A River Runs Through It
Former Memphian Maurice Lipsey has created a gorgeous getaway in central Arkansas on the banks of the Little Red River.
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In addition, a large Bill Dance-designed lake was built on the property and stocked with hundreds of lunker bass. You want to fish? Fat Possum has you covered.
Ironically enough, Maurice doesn’t fish. But he is quite the character, with a shock of thick white hair and a ready wit. He will tell you his story — and patiently listen to your tale about the one that got away — 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 if you’re a Memphian, you’ll feel right at home.
The walls are covered with Tigers sports posters, old photos, clippings from the Press-Scimitar and The Commercial Appeal, and other Memphis memorabilia. The main room has a huge stone fireplace, with a pool table and ping-pong in an adjacent area. The television is permanently tuned to ESPN, and the place is home to one of the world’s best beer bottle collections, a stellar old jukebox, and a big friendly Airedale named Belle. And lots of horses hang around just outside the open barn door.
Though fishing is the main draw for many who come to Fat Possum, it has 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 nursing a cold beverage.
A word about the “cabins”: Though the name Fat Possom Hollow may evoke images from Deliverance, these cabins are cabins only in the sense that they are in the woods and the interior walls and ceilings are built with sweet-smelling cedar. But the houses that Maurice has built come with whirlpool baths, high-end kitchens, satellite television, and spacious decks that overlook the Little Red. With their vaulted ceilings, rustic interiors, stone floors and fireplaces, the cabins bring a ski lodge to mind.
In recent years, several companies — including food service companies Ben E. Keith and Sysco — have purchased shares in Fat Possum houses to entertain clients.
The two newest cabins are built on the lake a few hundred yards from the river, but most of the houses are set just above a long, shallow shoal of the Little Red 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 water that no one can wade to from upstream or down because of the deep pools in either direction. The shoals are a popular spot for wildlife, too. Deer, wild turkeys, red foxes, and other wildlife can often be seen splashing across. Geese, great blue herons, osprey, and bald eagles also cruise this stretch of river.
Like all great getaway spots, Fat Possum has its rituals. When evening falls, most of the “residents” gather at the bar to socialize over a glass of wine or a cold beer. Children sometimes take over the ping-pong table or run around outside chasing fireflies. It’s not unusual for pizzas or some barbecue to show up, delivered from nearby Heber Springs. If there’s a Tigers or Grizzlies game, it can get pretty raucous in the room. Dancing on the bar has been known to happen. The beauty part is that after you’ve had a few beverages and enough of the company, you only have to drive a few hundred yards on the moonlit field road that leads back to your house on the river, where you can sit on the deck under the stars, listen to the gurgling waters below, and 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. It feels almost like a neighborhood — a really perfect neighborhood in the woods. You can smell the aroma of fresh coffee wafting through the trees. 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.
The early sun and fog make the river seem a magical place. Almost like a dream come true. And when you leave Fat Possum, the keeper of the dream always says the same thing: “Come back, soon. And be careful, it’s a jungle outside that gate.”
Maurice is right. And it’s a paradise inside.
Bruce VanWyngarden is editor of The Memphis Flyer.
Fat Possum Hollow is located on Route 337, just southeast of Heber Springs.
Phone: 501-362-7738; fatpossumhollow.com.