Fog obscures the James beneath the Y Bridge at Galena Missouri. There is a riffle under the bridge, but I do not hear it. Looking off the west end of the bridge I can make out a small house and several trailered flat-bottomed boats in the yard. Exiting the bridge I take a left. A few hundred yards down that road looms a huge rusty sign. Incredibly, most of the fragile white neon tubing still outlines the letters. It reads BILL ROGERS MOTEL CAFÉ FLOAT …
There’s no sign the motel is still renting rooms or serving fried eggs and bacon to floaters. A row of rooms is still behind the sign but they have been painted yellow. On a 1950s postcard they are coral. On the back of the chrome postcard is “BILL ROGERS MOTEL RESTAURANT FISHING SERVICE On James River write box 233, Galena, Missouri phone Elmwood 7-2641 air conditioned 15-unit Motel, electric heat, Large, air conditioned Restaurant, Fishing, Tackle and Supply Store. All these have been added to our long-established Float Fishing Service in the Float Capital of the World.”
This whole 1950s Bill Rogers operation looks like an improvident business decision. While Galena could once claim the title of “float capital of the world,” Dewey Short’s big lake was about to swallow up almost all the floatable James River. The 6,323 foot long, 252-foot high dam near Branson would back the White River up the James to within five miles of his “long-established Float Fishing Service” in 1958.
When the White River Division of the Iron Mountain and Southern Railway cut through Stone County before World War I, it opened the possibility of sportsmen detraining at Galena and engaging one of the services that provided a flat bottomed wooden john boat along with a colorful, yarn-spinning, gravel bar cook for an epic five-day float the 125 miles down the James, then the White, down to Branson. The train would haul the boats back and take the fishermen to Galena or wherever they called home.
The improvement of roads and modern bridges like the Y made this celebrated ritual even easier. Sports writers immortalized the James and this float for decades. Movie stars, Catholic bishops, and affluent urbanites flooded to Galena to indulge in the ritual.
Congressman Dewey Short’s 4,100-acre chunk of flat water hasn’t completely stopped floating the James, but it cut it off at the knees. There’s almost nothing of the free flowing James below Galena, but there is still a decent one-day experience canoeing from Hootentown down to the Y Bridge takeout. In high water one can put in further up the cliff-lined, forested free flowing James.
Click on any image to start slide show of Galena’s river front. Truncated as it is by Table Rock Reservoir, the James is still an attractive, wild, and fishable but shorter float.