Not one, but two Osage Creeks swirl through the Northwest Arkansas countryside. Osage Creek to the east twists mainly through Carroll County, while the western Osage Creek pours through Benton County.
Early summer mornings are the favorite time for fishing pals Greg Stanfill, Doug Stewart and Stan Carter to walk the gravel banks and wade the cool water of Osage Creek in Benton County while fishing for smallmouth bass.
Mist cloaked the Osage Creek valley in early July when the trio arrived streamside at 6 a.m. Stewart, of Little Flock, waded in up to his knees. He got off to a fast start, catching a 13-inch smallmouth in the gray of first light. Carter, from Greenwood, stole the show later when he landed a 17-inch bronze beauty of a smallmouth with his fly rod. The fish hammered Carter's crawdad-imitation fly in fast current along a bend in the stream. Catching that fish proved even more of a challenge in the swift water.
Stanfill of Lowell caught his share of smallmouth bass, along with Ozark bass, 100 yards downstream from a tangle of timber close to a gravel island in the creek.
When the sweet cool of dawn gave way to summer heat at mid-morning, the three had caught and released some 40 smallmouth bass, with Carter's 17-incher being the big fish of the day.
Their morning on the water was a demonstration of how good the fishing can be on this Benton County Osage Creek. The trouble is, not everyone can fish it. There's little or no public access, said Jon Stein, area fisheries supervisor for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Creekside land is all private property. A person has to know a streamside landowner to access Osage Creek or knock on some doors asking permission to fish. A friend of Stanfill's gives the three anglers permission to cross his property and fish.
Since land along the creek is private, Game and Fish doesn't do any studies to determine the health of the creek's fishery, Stein said. But rod and reel research by Stanfill and his pals indicates Osage Creek is a vibrant smallmouth stream.
Osage Creek starts in southwest Rogers and gets a big shot of water from Osage Spring, near New Hope Road. The stream flows mostly south and west until Osage Creek joins the Illinois River east of Siloam Springs.
Along the way, the stream is beyond beautiful. Its clear water, forested banks and little sign of civilization are a scenic dream. Even in August, when other streams are a trickle, Osage Creek has good flow. Springs such as Osage Spring and Logan Spring pour cold, transparent water into the creek. Treated effluent from the Rogers wastewater treatment plant flows into Osage Creek. Northwest Arkansas Conservation Authority wastewater treatment plant discharges into the Osage south of Northwest Arkansas National Airport.
Water quality in Osage Creek benefits from two streamside habitat restoration projects that prevent erosion and keep tons of sediment out of the water. One is near the Rogers wastewater treatment plant, said Sandi Formica, executive director of Watershed Conservation Resource Center in Fayetteville. The other is a few miles upstream from its confluence with the Illinois River, she said. The nonprofit provides watershed conservation assistance to landowners, communities and governments.
Steep banks of dirt and mud were reworked to prevent erosion. Land on the two projects was planted with all native vegetation. Main creek channels were restored. "Erosion was reduced by 95 percent," Formica said. "It's great aquatic habitat."
Stanfill and company will testify to that. They'll also advise anglers that they don't need a tackle box full of lures to catch smallmouths on any stream. A few will do.
Soft-plastic crawdad imitations such as tube baits are Stewart's go-to offerings. He heavily salts the supple lures that are stored in his pocket-sized box. Stanfill catches fish after fish with Ned rigs in every color under the sun, including pink. Fly fisherman Carter flings a Hada Creek Crawler crawdad fly designed by well-known angler and artist Duane Hada.
Osage Creeks are like Brush Creeks. There are lots of them around the country. Osage Creek in Benton County is a shimmering gem of a waterway.