SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. -- The Ozark plateau's ancient trees filtered October light from the azure sky. In the last three summers, I've cast for trout in Colorado and Wyoming but never in a prettier setting than this unlikely blue-ribbon stream called Spavinaw Creek, about 330 miles northeast of downtown Dallas.
Fly-fishing legend Lefty Kreh could double-haul a cast halfway to the Oklahoma border from here. In fact, Lefty has stood in this same spot, no doubt watching a strike indicator drift above tiny, suspended flies meant to tempt rainbow or brown trout.
I was thinking about Lefty, or maybe examining the picturesque limestone cliff towering above the opposite bank, when my fishing guide, Evan Russell, woke me from the daydream.
"You just had a bite," coached Russell, a fly-fishing fanatic who grew up in Highland Park and now studies geology at the University of Arkansas -- that is, when he's not guiding on Spavinaw Creek. "These fish are quick. If the strike indicator twitches, you have to set the hook or they'll be gone."
Now wide awake, I made another cast upstream, into a deep hole that I knew from observation held at least two dozen healthy trout. I was ready when the float bobbed and set the hook on a fish. It was the eighth or ninth rainbow that I'd hooked from the same spot.
This fish was different, however. It bowed the 5-weight rod and alternately splashed across the surface and dogged down deep. It took a couple of minutes until Russell slipped his net under the chunky 17-inch fish. It was a nice rainbow but only half the size of the property record.
We were fishing with Spring Valley Anglers, a private fishing and hunting club founded by Adam Maris, who grew up in Tulsa, Okla., just 90 minutes away. As a 12-year-old, Maris became fascinated with fly-fishing and talked his father into taking him fishing after a championship baseball tournament in Denver.
Baseball runs in the Maris family. Adam's second cousin was Roger Maris, who slugged 61 homers for the Yankees in 1961.
Though it took him two years to catch his first trout on a fly, Adam Maris could not ignore the siren call of running water and whining fly reels. Fly ball, fly line -- what's the difference? To him, fly-fishing had all the symmetry of baseball in a prettier setting and without the crowds.
While working as a caddie one day at Tulsa's Southern Hills Country Club, Maris was struck by the idea of starting a fishing club similar to a country club. Like fly-fishing itself, he couldn't shake the idea.
As a senior in high school, he discovered the unique Spavinaw Creek property north of Siloam Springs, struck up a relationship with the owner and asked for permission to fish. Permission denied. For the next three years, Maris wrote the landowner a letter every month. It became something of a joke between the two.
The landowner finally agreed to grant Maris fishing access, but only if he'd stop writing letters.
"The fishing was incredible" he recalls. "Here was this amazing spring-fed creek that nobody ever fished, and it was loaded with huge brown and rainbow trout."
Maris' next step was to try to lease the property for his fishing club. The lease was granted just as the young man finished college. At his graduation party, Maris' family expected him to make a decision between taking a job in the Boston Red Sox front office or attending medical school. He told them instead that he planned to start a fishing club.
That was six years ago. Spring Valley Anglers (www.springvalleyanglers .com) now has access to more than 150 miles of private streams in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado and Wyoming. The outfit is expanding into hunting for a variety of game with access to more than 287,000 acres of private property.
Jerry Parkhurst is a Spring Valley regular. He just sold a fly shop in Tulsa and has helped fly fishers plan excursions all over the world. "Most of them didn't believe me when I said they would probably catch a bigger trout by fishing just 90 minutes from Tulsa," Parkhurst said.