An hour before dawn the Arkansas sky is black as pitch. The stars cut through the cold northern Arkansas night, casting the fog swirling up from the Little Red River in an ethereal light. Somewhere an owl calls.
Josiah Pleasant is quite possibly the only human being awake at this hour, and certainly the only one slipping a kayak into these gently flowing waters. It's mid-October, and the brown trout are moving into pre-spawn. It's prime season for big browns, and under these early morning stars is the best time to land them.
A transplant from the Pacific Northwest, Josiah now makes his home in Searcy, Arkansas. His mind holds memories of hunting and fishing with his father from a young age, always with a singular purpose: To fill the freezer.
"Growing up in the Northwest, salmon was the dominant species of pursuit," Josiah says. "Whether it was fishing with dad or getting to spend time with charter fishermen on trips going up to British Columbia or Alaska, the goal was to get fish for food." Growing up, the family's goal was to take enough salmon to eat well straight through the year.
Along the way, Josiah found that filling the larder could also feed the soul. He developed a passion for fly-fishing, learning to tie his flies and chasing cutthroat and rainbow trout at every opportunity.
"Being able to just enjoy fishing for fishing was a lot of fun," he says.
That passion has become a foundation of Josiah's life. The visceral experience of hunting and fishing combines with his contemplative nature. It spills over into his relationship with his wife Audra, with his dogs and with the fishing clients he guides. It's also fundamental to his relationship with students he teaches through the Outdoor Adventure program he helped found at Harding University in Searcy, AR.
The program allows students to earn an academic minor in Outdoor Adventure, developing or strengthening a passion for the outdoors. Josiah leads students from the most basic instruction to more advanced outings, including fly-fishing from kayaks on the Little Red River.
The classes not only instill a love of the outdoors in students; they also give them some of the skills needed to work in the outdoor business. It's a world Josiah knows well, having worked in the field before coming to Arkansas.
"I was a partner in an outdoor adventure business in Southern California—kayaking, paddleboarding and surfing," he says. "When I came to Arkansas I wanted to continue that part of my life, and was able to be a part of the creation of the Outdoor Adventure minor at the university. That allowed me to really develop a consistent avenue for getting out on the water and guiding, spending time with students, taking them on kayak trips, teaching them to fish, to fly-fish and tie flies."
As Josiah recalls details from trips with students, it's clear how much fostering this community means to him. Translating his passion for the outdoors to these students and clients is a heartfelt journey, a pursuit of pride for Josiah.
Pita and Lupe are often companions of Josiah as he navigates his kayak down the Little Red River. The lab duo keeps a close eye on him and traverses the riverbank with Josiah’s movements. Sleepy eyes blink with heavy eyelids in the mid-morning sun as Josiah posts up and sends his fly line whipping through the air. The sound of a paddle stroke has them on their feet and keeping close proximity again.
The horizon line in Josiah's life shows a change is coming. A shared passion for travel and adventure with his wife is outweighing the stability of home ownership and day-to-day life in Searcy.
"We miss being able to see different places and we really do like the concept of minimalism and simplifying things—to really focus on adventures and each other, and relationships over place and possessions," he says.
Both Josiah and Audra have crafted their professions to allow the flexibility to work remotely. They plan to grasp that freedom and run with it. Josiah says adventures await in New Zealand. We hear there are big brown trout there too.
See more about Josiah’s My Backyard Adventure.
— Stay tuned for more Backyard Adventures as Kayak Fish Editor Morgan Mason tours kayak fishing’s thriving hotbeds, profiling the colorful athletes and personalities who define the sport, through the lens of their go-to escapes on the water.