Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
The Little Red River has long been known for its world-class trout fishing. Anglers line its shoals and pools in pursuit of the river's wily browns and rainbows. The public access points are often crowded and finding a nice unmolested pool is difficult. But what if you could discover a perfect wade-in spot that's only approachable from a limited stretch of private shoreline? No mobs of flailing bait-fishermen, no boats buzzing by, just pristine wadeable water.
Former Memphian Maurice Lipsey is doing his best to make that happen. He's created a 250-acre haven from the outside world called Fat Possum Hollow. The name may not speak sophistication, but Fat Possum is anything but rustic.
Lipsey has built eight two- and three-bedroom houses (soon to be nine) each with fireplaces, whirlpool baths, satellite television, and decks that overlook the Little Red. He doesn't sell them; he leases what he calls “quarter-shares.” If you lease a quarter-share in one of the houses, you get one week a month at Fat Possum Hollow for $7,500. (The larger Bunkhouse is leased differently, four weeks a year — one week each season — for $3,200 a year.) Space is currently available only in the Bunkhouse, but since rentals are year to year, space sometimes becomes available. Lipsey no longer does nightly rentals, but he does provide tryouts of the facilities for people interested in the annual leases.
Maurice is quite a character, with a mop of white hair and a ready wit. He will tell you his story at the neighborhood bar, which he also built. It's not a bar in the regular sense — it's in an old barn in a field on the property, and you have to bring your own poison, but Maurice will set you up, and you'll feel right at home. The walls are covered with sports posters, old photos, and other memorabilia. There's a generous stone fireplace, a pool table, ping-pong, a television permanently tuned to ESPN, one of the world's best beer bottle collections, and a big friendly Airedale named Monroe. And lots of horses hanging around just outside the open door.
Though fishing is the main draw, there are horse riding and hiking trails and several canoes lying around for family members and friends who might want to pursue other leisure options. Bird watching is another popular activity. As is lying around in a hammock sucking a cold beverage.
The houses are set just above a long, shallow shoal that falls into several rocky pools. If you see more than three other fisherman, you can consider it crowded. It's a gorgeous stretch of fishing water that no one can wade to from upstream or down, because of the deep pools in either direction. It's a popular spot for wildlife, too. I've seen deer, wild turkeys, even a red fox, splashing across.
Fat Possum has its rituals. When evening falls, most visitors gather at the “bar” to swap fishing stories and socialize. Children take over the ping-pong table or run around outside chasing fireflies. After you've had a couple of cold ones and enough of the company, you can drive the field road leading back to “your” house on the river. Sitting on the deck under the stars, listening to the river gurgle below, it's fun to pretend you actually own the place.
Morning comes early at Fat Possum, as it always seems to when you're nudged by birdsongs and sunrise. The houses, with their high ceilings, cedar interior, stone floors, and fireplaces, bring a ski lodge to mind.
It's almost like a neighborhood. A really perfect neighborhood in the woods. The aroma of fresh coffee wafts through the trees from another house. Two boys wade the shallows, turning over stones in search of crawdads. A few yards downstream, a great blue heron stalks the shoals. A flock of Canadian geese honks and splashes to a landing. The sky is pale behind Sugarloaf Mountain in the early light. The trout are always waiting, and usually willing. Soon, three or four fly-fishermen are looping casts over the shoals, testing their skills and bringing trout to the net with regularity.
When you leave and turn in your keys, Maurice always says the same thing: “Come back, soon. And be careful, it's a jungle outside that gate.”
And paradise inside.
IF YOU GO: Fat Possum Hollow is located on Route 337, just south of Heber Springs. Phone: 501-362-7738 (Maurice Lipsey), or fatpossumhollow.com.
Bruce VanWyngarden is editor of the Memphis Flyer.