Fish America: Arkansas and Tennessee

There's no good place to stop when you're fishing your way around the country, so tandem trips in Arkansas and Tennessee would be as fitting as any place, I figured. It was a cold week before Christmas on Arkansas' Norfork Lake, where I somehow convinced Captain Steve to take a cold run out for stripers, largemouth and smallmouth bass.
Steve guides year-round on the lake, which is in northern Arkansas, but gets his most traffic in the spring, when the topwater bite for stripers is hard to beat, he says.
It was a cold and calm December afternoon on the lake when Steve and I set out to see what December fish we could coax into eating.
Here's the first volunteer, a crankbait-caught bass.
The jaw structure on these fish allows anglers to discern between a largemouth and a "Kentucky" bass. This largemouth was taken on a steadily retrieved crankbait that Steve said mimics the lake's population of crawfish.
These fish were a little less active because … well…it was freezing. Thirty-something degrees feels a lot colder ripping across an open lake at 30 miles per hour in a bass boat.
Despite the less than favorable, or enjoyable conditions, we got a few fish to cooperate. This smallmouth smashed a crankbait, and was holding off a 12-foot drop-off near shore.
This firetiger pattern is one of Steve's favorites for bronzebacks.
These fish are more active in warmer weather, but the colder water temperatures will concentrate them, so it's more a matter of finding the fish than fooling any one individual bass. Steve likes the crankbaits this time of year because they allow you to cover a lot of water quickly, and work a whole shoreline looking for suspended schools of fish.
Thirty-plus pound stripers like this one, mounted in the Blue Lady Lodge in Gamaliel, Arkansas, bring anglers to the lake year in and year out. These monster fish will be pushing shad around on top in April, May and June. The Blue Lady offers a view of the lake as soon as you wake up, spacious rooms and a friendly and knowledgeable staff. Check out www.blueladyresort.com if you're going to be in the area.
There's also big crappie, like these, to be found on the lake. Steve doesn't target the crappie specifically, but says he runs into a few slabs anyway from time to time.
If you wind up fishing Lake Norfork, stop by Mountain Home, Arkansas and the Rivertown gallery where you'll find some impressive representations of wildlife, done by Duane Hada, holding this depiction of a rainbow taking a midge.
If it's outdoors, Duane likely paints it. He also does impressive depictions of the White River, in watercolor, using water right from the river. Duane's most recent work is a 40-painting collection that depicts the White from its headwaters to its confluence with the Mississippi. Duane pains the river in a "plein air" style, meaning that the paintings are done on scene, at the river's edge, instead of inside a gallery. To see more of Duane's work check out www.rivertowngallery.com.
From Arkansas it was on to Tennessee, more specifically Memphis and its famous Beale Street.
The best bar on Beale? That's up for debate, but if you go O'Sullivans you can't go wrong.
Order a "Diver." I'm not going to give away the ingredients, I'll only tell you that it comes in a bucket with straws, and they "guarantee it will make you go down."
I found this dog on Beale at sunrise the next day, and he looked how I felt.
No red-blooded American boy could pass through Memphis without a visit to Graceland. This is the famed Jungleroom in Elvis's home. Certainly the attraction isn't without the trappings of tourism, but if you've ever turned up a rock and roll song on the radio, you should have some appreciation for the history and significance of the place, and the impact Elvis had on modern music.
This is the final resting place of a man who was arguably the single most significant character in the birth of rock and roll.
After paying my respects to the King, it was time for the final fishing trip of Fish America. Two-hundred-and-one nights on the road, more than 30,000 miles, and 48 species of fish had brought me to the Collins River in Tennessee outside of McMinnville. If you could only try for one more species of fish, after nearly seven months of fishing, what would it be?
If you answered "Muskie," then you're damned right. There was only one fish that would stand a chance of providing a fitting end to this odyssey, and it was huge, ticked-off, and full of teeth. I couldn't fish America forever, but I wasn't going to end the trip with a trout either.
For my final muskie mission I headed out with Dwayne Hickey, who has been chasing these elusive fish on the Collins River and other Tennessee waterways for more than a decade.
Hickey was a bass fisherman until he caught his first muskie 25 years ago, now by his own admission he doesn't much care for anything but muskie hunting. He fashioned this combination of a banjo minnow and a swimming plug to provide just the right wiggle to upset a muskie. "We muskie fishermen are always tinkering," he said.
Enormous lures, lots of casts, and an intense determination to find fish are characteristics of a day spent in pursuit of muskie. There are not as many enormous fish in the Collins as you'll find in places like Wisconsin, but a 50-inch fish is not unheard of, and there's the added bonus that you can be chasing them in the same week you're doing your Christmas shopping.
We fished the Collins River until our hands were numb and the light was gone, but the fish lived up to their reputation for elusiveness. I didn't mind getting skunked on my last trip, as long as I went down swinging out of my shoes, and Dwayne and I sure did. Any time you're bringing a net this big, you know you're chasing something serious.
My last stop on Fish America wouldn't be a lake, river or pond, but a hall of fame. This is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. I had to ogle the guitars, pianos and drums that churned out the music that would inspire someone to take only what they could carry in their jeep and hit the open road. If you're at all a fan of music, the Hall of Fame is worth the drive from wherever you are. They don't allow photos so, as for what's inside? You'll have to go to find out.

My final stops of Fish America would come in Arkansas and Tennessee. If you could target one fish on your last trip after seven months of fishing, what would it be?