Fishing and fun in Felsenthal

Rock climbing boy

Though he could probably care less, from his lofty height at the Felsenthal Bream Fest rock climbing attraction, this boy can probably see competing anglers and their boats as they dangle crickets and other baits for their finny prey. The boy, after a couple of tries, made it to the top and "rang the bell." He is on his way down now.

Families and fishing enthusiasts descended in droves on Felsenthal, Arkansas for the 2011 version of the town’s Bream Festival and Tournament, May 27 and 28. The town sits next door to the Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge which has some fine camping facilities, all of which were occupied.

family fishing

See more Bream Festival Pictures at Corndancer dot-com

There is one small motel in town, Tracks Inn, which was at capacity. Otherwise you needed to figure some driving time into your festival plans. At this point in this epistle, may I suggest that you to to the Photo of the Week page at Corndancer dot com and see pictures and read where this story started. We’ll wait here.

Eighty two boats were registered for the tournament, a good turnout, I was told. Most of those boats had two competitors aboard. Winners were determined by the team weighing its heaviest 20 fish.

See more Felsenthal fishing and festival pictures in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

At the weigh-in, the heaviest team catch when the time I was there was 8-1/2 pounds which figures out about 6.8 ounces per fish, not too shabby, but not a record breaker.

The Felsenthal National Wildlife Refuge is 60,000 acres of wetlands, heavily populated with Tupelo and Cypress. Due to recent flooding conditions, the water was higher than usual so many boats were floating where they would normally be high and dry, or at least running aground.

Anglers and old growth cypress

This team (and others) took the opportunity to navigate around submerged old growth cypress. The trees are huge and apparently the fish like the neighborhood. Other teams were fishing close-by.

Man unhooking fish for wife

Noticeable among the teams were husbands and wives. Perhaps the family that fishes together stays together. In this case, the hubby is being the good guy as he unhooks a bream his spousal unit has just landed.

The festival was not all about fishing, though that is the reason for the event. The Felsenthal Bream fest had what you want and expect at such a happening: food and merchant vendors, arts and crafts, a Gospel “sing,” a water slide, the rock climbing doo-dad you see above, a beauty pageant, and a “street dance” in the town’s covered pavilion. With all of the Memorial Day and festival attendees, the “street dance” in the pavilion was a prudent idea. Helps hold down 911 calls.

Pageant contestants

Pageant contestants show their stuff and best smiles. There were stair-stepped categories from "brand-new" to 18-year-old-girls. The pageant is a popular part of the festival.

Hungry bream will bite at nearly any thing that looks edible. They love crickets and worms, but will also grab a “poppin’ bug” and a “bream killer” presented with a fly rod.  The popping bug floats and the bream killer sinks. It’s not unusual for an angler to catch two fish at one time with a “y” arrangement of a popping bug and a bream killer. Such an event is pandemonium defined. In this environment, however, fly rods would not work well. I mention them because any discourse on bream fishing that does not mention a fly rod should not be taken seriously.

Angler with cricket cage

It's not his first rodeo, He has a first class cricket cage for probably the bream's favorite live bait. Catalpa worms may be a close second when you can find them. I told this guy when I shot the picture that the whole world would be able to see him with his hand in a cricket cage. He seemed to enjoy the idea. This was a family outing. You can see his dog. His wife was off camera in the back of the boat.

The midday weigh-in was creeping closer and anglers headed to the ramps to make the deadline with their catches. We wisely took our boat out slightly ahead of the main crowd. My skipper and crew for the day were my friends of long-standing, Linda Newbury, Mayor of Felsenthal, and her husband Jack Newbury, a member of the Felsenthal town council. They are avid anglers and know the waters around Felsenthal like the back of their hands.

See more Felsenthal fishing pictures in our Weekly Grist Gallery.

bream fest weigh in

The lying stops here. The weigh-master dumps a catch of fish on the scales. This one raised no eyebrows. When he announces the weight of a heavier catch, "oos" and "ahs" rise from he crowd.

The small town of Felsenthal and its people do good job with their festival, proving again, that you don’t have to be big and you don’t have to have an unlimited budget to do good things. But you do have to have a good idea and be prepared to drip a lot of sweat in the process. The folks at Felsenthal have both down pat.

boats on river

Click on the boat to see more fishing and festival pictures


See more Felsenthal fishing and festival

pictures in our Weekly Grist gallery

We’ve posted 62 pictures of fishing and the festival at Felsenthal in our gallery

Thanks for dropping by,

Joe Dempsey,

Weekly Grist for the Eyes and Mind


10 Responses

  1. 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) 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 that was a foreman at Lion Oil, that I remember 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 and 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.

    • Great story Clark.You give a good perspective not available from other sources.

    • Thanks for the trip down your memory lane. Would love to pick your brain for our website. We are trying to get a “memory” page started. Joe, of course, is our webmaster.

  2. 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 winters’ hunts, 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 damp washcloths! “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.

  3. It’s good to hear Weezie’s comments, and to know she found her way to Felsenthal. One other thing I remember about those days (late 40’s and early 50’s) was that when high water would come up there was a floating liquor store that was anchored in around all the boat rental places of Felsenthal. I don’t know much about the Arkansas laws regarding sale of firewater, but I often wondered where home base was for that store’s license, as it proved to be a popular element for the all the hunters and fishermen.

  4. Just imagine, ass deep in boondocks, and here comes the Barleycorn Barge!

  5. Clark, I was probably “taken to” the same fishing holes at about the same times as you , since you, Joe, and I are all “of an age”. I say I was “taken” because I mightily hated fishing because one must be quiet and that was not in my nature! Dad had a huge, flat bottom boat (at least I remember it as huge) and they would rig an umbrella and take along all my dolls and doll clothes, and books, and crayons, and just about anything else to try to keep me occupied and quiet! Probably did not often work. Spoiled, d’ya think?

    I’m still not a fisherman to this day – give me AC and a good book, but I wish I had some of those days back again. Sigh. . .

  6. Certain words seem to go together:
    Baseball – Apple pie
    Arkansas – Fishing
    Moonpies – RC
    Capitol Hill – Selfish

  7. Frank, an astute observation as usual.

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