, and six are found nowhere else outside the Ozarks: Ozark madtoms, checkered madtoms, Ozark shiners, Current River saddled darters, Ozark chubs, and Ozark sculpins.
Dave and I look forward to reeling in a show-stopping smallmouth, since this section of the upper Jacks Fork is designated a smallmouth bass special management area by the Conservation Department. Spring smallmouth bass fishing is catch-and-release only, since there is a no-harvest season from March 1st through late May. In season, there is an 18-inch minimum length limit on smallmouth bass, and anglers are allowed to harvest only one per day.
Casting above numerous riffles and teasing the flies over deep pools is immensely satisfying. One could not ask for a more beautiful setting to cast a line and wait for a miracle. The male smallmouths should be on their spawning beds defending their nests by now through the end of May, but I can’t let logic disrupt a perfect cast. Stubbornness runs deep in my family, and a big bass is a tantalizing promise.
The bright sun falling on my shoulders, the enveloping