Longtime guide Fletcher stays busy at his old resort

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July 25, 2002

Charlie Farmer, Springfield News Leaser Outdoors columnist

Longtime guide Fletcher stays busy at his old resort


J.D. Fletcher gained national fame as a guide on the Kings River and the White River. Now 72, he still manages a resort and float service. Charlie Farmer / For the News-Leader

If you have never heard of J.D. Fletcher, you’re either too young or never ended up at Eagle Rock, Mo., for a fishing float on the Kings River or White River before it was chopped into several reservoirs and dams for electrical power.

In his youth, J.D. lived in Barry County with his parents and two brothers on a farm. When the chores were done, J.D. would head to Greasy Creek to fish.

There were plenty of bluegill in the creek. He had a hazelnut fishing pole that had a smooth action. He would take enough string out of his dad’s workshop to cast far enough to where the the fish were congregating.

Fish hooks were scarce in those days. His supply of straight pins that his mom gave would suffice.

He learned how to attach barbs on the straight pins. Without the barbs, fish often jumped back into the water.

A few years later, he saw a fly rod in a shop in town and bought it. With a small cork popper he caught a batch of sunfish. There were no bass in Greasy Creek. But it didn’t bother the young angler. He had fishing in his veins.

J.D. said there was no refrigeration in their home. Meat like ham, chicken and an occasional steak were smoked. Fresh fish from the creek was enjoyed by the family.

J.D. never tired of fishing. After high school, he had a variety of jobs and then enlisted in the Army in 1952 during the Korean War.

After his two-year hitch, he returned to the lands and waters he loved.

“A friend of mind suggested that there could be some profit in making and selling minnow traps for fishermen,” Fletcher said. “That’s when I bought a used pickup truck and started selling them.

“There was not a whole lot of money in minnow traps, especially for one who made them and peddled them day after day. That’s when I considered a bait shop. The shop did well. As a fisherman who knows about reels, rods, best fishing spots and the hottest baits for catching fish in the Ozarks, I certainly was in my element.

“For a while I thought the bait shop was the best thing around. What it did was put another idea in my head. That dream turned out to be J.D. Float Service and Devils Dive Resort at Eagle Rock.

“It caters mainly to fishermen in cozy cottages with covered dock, great scenery and fishing just out the door.”

The news of J.D.’s float service and resort opened the door for anglers in Arkansas and Missouri as well as Oklahoma, Kansas and Illinois. J.D. was proprietor and guide.

His knowledge of fishing spread quickly. His Ozarks demeanor made the day or days fun. Most of all there were stringers of white bass, smallmouth bass, largemouth and walleye.

In the midst of success, J.D. took a bride. Later there would be a son. And that son, Jeff, would grow up to be a fishing champ.

It wasn’t long that another band of anglers took a liking to J.D. and his brand of downhome hospitality. Some of those included outdoor writer Homer Circle, actor Hugh O’Brian, Bill Ring, Ralph Foster, Harold Ensley (The Sportsman’s Friend), Eddie Arnold and a young Johnny Morris, who was on the BASS circuit mowing down the competition with plain old plastic worms.

And John A. Morris, Johnny’s dad who fished many times with J.D. on the Kings River and White River.

And Bob Whitehead, newspaper editor from the Saint Louis Labor-Tribune and Outdoor Guide Magazine, an avid fisherman and hunter.

There are many more.

The apple of J.D.’s eye is Jeff, who spent nine years fishing on the BASS Master Classic Trail. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, he still guides on the Kings River during spring and summer when his full-time job permits.

Jeff is married and has two young boys who are destined for fishing stardom if dad and grandpa have any say.

You may have seen Jeff Fletcher on a News-Leader page on Feb. 19 of this year. He’s the one who caught a 64Ï-pound striped bass at Beaver Lake on a Smithwick Clown-colored Rogue.

The world record for freshwater stripers stands at 67 pounds. Fletcher’s catch puts him in fourth place among freshwater anglers.

As for J.D., he is in his 43rd year of guiding. At 72 years old, he is still wire taut.

He still wears his signature bib overalls. He sold the resort and float service a few years ago to Danny and Dawn Harper, who were fishing customers.

They wanted J.D. to still manage the resort and float service and that’s what he’s doing.

The place is in the hands of a fishing legend and it can’t get better than that.
 

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