Wheels down, rods ready
Fly in to Gaston’s white resort and fish to your heart’s content
The Bull Shoals area of northern Arkansas is dotted with fishing camps and resorts. Each tries to woo the traveler just a little harder than the last with promises of free Wi-Fi, in-ground pools, and satellite TV. But only one has a runway: Gaston's White River Resort in Lakeview.
And what a runway it is: Lush, green, and meticulously maintained, Runway 6/24 looks more like a putting green than a grass strip. When your airplane's tires touch down, you make a brief taxi to the tiedown area. From there, it's a short stroll to your cabin—no courtesy or rental car needed.
That stroll is likely to be just the first of many scenic walks you'll take while you're a guest of Gaston's. Situated in the Ozarks, the 400-acre resort may inspire you to toss your cell phone in the river so that you can soak up the serenity without interruption.
Cabins range in size from a room with two beds and a bath to larger accommodations with kitchens, fireplaces, and decks. While "cabins" might bring to mind something more rustic, these come with daily housekeeping service and the other amenities you'd expect from a hotel or motel.
Virtually every cabin has a view of the White River. Strategically placed feeders bring a huge variety of birds, along with squirrels and woodchucks, to your door each day. Two nature trails wind through the property; one has a peacock habitat whose inhabitants will greet you with raucous cries long before they come into view.
Your dog can enjoy the sights and sounds of Gaston's wildlife, too. Owner Jim Gaston loves his dogs and doesn't believe you should have to vacation without yours. There's no charge for pets, but they must be on a leash when outside your cabin.
BRING YOUR ROD 'N REEL. Songbirds are wonderful, but you didn't come here just to look at birds. You came here to fish! Located along two miles of the White River, Gaston's is world famous for its trout fishing. At least four different varieties can be found here, yours for the catching (and releasing, if you desire).
As you eat your breakfast in the restaurant, whose expansive dining room also overlooks the river, you'll see boatloads of visitors and their guides debarking from Gaston's enormous floating dock. At lunchtime, gleeful guests return with full nets, comparing notes on who caught the most and whose fish are biggest. During a May visit to the resort, a thrilled guest showed off her prize: a rare golden trout. After envious friends took several photographs, the guest leaned over and tossed the fish back into the swift-moving water. Rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and brook trout all have been hooked from these waters.
Put on your waders and fly fish from the shallow parts of the river, or, if the water level is too high— as was the case in May, which had seen a lot of rain—rent a boat. Gaston's has more than 70 outboard watercraft. You can also hire a guide to take you to the best spots. A well-stocked shop has rods, reels, and other gear that you can rent, and sells flies, bait, insect repellant, and anything else you might need.
If you prefer to hang onto your trout, Gaston's will keep it on ice for you, or the kitchen staff will prepare it for your dinner. What could be more memorable than a delicious dinner featuring a freshly caught fish that you hooked yourself?
FAMILY TRADITION. When Al Gaston purchased the resort in 1958, it featured 20 acres of river frontage, six cabins, six boats, and an 1,800-foot runway, "which in those days was more than adequate," says his son, Jim. In 1980 Gaston's acquired 80 acres and used some of that property to lengthen the runway, while some was made into a second nature trail.
Jim Gaston left Kansas at age 20 to help run the resort and has remained there ever since. Now 69, he runs the family business with his wife, Jill, and grandson, Clint.
A longtime aerobatic pilot, Jim Gaston flew with Duane Cole, one of the founders of the Cole Brothers Airshow and a charter member of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Gaston has owned a Cessna 172, a Piper Cherokee, and a Beech Bonanza. Clint is not a pilot, but "it's inevitable" that he will become one, his grandfather says with a smile.
Airplanes of nearly every size and shape have landed at the resort, up to and including a DC-3. The runway has served "98 percent of general aviation," Gaston says. At the same time, he wants pilots who visit the resort to use good judgment about landing there. Shuttle service to and from nearby Ozark Regional Airport is available. (See "Arriving by Airplane," page 34.)
Gaston believes it's important to preserve unpaved runways. "Grass runways are getting to be a thing of the past, with urban sprawl," he says. "I hate to see us lose any more sod runways."
The resort that bears his name is so well loved by the aviation community that it has become a meeting place for groups like the Red Star Pilots Association, whose members landed Yak and Nanchang military trainers there in 2009. And then there's the group of pilots who became friends via Internet bulletin boards sponsored by Pilots of America and AOPA. They started annual "meetups" in 2004 that are still going strong.
"It's a great place to fly into to have a mini-vacation with friends and family," says Brook Heyel of Apex, North Carolina. "Or just to have Sunday brunch."